This past weekend was spent with about half of the CIEE kids on a group trip to Normandy. The weekend was amazingly beautiful--not a drop of rain or even threating clouds!! The sun was, however, a bit paradoxical. Along with the gorgeous weather came the heavy content of our trip: World War II. Normandy, although famous for rain, The Umbrellas of Charbourg, and camembert cheese, also has a coastline riddled with thousands upon thousands of white crosses. These white crosses are a symbol of the horrors of D-Day (or Jour J in French) when tens of thousands of young men from the US, Canada, the UK, France, and many other countries died to free France and other countries under the oppression of Nazi Germany. Because of this, our trip was indeed a bit of a paradox.
The trip started with a meeting time of 8:00 sharp at Villejean (aka: the major campus of Rennes 2). We sleepy-eyed university students piled onto the bus with backpacks stuffed for the weekend (all a bit underdressed for the morning because we knew that by early afternoon, long sleeves and coats would be much too hot). Many slept on the way to our first destination, although I and my seat-mate preferred to listen to my Zen and chat. When we unloaded in Caen at the Memorial, a museum dedicated to the time between the wars and WWII itself, we were more awake, although still cold because it was windy and only 10:30. The museum was quite honestly very well put together, although I didn't care much for the first half. Photographs, timelines, and lots of written history don't interest me nearly as much as actual artifacts and written letters. After wandering through the exhibit, we ate lunch and then hung out in the gift shop until it was time to go on.
The second half of the day was spent in Bayeux. Here, we took a breather from the horrors of World War to view yet another artifact of war: The Bayeux Tapestry. This amazing tapestry is the longest and best preserved in existence and tells the story of how William the Basterd became William the Conqueror. Interesting enough, the English seem to care much more about this artifact than the French. I say this because Bujack became quite passionate about the subject when we learned of 1066 in British Studies, whereas our briefing for this part of the trip consisted of "This is the longest tapestry in the world." In any case, the tapestry truly was spectacular, although I had imagined it to be longer. The colors were amazingly bright for being over 9,000 years old, and I'm, quite frankly, amazed that it hasn't fallen apart.
After viewing the tapestry, we headed over to our hostel for a rather unsatisfying dinner. So, after having eaten, we headed out into the town expecting to find some bar that was open and had some decent food. Unfortunately Bayeux, although a charming town, is a lot like Grantham--dead. Unless you know exactly where to go. Therefore, we ended up at one of the few places open--a restaurant where we split a pizza and had a glass of kir. Then, we proceeded to get lost on our way back to the hostel. Don't worry; we found it before we started crying!
Sunday was another early morning. We left Bayeux at 8:30 and headed north to the coast. Here, we disembarked at one of the plagues de debarquement: Omaha Beach. First, we visited the American Cemetery when the elegant grounds house thousands of crosses standing out starkly against the too-green lawns. We didn't spend too much time passing through the rows and rows of graves, and instead broke the heavy atmosphere by heading down to the beach. Although we were smiling and having a good time, and there were even others beach surfing, it was strange to be standing on beach where so many young men gave up their lives. It was a rather eerie feeling to be walking down the beach and think that only 60 years ago, men were running up those same beaches to the background of machine guns, bombs, and shells. And that many didn't make it up that long stretch of sand and scrubby coastline. So, although the day was sunny and the beach and grass were brilliant in the sun, what was playing in the back of my head was the soundless, black and white images of WWII photage seen in history class after history class.
From Omaha Beach, we headed a little ways down the coast to Point du Hoc, where more men lost their lives scrambling up the steep cliffs by means of ladders and ropes. Here, the ground is still riddled with massive holes from the bombs dropped on the German bunkers on the top of the cliffs. Huge chunks of concrete, iron rods, and barbed wire marring the landscape. After seeing the remaining damage of the war, we headed back home to Rennes, all a little heavy hearted.
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