Normandy, France, is a popular destination, especially for WWII buffs. Many baby boomers have listened to war stories from parents, especially fathers, who participated in the Normandy invasion during WWII. But tales of conquerors pre-date this contemporary war talk. Just ask Vera Marie Badertscher, A Traveler’s Library, who recently took a visit to Bayeux, France. In today’s guest post, she introduces us to French tapestry work, William the Conqueror and a 4-star chateau that will inspire your baby boomer travels to Normandy.
I never expected that a 1000-year old piece of needlework could be so entertaining. But the detailed story-telling of The Bayeux Tapestry not only informs the historically illiterate, but even contains a bit of bawdy humor. Warrior Bishop Odon, brother of William the Conqueror, commissioned the tapestry (which is really an embroidery, rather than the densely stitched traditional tapestry) to celebrate the successful Norman invasion of England in 1066 .
Since the tapestry, which is 75 feet long, was embroidered about ten years after the event, it presents a contemporary record. And to think that I almost missed it. Somehow I thought that seeing an old cloth would not be exciting, even though it is a REALLY OLD piece of linen, that some people refer to as the first comic strip because of the way it is organized. Incidents of the events are told in 58 scenes of amazing accuracy. No one has been able to prove with certainty who embroidered the tapestry, but I wonder about the theory that nuns made it because one of the side-bar stories shows naked men in an aroused state. The story includes an amazing 626 figures of people of all ranks. If a baby boomer is starting to feel old, there is nothing like seeing 1000-year-old objects to put things in perspective!
In addition to Bayeux’s beautifully presented tapestry museum with its Viking ship out front, visitors stroll across the cobblestone courtyard to see the Bayeux Cathedral of Notre Dame. Even Ken, who is not a fan of visiting cathedrals, got a bit of chill down his spine when we were told that William the Conqueror himself had been present at the dedication of this church. The tapestry hung on the walls of the cathedral periodically for hundreds of years, starting when the cathedral was consecrated in 1077.
Around the corner from the museum, we visited a needlework artist who does historically accurate reproductions of scenes from the “tapestry.” While there are many machine-made replicas available, you’ll find the only artist-created work in her shop, Bayeux Broderie. Boomers can even buy a kit to make their own at home.
Once there, we wished that we could wander for days in Bayeux, with its friendly tourism office located in an old fish market, excellent restaurants like La Rapiere where we ate lunch. I can’t imagine a more authentic experience. We ducked down an alleyway, and entered a stone building with a rural ambiance, but big-city accomplishments in cuisine.
We stayed just outside of town at a chateau very popular with American tourists visiting WWII invasion beaches. During the war, the chateau got lucky, because the German command using it withdrew before the Allies arrived, therefore sparing the chateau any damage. Today, the 4-star Chateau La CheneviÈre provides a peaceful rural retreat where you can rest up (and catch up on your e-mails on free wifi) as you tour historic sites in the gorgeous green countryside of Normandy.
Room 208, had windows looking out on two sides to bucolic scenes of cows grazing and the village of Port-en-Bessin in the background. I liked the inviting swimming pool, the enormous room with a comfy sofa and a practical work desk supplied with a music center and Internet hookup. Baby boomers will find that the jacuzzi tub gets the kinks out after a long day of touring. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, La CheneviÈre’s rates for the 29 rooms range from 202 euros to 382 euros, with half board costing approximately 140 euros extra for two people.
From 1000-year old Viking history to 70-year old World War II history, Bayeux is the place for curious baby boomers who like to explore.
Disclaimer: We were hosted at Chateau de La Cheneviere, and the Bayeux tourism contact treated us to lunch and a tour of the Tapestry Museum and Cathedral.
Photos courtesy Vera Marie Badertscher