Last weekend marked the official beginning of my travels from Georgia Tech-Lorraine! My friend Sarah and I chose to stay within France for our first excursion, staying in the beautiful town of Bayeux and taking a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel on Saturday.
On Friday, we woke up early to a brisk, sunny morning and ventured from our adorable AirBNB into the quiet town. We were staying just a stone’s throw away from the incredible Bayeux Cathedral, which we used to orient ourselves throughout our time there—when we had first arrived at the train station the afternoon before, we hadn’t even bothered to map our way to the town because we could just walk towards the massive cathedral in the distance! After admiring the church and wandering for a bit, we bought pastries at a small bakery and ate them on a bench in a deserted square; it was a very peaceful time.
We then got ticket bundles to 3 museums for only
12€, which was pretty nifty. The first was the Musée D’Art Et D’Histoire Baron Gérard, which covered a fascinating variety of topics about the region from Stone Age artifacts to lace-making to modern art. Next we went to see the Bayeux Tapestry, a 75-meter long tapestry depicting in intricate detail the story of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. For reference, 75 meters long is more than two-thirds of the length of an American football field (and more than three fourths the length of a soccer field!). Last was the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille du Normandie, telling the story of the Invasion of Normandy near the conclusion of World War II in Europe.
So much history in one day was a lot to process. Especially with our visits book-ended by such a huge time span: we started the day seeing stone arrowheads from thousands of years ago, and ended it with relics of a battle that took place just 70 years ago, so recently and yet so long ago at the same time. It really hit me with how incomprehensibly vast our history is as humans, and impressed upon me the sheer volume of the human experience.
The Battle of Normandy museum was most affecting and most poignant to me—there’s just so much information about an event that took place in such a small period of time (under 2 months), in such a small geographical area, but that was so historically significant. So much planning, so much tension and anxiety, so many lives were forever changed or lost during this one battle in this one war.
That’s the most amazing thing to me, is that there are these places and events that have so profoundly affected the course of history that we have but a cursory knowledge of, and there’s no way to comprehend all of it. Before visiting Bayeux, I hardly knew anything about William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, other than that he conquered something and that he was from Normandy, but someone in the distant past made an entire tapestry about it explaining all the events surrounding his conquest. I had learned about the Battle of Normandy and D-Day in school, but never about the details of the troop movements, the meticulous planning of the military, the journalists who risked their lives to cover the invasion, the logistics of the army hospitals, the reactions of the French towns upon liberation.
Seeing footage of bombs and rubble, of troops marching through the same idyllic French villages I’ve been wandering, I’m very grateful that I have the opportunity not just to enjoy the present, but to learn about the deep history of my home away from home—that I can walk the same streets that have endured so much and picture them in a different era, a different time.