When we first started planning our trip, we didn’t intend to visit the D-Day Beaches. We knew our time was limited and the beaches are a little out of the way. But then Cristen’s brother, who served in Afghanistan, asked her to bring him back some sand from the D-Day beaches and we adjusted our plans to include it. We chose to stay in Bayeux because it’s conveniently located near the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery, but we still wanted to get an early start in the morning. We had a pretty full agenda – visiting at least one beach and the American Cemetery and Memorial, then driving to Mont Saint-Michel for a visit, and then we had a 4-hour drive back to Paris. But since we were in Bayeux, we simply couldn’t leave without seeing the Bayeux Tapestry.
So we drove into town just before the museum was supposed to open, and it was even better in the daylight.
And here’s the museum where the tapestry is located.
We got there just as a bus full of tourists arrived. It’s a very straightforward museum. You walk in, pay your money, pick up your audio guide in your chosen language (which I actually did use even though I’m averse to audio guides), and then you listen to the narrative of the tapestry as you stroll along. The tapestry is so much longer than you expect, but it’s also incredibly fascinating. I absolutely loved looking at it. We couldn’t take photos because of preservation, but the wikipedia entry I linked to earlier has some great details. I especially loved the battle scenes with the charging horses (it’s amazing how they depicted speed with just thread) and the dying bodies. It was definitely worth the stop.
It was a short drive from Bayeux to the American Cemetery. We could tell they catered to American tourists because we saw a sign for “Quick Lunch” and the cemetery had a huge parking lot. Aww… American conveniences. The coast wasn’t at all how I pictured. I kept expecting to see beach in front of me, but we arrived at the cemetery before I even saw the water. That’s because the land actually drops off quite suddenly. It was quite green and lush.
They had this nifty model of where all of the beaches are and how they figured in the invasion.
Here’s a close-up of the diagram.
There’s a path that leads down to the beach. Cristen started down it with a bottle for sand while I went to see the memorial.
Even though I’m a Master of American Studies (according to Purdue University, class of 2007), my knowledge of American History is pretty sketchy. It’s based off anything I’ve read in books, seen in movies, or learned in Art History. Luckily there are lots of great WWII movies, and if you need a refresher, there’s lots of diagrams on the memorial wall.
Also even though I’m a Master of American Studies (see how I got that in there twice?), I’ve never been the most patriotic American. Or at least, my patriotism often swells at surprising times. But walking into the American Cemetery, I choked up with the overwhelming feeling of gratitude and sadness all at once. I remember visiting Arlington National Cemetery when I was about 15 and looking out at all of the thousands of crosses and thinking about the wastefulness of war. I am proud of those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. We so often speak of the men and women in the military as “the military” or “the armed forces” or some other vague group. And then you visit Arlington or the American Cemetery and you are confronted with rows and rows of individual markers. It’s hard not to think about the wastefulness of lives cut short.
But like I said, it’s sadness mixed with a deep gratitude.