This past weekend my program took us all to Normandy (a region of France) and to Mont St. Michel!
- Museum of the World Wars:
Our first stop was to a museum by the city Caen, in Normandy. It chronicled the events leading up to, during, and between both World Wars (les deux guerres mondiales). Most importantly we watched real footage from the landing at Omaha Beach (on D-day, le 6 juin 1944). It was really interesting because we got to see footage from both sides, the Allies and the Germans on that morning as both prepared for battle. It was also extraordinarily sad, because we watched as the troops stormed the beach and many were simply shot down.
- Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery:
After the museum, we actually went to Omaha Beach, which was absolutely breathtaking, even though it had started to pour down rain. Seeing the beach now, very peaceful, was almost surreal, given the footage we had JUST watched. Just atop the cliff that overlooks the beach we were able to visit the American Cemetery, which was also moving. I really can't describe it in words, you can, however, check out my pictures on flickr (link is at the right).
- Cider Tasting:
After the very sad, reflective visit to Cemetery we went to a cidre (en français) maker that is very famous in Normandie. There, they pick the apples and go through the entire process from apple juice to very hard liqueur. So we tasted everything along the scale. From the apple juice, which was incredible, all the way up to the Calvados. My favorite was the creme Calvados (which was kind of like a Bailey's Irish Cream). So all in all it was a fun (and tipsy) visit.
Mont St. Michel:
After staying the night in the city of Caen, we made the trek to Mont St. Michel. The island of rock sits just inside the Bay that opens to the English Channel. It is famous for the Church and Abbey that sit on top of the rock, dedicated to St. Michael. The original Abbey was built in 708, but much of the church and the tiny tiny village below was built in the 10th century. A lot has happened on the island throughout its long history. It was a fortress during the Hundred Years War that the British simply couldn't seize. After the Revolution it became a prison until it was recognized as a historic site in the later 1800s. Now, about 3 million people a year visit St. Michel. Oddly enough, there are actually only 24 people who live there. Twelve of them are monks and nuns; the other twelve work in the shops, restaurants and hotels.
We actually got a guided tour around the Abbey which was pretty amazing, because we actually got to learn about all of that history. There are some incredible sites in and around the village and church. We got to stand inside a room that is over 1,000 years old.
After our guided tour we had some free time to eat and shop in the village and then we made the 6 hour bus trip back to Paris!
But me describing all of this is pretty boring, so check out my flickr account for some great pictures of both days!
EDIT: I completely forgot to mention how different the view of D-day is here from back in the US. I mean, I knew about D-day and the storming of the beaches and that it was a significant effort in the war. For the French though, this day lives in infamy. It was the day that they had hope of liberation. You may think that all French hate Americans (and after seeing some tourists I understand why), but not in Normandy. They still remember what the American troops did for them that day. It's absolutely incredible.