I was told that Normandy was beautiful. I was told that I would be enchanted. I was told that Normandy touched spirits…yes, Normandy, fought over by Vikings, English, French, Germans, and NATO forces, pleasant country feeling Normandy, your melting pot, cross roads foundation shares such a worthy heritage. You will always be a place of quiet revelations for me.
Here are the top experiences: (highly recommended!)
1) Walking amid the American Cemetery and Pont Du Hoc. Every military member needs to visit these memorials.
Poignant. Moving. Inspiring. A generation ready, willing and enthusiastic to serve and to give themselves up in the name of a vision of freedom. These D-Day sites were expertly created to honor, provoke reverence and wonder, and memorialize the heroic battles of June 6th, 1944. Those days, where the enemy was clearly winning and hope seems slim, forces were joined and belief reigned triumphant. To serve the higher calling, to witness the mass surge towards communal goodness.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely….The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.” ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower giving the D-Day order on June 6, 1944.
Heading to Brittany, we stayed a little over 24 hours with a couple very well experienced in food, art, culture, and education. The class was less about cooking and more so about, well following “the tide”. The most amazing part was seeing all the mussels or oysters embedded in the rocks, lightly hammering them out and feeling that surge of “I DID it!” that I get from these new experiences (you know, like watching your cheese curdle, or making it down a mountain without falling, or finishing your first race). We all commented how relaxing and a pleasing the activity of harvesting your own mussels is. Hands on learning about the mussel harvesting business itself, done through a traditional method from the 13th century of placing seeds on poles to grow until ready (a few months) and are super sweet and succulent. The French love seafood. Domestic consumption of mussels amounted to just under 44,000 metric tons in 2010, 30,000 metric tons of which was produced in France. Nearly 23,000 metric tons was grown on these bouchot poles! Plus…I ate my first oyster! Straight from the rock to my lips.
3) Walking on the Beach (at Banc des Oiseaux)
This was the best beach hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Ever have a walk that both calmed AND challenged you? Ever have the sea break open your spirit, unravel your feelings of control and sense of security and also embrace you? Over the course of 90 minutes, I emoted, cried, accepted, cursed, twinged in pain, pleaded in hope and felt grace and suffering and salty water up my knees. Might as well have swept away my heart, to return it bitter, but clean. I SUPER loved this hotel.
4) Etretat. Yes, some of the most scenic cliffs known by these sets of eyes. They are 70 meters high! Tall enough to get a ship through…Monet, Maupassant and Flaubert were all enthusiasts of the region around the town, and Monet painted several well known pictures of the coast and cliffs around Etretat. I think a 4 hour walk along the edge (despite a leg injury) will be a memorable experience for the rest of my life.
5) Mont St Michel
This place enchants you, the very sight makes you believe in it, and revere it’s history (8th century!). It’s a place that you want to take your best friend to and turn back and smile at how marvelous the history feels–over thousand years of monks then abbeyists then state officials then disrepair and prisoners, then finally a restoration to the church. You’d raise your eyes and shake your head at the view, 80meters high and exceptional, particularly from the outside cloister.
Reverent and special (and unbearable once the tourists hit it, around 10:30 in the morning! My advice is to GET THERE EARLY and leave around noon)
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust (from Normandy)