France - Normandy Beach / Mont Saint Michel
Friday 8th February 2008]
We checked out of our rooms around 11 a.m and got to Hertz
taking some sandwiches we’d bought along the way with us
in the car for lunch. Then we were off. Thank goodness for
the GPS system that we had rented along with the car. With
the windy roads in Paris and all the unfamiliar road names
in French, we would have been stuck without a clue as to
where to go without the GPS system.
The car we rented was a cute, black Opel Corsa. It was a manual
car, and I loved the fact that the gears shifted pretty smoothly.
And being small, I could navigate it pretty easily through the traffic.
Surprisingly, Parisian traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought it would
be. Either that, or with my experience driving in Singapore,
and in Los Angeles, driving in Paris was a breeze.
So we headed for the Normandy beaches that the Allied troops
had landed at on D-Day 1944. Kavin was really looking forward
to seeing history up close. After driving for a couple of hours,
along some winding roads passing through farmlands and small
towns and getting a little off-course at one point in time,
we finally reached the American War Memorial near Omaha
beach at 3.45 p.m
Upon reaching the war memorial, we watched a short movie entitled
‘Letters’, featuring the stories of the young men who had written letters home to their loved ones.
It was so sad to hear the words written by
these young men, and then to see their gravestones as the frames
told their stories and visually ended with a picture of their graves.
It was poignant how young these men, were killed at the peak
of their young lives.
We walked later around the cemetery. Crosses stretched out
over the area, covering every bit of green. Over 10,000 lives lost.
We took a walk down the pathway to the beach. With the beauty
of the sunset fast approaching, the waves rushing over the orange-brown sands and a couple of dogs playing along the coast lines, and some pretty houses dotting the hills just above, it was hard to imagine that barely 60 years ago, this same beach was the scene of much bloodshed, pain and screams of young men being massacred, the roar of guns and grenades exploding, reverberating around this now tranquil place….I could almost hear the whispers of those who died pleading, “Remember us, so that our deaths are not in vain.”
Hopefully, time will not erase the memory of the courage these men
showed in the face of war and death, in helping to save strangers that they had never met, thousands of miles away from home.
We made our way to Point Du Hoc after this. The place was pockmarked with huge craters, covered in green grass and weeds. I initially wondered if nature’s erosions had caused the craters, but realized later that they
were probably the result of mortars, and bombs exploding during WWII,eating the land away.
Nothing except decrepit barracks and twisted fragments of concrete, rock and steel remained. Kavin explained
that this was where allied troops had scaled a steep cliff face in order
to take out German artillery guns.
Nature had slowly but surely reclaimed her land, covering the holes
Man had made with a carpet of green. The Pointe-Du-Hoc monument
itself stood close to the edge of the cliff, cordoned off, because the land on which it stood was in danger of eroding away and collapsing.
Some more pictures of Normandy and the American War Memorial can be seen here.
Kavin and I walked back to the car as dusk fell, and continued
our journey towards Mont St Michel.
It appeared in the distance, in the dark, bathed in soft light,
like something out of a dream, looking otherworldly, “Magical”
as Kavin described it, and as we drove closer, Mont St Michel
got a little larger in view, till at last we were at the edge of the
causeway that would take us to the rocky outcrop.
I was glad that we had chosen to stay in a hotel on the Mont itself
instead of one on the mainland. It seemed a pity for the people who
stayed in one of the many hotels on the mainland to be so close,
yet so far away from the Mont.
Anyway, we drove along the causeway, with only our headlights
to guide the way on the darkened road. We wound down the windows,
listening to the water’s ebb and flow and the crunch of the gravel
beneath the car tires. The cold wind played hide and seek with our
Water surrounded us on both sides of the road and it truly was magical driving towards the abbey on the causeway.
It seemed as if we were floating upon the heavens, water around us,
and the stars twinkling above, and before us, the majestic Mont Saint Michel.
It looked like some faraway heavenly castle, perched upon that rock.
Truly an architectural marvel.
We pulled up to the carpark area and because we were staying
on the Mont itself, we had access to the parking lot that was closest
to the Mont and specially reserved for hotel guests. And parking
was free. That’s always good.
We got out of the car. It was chilly and windy, but we were
awed by what we saw before us. The sound of waves could be heard
gently crashing around us, as the tide rose higher and higher and flowed in across the salt marshes and plains that surrounded Mont Saint Michel.
As we made our way into the Mont itself, we walked along a wooden
plank built along the side of the Mont and passed by some Japanese
tourists walking in the opposite direction, oohing and aahing at the
rising tide which was washing over and covering what looked to
be a carpark.
Kavin and I walked along the passageway and passed by La Mere Poulard on our left, the restaurant that is famous for its omelete. But at 30 Euros an omelette, I felt it was an exorbitant price to pay for a couple of eggs whipped up.
It was about 8.40 p.m by this time, and we were worried that there
would be nowhere to eat dinner. Fortunately, the restaurant linked
to our hotel opened late, so after checking into the Auberge St. Pierre,
we had dinner at the restaurant around 9.10 p.m. What luck
that it was also the same restaurant mentioned in the guidebook,
for it’s salt-marsh lamb dishes. The lamb around Mont St Michel
is prized because it feeds on the salt-marshes around the Mont,
thus, it is said to have a wonderful flavour. Pré-Salé lamb.
Or in French, L’Agneau pré-salé
I ordered the Carre d’Agneau which was spectacular. It
was a small rack of lamb that had been roasted with thyme and rosemary.
It was the best lamb I’d ever tasted. Not gamey at all in flavour.
The lamb was tender and moist with a robust, rich flavour. Mmmm.
We tried a fluffy omelette at half the price.
Kavin ordered a chicken dish. The mussels and fries dish that I’d
seen some other patrons order also looked great.
We went back to the room to freshen up after dinner. We had room
#108, a cute cottage-like room with a king-sized bed downstairs
and a tiny spiral staircase that led to a mini-room upstairs
with two single beds. We had a beautiful view of Mont St Michel
from our window. We were also given a key that allowed us
to have access to and from the hotel via the ramparts outside.
So later that night, we took a walk outside. The swish of the water
and waves slowly washing over the surrounding salt flats and the
brightness of the stars (as our eyes got used to the dark) combined
with the fact that we were the only 2 people walking around, made
it feel like it was just us in this small town, that we had the whole
place to ourselves. It was lovely.
Kavin was so excited about the ramparts, pointing out the areas
where archers would have stationed themselves to fire arrows
through the thin slit openings in the stone walls and pointing
out the holes on the floor near the rampart walls where oil
would have been poured onto any invaders attacking from below.
Mont St Michel is also a jewel of military architecture, and looking at
the ramparts, it was awe-inspiring to realize that we were standing on
the same exact spot where hundreds of years ago, soldiers would
have stood to defend this place.
We made our way up many many steps to reach the door to the abbey
and also passed by some garden areas and also trampled along the
cobblestoned streets below, flanked by shops advertising crepes,
food and souvenirs. The shops were closed and there was an
air of peace and tranquility.
The lights that lit Mont St Michel’s abbey soon switched off at
midnight and Kavin and I had a wonderful moment looking up
at the thousands of stars that blanketed the sky, more and more stars
becoming visible as our eyes adjusted to the darkness.
We spotted Orion, the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, and the
fuzziness of the Milky Way in the background and we also saw
a shooting star skip across the heavens….
Here are pictures of Mont Saint Michel at night