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Location - Western Europe; Capital - Paris; Population - 65 million; Currency - Euro MORE FRANCE

I've long wanted to see Mont St Michel and coupled it with a visit to the World War II beaches along the Normandy coast - January 2017.


euro1A more recent version of the 10 Euro note










france1463If you have time and are able I recommend walking the 3km from the hotel-town of La Caserne to Mont St Michel


france1464As you walk closer, see it grow from a rock on the horizon to an imposing fortified island in the Channel - Mont St Michel


france1469It's a magnificent sight, which even in mid-January attracts hundreds of tourists. I dread to think what the crowds are like in summer! Mont St Michel













france1486Above the main street, the island is topped by the Abbey - Mont St Michel














france1478The sturdy ramparts surrounding the Mont date to the 13th-15th centuries - Mont St Michel


france1493The Mont only becomes a true island every six weeks or so, when the tide is high enough to submerge the coastal sands - Mont St Michel


france1499Passing La Mere Poulard hotel restaurant on the left - Mont St Michel














france1505Grand Rue is the main street, full of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants - Mont St Michel














france1509A short cut indeed! Or rather a very narrow cut to my hotel, though for anyone on the large side there's alternative, wider paths. Honest! Mont St Michel


france1520There's hundreds of steps on Mont St Michel, particularly if you want to get to the Abbey (its spire pictured here) so get used to climbing


france1522Pigeons take in some winter sun - Mont St Michel















france1555A few kms from Mont St Michel is the smaller island of Tombelaine, now a dedicated bird reserve, with the Normandy mainland behind - Mont St Michel














france1550The sun casts a giant shadow of the Abbey - Mont St Michel


france1537The Abbey was founded in 708 following Bishop Aubert's vision of St Michael instructing him to build a church on the island - Mont St Michel


france1558Over the centuries the site expanded, incorporating a monastery in the 10th century, and a town developed below - Mont St Michel


















france1564 Supplies were hoisted up via a giant treadmill - Mont St Michel















france1565Looking southwards from the Abbey treadmill - Mont St Michel


france1602I think this is Gabriel Tower, a fortified section of the ramparts - Mont St


france1502The Grand Rue is much quieter at night, once the day-trippers have disappeared - Mont St Michel














france1585There were even less people on the streets at sunrise, which was pretty late in January, after 08:00 - Mont St Michel














france1587It was also sub-zero and much of the shallow waters were frozen - Mont St Michel


france1598Sunrise at the North Tower - Mont St Michel


france1604This is sunset over the flat plains south of the island - Mont St Michel














france1614Another great photo opportunity comes around when the lights come on - Mont St Michel















france1453A quirky water tower outside the nearest train station to Mont St Michel at Pontorson


france1449An hour or so by train from Pontorson is the attractive port city of St Malo














france1447 On the left is the Etoile du Roy, a replica of an 18th century frigate - St Malo















france1412The 17th century Fort National - St Malo


france1409To the east of the fort is l'Eventail Beach - St Malo


france1426The tourist heart of the city is the Intra Muros, the walled old town - St Malo














france1433At low tide you can walk to the two small islands of Grand Bé and Petit Bé, with the open-air pool in front - St Malo














france1434The 17th century Fort du Petit Bé - St Malo


france1445Take in the whole of the old town from the end of the pier - St Malo


france1418Bars, restaurants and cafes line the old town. Although maybe not in this photo! St Malo















france1443Ferries to the Channel Islands and England ensure a bustling atmosphere - St Malo














france1439The Port de Plaisance, or Pleasure Marina, is in the southern district of St Servan - St Malo


france1324If arriving by train this will be your first sight of Notre Dame Cathedral - Bayeux














france1305The 11th century cathedral was the original resting place of the Bayeux Tapestry - Bayeux















france1308Several old half-timbered houses line the streets near the cathedral - Bayeux


france1309One of the water wheels on the Aure River in Bayeux


france1311The river opens out into a small but attractive pond area - Bayeux














france1333Street art in the backstreets near the tapestry - Bayeux


















france1336And a more subtle piece.. - Bayeux


france1318The nearest I got to seeing the famous Bayeux Tapestry was the entrance - it's closed in January! Most museums are it seems.
The tapestry is a 70m long embroidered cloth depicting the Battle of Hastings of 1066, which pitted William, Duke of Normandy against the English King Harold. It's believed to have been made by nuns in England in readiness for the inauguration of Bayeux's Notre Dame Cathedral, where it was originally housed, in 1077 - Bayeux


france1319On the southern ring road is the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy (closed in January) - Bayeux














france1330Close by is a British War Cemetery, one of many in Normandy. It's home to over 4,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers, as well as Germans, who died during the Normandy Invasion in 1944 - Bayeux














france1331In the same area is the Reporters Memorial, dedicated to journalists killed on duty from WWII to the present day. One of the more recent additions is James Foley, beheaded by Islamic State in 2014 - Bayeux


france1341I took an excellent day-tour of WWII Normandy, with the first stop being La Cambe German Cemetery
















france1342Over 21,000 Germans are buried here. They include Adolf Diekmann, responsible for the atrocities at Oradour-sur-Glane, and revered tank commander Michael Wittmann - La Cambe German Cemetery














france1347The church at Angoville-au-Plain was turned into a makeshift hospital by US medics Kenneth Moore and Robert Wright who, with minimal training, performed heroics on injured soldiers, including Germans. Bloodstains still mark the benches inside


france1365 Utah Beach was the westernmost point of the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944















france1366Traditional Normandy horse-racing (apparently) on Utah Beach














france136221,000 American troops landed on Utah Beach on 6 June 1944, many being carried in Higgins Boats, pictured - Utah Beach


france1363It's amazing to think that the wooden panels are actually rail sleepers used in the landings. They helped in the transport of trains off-loaded from ships once the site was secured - Utah Beach


france1359This bunker was captured from the Nazis and became a US Navy communication centre for much of 1944 - Utah Beach














france1370Ste Mere Eglise is the location of a famous D-Day battle, highlighted in the film The Longest Day: American paratrooper John Steele's parachute got caught on the church spire. Unable to safely free himself, he played dead for two hours before the Germans took him prisoner. He later escaped and rejoined his division


france1385Pointe du Hoc formed part of Nazi Germany's Atlantic Wall, over 3,500km of fortifications built along the north European coastline from southern France to Norway














france1374A long-range gun position at Pointe du Hoc, which posed a major threat to Allied ships on D-Day














france1384On D-Day the American Ranger Assault Group climbed these 30m cliffs, located between Utah and Omaha beaches, and captured the strategically important Pointe du Hoc


france1386A memorial to those who fought at Omaha Beach, scene of the bloodiest D-Day battle, where little went according to plan












france1387Air bombing prior to the landings missed their targets, while many of the tank landings in rough seas ended up swamped on the seabed - Omaha Beach













france1391US infantry also suffered heavy casualties as soon as the landing boats set down, either drowning or being shot. Yet by the end of the day the Americans secured the beach, where casualties stood at 2,400. Crucially, as Germany hadn't anticipated the D-Day landings, they suffered 1,200 casualties but had no reserves to back them up - Omaha Beach


france1395france1394Look through the grill (pictured right) to get see this German gun emplacement - Omaha Beach


france1398Overlooking the eastern end of Omaha Beach is the Normandy American Cemetery, where over 9,000 Americans are laid to rest - Colleville-sur-Mer













france1400 Theodore Roosevelt Jr, son of President Roosevelt, is buried here, along with two of the Niland brothers, their lives being the inspiration for Saving Private Ryan - Colleville-sur-Mer













The tour concentrated on the American sectors of Utah and Omaha, but unfortunately none were available in January for the British/Canadian areas of Gold, Juno and Sword. So I resorted to good old public transport and taxis, beginning with the German site of Longues-sur-Mer.

france1623Longues-sur-Mer is a clifftop battery site which formed part of Nazi Germany's Atlantic Wall, located between Omaha and Gold beaches


france1627It consists of four gun positions, some of the best preserved in-situ WWII artillery positions along the French coast - Longues-sur-Mer


france1628You can wander inside the casemates and get up-close - Longues-sur-Mer














france1645According to my Omaha Beach guide, footprints of eager Nazi soldiers can be seen in the setting concrete. Maybe this is one? Longues-sur-Mer













france1640A misty morning at Longues-sur-Mer


france1649A German bunker overlooking the Channel. As part of the D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944 Allied ships bombed the gun emplacements, thereby disabling a key defensive position - Longues-sur-Mer


france1652 From Longues-sur-Mer the breakwaters of the harbour at Gold Beach can be seen further east















france1669A great view of Arromanches, part of D-Day's British-led Gold Beach sector


france1675Until Allied forces captured a French port, a harbour was required to facilitate the offloading of vehicles, troops and huge amounts of supplies. At Gold Beach this came in the form of the Mulberry harbour, a series of temporary floating platforms towed across the English Channel - Arromanches


france1660A photo of the Mulberry harbour in operation during WWII at Port Winston - Arromanches


france1677 Amazingly, remains of the Mulberry harbour still lie on the beach - Arromanches















france1686A series of floats upon which the roadways were placed - Arromanches















france1692A Mulberry harbour pierhead - Arromanches


france1693A Mulberry harbour also existed at Omaha but was destroyed in a storm in late June 1944. Gold Beach's Mulberry was also damaged but repaired, and operated for 10 months after the D-Day landings, transporting over 2.5million men, 500,000 vehicles and four million tonnes of supplies - Arromanches


france1657Street art just off the seafront at Arromanches














france1712A quick stop in Caen before heading to Paris and on to London


france1700Ramparts belonging to the destroyed 11th century Chateau du Caen, now home to a couple of museums - Caen


france1704The Abbaye aux Hommes is a notable sight linked to the Battle of Hastings - Caen















france1707I say that because the tomb holds the body of William the Conqueror, who died in 1087. Or maybe just a bone or two, as he's likely to have been removed following ransackings over the years - Caen














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LINKS - Eurostar train from London to Paris, Brussels and more - French tourist office - Mont St Michel tourist board - guide to St Malo - French trains


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