Tag Archives: Bayeux

Train angst and side trips…

The next morning in Bayeux marked the beginning of a whirlwind of activity that would take us to our last days in Europe, and that whirlwind started with a 3 hour train ride into Paris’ Gare Saint-Lazare.

The train system in France is basically like spokes of a big wheel, with the center of that wheel being Paris. All of the main Paris train stations (Austerlitz, Bercy, Est, Lyon, Montparnasse, Nord, and Saint-Lazare)are termini and the spokes of the wheel go out from these stations. For example, all the trains coming from the northwestern parts of France like Brittany and Normandy end at Gare Saint-Lazare, and all the trains coming from the North Eastern parts like Calais and the chunnel to London end at Nord, (also known as Paris Nord, or Gare du Nord).


So, if you are traveling from one section of France to a different section by train, you have to go through Paris, most of the time there is no other way, and some of these stations in Paris are quite far apart, however all of the stations are connected by the RER system and the Metro.

We were prepared for a three hour layover in Paris which would give us plenty of time to get from Gare Saint-Lazare to Gare du Nord using the RER E commuter train that travels between the two stations.

No problem.

Gare Saint-Lazare is basically a huge shopping mall that has a train station attached to it. Loads of shops, cafés, fast food kiosks, etc. and all of the crowds that go with it, so it was a little overwhelming trying to navigate through the crowds with large pieces of luggage during the lunch rush hour when we arrived, but we were armed with research and all we needed to do was follow the signs and get to the RER platform and we would be fine.


When we got close to the platform at a junction in a hallway, there were two SCNF officials blocking the way to the RER E and a large crowd of people pointing to the metro map and waving their arms. I waded into the crowd to see what was what, and found out there was a problem with the train so they were giving instructions on a convoluted alternate route involving two Metro trains and a walk down a street that I couldn’t quite follow from the poor woman trying to explain it to me.


SO, instead of taking the chance of getting lost and missing our train out of Nord to Calais, we decided to go to the taxi stand and cab it. I was a little nervous about taking a taxi because I had read how large Paris is in area (14th largest city in the world) and we didn’t know how far it was or whether we would encounter gridlock in a Parisian rush hour, or even what the rates were.

Ten minutes and seven Euros later, we arrived at Gare du Nord and I exclaimed out of surprise “That’s it!?”


The lesson learned from this, for me, was that the area within the inner part of Paris isn’t nearly as large as I imagined it, and this trip gave me a scale in my head that I could apply when looking at a map, which would be helpful when we got back here in a few days.

We killed some time in Gare du Nord (wishing that we were killing time in Gare Saint-Lazare instead) where L found a great bakery for some bread and pastry and then it was off to Calais and a lovely beachside suburb called Sangatte. The Kerloan B&B where we were staying was right across from the beach and right beside a great restaurant called Le Relais de Sangatte (formerly called the Country Cottage Pub if you’re looking for it on Trip Advisor), so our first night was filled with great food and some fantastic scenery.


The next morning, very early, we made a side trip.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our original plans for the area wasn’t going to happen. L had noticed that the Eurostar stopped in Calais and it was only a 55 minute train ride into London (actually closer than Paris) and there was a Vikings exhibit on at the British Museum.


So after some more confusing times with a French train (there are no machines to collect the Eurostar tickets in the Calais-Fréthun train station and you have to wait until the gates open 1/2 hour before the train leaves to collect your tickets and go through security and customs… which turns out is plenty of time, but there wasn’t a single indicator or instruction anywhere about it including the website) it was off to London for about 8 hours to see some wonderful exhibits…



…and fantastic sculpture.



After the museum, we had a lovely walk to St Pancras station where there was a Marks and Spencer and we loaded up on snacks and Welsh Cakes.

We took the Eurostar back to Calais, and repeated the previous night with some food at Le Relais de Sangatte and another sunset on the beach.


The following morning, it was a first class train ride back to the final destination, Paris.


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A solemn state of confusion…

The city of Bayeux is an anomaly in France. It was one of the first places to be liberated during the battle of Normandy, so it still has the majority of its older buildings intact, unlike nearby Caen and Saint Lo, which were leveled during the months after D-Day in 1944, and because it is used as a jumping off point to visit Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword, and Gold beaches, it attracts many British, American, and Canadian tourists so almost everybody speaks English to some degree.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and the town is very busy with visitors and in anticipation of the flood of dignitaries that are due to arrive on June 6th to mark the occasion. There were many American, Canadian, and British flags flying alongside of the French ones in every corner of the city, and signs saying “Welcome to our liberators” and “70 years of peace” and “Official D-Day store”.


I had hired a car to take me to some of the memorial sites and cemeteries to pay my respects.

It’s hard to stand among the graves in Bény Sur Mer and not be affected by them.


The perfectly straight grave markers on the meticulously kept grounds stare back at you announcing the names, ages, ranks, and units of the fallen. So many young men from the Winnipeg Rifles fell on D-Day and during the months following at the battle of Caen. So many were in their early twenties with some as young as nineteen. I found the marker for Gunner Charles Patrick O’Connor, 23 years old, from my mother’s side, and plant a small Canadian flag, and then do the same for Private John Patrick O’Connor, also 23. I’m old enough to be their fathers.


Then it was on to the Juno Beach Centre,


a non-profit museum run by the Canadian government. A very tasteful facility that recounts Canada’s part in World War Two, with interactive exhibits including one that I thought was showing how small France was…


… but then I thought about it, and it was showing how big Canada is.

The museum has kept some of the German pillboxes intact,


and when you stand at the water on Juno Beach, and look up at the concrete bunkers, it’s rather intimidating. I can’t imagine the terror that must have gone through those young men as they crossed the 50 yards of sand.


I went on to Omaha beach, and finished at the Battle of Normandy museum in Bayeux.


I think about the coming 70th anniversary of the landings, and how few people are left that lived through it, that remember the war. The generation of children being born today will probably never meet or know anyone who lived during the 40s, so these monuments have to stand as reminders of what the world went through and to never let it happen again…

Parts of the Bayeux Tapestry was surely meant for that purpose at one time too. An account of the horror of war during the Norman invasion of England, with severed bodies littering the margins depicting the Battle of Hastings at the end of the tapestry. But today, it is more of a curiosity than anything. I hope that the Battle of Normandy doesn’t turn into one too.


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