Monday, October 20, 2014

Normandy Excursion Oct 17-19

For our Normandy excursion, we made historical stops that took our breath away. First stop was Mount Saint Michel.

Then, we went to St. Malo, where we stayed during our excursion.

Then we made a stop at Dinan, a small town in Brittany.

Lastly, we made a stop to the landing beaches, Omaha Beach and Gold Beach at Arromanches. We also saw the American Cemetery. 

Mont Saint-Michel, Saint-Malo, Dinan, and D-Day Landing Beaches

We spent the weekend of October 17-19 in Normandy and Brittany, visiting the eighth-century abbey, Mont Saint-Michel, and the Breton towns of Saint-Malo and Dinan, before exploring the Omaha and Gold landing beaches as part of our course work on French history and Franco-American relations.

We began our trip at Mont Saint-Michel, a shrine to Saint Michael and major site of medieval pilgrimage.  Like many religious institutions, the abbey was a target of the French revolutionaries, who used it to imprison dissident priests.  Today its bay is being reengineered to restore its island origins.

Our wonderful guide conférencier, Mirek Siedliski,
Cultural Activities Coordinator/Excursion Leader for ACCENT

First settled in the 1st century BCE, Saint-Malo has a storied history, including centuries as a center of piracy.  Located on the English Channel, Saint-Malo's medieval ramparts and meticulous reconstruction, after near total decimation by General Patton's US 3rd Army during World War II, make it a popular destination for both French and foreign visitors.  We found it beautiful!

It was windy!

While in St-Malo, we celebrated Tessla's birthday!

From Saint-Malo, we visited the port town of Dinan, famous for its half-timbered houses and delicious galettes.  Here we learned about romanesque architecture and Brittany's long history of conflict with England.

We have been studying World War II in both our courses, focusing on the liberation of France and the role of American soldiers during and after Operation Overlord.  We first visited Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.  Over 9,000 American war dead are buried there, including 45 sets of brothers.

The Chapel at the Cemetery

Invasion map as part of the Memorial

The cemetery overlooks the beach, where the U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions landed in the early hours of June 6, 1944.

In the village of Arromanches, we visited the British Gold Beach, where pieces of the German Atlantic Wall remain as well as Mulberry B, the temporary harbor constructed by the British in order to deliver supplies, vehicles, and soldiers for the invasion.

Throughout our exploration of the landing beaches, we saw evidence of the commemorations this past June of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

70 years of liberty in Arromanches

F&M has a close connection to the landing beach farthest to the west, Utah Beach.  On June 6, 2012, President Dan Porterfield dedicated the Richard D. Winters Leadership Monument in Normandy in honor of Major Richard Winters '41, commander of the E Company, part of the 101st Airborne Division, that fought at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont.

Now that we're back, it's time to write up our trip reports for our partners in the F&M course CNX 117, Americans in Paris, taught by Professor Carrie Landfried, and work on our individual research projects for French history and politics as well as on our group projects for our course on Franco-American relations.  Next week, we are looking forward to fall break!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Today we visited the Panthéon, the so-called French "temple of the nation."  Originally constructed as a church by Louis XV in honor of Saint Geneviève, this basilica was transformed during the French Revolution into a mausoleum for leading French citizens.  The inscription above the entrance reads, "Aux Grands Hommes, la Patrie Reconnaissante" (To great men, the grateful homeland); indeed, the Panthéon currently pays homage to just one woman, Marie Curie, although next spring two more women are slated for inclusion.  Our class visited the Panthéon in conjunction with our study of the French Resistance, in particular to see the memorialization of Jean Moulin in the crypt.  Moulin's ashes were transferred from Père Lachaise to the Panthéon in 1964 as part of a ceremony made famous by André Malraux's speech, in which Malraux cried out to his fellow French Resistance fighter, "Enter here, accompanied by a people born of the shadow and who disappeared with that shadow – our brothers in the Order of the Night."  (We read the speech, which can be screened at

Jean Moulin
Malraux's address upon Moulin's entrance into the Panthéon

Inscription in Crypt
The Crypt

Outside the Panthéon

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte

This weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Fontainebleau. It was absolutely beautiful. I also had the chance to visit the Vaux-le-Vicomte gardens and lake, which I found even more breathtaking than Versailles.

This room is very similar to the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles: