Arras, Normandy and points West

We’ve had a great couple of days since arriving in Arras, including some gentle walks through town. Unbeknownst to us, Halloween is actually a thing in France and the town was on holiday, complete with themed pubs and restaurants, and hordes of kids holding shops to ransom. Arras itself may be worth a visit, including the two market squares, rebuilt in theme in the 19th C as well as the church, one holding the inevitable Rubens! Still can’t get over the artworks simply hanging in public spaces …

Just another Rubens …
Arras market square

Having really appreciated the opportunity to walk the fields and pass through the museums we have taken the opportunity to travel down to the Normandy beaches. Yesterday we spent the day at Utah Beach, having spent overnight in the town of Sainte-Mare Eglise, the first town liberated in France. You may well remember this from the series Band of Brothers. The town remains heavily associated with D-Day, and houses the Airborne Museum.

What a way to start your war: A paratrooper commemorated for landing on the church spire, Saint-Mer-Eglise
Paratrooper memorial – stained glass window

We had two nights in the town before travelling down the road to Utah Beach and the museum there. The museum is very well resourced and the layout is very engaging. One can’t help but empathise with combatants, on both sides, their experiences associated with those times.

Utah Beach, Normandy
105mm shell damage – from an unexploded shell!!
Crispecq Battery, Saint Marcoef de Isle

We are currently going to overnight in the supermarket carpark not far from Mont St Michel, Thank You Carrefour! We spent the day cycling and walking to the Mont: A truly wow kind of experience. Begun in the 8th C with big extensions in the 11th C to become a Benedictine Monastery. Obviously successful, as it was here that the bastard William (no, truly, that’s how he was known) was blessed before setting off to England, Hastings, and un upgrade to Conqueror. The walk along the causeway gave spectacular views on the Mont. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could not see the sea – even from a very elevated position. Particularly given that it was Spring Tide, the mud flats are as impressive as mud flats could possibly be. With a population of 50 + a mayor, the inhabited area is on steeply pitched walkways or stairs – just lovely. Not so lovely were the prices: €26 for regional vegetable soup!!!

Mont Saint Michel at night
Mont St Michel
Inside the Mont

Tomorrow off to St Malo – we really enjoyed the town when last here in 2015, at the start of a long cycle to Nice, some 1700km down the road, in a summer that was so hot we had tar melted on the bike tires. None of that now, although with temperatures in the early teens it’s been very pleasant. We reflected, cycling past 12 or 14 enormous car parks, what this place must look like in summer – Ouch!