After two days in Rouen, we were already getting bored. Just kidding. But to change things up a bit, we planned out the first of two day trips, this one by train to Bayeux. Wow, what a change from just a few days earlier in Bulgaria. Remember how it was sweltering in Bulgaria? Well, while it was pleasantly cool in Rouen (high 60s and low 70s), it was rainy and frigid in Bayeux – I don’t think it hit 60 the day were were there.
But we soldiered on, with our jackets and umbrellas. The train station is a short walk from the historic center of the city, and in just a few minutes we stood outside our first stop of Bayeux sightseeing, the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.
If you don’t know what the Bayeux Tapestry is, remember that this part of the world, 950-some years ago, was the scene to one of the seminal events in history, the Battle of Hastings. The leader who would be the winner of that battle, hereafter known to history as William the Conqueror, was the Duke of Normandy, and the events leading up to him crossing the English Channel and taking on the English took place in Normandy. All of that, plus the battle of course, are woven into a long cloth picture book, the Tapestry.
To view the tapestry nowadays, you walk through a curved room, and it is displayed laid out on the inside wall. There is an audio guide with period music that describes what is happening in the scenes on the tapestry, which is numbered for easy reference. What surprised me is how brutal and bloody the whole thing is. There are parts where chopped up bodies are in the margins. The tapestry and the museum are marketed, it appears to me, as student-friendly – and while the average person nowadays sees people murdered and even chopped up on television all the time, this tapestry is not for young eyes.
Be that as it may, beyond the tapestry in its curved room, there is another floor with displays giving it some context. Included in that are some suppositions about how it was created, and how people originally saw it. There is an illustration showing it hung in the cathedral on feast days. I hope they gave up on that pretty quickly, since, again, would you want to bring your small child to church to see images of people being butchered? Plus, it doesn’t give the impression that it’s terribly durable – it is made out of cloth after all – and exposing it to the air, even one day a year, over the centuries, would’ve doomed it.
After that great start to our day, we were feeling hungry. Unfortunately, our long train ride coupled with our museum visit left us just a bit beyond the lunch service time. Most restaurants were closing to prepare for dinner or only offering beverages, so we had to hunt for someone who might be still serving lunch. We thought a hotel might be a good bet, and walking along the street behind the cathedral, we found Le Garde Manger, a hotel restaurant that was open.
Not only was this open, but they served very good food. The club sandwich I ordered, with hard boiled egg, bacon, slices of chicken breast, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on white toast, was great (mmmm, I could go for one of those right now).
After lunch, the next thing I had in mind was visiting the Cathedral. But Therese had found another place for us to visit, which was not far from there. Maison Lecornu has a great reputation for making some of the best cider and Calvados in a region that is already well-known for those things (after all, this region gave its name to the famous apple brandy).
We did tastings of pretty much everything they offered – they were very nice to show us pretty much their whole line of cider and brandies – and wow, we loved it. If there had been a way, we would’ve bought many bottles of everything. As it was, we bought a bottle of Calvados Hors d’Age, or 6 year old brandy. We also bought two small bottles of the same, thinking we could put these in our checked luggage where we could best protect them. Then we bought some cider and apple juice (the most delicate dry but flavorful apple juice I have ever tasted), which we planned to drink while we were in France.
Then it was off to the Cathedral! I was so thrilled to see this cathedral, since it includes a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles in its design. Oh sure, like most cathedrals and churches, as the centuries passed, and things started to show wear, the repairs and additions were done in succeeding styles (Renaissance, Baroque, etc.). But the bones of this cathedral are so obviously Romanesque in the west end and nave and then Gothic in the choir and east end. So cool to see that transition from one to the other.
I also enjoyed seeing the crypt. Sometimes crypts are just stone pillars and capitals, but this one has a painted ceiling and painted decorations above several of the capitals. And I always love seeing Medieval depictions of musicians.
My favorite part of the Cathedral was the Romanesque decorations in the creases above the archways on both sides of the nave. The faces and creatures carved in stone there, and the various Romanesque ornaments, are just wonderful. I could spend days there with binoculars and a sketch pad trying to draw all these extraordinary figures.
Leaving the Cathedral, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. We hadn’t really seen that much of the town as of yet, and we had read about a walking tour that left from in front of the Tourist Information Office, so we started walking in that direction. However, when we arrived, we found out the tour costs, I think it was 20 Euros a person, and took a couple of hours.
So we thought we would conclude the afternoon instead by going to have some refreshment in a cafe, and Patisserie Ordioni was not far, so we stopped in there, found a table, and had a sit. As is often the case with bakeries, there weren’t any pastries that were dairy free – but they did have dairy free dark chocolate available, so I bought one of those bars to go with my cold drink, and it was scrumptious.
We originally had bought a rather late return ticket that left around 8pm, transferred through Paris, and wouldn’t get us back to Rouen until around midnight. But we felt like we had already had our fill of Bayeux, so we walked back to the train station and exchanged our tickets for a train leaving around 6. That one transferred at Caen, just as the one to Bayeux had done, and returned us to Rouen at a decent time. That sounded like a good deal to us. Just a couple hours later, we were warm and cozy in our apartment back in Rouen. All in all, a very successful and enjoyable day in Bayeux.