Bayeux & Caen

We arrived in Bayeux on Sunday afternoon with nothing particular planned for the day other than to walk around town. I’d lost my guidebook in Mont St Michel 😯 but no prob! The 10 min. walk from the train station to city center was well-posted… We first stopped by the tourist office; along the way, we passed fields and a small stream, the river Aure. .

Near train station in Bayeux, Notre Dame Cathedral

Bayeux has a well-preserved historic center, left relatively unscathed during the 1944 Allied bombings following the D-Day landing, unlike Caen . Maybe so, we didn’t find our walk very interesting… 😕 . The area was devoid of energy and life (save for a few tourists milling about), the weather gloomy, sapping our enthusiasm. Perhaps because it was election day (Sarko v. Ségo !) or because it was Sunday, everything was closed, except for bakeries and very few restaurants . Here are some pretty moments on our walk…

Near pont St Jean; Rue St Jean

We weren’t in the mood for walking so we headed to the Centre Guillaume Le Conquerant to see the Tapisserie de Bayeux . About a millenium old and 70m long, it recounts the conquest of England by William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, (thereby becoming William the Conqueror ). There is a 15 min. film that precedes its viewing, an audioguide and written summary that explains the tapestry’s story. Jordy and I were pleasantly surprised to find it engrossing and educational ! Taking pictures of the tapestry is not allowed, below is a small construction in front of the center, replicating one of the images from the tapestry.

In the middle of the historic center is the Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux, dating from the 11th Century, and since embellished in the 13th to 15th centuries.

Interior of Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux; Crypt inside cathedral

Sunday evening in Bayeux, we wandered around alot looking for a restaurant, everything was closed! Finally we ended up in front of the cathedral on the appropriately-named Rue des Cuisiniers (street of cooks), lined with restaurants that were OPEN. We ate at L’Assiette Normande, a French resto offering regional specialties like cochon de Bayeux (Bayeux pork). It was chock-full of tourists, but well worth it as the food was very good and a great value! Jordy had a 4-course 23€ menu of foie gras terrine, magret de canard (duck filet) with caramel sauce (yummm), a cheese plate and warm chocolate cake with a rum shot, while I had a simpler 3-course 16,50€ menu of Bayeux pork terrine, Bayeux pork parmentier (a potato dish) and a tarte normande (a type of apple tart). Dee-licious ! By the time we left, the restaurant was full; it’s good to reserve ahead or come early (like 7pm). Heading back to our hotel (not worth mentioning), we passed the beautifully-lit Notre Dame Cathedral, gazed down upon by the North Star .

Great restaurant by the Cathedral; Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux at night

Monday morning, it’s raining ! Most people visit the D-Day beaches by car or guided tour, but we were cheapin’ it and planning to use public transit; we’d be without shelter in the rain. So we decided to spend the day indoors and visit the Memorial in Caen instead. Before leaving Bayeux, we visited the British War Cemetery on the southwestern side of town.

Opposite this cemetery is this memorial on the right below which has a Latin inscription translating to « We, conquered by William, have now liberated the Conqueror’s homeland. » This references the ascent to the English throne by William the Conqueror, a Norman, which is retold by the Tapisserie of Bayeux (see above).

Tank sitting in front of Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux

Jordy and I spent the rest of the day in Caen (15min. from Bayeux, 5,40€) at the Caen Memorial. To get to the Caen Memorial from the train station (30min., 2,40€ total for tram & bus tix), we took the tram to the city center, changing to the bus #2, descending at the last stop. The memorial is huuuuuge & could easily take 4hrs (or more!) to see everything. The two principal exhibits are World War II (mostly from the perspective of France & Normandy, in particular) and Post-1945. We were moved, especially by soldiers’ accounts taken from letters and journals in the WWII exhibit. The 20min. Battle of Normandy film uses actual WWII footage and despite being unnarrated, was intense & gripping!

Towards the back of the museum are additional exhibits, on peace & the role of oil in worlds’ conflicts. We saw these, then headed outside to the basement level Gallery of the Nobel Peace Prize, which documents all winners of this prize . Jordy and I didn’t take any photos in the museum given its nature, but we got a kick out of this French Martin Luther King Jr. comic strip we saw in the Nobel Peace Prize Gallery 😛 . It’s quite long, here is a little morsel:

Accessible from the back of the Memorial are the British, Canadian and American gardens . We visited this last one which has a waterfall, behind which sits a wall dedicated to the memory of the American soldiers who fought in World War II.

American Garden: Top and alongside waterfall

Dedication wall of American Garden at Caen Memorial ; Caen Memorial garden

A visit to the museum is not exactly fun, but it’s definitely not boring and should not be missed! The Caen Memorial took the entire afternoon (over 5hrs), rushed towards the end, so we didn’t have time to look around Caen before taking our 19h55 train back to Paris (2hr.). A weekend in Normandy only whetted our appetite to return, and hopefully next time, the weather will be decent enough to visit the D-Day beaches…

How to get to D-Day Beaches by public transit: Bus Verts Calvados serves this region. From their website, easiest is to click « Vos Horaires » (your schedule) and on the right by « indiquez la ligne, » choose the appropriate bus line.
Bus service is infrequent, allowing for 1-2 beaches maximum visited per day.

Line 70 serves Bayeux and the western side of D-Day Beaches ( American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc ).
Line 74 serves Bayeux and Gold Beach (possibly western edge of Juno Beach)
Line 3 serves Caen and eastern side of D-Day Beaches (Sword Beach, Juno Beach and part of Gold Beach).

Bayeux tourist office
Caen tourist office
Caen Memorial
L’Assiette Normande: 3, rue Chanoines, 02 31 22 04 61