It was a long day getting to Bayeux from Rennes. It was made longer because we were leaving a place where we had only started to get harmonized with the pace of life and our surroundings. The rhythms of our life were beginning to get comfortable, and we left.
The train ride was good, going along comfortably through the countryside ‘til we arrived in Bayeux. Founded as a Gallo-Roman settlement in the 1st century BC and home of the famous tapestry commemorating the battle of Hastings in 1066, Bayeux was also the first city of the Battle of Normandy (D-Day) to be liberated.
With our load of luggage (yeah, it is a lot, but it is the stuff for a year) we hailed a taxi and made our way to our B&B, arriving about noon. Though it wasn’t our original choice of lodging (our chosen B&B e-mailed us to say that due to scheduling errors … he arranged for us to stay elsewhere), but as it turned out we were delighted. Greeted at the front gate, Mireille our cheerful hostess, welcomed us into her 17th century home. As I was wrestling the luggage inside, Jeannie and Mireille made their way upstairs to our beautiful French bedroom with views into her walled garden. Our conversations with our hostess were fun and challenging as we are each learning the other’s language. Always ready to learn, Mireille’s well used French-English dictionary is always at hand, though her English is better than our French.
Since it was lunch time, and Mireille had errands to run, we learned which keys would let us into the house and took off towards the “centre ville” or center of town to get our bearings and lunch.
Reaching the end of the street where our B&B was located we turned to the right to see the towering spires of the Bayeux Cathedral reaching into the sunny skies. It was then that we realized that we were standing next to one of the restaurants that had been recommended to us for lunch. Sitting outside in the cool air of the Normandy day, we had a delicious (though slightly expensive) meal with a delightful view of the cathedral in one direction and a cobblestone street with medieval buildings in the other.
Now nourished, we finished our coffees as the shadows of the cathedral’s spires moved over us. Motivated to reenter the warmth of the sunlight and a desire to explore we moved on.
The Bayeux cathedral, as large as Paris’ Notre-Dame, was begun in the 11th century. We entered and circled the interior admiring the beauty and architecture as a recording of Gregorian chants wove around the stone columns and through the colored light of the sun shining through the soaring stained-glass windows.
As we made our way toward the tourist information center for a map of Bayeux, we were impressed with the large numbers of American, British, Canadian, and French flags that were flying throughout the town. This year’s observance of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions is more than a passing date in history since Bayeux was the first town in France to be liberated by Allied troops.
The commemoration of war is not limited to 20th century events. One of the equally famous things to see in Bayeux is the tapestry that tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The tapestry, though not technically a tapestry but an embroidery, was made in 1070, and describes how the William, duke of Normandy and the king of England’s cousin, defeated English nobleman and the king’s brother-in-law, Harold, thus giving William the title of “William the Conqueror”. Over 70m (210ft) long, the fabric is beautifully covered with images of kings, soldiers, workers, villagers, horses, ships and more telling the ancient story. The audio guide does a good job of describing the scenes as you pass by.
Emerging into the sunlight once again, we wandered on enjoying the back streets and buildings of this town. As the sun began to sink lower in the sky we made our way to the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum, and the British Military Cemetery. Unfortunately the Museum was closing for the day, and we couldn’t get in so we made our way to the British Cemetery. The 4,144 simple markers on the resting places of the fallen soldiers lists not only the name, regiment and home town, but also their age. It was moving to see how many young men died to “… free the homeland of William the Conqueror.”
Returning to our room, we prepared to go to dinner. As usual, it was too early for most restaurants to be open yet, so we went out and wandered some more, admiring the cathedral bathed in spotlights against the night sky and other parts of town in its night attire. Tired and hungry, we passed by many restaurants that seemed to be filled with large tour groups, until we came across a small, empty place that was just opening for the evening. The waiter warmly invited us in and seated us, asking if we preferred to speak English. When I replied that we were learning to speak French, he offered to speak only French unless we needed help in our native tongue. It was a good meal and by the time we were finished, the place had filled and we were happy to say “au revoir” and return to our B&B to sleep deeply and peacefully.