Western Europe #02 – American Cemetery & Bayeux
Western Europe #02– American Cemetery & Bayeux
This is part 2 of a trip we took through Northwestern Europe in August of 2018.
Full Trip Map
Map for this trip segment
American Cemetery in Normandy, France
(courtesy of Google Maps)
The 172 acre cemetery with over 9,000 graves is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion) and the English Channel. Most of the inhabitants died during the invasion of Normandy (otherwise known as D-Day) and shortly thereafter. However there are also graves of Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942 and three American women.
This cemetery is quite popular for American tourists. Especially in recent decades as Grandchildren of those involved in the invasion are starting to travel and the last set of grandparents who lived through WWII are leaving us. In light of this a new $30 million visitor center was built in 2007.
This cemetery got its start in June of 1944 when the U.S. First Army established a temporary cemetery here. As it turned out that was the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. After the war, the present-day cemetery was established a short distance to the east of the original site.
Like all other overseas American cemeteries in France for World War I and II, France has granted the United States a special, perpetual concession to the land, free of any charge or any tax to honor the forces. This cemetery is managed by a small agency of the U.S. government and is considered US territory.
Neatly lined up
Only some of the soldiers who died overseas are buried in the overseas American military cemeteries. When it came time for a permanent burial, the next of kin eligible to make decisions were asked if they wanted their loved ones repatriated for permanent burial in the U.S., or interred at the closest overseas cemetery. You might be interested to know that two of President Theodor (Teddy) Roosevelt’s sons – Quentin and Theodor Jr. – are buried here.
Embedded in the lawn directly opposite the entrance to the old Visitors' Building is a sealed time capsule containing news reports of the June 6, 1944 Normandy invasion. The capsule is covered by a pink granite slab saying that it is to be opened on June 6, 2044. This time capsule is 'In memory of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the forces under his command.’. The capsule was placed there in 1969 by the newsmen.
The cemetery is quite impressive. Row upon row of simple white crosses punctuated with Jewish star markers and the occasional grave marker with the symbol of other religions. All on a well manicured green grass field. These rows of gravestones are broken up periodically by trees and neatly trimmed tall tree like shrubs scattered around.
Bayeux Normandy, France
After being moved by the American Cemetery it was time to move on. Being well into the afternoon, the most pressing item on the Agenda was lunch. Just up the road from the cemetery is a small Creperie attached to a hotel that comes complete with a full parking lot and a line of people extending out the restaurant door and around the corner of the building. So, as our tummies rumbled, we figured that there’d be other small eateries in any number of small towns along the way back to the main highway and they would be less crowded. Well, so much for our figuring.
After the 3rd or 4th small town with no restaurant we were getting kind of desperate. But then in between a couple of towns there was just what the doctor ordered, a roadside restaurant. So in we went. In the lobby was the cashier desk with a cashier busily chatting in French to who I guess was a neighbor friend. Beyond the front desk was the seating area through an open double door and most of the tables were empty. So we waited to be seated. And waited. And waited. Still talking to the neighbor and ignoring us. So, I got her attention and pointed to the seating area and she promptly ignored the gesture. Well, I didn’t see any sign that might have translated to “wait to be seated” so we moved toward the dining room. Well, this got her attention! With waving arms and shouting at us in French she made it quite clear that we had overstepped some boundary of behavior. So, we backed off and waited while some other folks who had arrived after us were seated. Then some other French speaking people were seated.
Finally we were led to a table and given French menu’s. But, then the waiting started all over again. Not only were orders taken for the tables of the (French speaking) folks let in before us, but orders were taken from tables of (French speaking) people seated after us. Ten minutes, 15 minutes, 20, minutes, 25 minutes. Okay there are only 15 to 20 people in the whole place. So, we got up and left.
Still starving we decided to go for plan B and headed for a city rather than village. Well, that happened to be Bayeux. Bayeux turned out to the home of Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England and is evidentially quite famous. Bayeux is also known as the first major town secured by the Allies during Operation Overlord. And, Charles de Gaulle made two famous speeches in this town. But, most importantly, it has restaurants that are not anti-English speaking customers. Of course most of them were closed, being 3 in the afternoon. But we found a little outdoor shop that had premade sandwich’s chips and soda which was quite fine with us by that time of day.
Bayeux has a population of around 13,000 and seems to attract a large number of British and French visitors coming to see the Bayeux tapestry. According to the legend, the tapestry was made by the wife of William the Conqueror. But, in reality was probably woven in England. But not knowing any of this when we were there, we didn’t happen to see it.
But, as this was a charming typical French town we checked our map and headed on over to the Cathedral to see what was there. What was there, surprise, surprise was a large Norman-Romanesque and Gothic Cathedral. This one, constructed in 1077 is the Notre-Dame de Bayeux. Wait a minute. Isn’t the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris? Well, yes it is. It seems that of the over 200 cathedrals in France, 64 of them are named Notre-Dame followed by the city name. And, it turns out many of them were built along the same basic design. Well, that deserved some research. But all became clear once I realized that “Notre Dame” translates into ‘Our Lady of”. So, now it makes sense.
The Cathedral is located in a charming and typically French part of town. The streets are lined with traditional buildings in block-long co-joined rows on both sides of the narrow streets set right on the edge of the sidewalk
Typical French town street
But every now and then there would appear a stately old mansion in an island green landscaping.
Le Castel Guesthouse (1937)
The Cathedral was built in 1077 in the Norman-Romanesque style by William who was the Duke of Normandy and King of England no less. But following some serious damage much of it was rebuilt in the Gothic style starting in the 12th Century. However the rebuild was not completed until the 19th Century.
Rear of Cathedral
Rain Downspout on exterior of Cathedral
The interior of the Cathedral is of the typical European Cathedral style. A long nave with a transept. In the Nave, the many stained glass windows (apparently recently restored to their earlier clarity) cast quite lovely dappled sunlight on the interior walls
Dappled afternoon sun on interior nave walls
Stained glass over one of the side chapels
One nice feature of this Cathedral was that access was permitted into the catacombs underneath the alter. This area was quite well preserved with stately and intricately carved columns, and a painted ceiling representing a star studded sky. It was also very artistically illuminated. Someone put some effort into this which I greatly appreciated. It did take quite a while though cooling my heels down there till I could fire off a dozen or so tourist free shots of the entire room. This was one of the times when I was quite grateful and happy to be lugging my tripod around as there is no way I could have gotten the full room shots averaging 13 seconds without a good tripod.
Catacombs under the alter
Carving atop one of the pillars in the catacombs
I hope you enjoyed reading about the American Cemetery and Bayeux leg of our NW Europe trip, Please check out my other travel blogs under the “Blogs” menu item at www.DanHartfordPhoto.com .
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Thanks for reading – Dan
(All images by Dan Hartford. Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way.
Keywords: France, American Cemetery, Bayeux, Bayeuxl, Blog, dan hartford photo, dantravelblog, dantravelblogNW-Europe, France, Normandie, Normandy, Notre Dame
Thanks for taking the time to add a comment to my blog. Actually, except for that one restaurant all the people we met were quite nice. Even when their English was as bad as my French they were still pleasant and accommodating. But, I guess there are bad apples wherever you go.
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