Our final attempt to ditch the hot and sticky summer 2021 weather in Nice led us to breezy and cool Normandy for two weeks. We’d never been, and I was excited to finally — since freshman year in high school — see the Bayeux Tapestry. We planned to visit the D-Day landing beaches and cemeteries too, and to roam the countryside as usual to find pastoral serenity and charming villages.
The Tapestry was indeed a marvel to see. It is 70 meters long, like piece of film reel, that pictorially tells the story of the 11th century Norman Conquest. Poor Harold of England. He gets an arrow in the eye.
The landing beaches and the contemplation of the bravery of those WWII soldiers make for a sobering experience. In Arromanches, remnants of the breakwaters and artificial harbor miraculously placed in position by the British remain. German bunkers and bomb craters dot the coastline. The silence contrasts with the sounds of war blasting in our imaginations.
At the American cemetery, where 10,000 tombs face in the direction of the US, we heard Taps as we were leaving, then the Star-Spangled banner as we approached the parking lot, and the roar of a fighter jet overhead as we got into our car. As it turned out, the liberation was being celebrated that week. This part of France is one of the few where Americans can experience an open welcome, to this day.
I thought I liked colorful Honfleur a lot, but then I saw Barfleur. In terms of mood, it was more my liking. It’s gray, like the Norman sea and sky, with the largest lighthouse in France, and a stretch of lonely beach to make my heart sing.
If you stay out of the big (although not unpleasant) cities of Caen and Rouen, and avoid the boring, slightly trashy upscale beach resorts like Deauville, there are few people. There are almost as many cows.
This is French dairyland! Vegans be warned, every dish comes smothered in cream and butter. It is a very traditional culinary region, so there are plenty of hearty meat dishes to choose from too. Luckily for me, there are markets galore with plenty of alternatives available. I admit I overdid it with the slabs of wood fired sourdough bread and fresh market butter, but I’m recovering well.
Our explorations were mostly restricted to the Calvados region of Normandy, known for apple ciders and brandies. Stopping at a creperie on our way to Beuvron en Auge, I did a double-sip of the glass of cider served. We were on the Route de Cidre as it turned out. It was the only thing about Normandy that topped Brittany in my experience.
Ah, yes. Normandy did not disappoint. But, Brittany. There’s next summer for that.