Peter and I have been married long enough now that I can usually plan things on a trip that he’ll enjoy, but I still try to ask whether there’s anything he’s particularly dying to do. On this trip, he asked if we could go see some World War II sights. I’d always wanted to see Mont Saint Michel and Giverny, so it was a good area to combine our mutual interests. Most of the things we did around the D-Day beaches were more for Peter’s education and enjoyment, and Julia and I were there as willing supporters, so I’ll list things we did more succinctly with some more brief commentary than normal.
Where We Stayed
We found the B&B Ferme de la Tourelle on Booking.com (use the link and get $20 towards your stay) and it had great ratings, plus it seemed like it would be nice to have a space further out from a town where Julia could run. Delphine, our host, was very warm and welcoming and we enjoyed getting to chat with other guests over breakfast in the morning. There was a little mix-up with our room – I had reserved a triple room (double bed + single bed) and Delphine needed the triple room for another family and thought she had e-mailed through Booking to ask if we would be alright with a double and a pack and play. I never got the e-mail, but Julia slept fine in the pack and play and we paid slightly less for the room. We really loved our stay, but in hindsight I might have chosen to book somewhere in Bayeux center since we mostly ate and explored there after sightseeing and it might have been nice to walk, but it was only a 15 minute drive.
What We Did And Where We Ate
- Sainte-Mère-Eglise: little village where a paratrooper most famously parachuted in and landed on the church steeple before being captured. The church was really beautiful (a touching Our Lady of Peace stands guard) and the Airborne Museum was very well done (especially the Operation Neptune building with an exhibit that makes you feel like you’re jumping out of the plane). We ate sandwiches in the square from a bakery before heading to…
- Utah Beach: The Utah Beach Landing Museum was also well done, but less accessible for a toddler (more things to read, less things to see). Luckily, the beach is literally just outside and it’s quite lovely. Julia and I played on the beach for close to an hour while we waited for Peter – the water was a perfect temperature and there were plenty of shells to use as makeshift shovels and buckets. We had a muslin blanket to use as a towel and I dragged our lightweight stroller onto the sand without much difficulty.
- Bayeux: We tried to go to the Tapestry Museum, but had the only experience in France with an unfriendly person. We were confused by the odd parking situation (there are these funny disks you can buy at tobacco stores, but it’s only loosely marked) and it felt like we were pulling teeth to try to get information about the options. We wanted to buy tickets and have Peter re-park the car, but the employee told us they were closing soon (it was 10 minutes to 5 and they don’t close till 6:30) and that we should probably just come back another day because we could “only” see the tapestry (we realized later that the museum was also open, so we would only potentially have missed a short film that we didn’t care about anyway). We moved the car and decided to walk around, visiting the beautiful cathedral and its crypt, and playing near the ducks at the Parc Michel Ornano. We ate dinner at Le Petit Normand, which is rated well on TripAdvisor. Julia loved my paté and Peter’s French onion soup, but neither Peter nor I were particularly enamored with the food. They did have a high chair, however, which made feeding Julia easy.
- Arromanche-Les-Bains: We loved seeing the remains of the artificial port. The fact that it’s largely still there really brings it to life. Peter enjoyed the model in the Landing Museum (it has moving “water” – impressive) and there was a good slide show and movie that Julia made it through, but then we headed out to watch the carousel and the beach. The restroom at the museum, by the way, is very tiny and would be impossible to change a diaper in, so don’t do that to yourself.
- Longues-Sur-Mer: This was a quick stop to see the German gun battery. Julia and I mostly picked dandelions while Peter walked around, but it was a great spot to run around for her.
- American Cemetery: The cemetery is really beautiful and touching. Respecting the dead is really important here, so Julia and I had several conversations about what that meant (no running, no climbing, etc) that she did a good job of listening to. If we had felt up to it, it would have also been nice to see the German cemetery to compare and contrast.
- Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc: Julia fell asleep soon after leaving the cemetery and I felt really tired, so Peter drove the long way back to Bayeux past Omaha Beach and got out at Pointe du Hoc to walk around a bit.
- Maisy Battery: Julia luckily woke up just in time so that I could join Peter with her in the toddler carrier. The Germans hid a gun battery that was only fairly recently uncovered (2006) after being an odd secret after the war. I really wanted to like this site given its interesting back story, but without more information (a guided tour would have been cool), most of the areas looked similar. I’m still glad we went, but am glad the entrance fee (6 EUR/adult) wasn’t atrocious.
- Back to Bayeux: We finally made it to the Tapestry Museum! We definitely could have seen it the day prior, but the front desk and other staff were really friendly and helpful, so I’m not sorry we waited. Contrasting to the other things we saw, this was my chosen activity for the area (we studied the tapestry back in my AP Art History class in high school), so Peter took charge of making sure Julia didn’t ruin any millennia old artifacts. They had handheld audio tours (including one for kids, which Julia didn’t listen to, but loved holding) that played automatically as you walked by the tapestry, which is remarkably beautiful and intact. There’s also a small museum on the next floor that gives more information about the tapestry’s history, making and life at the time. It was a really hot day, so we got ice cream, bought Julia a new dress and walked around town before heading to dinner at Moulin de La Galette. The TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews were mostly good, but mixed. We loved the galettes (savory crepes made with buckwheat flour) and the price of our dinner on a beautiful terrace at sunset with a bottle of cider, side salad and fries was significantly less than we had paid elsewhere, so we were ecstatic. We got back to our B&B just as a giant and beautiful thunderstorm broke, so we got to watch it from the common area while we planned for the following day.
Day 3 (last day)
We decided to putter around the Normandy area a bit before heading to Giverny, so we stopped near Juno beach in Courseulles-sur-Mer. Their extremely friendly and helpful tourist office (even open on Sundays) pointed us down the road to Chippie Plage, a tiny little hole in the wall stand that rented bikes. For 2 hours, our two bikes with a baby seat and a helmet for Julia (they didn’t have adult helmets) and extra smiles from the owners was only 9.50 EUR. They weren’t the best bikes in the world, and Julia (who was a little sleepy) didn’t love the fact that her head kept hitting Peter’s back, so we stopped by the beach and ate lunch. Julia and I went down to the beach to play while Peter continued on. She was so excited because there’s a horse riding school nearby and ponies and horses kept walking down the ramp near where we were playing. It was a beautiful day for being outside, and Julia liked the bike ride more on our way back when she was more awake. After our little activity, we stopped for ice cream before driving off towards Giverny!
Do you and your partner take turns switching off with activities and child occupying on vacation? How do you divide and conquer?