Saturday, May 19, 2012

Our Tour of Normandy, France

American Cemetary
Several years ago Ben and I more or less backed into our very first river cruise, which happened to be through Provence on the Rhone and Saone rivers. It whetted our appetite for more river cruising and for a return to this region one day since we coped with some pretty chilly weather during that early spring sailing.

For this cruise we canvassed some faithful clients and friends about a trip to France, and many expressed interest in adding a Normandy extension. As it turned out, most who joined us are retired military and spouses, adding a new dimension to our tour of the landing beaches.

Ed, Eva & Mathias

Ben got busy making inquiries of fellow agents and various sources to find just the right guide; and what a find indeed with Edward Robinson. A military history major, this 40-year-old Irishman knew more about the events of D-Day, the weaponry, and the key military personnel than anyone Ben or our other military traveling mates had ever seen before. For our group of 18, Ed enlisted fellow independent guides Mathias Leclere and Eva Ruttger as we visited the fortifications and landing sites of Omaha Beach, the American Cemetary, the Omaha Beach Memorial Museum, and Sainte-Mere-Eglise church--now containing the Parachute Memorial--that was memoralized in the epic movie, The Longest Day.
 Though we managed to avoid all but brief patches of rain, we didn‘t escape the cold winds so typical of Northern France. All we could think of was what an impact weather must have had on our troops already under unbearable stress. God bless their sacrifices for our country and our allies!

Hotel Vill Lara
 We headquarted in the town of Bayeaux, one of the first towns liberated by Allied forces and one that escaped relatively unharmed from the ravages of war. The city center is dominated by an imposing Gothic cathedral. Not far away is a small museum housing the impressive Bayeaux Tapestry, an extraordinary embroidered rendering of Duke William‘s conquest of England in 1066. Both its origin and weavers remain a mystery today, but it is believed to date from the mid-15th century. Audio guides in several languages tell the story of the battle, and the musuem is well worth a visit.

Ben had initially selected the Churchill Hotel in Bayeux for our stay, but quickly learned that it was already too booked to accomodate our group. Owner Rema advised, though, that her adjacent brand new Hotel Villa Lara would be completed prior to our visit and recommended that we reserve it instead. Wow, are we glad we did. It's already recognized as the only 4-star hotel in the town and receiving rave reviews on Trip Advisor. You will find ours there next! Beautifully appointed rooms, friendly and accomodating staff, and an owner who undoubtedly knows how to run a hotel. Highly recommended.

Mont Saint-Michel

A few in our group, myself included, wanted to visit Mont Saint-Michel about 1 1/2 hours southwest of Bayeux. This amazing city built on a rock is topped by an imposing abbey rising 580 feet from floodplains that witness the second highest tides in the world. It ranks second only to Notre Dame in Paris among churches visited in France.

We had rented three vans for our journey through Europecar (Auto Europe) at the Charles de Gaulle airport but with the ability to return them at the Lyon rail station. As you might guess, the only frustrating parts of our drive to Lyon for the cruise were driving through Paris traffic and then trying to find our way through a maze of streets to the car return center buried in the Lyon train station!

Finally, however, we boarded our ship, the Amadagio, and began our cruise through Provence.

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