Tag Archives: Europe 2014

Europe 2014 – Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel is an abbey built up towards the heavens on an island off the coast of Normandy. It has been a pilgrimage site since 708 AD when the voice of Archangel Michael commanded the bishop of Avranches to build a church on the mount. Originally, pilgrims had to cross a mudflat, braving wild surging tides, disorienting fog, and quicksand. Today, it’s much easier to reach thanks to a paved causeway connecting the island to the nearby town and visitors center.

From Bayeux, it was an easy 75 minute drive. Our guidebook warned us that crowds were horrendous mid-day, so we planned to arrive early and leave shortly after lunch. After parking on the mainland, we boarded a free shuttle bus to take us across the causeway, and began the winding walk up to the abbey. Following our guidebook’s suggestion, we took a path to the left, avoiding both crowds and stairs, and happened upon some incredible views along the way.

At the tippy top of the mountain is the abbey, the idea being that the closer to heaven and the more removed from society and its temptations, the better. Because there wasn’t enough level ground to support a church of a decent size, the abbey actually sits on four large crypts which were built to hold up the wings of the church. This plan worked until 1421 when one of the wings collapsed. We were assured that the remaining and rebuilt wings were architecturally sound and that we would be perfectly safe exploring the abbey and the crypts below 🙂

The picture below was taken in the Hall of the Grand Pillars, which is the crypt that collapsed in the 15th century. Those columns are 15 feet around; the architects rebuilding this wing certainly didn’t want history to repeat itself.

After our tour of the abbey, we walked down the main street and were amazed at how crowded it had become. It truly was wall-to-wall people hiking up the mountain. We stopped at the Restaurant le St. Michel for huge, tasty platters of mussels and were thankful we’d gotten to the island early.

We drove back to Bayeux, picked up a bottle of wine, and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the world go by from our hotel room balcony. It was our last day of our Europe 2014 vacation, and I wouldn’t have spent it any other way.

Europe 2014 – D-Day Beaches

Our D-Day itinerary included a full day of sites, beaches, and memorials. Armed with a map and some snacks, we set out from Bayeux early that morning. Our first stop was Arromanches, about a 10 minute drive to the north.

Arromanches was the launching point for the Allied invasion. Overnight, 17 ships sailed across the English Channel to the coast of Arromanches. Once in place, their crews sank the ships, bow to stern, to form a sea barrier. Adding to the barrier were 500 tugboats and 115 “Mulberries” – floating cement blocks the size of football fields – which were also sunk. All this created a 4-mile long sea wall about 1.5 miles off-shore. Once the sea wall was established, the Allies could bring in floating steel “pierheads”, from which they extended floating roads (made of concrete pontoons) all the way to the shore. The operation was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, and so the harbor was dubbed Port Winston. Over just 6 days, the Allies brought 54,000 vehicles, 326,000 troops, and 110,000 tons of supplies across the English Channel in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. The harbor was designed to be temporary, but various pieces still remain scattered around the beach.

We spent time at the D-day Landing Museum, which did an amazing job explaining how the harbor was constructed and allowing us to appreciate the sacrifice of so many soldiers who left their lives on the beach below. It was chilling to imagine such a site, and footage of the invasion left us pretty emotional.

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Europe 2014 – London Part III

On our third and final day in London, we were again blessed with great weather – sunny and almost warm enough to walk around without a coat. We headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was designed by Christopher Wren and built during the 17th century. Due to the fairly high cost (16.50 GBP) and Adam’s relative indifference to church interiors, we decided not to go inside.

Millennium Bridge

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Europe 2014 – London Part II

Our second day in London dawned bright and clear, with only a slight chill in the air. For London weather, it was absolutely perfect, and I was thrilled that I had planned for our morning to be spent on a walking tour through the city. Per the recommendation of friends and our guidebook, we decided on the company London Walks and chose the This is London – Flash! Bang! Lightening Highlights Tour! to get an overview of the city and see a lot of sites quickly. Here’s an excerpt of the tour description from the website:

And so we come to the rem acu tetigiste moment: everything you want to see in the famous heart of London can be seen on foot in two hours! Seen better. Seen up close. Seen round behind. Because we can go where the buses can’t. Seen better. Guided better. Fraction of the cost. So, hey ho and off we go – off to see all the classic sights in the heart of London. Tick ’em off: the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, the quintessential Royal Park, classy St. James’s, the Mall, Trafalgar Square, Admiralty Arch, Birdcage Walk, Queen Anne’s Gate, you name it. They’re all here – all the London pearls.

The tour started at the Westminster Abbey tube stop, right across from the Elizabeth Tower, the structure that houses Big Ben (as our guide reminded us, “Ben is not the clock, not the tower, but the bell that tolls the hour“). Thanks to the marvelous efficiency of the London Tube, we arrived 20 minutes early and had plenty of time to walk around a bit and take some pictures.

Big Ben

Westminster Pier

Big Ben gate

(Warning: what you are about to experience, some might consider picture overload. If you and your internet connection are up for viewing tons of vacation pictures, please continue after the jump.) Continue reading