09/19/2010, Le Mont St-Michel, Saint-Malo, Tréhorenteuc
Photo: the girls at Le Mont St-Michel.
Today we took leave of our friends in St-Agnan and headed east, first to Le Mont St-Michel, and then to Saint-Malo. As this weekend marks "Les Jours de Patrimoine" (Heritage Days), all museums are free, and so both towns were fairly bustling with tourists from far and near. At Saint-Malo, we saw the arrival of the Norweigan tall ship "Sorlandet", which has been chartered by my former school, West Island College, for its "Class Afloat" programme. The "Sorlandet" replaces the "Concordia", which sank last year off Brazil, fortunately with no loss of life. We managed to exchange a few words with the students, including a Nova Scotian at the "Sorlandet's" helm, and found they had just completed their inaugural passage from Norway.
After we left Saint-Malo, we headed south-east and wound up spending the night at a "gîte" in Tréhorenteuc, on the edge of "la fôret Brocéliande". En route, we saw a sign advertising a "festive dinner", and since we were just a little to the left of starving, we decided to check it out. When we arrived at the dinner site, we found a deserted courtyard inside a very old manoir. However, the owner soon materialised to explain that we had unfortunately missed the big dinner as it had been held the day before, and it was evident from the décor still hanging inside the courtyard that it had been quite the affair, with medieval banners on display and enough tables and benches for nearly two hundred. After introductions and a brief explanation of our predicament (no dinner, no place to stay), the owner (Alain) and his family and friends who were still cleaning up the leftovers from the night before promptly offered (a) a beer, (b) to call around and find a place for us to stay, and (c) a tour of the manoir. The original manoir was built by nobility in the 1400's, and the "modern" part of the manoir was built in the mid-1700's. We left with directions to a place to stay and wanting to come back for next year's medieval dinner. We also found out that the Brocéliande Forest is the site of many of the Arthurian Legends, such as Merlin's Tomb, the Valley of No Return, and the home of the knights Lancelot, Gawaine, and Morgana la Fey.
09/18/2010, Courseulles-sur-Mer, FR
Photo: Steph at Juno Beach
From our temporary base at François and Joseé's home in St-Agnan le Malherbe, we drove to Courseulles-sur-Mer and Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed at D-Day. Steph has been busy snapping photos and writing down her impressions as part of her First and Second World War studies. The Juno Beach Centre here is staffed by Canadians, but unlike the WWI memorials at Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel, it is run by a Veterans' non-profit organization. The museum itself is well-designed, with plenty of information about Canada before, during, and after the war, and it is a short walk to the beaches where some of the remains of Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" still stand, a reminder of the fierce opposition the Canadians faced when they landed on 6 June 1944. One bunker shows the visible scars of a shell hitting just above the gun emplacement, and this particular bunker was stormed by Lieut. Aiken's company of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, at the cost of three-quarters of his men. Many of them are buried a short distance to the south at the Canadian Cemetary at Bény-sur-Mer, along with more than 2,000 other Canadians who fell in the early weeks of the Normandy campaign. One cannot help but be moved by the immaculate condition in which these beautifully-designed cemetaries are maintained in stark contrast to the horrific conditions that claimed their occupants, and if surveying the row upon rows of headstones is not sombre enough, some of the poignant tributes left at a few of the headstones really strike home; one in particular was a note to a 19-year old soldier killed shortly after D-Day, written on the back of a photo that had to have been taken when he was a young boy, surrounded by family on a prairie farm.
Needing a bit of a lift to the day's mood, we drove into Caen and visited the Château and Musée de Normandie, where William the Conqueror built his principal castle, and Marine furthered her study of the Middle Ages....in France it is easy to pass through several eras of historical artefacts and monuments within a few kilometres!
09/17/2010, St-Agnan-le-Malherbe and Bayeux
(Photo: "Decisions, decisions...." Marine in sweet and sticky heaven in Bayeux)
After an enjoyable morning picking blackberries with Pierre (which will soon be coverted into jam), we headed into Bayeux to view the famous Bayeux Tapestry, a 68-metre embroidered cloth that depicts the events leading up to and culminating with the Battle of Hastings in 1066 in which William the Conqueror became King of England. My mother's family is french in origin, and apparently crossed the Channel with William. The tapistry was commissioned in 1077, and while there is debate as to whether it was fabricated in England or France and to what extent it served as Norman propaganda, what is remarkable is that it has survived largely intact. The detail in the tapestry is such that we did the self-guided audio tour twice; first to appreciate the story, and the second time to appreciate the details of the embroidery and the accuracy (physical, if not political) of many of the episodes portrayed. Marine compared it to the battle scenes depicted on the walls of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. After a walkabout through Bayeux, we drove back to St-Agnan-le-Malherbe for dinner with the Katzs, followed by a very welcome swim at a nearby municipal pool. Upon our return, we were struck by the brilliance of the moon and the starry night sky, something we don't usually get to enjoy as much at home as the city night lights of Halifax usually wash it out. La vie en compagne est belle!