Sunday, September 14, 2014

Normandy and Brittany

While I have mentioned  my time in Paris, I have yet to mention the two days I spent in Normandy and Brittany. After spending four days soaking up the sights in Paris, my classmates and I set out for Brittany and Normandy. After leaving Paris, we stopped in Chartres to see the Cathedral of Chartres. We had a wonderful tour guide who explained to us how to read stained glass windows from the bottom to the top, like going from earth to heaven. The Cathedral was wonderful and then we had free time to explore the town, Chartres can be best described as quaint, with cobblestone pathways and little shops lining the winding streets. While wandering, I saw a farmer'a market with fresh local produce and I stopped in the boulangerie and a sweet shop. The sweet shop, with red awnings and boxes filled to the brim with chocolate, was so inviting.  Caramels and chocolate bonbons covered the counter tops, creating tablecloths of candy, the aroma wafting out onto the street. It was so hard to resist the sweet treasures within the shop! With my classmates, we sat an ate lunch while basking in the French sunlight, stopping to take photos in front of the small river running through the town. After our few hours in Chartres, we made our way to San Malo.

The Cathedral in Chartres
With my friend Lexie by the river in Chartres

Basking in the French sunlight in Chartres- There is nothing like the sun in France!
San Malo is a seaside town on the English Channel, with ramparts on the perimeter that kept pirates out! After our arrival, we spent time walking along these ramparts, relishing in getting to see the French coast and the town from the top of the wall. The next day, we made our pilgrimage to Mont-Saint-Michel, a popular religious site that honors St. Michel the archangel. Like any pilgrimage, we walked from the parking lot all the way to Mont-Saint-Michel, which took about forty minutes. While walking, I thought about all the other pilgrims that walked this path before me; it was moving to think about all of the other believers and what they must have felt walking along the path. The actual Abbey is high off the Mont, so we ascended up the stairs to visit the Abbey. Inside, there was a chapel and a garden on the roof, with small shrubs and a scattering of flower beds. My favorite part was the old mill used to send provisions to the monks from the town below the Abbey! After our trip to Mont-Saint-Michel, we went back to San Malo to spend our night laying on the beach waiting to watch the sunset. For dinner, we ate fries and ice cream in the sand and spent some time petting Igor, the dog in a shoe store. We sat on the sun, breathing in the crisp ocean air. Every night, the tide gets low enough that there is a small island that used to be a monastery turned prison that we walked to once the tide receded. From there, we watched the sun fall into the ocean. This night was probably my favorite of the trip so far. It was so beautiful to watch the sunset on the coast of France on an island that can only be walked to at certain times of the day when the tide is right.

                                                         Mont-Saint-Michel from afar                                                                  

The Abbey

With Lexie and Kathleen on Mont-Saint-Michel

My French love, Igor

           Here I am with some of my classmates walking the path from the beach to the island off the coast once the water receded enough!

I can walk on water!

Enjoying the beach in San Malo

The amazing French sunset- a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

On our last day in France, the group headed out to Normandy. Before we got to Normandy, we stopped in Bayeux to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry, which was longer than I had anticipated, depicts the battle between William the Conqueror and Harold II. The tapestry was used to educate the illiterate public about this important battle, with each section numbered to depict a new scene. The amount of detail made the tapestry incredibly impressive, along with the few earth tone colors that were used. After our brief time in Bayeux, we found ourselves at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. On June 6, 1944, Allied soldiers came to the French coast to liberate the French from the Nazi regime. We walked through the museum, learning some of the history behind the invasion. We saw the cemetery, with hundreds and hundreds of crosses and Stars of David all perfect rows almost as if they were soldiers standing at attention. Being in Normandy was haunting: it is a graveyard after all. Naturally, I walked to the beach to see where the Allied forces entered France and I was surprised; Normandy beach is gorgeous. It was hard for me to imagine this serene beach was once a battle ground, a place of death, destruction, and horror. It was difficult to imagine this being a place of war and the final resting place for so many. So many emotions flooded over me during my time at Omaha Beach After a harrowing day at Normandy, we made it back to Belgium that night.

The cemetery and Omaha Beach

St. Malo and Normandy were wonderful places to visit and France was a great first trip! Hopefully every one of my trips will be as exciting as this one!

With the girls and the sunset!

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