Planning is fun for me. Like a puzzle to find ways to put the pieces together. Or different ways to connect the dots. And fortunately, I love to be spontaneous and am open to changing plans in an instant. Such was the trip to Vaux-le-Vicomte I mentioned last time. My friend with the car offered to drive so it was going to be a simple thing to get there- no worries about the shuttle.
BUT… remember the trip to Normandy also in the planning stage? D Day beaches? I decided that I needed to be better informed. The Longest Day seemed to be the best bet for a good overview. It was. (I finished the last 20 pages at breakfast before taking the tour!) And while reading, Ryan mentioned Rommel – at his headquarters at La Roche-Guyon. Well! That sounded interesting. Quick check of the map – easily drivable from Paris. And even better, my friend with the car was happy to switch destinations – it didn’t hurt that the weather was going to be gloomy. So off we went. And I am so glad we did.
There’s a donjon! And a medieval Keep at the top of the hill – you walk…climb… up 263 steps to the top on a stairway cut into the limestone mountain itself. Even overcast, the view was fabulous. Over the valley with the Seine in front of us. Clear why it was a defensive outlook! The Nazis carved rooms out of the limestone to store munitions. I also read that it was the most occupied town/village in France. But not much else was said about the Nazis and certainly not Rommel. It’s very close to Giverny and Monet’s farm. A pleasant excursion for a day.
That set me up for Normandy. It was a trip full of history – first a return for me to the Bayeux tapestry that tells the story of William the Conqueror’s battle in 1066 with Harold to become King of England. I love history! The town of Bayeux is full of old quaint houses and a beautiful cathedral. Why? Most other towns in the region were bombed heavily. Our guide said the Germans left the town in retreat and a priest rode his bike frantically to tell the British so there was no need to bomb. Thank you, Father.
D-Day beach/field tour was emotional. Many places have returned to the seaside resort that they used to be before the Germans tore down the houses to secure the defenses. But everywhere is a statue or obelisk commemorating this battalion or that. We saw the fields and marshes the paratroopers landed in. We saw the gun bunkers set up strategically so that the entire beach was covered from side to side. And we heard the stories of how landing ships ended up off target. How paratroopers landed miles away. How bombers missed important sites. And I wondered how in the world the Allies ended up successful.
And we saw one of the American cemeteries – this one with 9000 graves. Sobering sight.
At one place on Omaha Beach, I asked our guide about the seaside resort that was there. It felt odd to me, a bit out of place. And he said there had been a resort there for years before the Germans. And he pointed out that if this spot had treated as a sacred spot, then how did you determine which other places were sacred, and which were not.
That got me thinking. Europe is full of battlefields. The Germans fought the French, the French fought the Spanish, the Celts, the Vikings… everywhere you turn – violence, death. Even in England, there were battles – between the Vikings, the Celts, the Scots…
Rodney King was a wiser man than most with his plea – why can’t we all just get along?
And now after many years of peace in Europe, there’s Brexit. Brexit confounds me. So many of those Brits who said that they didn’t mean for it to win – they just wanted to send a message! The French have the right idea – two Sundays of voting: send your message then make the vote that you want to count. Of course, the High Court just ruled in England that the May government cannot start the exit process without consulting Parliament. So who knows? Maybe a second referendum? Of course, that ruling can be appealed up one last level.
I worry about the future of Europe.