Posted by: vlibrizzi | April 7, 2009

A Long Weekend in Normandy with Mom

On Saturday, we picked up my mom (yay!) at Charles De Gaulle airport and continued on from there to Normandy for the weekend. C. and I were in Normandy three summers ago with C.’s family and really loved being there.   Once my mom said she was coming to visit for her spring break, we knew we had to take her there.

dsc_0253We first drove to Lisieux, a small town my mom had been eager to visit since it is the home of our family’s favorite saint, Saint Therese (mosaic of her death in the photo on the left). Through her intercessions, Saint Therese has answered many prayers for my family, and, as is evidenced by the many plaques, letters, and statues dedicated in her honor throughout the town, she has clearly heard prayers of countless others, as well. For a little background on St. Therese: she entered the convent in Lisieux at age 15 and died in her early 20s of tuburculosis. But, during her short life she wrote about her experiences and her connection with God. Her books were published worldwide and each year, thousands of people come to her hometown on religious pilgrimages. She has become so popular that the church built an enormous basilica in the small, sleepy town to honor her, which we visited on Sunday.

dsc_0224But before we go there, let’s go back to Saturday. We checked into our small inn in the middle of town and then walked to St. Therese’s former home. We visited the garden where she would walk with her father (photo to the left), sat in her bedroom, saw some of her belongings, and peered into the dining room where she had her last meal before entering the convent.

dsc_0218The house is kept up very well and is run by nuns from the Carmelite convent (where Terese was a member). Once you enter each room of the house, an audio tour starts (in French). Luckily, they had papers in English for us to read so that we could follow along with the audio tour. You can see some of her belongings (including her communion dress) in the photo to the left. 

dsc_0236

 

Then, we visited the church where St. Therese received her calling to join the convent. We sat in the chapel where she had her calling and wrote intercessions to her on small pieces of paper as we prayed.

As we left the chapel, we walked through the town. My mom marveled at the boulangeries and the fromageries….and it made me proud to be showing her around my new “home” country.

 

 

 

dsc_0240We then arrived at the Carmelite convent where St. Therese lived from age 15 to age 23 when she died. The visitor’s area was recently re-done and is really quite nice. They have many letters, plaques, and memorials to St. Therese from many of the people who prayed to her. There is even an article from the Star Ledger (our hometown NJ paper) about a man who prays to St. Therese. But, most interesting of all, the convent houses St. Therese’s tomb, which you can see in the photo to the left. 

 

dsc_0244Then, we hopped in the car again to drive to one of C.’s favorite towns, Honfleur, a small town with a beautiful port that, unlike Lisieux, was untouched by bombs during WWII. We walked around the port and into some cute shops before having dinner at a great restaurant that served traditional Normandy food. C. had fish soup with cider, I had a yummy seafood stew with a strong cup of calvados (apple brandy) with my dessert, and my mom had a white fish in a cream sauce after a great entrée of camembert cheese. Clearly, you can see that Norman food is most known for it’s 4 C’s: camembert, crème, cider, and calvados.

dsc_0257On Sunday, Palm Sunday, we went to mass at the enormous Basilica of St. Therese. The mass was held in the crypt with beautiful tile mosaics adorning the walls, and which houses the remains of St. Therese’s parents (photo to the left), which we were able to visit after mass.

 

dsc_0262Then, we climbed the stairs to enter the main church and were literally stunned by its beauty. It is a gigantic church and if we were impressed by the mosaics in the crypt, we had another thing coming to us when we visited the church. The tile mosaics adorned the whole church…from top to bottom!

 

dsc_0277Once we left the basilica, we got in the car and began our 2 hour drive to our next holy place on the week of religious pilgrimages…Mont St. Michel. Often a site of religious pilgrimage for the last 1000…yes 1000…years, Mont St. Michel is still attracting hoards of visitors today. To me, it was a wonder of the world. Nestled on top of a huge hill in the middle of the bay, is an enormous monastery. You can see in the photos to the left how Disney-castle like it all seems. In fact, after leaving Mont St. Michel my mom vowed never to watch another Disney movie again because she thinks he stole all of his magical castle ideas from this site. 

dsc_0290To enter the abbey, you have to walk up a very windy road that leads you through many tourist shops and restaurants (a bit of a bummer). But then, once you enter the abbey, you are completely amazed by its austere beauty. We walked through the cloisters, the dining hall, even the guest rooms, and everything was so simple….nothing on the walls…the only beauty coming from the views outside.  At the same time, the tour gives you a sense of how they managed to build a full community on top of this island in the bay.  Walking through the monastery, it was easy to see how one could enjoy living in a place like Mont St. Michel. It is so secluded and peaceful.

dsc_0312Later on in the day, we drove to another town in Normandy called Bayeux. We were there only overnight (we chose the town mainly for its proximity to the D-Day beaches), but our brief stay turned into a highlight when we arrived at our charming “hotel.”  Instead of staying in a proper hotel, we took a risk and stayed at one of France’s many chambres d’hotes, small houses that rent out some of their rooms to overnight guests. The house we stayed in, called Le Petit Matin (www.lepetitmatin.com), was WONDERFUL! You can see the room in the photos to the left. And, the next morning, the owner, Pascal, made a wonderful breakfast for us complete with his own homemade rhubarb jam. The best part, however, was the price…only 65 euros for a night! For a place like that, I would have paid triple that amount.

But, I should move on past describing the hotel in detail, and write more about what we did on the rest of our trip. So, once we left the hotel, we drove over to the Bayeux tapestry, a tapestry that is 70 meters long and is almost 1000 years old. The tapestry tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in precise detail and was made for the illiterate parishioners of Bayeux to understand the events of the Norman Conquest.

dsc_0319Later, we moved on from learning about one war to learning about a much more recent one: World War II. On our tour of the D-day beaches, we first visited Point d’hoc, a rocky cliff on the edge of Normandy that the Germans had very strongly fortified. More than 200 American Army Rangers were handpicked to climb up the rocky wall on D-day, facing constant enemy fire on them from the top of the cliff.  Although this seems like a suicide mission, it was critical to the American effort, since the Germans had guns stationed here that could fire on all points of the allied invastion.  After hours of scaling the rocky walls with grappling hooks and ladders borrowed from the London Fire Department, the Army Rangers succeeded in getting to the top of the cliffs and beating back the Germans. Of the 225 Army Rangers that began the mission, only 90 remained when the rest of the US military met them two days later.

dsc_0323Besides being a moving place to visit, Point d’hoc is also quite interesting from a military standpoint. The Germans built six feet thick concrete bunkers (you can see one in the photo to the left) and had tons of artillery. One wonders how the Army Rangers could ever have succeeded! Well, once you enter the site, you can see that the Army Rangers were not really alone. They had help from above…in the form of bombs.

dsc_0332Throughout the site, there are huge craters dotting the landscape where Allied flyers dropped bombs on the Germans. The best part about Point d’hoc, though, is that the land is entirely the same as it was left in 1944. Nothing has been moved or changed. The hollowed-out craters where the bombs fell are now considered to be gravesites, and the destroyed German bunkers, historical artifacts.

dsc_0346Once we left Point d’hoc, we visited Omaha Beach, one of the two beaches where thousands of Americans landed on D-day. Unlike Point d’hoc, there is not really much to see on Omaha beach. Today it is just a long, sandy beach, and as normalcy has returned over the years the French have begun to build houses along the roadway.

dsc_0348But by reading the placards along the beach walls, and by measuring the distance with your eyes from the shoreline to the cliffs above where the Germans were posted, it is very easy to appreciate how the D-day landing seemed like an impossible task. C. tried to take a photo (to the left) from the water to the cliffs to show you how long this distance really is at low tide, when the military arrived.

dsc_0354We finished our day in Normandy by visiting the American Cemetery. Much has been improved about the cemetery since the last time we were there. They now have a very impressive Visitor’s Center with videos, photos, and facts about the war and the D-day landings.

 

dsc_0357After spending time in the Visitor’s Center, we solemnly walked through the cemetery and looked at the gravestones of hundreds of American soldiers that died in their effort to free France from the German occupation.

 

 

dsc_0359After such a great weekend in Normandy, we’re looking forward to an even better week in Paris (and Fontainebleau) with my mom. I will post more soon on our adventures in France…

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Responses

  1. this looks incredible. is that a monument on the beach?

    and yum, homemade rhubarb jam…


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