GUEST ARTICLE: While Paris is a splendid city to visit it is nice to take a short trip and have a completely different experience of France.
In December I went the railway station Paris St Lazare and picked up a ticket to Bayeux. The train trip took about two hours and there is a stop to change trains in Caen. It was all very straightforward. The train was clean and comfortable; the trip was much easier than catching a plane or driving.
photo credit: webjan
The train trip was a wonderful way to see a bit of the countryside on the way to Bayeux. However, since it was a wintry December, darkness descended quite quickly and the end of my train journey was in the dark.
There was, however, a benefit to arriving in the dark. The ancient cathedral of Bayeux was lit up against the night sky, and the view was breathtaking. My accommodation was at Le Bayeux in Rue Tardif which is in the old mediaeval part of the town only a short walk from the cathedral. The innkeeper, Mireille, was very friendly and provided wonderful local pastries for breakfast.
Within the old town of Bayeux are a number of fascinating historical sites and it is great to simply amble around the streets.
The Bayeux Cathedral still dominates the landscape – it is a miracle that has survived for so long including both World Wars. It is an imposing building with its Norman and Romanesque features, with the present building consecrated in 1077. The crypt in particular is interesting as it remains unaltered since the 11th century.
photo credit: pics by brian
One thing that should not be missed in Bayeux is the historic Bayeux Tapestry.
It is a magnificent piece of history, recording the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The museum is open all year around and informative audio is available to explain what you are seeing on the tapestry. I ended up walking around the tapestry several times so as to see all of the detail. There are some really gory depictions of the battle and aftermath on the tapestry that made me look twice. There is also a display upstairs in the Centre Guillaume Le Conquérant that depicts mediaeval life in Normandy.
The town of Bayeux has several traditional French bistros where you can eat local produce and try the local apple based spirit Calvados or the lovely local apple cider. There is even a pizza place in town in case you are sick of French food.
One thing that really made an impression to my Australian eyes was how green and lush the countryside looked. There were rolling hills dotted with fat and happy looking black and white cows. It turned out that this is dairy country and the cheese is fabulous.
The other thing that Normandy is famous for is the D-Day invasion of World War II. It is only a short drive to several of the landing beaches. I booked a tour of the landing beaches but missed the bus so my friendly innkeeper Mireille persuaded a friend of hers to drive me around.
Visiting the Normandy landing sites is somewhat sombre and it is hard to imagine how such terrible things can have happened in such a lush green landscape.
We went to Sainte Mère Eglise, which is a town with a lovely Norman church that is famous for the landing nearby of paratroops during the invasion. Famously one of the paratroopers became caught on the church spire and there is a rather ghoulish replica of the poor unfortunate man there even today.
Another site we visited was Pointe du Hoc where there is a memorial to the US Rangers who scaled the cliff using rope ladders. It is a rather forbidding cliff top where German artillery threatened several of the other landing sites. There also remain a number of huge bomb craters from that time. Again it is a beautiful area today but to think of how it felt to be at the bottom on that day long ago is sobering.
We also managed to visit Utah and Omaha beaches. They each seem so pleasant to visit today but the sad stories and memorials of D-Day colour my memory.
My stay in Bayeux was only two days and I wish it had been longer. The locals were friendly, the food was delicious, and the charm of the cobbled streets of the mediaeval town enticing to someone who loves history.
This travel diary has been written by my friend Kate Carruthers.
Kate is a Digital Strategy Consultant at Digital Business Group and has a breadth of experience in business and enterprise information technology. At present her focus is online collaboration, social computing, digital media, and integration of online and offline strategies. She also blogs at Aide-Memoire about such diverse topics as Enterprise 2.0, Lolcats and Geek Girls. She can be found on Twitter and Linkedin
If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution