Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 9 - Bayeux, France (Normandy)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Becky, thanks for your comments on our day in Honfleur and Deauville. We very much enjoyed our visits to both towns. Just wish I wasn't so lethargic from the night before!

Bayeux, France

We had a great night sleep and I am thankfully fully recovered from the the Vintage Room. The beds at Villa Lara were terrific. The ones on the Symphony are very nice too but now we are a little spoiled. I checked the weather last night and we will have overcast skies this morning with clearing by this afternoon. Temps are in the low to mid 70's. Should be perfect conditions for our tour today.

We were among the first to arrive in the stylish breakfast room. We had a peak last night in the dark but during the day the room really sparkles.

Villa Lara Breakfast Room

We were dazzled by the rustic clementine, amber and chartreuse pigments which "popped" nicely against the cream walls. The breakfast items were self serve and looked delicious. We were also offered hot items, for example an omelet or eggs included in the same price as the continental breakfast (16 euros). I read some complaints about the cost of breakfast being additional but we thought it was an excellent value regardless.

We both ordered an omelet and helped ourselves to the cheese, ham and croissants on the front counter. Green loose tea was available and a yummy lemon honey jam. The chocolate banana jam was also scrumptious! After a few moments of breakfast bliss several other guests appeared.

The mood was very peaceful until one gentleman started quizzing the staff on the reliability of the Bayeux taxis. His tone and the manner he was asking about the taxis was rather rude. He said he would need to get to the train later and did not seem to want to believe that, in fact the taxi would arrive at the time requested. Oh my. My mother and I looked at each other in angst and were both praying he was not on our D-Day tour this morning. It might be painful for all involved.

Loose leaf tea below and jams above for sale

Cheeses, meats and pastries

We took our time and lingered over the yummy breakfast. My mother said the coffee was very good and she enjoyed a "vacation" from her French press.

We had a wonderful but brief stay at Villa Lara and were sad to have to leave.  While we were at the front desk settling the bill. we met the owner of the hotel, Rima. We told her how much we loved the decor and style of the hotel and asked who did the design. Rima said she along with a design firm did the interiors. She is very talented!

I asked if she had been to the Caribbean as my mother had leased a small hotel eons ago on St. Maarten/St. Martin and did the interior design. Rima said she lived on St. Martin from 1990 -1992. What a coincidence! Prior to my mother living on the French side for about 4 years, my parents owned a home on St. Maarten's Dutch side for 10 years from the mid 70's to mid 80's. We chatted about the island for a bit and my mother compared notes on some people that they both knew.

It turns out Rima who is Lebanese, is very close friends with the family of one of my mother's old acquaintances on the island. This gentleman is also Lebanese and has been there for the past 30 years. Rima told us she spoke to this man's sister on the phone yesterday and that both his sisters now live on St. Maarten. It really is a small world!

My mother shared some amusing stories with Rima about the trials and tribulations of island life in St. Martin as well as Nevis and Turks and Caicos. Rima said 2 years on St. Martin was plenty for her and she is very happy to be back in France. I can certainly understand that.

Place de Quebec with dug up sidewalk

We departed the hotel and went around the front to find the rendezvous point for our Overlord D-Day tour. The tour departs at 8:20 am and is a half day tour which sounded manageable when I booked it online. My mother is interested in history but I didn't think she could tolerate anything longer than 4 hours. The meeting point was at Place de Quebec, right in front of the hotel which was very convenient. They were doing some road work though and putting down new pavers so it was a bit of an obstacle course through the tractors and broken dirt laden sidewalks to find the correct spot.

We encountered some fellow travelers who were also waiting for Overlord so at least we were in the right place. Shortly thereafter several vehicles arrived with the Overlord decal blazoned across the side. We were checked in for our tour and assigned a vehicle. It was all very orderly.

While we were getting situated in the van I looked back and saw our Australian friend Elizabeth from yesterday. She seemed a bit frazzled trying to find a tour that had space. I was hoping she could join our group but unfortunately there wasn't room. All the D-Day Tours, especially Overlord are usually booked weeks in advance.

Monika, who was our guide said Elizabeth might be able to join the afternoon tour since they had a cancellation. In our van we had a family of four from Tennessee, a NY couple and ourselves. 
Driving to Port en Bessin
My mother and I were seated in front of the van with the guide. It was a little misty out as we headed north to Port-en-Bessin on the coast. We learned that Monika is from outside Vienna, Austria and that she used to be a teacher. She had a patient way of speaking and was very easy going.

The lush green fields we passed were very beautiful and it was hard to imagine that just a short time ago a huge battle was waged here with such dire consequences. In relation to our visits to the Pays Basque and Brittany with centuries of history, it was amazing to think that just 68 years ago the struggle to end World War II  took place relatively recently. That is sort of like dog years in the scheme of things.

Monika pulled off to the side of the road as we arrived at one of the first bunkers.  It was explained that this area was one of the German fortified positions called Batterie Allemande at Longues-sur-Mer. The German Batterie was comprised of four guns with a range of 20 km/12.5 miles. However, they had not completed work on all the guns and one or 2 were not yet operational at the time of the D-Day invasion.    

A partially submerged bunker
Nonetheless, the guns were quickly blown up by the Allies once they had advanced inland. .

German Battery
We entered one of the batteries to get a closer look. After being destroyed so many years ago there is not much to look at. However, apparently the Germans were rushing to complete the work on these so rapidly that there are foot prints still visible in the cement.
Inside one of the German Batteries

Gun with the sides blown off


During the Allied assault the fields were very high, about 4 feet. It must have been daunting trying to get your bearings and also be prepared for the ensuring fight.

Small farms in the distance

Guns #2 & #3 of the German Battery at Lounges Sur Mer

Our van

The van is comfortable but I am very happy to be seated in the front.  


We approached the town Colleville Sur Mer, which was one of the first to be liberated.

 The D-Day Invasion

On June 6, 1944 the allied troops landed the largest amphibious assault ever attempted in order to liberate Europe. Along with 13,000 airplanes and 7000 vessels, the initial force of 45,000 troops were from the British 6th Airborne, US 82nd and 101st Airborne. There were also troops from Canada, Poland, Czechoslovakia and New Zealand.

In total there were over 160,000 troops who came ashore during the invasion. Besides the American contingent, there were also 61,000 British and 21,000 Canadian.

The landings took place along a 50 mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Allied map of D-Day amphibious assault

The air campaign started after midnight with gliders and paratroopers landing in fields and French villages in Normandy. The drop zones were missed on many occasions and confusion ensued as the troops were widely dispersed and separated from their units.

The beach landings took place shorty after 6:30 am in order to arrive at low tide. However, as the beaches are quite deep this made the struggle to reach the shore more of a challenge.

Weather played an important role in the invasion for both sides. The original plan was for the battle to commence on June 5th but a terrible storm, the worst in 20 years forced a 24 hour delay. There were only 10 days per month when there would be full moon making the air assault possible. The Germans viewed the poor weather as a bonus and were complacent in their belief that no invasion would be possible for several days. Many high ranking German officers were on leave or had taken vacation. Hitler himself was asleep during the initial attack and his aides were too terrified to wake him until 10:00 am.

There were several Panzer divisions that General Rommel had requested but was unable to convince his superiors to redeploy in Normandy prior to the attack. With Hitler napping and the German air defences too far away this was a critical turning point for the Allied victory.

Additionally, Allied Intelligence confounded and encouraged the Germans to believe that the invasion would be in Calais and not Normandy. A bevy of double agents leaked radio traffic and false information to the High German command.

British bombers flew over the English Channel near Dover in Operations Glimmer and Taxable. They dropped radar reflecting aluminium strips to create a "picture" on German radar of an invasion fleet moving across the strait to Calais simultaneous to the actual invasion in Normandy. This deception in confusing the Germans where the invasion would occur played a crucial role in the element of surprise and ultimate success of the mission.

Omaha Beach

We took one of the access roads and arrived at our next stop, Omaha Beach which is also known as Colleville Sur Mer. We were the only tour here and were able to roam the shingle beach in silence contemplating the bravery of the troops. The beach is much wider than I imagined. The plan for the amphibious assault to begin at low tide seems foolhardy until you contemplate the amount of debris and obstacles, including mines placed in the water that would have been impossible to see or navigate around in high tide.

Arrival at Omaha Beach

We sauntered on the powdery sand glancing at the shoreline and lost in the nuance of what the beach must have looked like under attack. Omaha was the most heavily fortified beach, blanketed by high bluffs and supported by German mortars, machine guns and heavy artillery. Treacherous seas caused a majority of the landing craft to drift eastward. The Allies landed in bunches and became easy targets for German gunners. The initial wave of tanks, infantry and engineers suffered heavy casualties. Of the 16 Sherman tanks that approached the shore, only 2 survived the landing. They were hardly seaworthy and sank.

Omaha Beach is barren and wide

Due to the overcast skies, the Allied air assault on Omaha resulted in limited damage done to the beach defences. The battle at Omaha was going so poorly that General Omar Bradley considered retreating from the beachhead. Eventually through sheer fortitude, they were able to gain a foothold and scald the bluffs between the strong points.

In total, American casualties (dead and wounded) on Omaha Beach numbered about 5,000 out of 50,000 men. Most died in the first few hours.

Mother walking Omaha Beach
The beach had several small stones that I kept as souvenirs. This area of Omaha has little bluffs that don't look that insurmountable. Of course if you are under gunfire it is a whole different story. It was a bit deceptive as from our vantage point as it did not appear to be a steep climb from the shore.

The gentle rippling waves and soothing reflections stood in sharp contrast to the savagery that occurred here to end the war.

Peaceful waves gracing the shore

Bluff on Omaha Beach
Mulberry Harbors

In order to be able to land the huge amount of ships and men on the beach, Omaha Beach and Arromanches were selected as locations for artificial harbors. These were constructed in order to create a breakwater so that vehicles, troops and goods could cross overland from the water. They called the artificial harbors which were called "Mulberries". The word is believed to derive from either fast growing trees or because British officers frequented a pub with that name.

The British were at Mulberry "B" at Arromanches and the Americans further west at Omaha at Mulberry "A". Unfortunately the storm on June 5th destroyed most of Mulberry A but B was still intact and operational for the invasion. In fact, the remains of the mulberry at Arromanches are still visible today.

The remnants at Mulberry A at Omaha are more spartan. However, we did see one ship hull in the distance.
Black mound is a remnant from the Mulberry Artificial Harbor at Omaha

American Cemetery

Our tour continued with a visit past some happy cows on the way to the United States Cemetery.

The American Cemetery is located in Colleville Saint Laurent. This is the resting place for Americans lost in battle during the Normandy invasion. There are also remains here from WW1. There are 9,387 marble crosses and Stars of David to honor the many that gave their lives to liberate Europe and end the war. There are also four woman buried here who died in ancillary accidents. The cemetery is very serene and breathtaking.

About 60% of those who perished in the Normandy invastion were eventually repatriated to the United States once their remains were successfully identified.

American Cemetery

When we arrived at the American Cemetery Monika provided some helpful tips on where to go and what we would be viewing. We had about 30 minutes to explore the grounds on our own and pay our respects to those interred here.

Battle Monuments Commission
Reflecting Pool

There is a long wall displaying the names of those soldiers whose bodies were never recovered. There is a gold rosette next to the names when the remains were later identified.

Wall honoring those missing in action

Wall of the missing with a rosette indicating the body was later identified

The park is beautifully maintained. The view down to the water was especially majestic.

View to the water

There was a map and diorama near the water explaining the Allied attack. Omaha and Utah beaches were heavily defended by highly trained Germans. Many of the troops drowned by being weighted down with heavy equipment. Others were systematically gunned down by mortar fire from the cliffs. Of the 2500 American causalities sustained at Omaha on D-day, more than 1000 were killed in the first hour.

Diorama depicting the D-Day Invasion

The setting of the cemetery overlooking the sea is mesmerizing.  

Path down to the water

We made our way back to the grave site. The marble crosses and stars of David are almost luminescent against the meticulously sculpted greenery.

Roosevelt Brothers

The remains of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and his brother Quentin are both interred at the American Cemetery. Quentin was a pilot and was killed in action during World War I. His older brother, Theodore, who also served in WW1 and WW2 died of a heart attack in France in July 1944. Quentin was only 20 when he was killed and Ted was 56 when he died unexpectedly.

Roosevelt Family 1903 with Quentin on far left and Ted Jr behind his father

Quentin was precocious and inherited the brilliant acumen of his father. He was only 3 when his father became President and grew up in the White House. One exploit  that shows his mischievous personality is when his brother Archie was sick and he brought a pony by elevator to his room hoping it would cheer him up.

Quentin had the rugged good looks of his father

Ted was less cerebral than his younger brother, but went on to have a successful business and political career before returning to military service. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of Puerto Rico, Governor General of the Philippines and Chairman of the Board of American Express. At the time of the D-Day invasion Ted was in poor health. He walked with a cane and had heart problems. He had to convince his superiors that he was fit for duty. Henry Fonda played him in the film "The Longest Day".

Ted Roosevelt had the distinction to be the only General on D-Day to land with the first wave of troops on Utah Beach. He was the oldest man in the invasion and the only man to serve with his son in Normandy (his son landed on Omaha).

Graves of Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

The scene on Omaha and Utah Beaches were very different than those captured by the British. Omaha and Utah have cliffs whereas Gold, Juno and Sword are flat. The British troops landed on Gold Beach at 7:20 am and met little resistance. They also had less beach to cross. A total of 25,000 troops stormed Gold beach at a cost of 400 casualties.

Beautifully landscaped

It was wonderful to have time to absorb the cemetery on our own. I heard later that the ship's tour, which was led by President, Gregg Michel, did not allow any time to walk around the cemetery and that the entire experience felt very rushed.

Reflecting Pool

We both felt very proud of our troops and what they had accomplished. I also wish we could have time to visit the German Cemetery in La Cambe near Bayeux. It is actually the largest war cemetery in France with the remains of over 21,000 fallen soldiers.

Many of the German soldiers did not believe in the cause nor the fight they were assigned. There were horrible atrocities that occurred at the hand of the Nazis of which they are accountable for. It may be controversial, but having an open mind, I would like to view the war from the German perspective as well. Hopefully we will have a chance to do this on a future visit to Normandy.

We departed the cemetery and took the "Easy Red" access road and headed to one of the bunkers above the beach.

On "Easy Red"

Overlord excels in the training of their guides with the information they provide on the tour. During several stops, Monika would pull out a large book with photos and charts explaining events as they happened and what we were seeing.

Monika at batterie explaining events to the family from Tennessee

Batteries captured by the Americans

Monika explained that when the Americans attacked this stronghold they captured the weapons and were using them in battle. When other Allied troops heard the sounds of the German weapons it took some time to determine that the Americans were the ones firing them.

There were several roads created to move troops from the beach inland. They gave them some jazzy names to distinguish them, for examples, Easy Red, Fox Green and Dog White.

Explanation of the road access from the Normandy Beaches inland

At the rear of one of the bunkers was a wall where many German soldiers were executed. It was very early on in the fighting and although they are reported to have surrendered there was no way to keep them accounted for. By viewing the wall the violence of the war became crystal clear.

Bullet holes mark the wall where Germans soldiers were systematically shot

We departed Omaha beach on our way to our last and final stop.

Omaha Beach
As we were leaving, Monika pointed out one of only two homes that remain near the beach prior to the D-Day invasion. There used to be many homes along the beach but they were destroyed during the war.

Home from prior to the the D-Day Invasion

Pointe Du Hoc

Our last stop on the tour was at Pointe du Hoc. The initial landing force miss took another area for Point Du Hoc and it was several hours before they made it down the beach to ascend the 100 ft cliffs.

300 U.S. Army Rangers were selected to assault the German defended cliffs near Omaha Beach. They used grappling hooks and ladders borrowed from London fire departments. It was a suicide mission for many as only 90 Rangers survived the assault. Unknown to the Allies, the Germans had managed to heavily fortify this position just a few days prior to invasion. However, the German guns were not on the Pointe but more inland with a direct view to the beaches below. Monika told us that telephone polls were used in place of guns to fool anyone doing survelliance. It is still possible to view the German bunkers and bomb craters left behind.

Crater from Allied bombing
Crater from blown up bunker

The craters were massive and it is amazing how far the rocks and debris were scattered.

We walked to edge to view the cliffs of Point du Hoc. The ground was uneven and rocky so my mother stayed behind. The view from the precipice to the beach below was impressive.

Point du Hoc

View to the cliffs and beach

Point du Hoc shore line
The view from Point du Hoc provides a perspective of how far the defenses could view the beach.

We loved the tour and Overlord lived up to the excellent reviews. The detailed explanation of events and ability to touch and feel a sense of history provided very compelling memories that will stay with us for a lifetime.

We had a short ride back to Bayeux and arrive at around 12:45 pm. I paid the 55 euros in cash for each of us. We went to Reine Mathilde for lunch and sat outside under the shady awning. My mother was excited to have a glass of wine and I had ordered a sweet beverage.  The menu has a large selection of Gallettes, which are buckwheat open face crepes. I ordered the ham, cheese, potato and sour cream. My mother had one with steak. They were absolutely delicious!

Fabulous Gallette

After lunch we walked to Quai de' Aure for a view of the river and the watermill. Behind it there is an arched bridge from where you can see the towers of the cathedral.

Old Water Mill

We also stopped by a boutique, Naphtaline at 14-16 Parvis de la Cathedral. It is in an 18th century building. They sell porcelain and tapestries. We did not find anything to purchase. Actually the tapestries at Villa Lara were far more enticing.

There was one more stop before we had to head to the train station. We went to view the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry is a record of the events of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. It has been said that the Norman Conquest defines the 11th Century the same way that the D-Day landings defined the 20th Century.

There is a large building that holds the Tapestry. However, I am not sure what else there is to see inside.

Bayeux Tapestry Museum

The viewing room is horseshoe shaped and almost pitch black. The tapestry is behind glass and the display winds around two rooms. There is an inexpensive audio guide that explains what you are seeing. The entire tour only takes 22 minutes!

The tapestry depicts the events of William the Conqueror and his sailing from France to England to claim his throne. The tapestry was created after the Battle of Hastings. It is actually not a tapestry but an embroidery in colored wool on a piece of linen. It measures 19.7 inches high by 229.7 feet long. It is the most accurate document from the middle ages detailing the clothes, ships, weapons and lifestyle at the time. The are 58 individual scenes providing a realistic account of 1066. 

Scene of William being greeted
The scenes are very vivid with body parts and decapitated men laying on the ground. It is sort of ghoulish. The English did not have stirrups while the French horseman did.

Bayeux Tapestry depicting the heat of battle

It is said that the most interesting panels are #4-6 with Harrold crossing the channel, #14 Harrold's audience with William, #17 the river near Mont Saint Michel and #38-40 the Channel crossing and the march to Hastings. However, I found the majority of the tapestry compelling and appreciated the audio commentary which at times was quite funny.

In 1792 the Tapestry was spared from being used as a wagon cover! Napoleon displayed it in Paris. In 1944 in order to protect it during the war it was sent to Paris where it was hidden in the Louvre.

After viewing the Tapestry we perused the gift shop for about 10 minutes. They had the usual trinkets and some nicer items too. I purchased a postcard of the Tapestry room.

Postcard from Bayeux Tapestry Room

It was now time go to the train station for our departure at 15:29. We are taking the train to Lisieux where a taxi driver I contacted online will take us the rest of the way to Honfleur. I was able to convince my mother that the 20 minute walk was quite doable and that it would be "relaxing". She wasn't thrilled but put up minimal resistance as we took a leisurely stroll to the station. I had a map but it was easy to find.

We arrived about 15 minutes prior to the departure time. We had first class seats again and this time were the only passengers in this section. There were several people in the 2nd class compartment. We passed some sleepy fields and had a nice view of some windmills.

On our way to Lisieux

We arrived at Lisieux exactly on time at 16:17. The drive to Honfleur would be about 37 minutes. Symphony was scheduled to depart at 6:00 pm tonight. The only problem was our pre-arranged taxi driver, Daniel was no where to be found. He seemed so reliable via email that I just assumed he was running a few minutes late. He had even emailed a photo of his car and told us exactly where to meet. I had his cell number but after waiting 5 minutes knew something was a miss.

There were two taxis parked at the Lisieux station and I asked them if they knew Daniel. They didn't seem to and asked us where we were going. I told them the port in Honfleur for our cruise ship. We waited a couple more minutes but decided we needed to get going. We asked the taxi fare and were told it was 55 euros which was exactly what Daniel had confirmed. Luckily one of the drivers was willing to take us as we had now waited about 15 minutes for Daniel to no avail.

Our driver was excellent as I was getting a little nervous about our timing. He maneuvered through and around traffic on the motorway like Dario Franchetti. All seemed well until he exited the motorway a tad early. I had a sinking feeling he was taking us to the center of Honfleur. Sure enough he pulled up to the Vieux Bassin and the little boats moored there.

I wanted to laugh because the thought of getting one of these little tugs to Hamburg would be comical. However, I patiently explained with the use of a map showing the harbor with the Pont du Normandie where we needed to go. I suddenly had visions of taking the train to Paris and having to fly to Hamburg to meet the ship.

The driver understood but we still had some difficulty finding our way. Dangit for not writing down the exact directions yesterday! After several false starts with  having to turn around a few times we encountered a little red compact Renault that appeared to also be looking for the port.

We followed them around and finally made it to the ship. We were very happy as it was now 5:35 pm and the ship would theoretically leaving in 25 minutes! We had one additional problem in that the taxi fare was 67 euros and I only had around 55 euros. If we had not exited the motorway so early and gotten lost I am sure the fare would be less. I scrounged around in my purse for more euros. I found about 5 more. When I pulled out US dollars the driver seemed satisfied. I certainly would have paid him the full amount if had the funds on hand. I should also add the driver seemed very impressed by the Symphony. Perhaps he thought we had more money and were acting like paupers!

We boarded the ship but it did not appear that we would be departing soon. We learned that one of the Paris excursion buses had broken down and that we would be delayed for at least 35 minutes. I feel sorry for the people with an arduous journey back but it certainly worked in our favor.

We went to the room and were greeted by Sajna who had had one less room to take care of since we were gone last night. I know it is probably against policy but I hope she took a little "breather" and enjoyed some peace and quiet in our room.

Prior to dinner I walked around the promenade deck getting some fresh air. I noticed they were loading wood palettes on the ship and storing them below. It looked like they had a lot of them. I am guessing they were to protect the deck once the containers were loaded for the refurb.

I showered and changed for the semi-formal night in the Crystal Dining Room. We arrived and the room was already pretty busy. I wasn't that hungry and nothing on the regular menu appealed to me. I decided to order two vegetarian options.  I started with a Greek salad and then had the vegetable croquettes. Both were good but not fantastic. My mother had a seafood dish.

Greek Salad

Mother's seafood. Looks like a dumpling!

Vegetable Croquettes

Dessert was delectable strawberry crisps with chocolate. 

Strawberry wafers and chocolate

I took a photo of the small rocks I found on Omaha Beach.

Rocks from Omaha Beach

We had a fabulous time on our visit to Bayeux and also our D-Day tour. I am very grateful for Crystal scheduling the overnight stay in Honfleur. We were not only able enjoy Honfleur and Deauville the first day, but able to take advantage of the overnight stay and have more time for the D-Day Tour with Overlord. If it was just a day visit in port we never would have been able to see so much. I am hoping Crystal offers more overnights on their cruise itineraries in the future while at sea.

Tomorrow we have a sea day and look forward to a nice relaxing day on board. The weather is expected to deteriorate a bit but I am glad it lasted as long  as it did.

Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy


  1. Your Overlord tour looks fantastic. Thank you for providing a wonderful description of D-Day as allied and axis powers experienced it.


  2. Ever find out what happened to Daniel?