Saint Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel, La Manche, and Normandie

Let’s try this again…

I had a long and detailed post all ready to go for you yesterday and then Firefox crashed and deleted it all. Incredibly frustrated, I couldn’t stomach trying to re-do the whole thing yesterday, but today is a new day and it’s time to tell you all about our excursion to Normandie.

On Thursday we left bright and early (7:30am) and drove to Saint Malo, a walled city on the coast of the English Channel, and had lunch. We toured the city where we could walk along the ramparts that overlooked the city on one side and the Channel on the other, did some shopping, and (of course) ate ice cream. I think everyone had a good time. Our next stop was the Mont-Saint-Michel, another walled city in the middle of nowhere – seriously, look at the pictures! – which has served several purposes in France’s history since it was built in the 700s. First, it was an abbey for monks, then a protected fortress against British attacks during the Hundred Years’ War, then a prison in the 19th century. Now it serves as quite the tourist attraction. We toured the abbey – the steepled building the rises above the city. As you can imagine, we had quite a time with all those stairs! But it was worth it for a beautiful view of Brittany’s countryside and the abbey.

After seeing the Mont-Saint-Michel, we got back on our chartered bus and headed to the small town of Ver-sur-Mer where we stayed in a youth hostel for the night. The town was nice and quiet and we were only one of two groups there, so it was the perfect setting to rest after a busy day. We ate a delicious dinner at the hostel and then we were able to walk only 10-15 minutes to the beach that evening. The sun was setting over the water and even though the Channel was a bit cold, that didn’t stop us from having a great time. We swam, laughed, ran, laughed, searched for shells and other sea creatures, laughed, had sand fights, did yoga and handstands, and laughed. Personally, this was my favorite part of the trip because we got to relax and spend time together. Plus, I got some gorgeous pictures. Just before the sun set completely, we went back to the hostel, showered, and went to bed so we could get up early again the next morning.

Friday, the Fourth of July, was a very fitting time for WWII sight-seeing. We left the hostel around 8:30am to go to the Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach – one of the beaches where the Americans landed for the invasion of June 6, 1944, D-Day. The landscape was marred forever that day with giant craters bored out by bombs dropped, still visible today with the remains of the bunkers the Germans built. Grass and trees cover the ground that was once only dirt: a sign that new life has taken over, while the scars of its history are just beneath the surface. It’s amazing that 70 years have passed since that day, and the craters are still so deep.

After the Pointe du Hoc, we visited the American cemetery on Omaha Beach – the other landing site for the American troops. The land on which the cemetery was built was given as a gift to the United States by France several years ago, meaning it is technically a piece of American soil. It seemed appropriate that we were able to “return to the U.S.” on July 4th, if only for a few hours. Inside the cemetery, hundreds of white stone crosses and stars of David stand in rows, as if in permanent military formation, representing a huge loss to our country and the world. The group of students I was with seemed to understand the weight of what they were seeing as they knelt to read the names on the stones and take pictures of as many as would fit within their lenses in one shot. As we were exiting the cemetery, the National Anthem began to play over the loudspeaker as a tribute to the 4th. You could tell who all the American tourists were as we turned quietly toward one of the many American flags, put our hands over our hearts, and took a moment’s pause in honor of our country. The students with me also began to hum to the music. It was a lovely moment.

We ended our day of WWII-in-review at the Caen Memorial. First we had lunch outside and then entered the museum to browse the boutique before our visit began. By this time, the students were understandably very tired, so we went through the museum rather quickly and then got to see a short film on D-Day (“Le Jour J” in French). The film consisted of split-screen documentary footage before, during, and after the invasion. It was quite awe-inspiring. Although it was overwhelming the amount of information available to us that day, I think the students appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this particular turning point in history.

After the museum, we headed home again to Saumur. I think the excursion was a huge success and everyone had a great time. Today, we are going to continue our celebration of America as we have a picnic with the host families and students. The choir will sing the national anthem and we will get to talk about what it means to celebrate our country’s independence. Unfortunately, it is raining today so we will have to stay packed under a tent outside, but I think it will still be a great time. At least the weather remained beautiful and sunny in Normandie – a region notorious for nothing but rain all the time.

Sorry this post is so long, but I just wanted to tell you everything about our trip! I promise to try and be more succinct the next time around. WordPress wouldn’t let me upload photos today for some reason, so I will post a link later today to the photos on GoogleDocs. I hope you all had wonderful July 4th celebrations. Know that we are thinking of you and celebrating with you this weekend.

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