London, Normandy, and Paris: November 1999

The Places in Between

For our transit day from England to France, we arranged for Londoners Coach Company to transport us to Portsmouth via Canterbury and Battle.  Nigel stayed with us for most of the day, and we really had a pleasant time.  Aside from a little rain at Battle, everything went according to plan.  We had written to the Canterbury Cathedral ahead of time, and we were expected for the services.  The service was held in the Choir, and they had reserved seats for us right by the altar.  However, when we were welcomed, we were greeted as "Our visitors from Japan."  We've seen Natchitoches confused before, but I think this is the first time we've seen it mistaken for Nagasaki.  After the service, we had a chance to tour the cathedral, the crypts, and the cloisters without any other visitors being there.  It was nice having the whole place to ourselves and Nigel really added a lot to what we knew of Canterbury.
At Battle, visitors have a chance to walk through the battlefield and see some of the ruined buildings on the site.  Audioguides describe the action as it occurred there almost one-thousand years ago.  Visiting the battleground helped us all understand the story told on the Bayeux Tapestry that we would see a couple of days later.  I always knew that the Battle of Hastings was really fought at Battle, not Hastings, but I always assumed that Battle was just a field.  But there's really a nice little town there.
We said goodbye to Nigel at Hastings before traveling on to Portsmouth to cach our overnight ferry.  At Cherbourg, we met our driver Jean-Pierre with Dieppe Voyages, who would guide us around Normandy from Mont St. Michel to the beaches and on to Bayeux.  At Mont St. Michel, the Hotel Croix Blanche opened just for our group.  Although it was a little cold and a couple of the girls were feeling a little sick, we all had a great time here.
Our first stop was at Point du Hoc where American rangers had assaulted the German bunkers atop the cliffs.  Although the heavy artillery pieces had never been installed in the bunkers, the French resistance fighters had not been able to get word to the invasion forces.  More than 135 of the 225 rangers who fought here were killed or wounded.
The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach is one of the most moving sites anyone can visit.  The cemetery is immaculately maintained, and the seemingly endless rows of crosses stand in quiet solitude.  Everyone who visits this memorial is bound to come away deeply moved.
Several of the students wanted to walk from the cemetery down the cliffside to the beaches where the American forces had come ashore.  Today, the area is guarded only by the wandering wild boars-- although none were spotted on this trip.  From the landing beaches, we moved on to Bayeux for a visit to the Invasion Museum before going to see the famous tapestry that retells the story of William the Conqueror's victory in England.

London - Paris
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