Wednesday June 8, 2011, Bayeux in Calvados, Normandy, France.
One of the ironies of my visit to Calvados, Normandy was that I was there during the 67th anniversary of D-Day, and I hadn't even thought about touring sites related to WWII. I was focused 800 years before that on the 12th century. For a moment I was sad that I had no time to learn more about that day in our history in the place where it happened. But I had a mission to focus on those sites that were much older. I did enjoy being able to talk to so many Americans and Canadians (and some ex-pat Brits) in Bayeux and Caen who were there visiting or working because of the D-Day tourist attractions.
Wednesday, June 8th, I took the mid-afternoon train from Caen to Bayeux without incident. It was a 30-minute trip. Because it was one of the cheapest train tickets I would buy, my travel agent had suggested I not use my EuRail Pass and, instead, purchase the ticket directly. So I followed her advice. My, how much easier it was not having to deal with the EuRail Pass!
During this tour of Europe, whenever I arrived at a new destination and before I departed the train, I would ask myself, am I really at the right place? I had a moment like that at Bayeux. Earlier that day, I had called the Hotel Churchill for directions from the train station to the hotel. A lovely gentlemen gave me detailed instructions in an impeccable British accent, and I wrote them out on my travel itinerary. But I was disheartened when I looked out the window as the train arrived. The Bayeux train station appeared to be in the middle of an industrial area. Nothing hotel-like or town-like around. I stared at the paper that spelled out the directions, hoping it would all make sense once I started walking. (Looking back on this incident, I can't help thinking that travel would have been so much easier a couple years later, after I had upgraded to a smartphone with GPS built-in. But it would have changed the nature of the adventure. And I would not wish for that now.)
Directions Scribbled on The Travel Society Itinerary for Hotel Churchill in Bayeux, France:
Come out of Train Station. Cross street (the junction with bypass) St Rue de Cremil.
Go straight. At light go straight: On Rue aux Coqu.
In 300m on left street going down. Turn (right before parking lot) Before street curves right: This is Place de Tribunal. Court Building.
Place de Quebec. Parking. Hotel is there.
The scribbles didn't make complete sense, But I knew I would figure it out. I was three weeks into my travels and nothing horrible had happened. Even the horsefly bite hadn't set me back. Upon exiting Bayeux le Gare, I took the opposite direction of most other people getting off the train, crossing the street as instructed. Then I hesitated. I wasn't in a great hurry and I still didn't see what looked like a quaint French village, so I glanced again at the map in my guide book. No, I was right. I was heading in the right direction.
After crossing the street I came to a roundabout, which was not mentioned in the directions at all. It passed under a highway bypass, which was. There were no street signs in front of the station so I couldn't confirm which street I was on. Where was St. Rue de Cremil? I traveled around the roundabout clockwise heading north-northwest. Ah! There it was! Rue de Cremil! I followed it northwest and, to my relief, traveled away from industrial modern Bayeux. The town center was actually quite small and quaint. Aha! Rue de Cremil BECOMES Rue aux Coqs! That's right! Now I was cooking. I found my left turn and went down along the Place de Quebec, skirting the parking lot, and winding my way by the court building and there it was, as the street bent right. I walked into the lobby and I had entered a Hotel in the middle of Old London.
Editor's note: I later found out that the roundabout I traveled through was part of a larger “ring road,” which was the first of it's kind in Europe, having been built by British military engineers right after D-Day.
Journal Excerpt, Wednesday June 8, 2011, Hotel Churchill:
Feeling so welcomed at Hotel Churchill. One clerk says I have brought the sun. The other clerk reminds me of a Dickens' character: Small, robust, a bit round-shouldered, balding, white hair, spectacles. He wore a brown tweed jacket over a white dress shirt and dress slacks and shoes. My guy wore a black suit—formal yet friendly.
The Hotel Churchill did seem like it was lifted from an 18th-century British novel. I wouldn't have been surprised if the older clerk had a pocket watch anchored to the button hole of his waistcoat. English was everywhere! My room was on the first floor (second floor for us US types). To get to it I had to go up a stair and cross a walkway into an adjacent building. The room was small and comfortable with lots of light. There was a lovely view on my way to and from the lobby and dining room through the elevated walkway, which looked down on a courtyard with of urns filled with flowers and small trees. There were also flowers everywhere along throughout the old city center.
I would have a short stay in Bayeux--only two nights-- and I was leaving by the 2:30 train that last afternoon, Friday, the 10th. I had planned to see Mont Saint Michel, a rocky hill of an island in the middle of a tidal flat along the coast between Bayeux and St. Malo. At its peak was an 8th-century monastery. Sometimes the island was connected to the mainland, sometimes it was surrounded on all sides by water. It was an ancient site that had survived the hundred years war and the Nazi's. I was not going to miss it! Mont Saint Michel was about an hour-and-a-half journey by shuttle. Unfortunately, Thursday's shuttle had been completely full when my travel agent called to make arrangements for me, and she was forced to book me on the tour for Friday. That meant I was at great risk of missing my train if I went. So, one of the first things I did upon arriving at the Churchill was to ask to change my reservation on the shuttle to Thursday. I was in luck! They now had room, and my reservation was changed to the next morning. I had to be ready to leave at 8:20a.m., so no lounging in bed!
There was plenty of time left before dinner, so after changing my reservation with the clerk, I headed for the Tapestry museum. The Tapestry museum houses the famous Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066. During the battle, Duke William of Normandy, formerly Bill the Bastard, defeated King Harold of England and took the crown from him, becoming William I of England. There are many myths surrounding this tapestry, and some questions remain unanswered. But scholars believe that the tapestry was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William's half brother, and made in England by seamstresses or monks. It is not technically a tapestry because the design is not part of the woven fabric. The design was embroidered onto a woven piece of off-white linen. Some art historians now refer to it as the Bayeux Embroderie. The Bayeux tapestry is 230 feet long and 20 inches tall. It is the largest medieval tapestry of its kind to survive (panels of a Scandinavian embroidery using the same basic technique have been found dating from the 9th century and were likely the precursor of Anglo Saxon and Norman embroidery). The Bayeux Tapestry survived the Huguenot invasion of the 16th century, the French Revolution of the 18th century, and both the Nazi occupation and the Normandy Landing in the 1940s. It depicts, among other things, Haley's Comet, which helps date it to after 1066.
The museum is housed in a beautiful 19th-century building, which was a former seminary, complete with a replica of a Norman ship out front. There were three Japanese flags standing beside the longboat. I have no idea why. Inside, after paying my fee, I received an audio guide in English that described each panel of the tapestry. In the viewing room, the tapestry is laid out in full under glass and in the dark. The tapestry is back lit so the images in each panel glow. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the low light. Flash photography is not allowed, so I did not attempt to take a picture with my little Canon Powershot. I was amazed at the brightness of the colors in this 950-year-old work. The border was full of little figures, some naked, some dismembered (in battle, one would presume) and some farming the fields and going about their business. Controversies surround some of the panels. In the one in which King Harold gets shot in the eye by an arrow, there is a clear label above his head that says, Harold Rex. However in the next panel, a different figure who experts believe is Harold, is killed with a sword. Above this figure's head, it says interfectus est, or "he is slain." Evidence shows that the arrow was added in the 19th century, so the original meaning of the panel is still under debate.
The tapestry was so astounding to me with so many figures and scenes depicted, I went back the next day to see it again after I returned from Mont Saint Michel.
I found dinner at a local cafe, and when I returned to my room, I called my 82-year-old father back home in the States. My sister had mentioned in an email that he was worried about me traveling by myself. He hadn't heard from me since I left, other than through the post cards I had sent him and the other members of my family, as well as my friends. I knew my dad would want to hear my voice. I imagined he was thinking the worst: me being kidnapped or caught up in a terrorist bombing. He was relieved to talk with me and glad to hear that nothing bad had happened. He was doing okay, but only okay. He was having a lot of trouble adjusting to living alone since my mother died almost a year before. He was still living in the house I grew up in, in the country. He was worried about me; I was a bit worried about him. So, we were even. But my mother's death had also affected me. I think it is one of the reasons I had to take this eight-week trip alone. Mom was a writer, teacher, and traveler. She had visited New Zealand by herself and had traveled to Europe with walking tours without my father, who didn't like to travel. I had traveled with her to Ireland twice, and in some ways, we were traveling together on this trip.
That night I slept soundly because, in the morning, I was off early to tour Mont Saint Michel. It should be something.
TO BE CONTINUED!