Tag Archives: France

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 – Bayeux

From Paris, we took a train to Bayeux, a small town famous for a certain tapestry. After the hustle and bustle of two major cities (London and Paris), we were ready for some small-town ambience and relaxation. Bayeux would also serve as a great home base for exploring the nearby D-Day beaches.

We arrived in Bayeux, dropped our bags off at our wonderful bed & breakfast, and set out to explore the town. After a quick stroll, we arrived at the cathedral, the heart of Bayeux.

Bayeux is only 6 miles from the D-Day beaches, but incredibly, the city (and its magnificent cathedral) was spared destruction during WWII because a local chaplain made sure the Allied forces knew that Bayeux was not a German headquarters. The cathedral, dating back to 1077, is as large as Notre Dame in Paris, and absolutely dominates the city. Historians believe the Bayeux Tapestry originally hung in the nave, which is decorated with Norman geometric carvings.

Bayeux was the first city liberated after the D-Day landings, and there are memorial plaques all around the city to commemorate the victory and give thanks for the American and British troops.

We watched the sun set behind the cathedral, then headed to a cafe for onion soup, crepes, and wine. It was an incredible, relaxing day.

For more information on our Europe 2014 trip, check out these other blog posts:

  • 2 nights in Reykjavik  Hallgrimskirkja church, yummy food, and gorgeous scenery
  • London Part I – arrival in London, fish & chips, a snazzy pub, and the British Library
  • London Part II – walking tour of London highlights, Westminster Abbey, and an Irish pub
  • London Part III – St. Paul’s, Borough Market, and an incredible WWI memorial at the Tower of London
  • Paris Part Ia walk through Luxembourg gardens and sunset at the Eiffel Tower
  • Paris Part IIthree blockbuster sites: Notre Dame, Versailles, and Sainte Chapelle
  • Paris Part III – the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Auguste Rodin museum
  • D-Day Beaches – paying tribute to the Greatest Generation
  • Mont Saint-Michel – an abbey on an island

Europe 2014 – Paris Part III

It was our third and final day in Paris and we’d saved some of the best museums for last – the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Musée Rodin.

We arrived at the Louvre just before it opened, and the line to enter through the pyramid was already an hour long. Because those people were waiting to buy tickets into the museum and not to get into the museum itself, we were able to waltz right in using our Paris Museum Pass (which we’d purchased the day before at the Versailles TI). Rather than deal with the crowds at the lauded pyramid entrance, we took advantage of the special Museum Pass/Group Entrance under the pedestrian walkway (Pavilion Richelieu). A disinterested attendant casually glanced at our passes, and that was that.

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Europe 2014 – Paris Part II

Our second day of Paris was full of sightseeing – I knew our plan to see Notre Dame, Versailles, and Sainte Chapelle in one day was pretty ambitious, and that we’d need serious fuel to get us through the day ahead. Around the corner from our hotel was a delicious bakery and a Starbucks, so those were our first stops that morning – 2 pain au chocolates and a croissant from la boulangerie and a tall latte from the ‘bucks set us up for success. (And don’t think I can’t hear you gasping, Starbucks in a foreign country? How utterly American of you! I know. It kind of crushed my soul too, but after reading in a reputable source that Parisian coffee is awful – with some exceptions – I opted to swallow my pride in favor nearby, palatable caffeine.)

Fortified with sugar and caffeine, we took the metro to the Châtelet stop and walked across the bridge to the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine river that is the heart of Paris. We stopped to view the statue of Charlemagne the Great, and then joined the mass of tourists waiting in line to enter the Cathedral.

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Europe 2014 – Paris Part I

Early in the morning, we boarded a train from London’s St. Pancras International station and a few hours later, arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord. From Gare du Nord, we made our way to our hotel, located southeast of Luxembourg Gardens. By the time we checked into our hotel and freshened up, it was time for lunch. Because we were staying in a very residential area away from the tourist hubbub, we decided that wandering the area and looking at menus was our best option. We didn’t have far to go, as there was a very enticing cafe only a block away from our hotel. It was clearly a local place, with daily specialties scrawled on a chalkboard and very little in the way of English translations.

Luckily for us, most of the waiters seemed to speak enough English that we were able to order lunch and wine without any hassle whatsoever. Adam ordered some heavenly casserole concoction of cheese, ham, potatoes, and enough cream to kill a cat, while I ordered a salad, which sounds healthy, but only because you don’t know that it came with cheese, bacon, and potatoes cooked in duck fat. If I could get that kind of salad in America, I’d be ordering a lot more of them, let me tell you! After an amazing first meal in Paris, we walked towards the Eiffel Tower through Luxembourg Gardens. There were statues, and fountains, and a former palace built by a Medici princess.

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