France 2004: Paris and Atlantikwall Bunkers

Bonjour France! Paris with Michelle, and Atlantikwall bunkers in the north of France with my husband Steve.

It was my first time in Paris and I felt completely at home – a first trip to France that I’d repeat in a heartbeat. Wandering the streets of several arrondissements (districts or neighbourhoods) in Paris gave me a sense of how the city is laid out and I was able to experience Paris without rushing around. I watched people as I drank an espresso at cafes, sat in some of the many smaller parks designed for children to play and adults to rest in (homes/apartments are small so these outdoor spaces are crucial and everyone uses them), or relaxed in the larger parks including the Place des Vosges, Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Jardin des Plantes. Paris for me was (and still is) all about wandering, allowing myself to get lost, explore, learn my way around, and get a feel for this great city. And of course the food. Glorious food in the form of markets, cafes, boulangeries, patisseries, and restos. My friend Michelle and I ate like royalty. And of course there were the shops: small boutiques and large department stores, like the spectacular Galeries LaFayette; it all seemed forbidden somehow and yet how could one say “no” to temptation? One brilliant week in Paris.

View from le Centre Pompidou

View from le Centre Pompidou

Before visiting a few bucolic villages in the countryside south of Normandy in the Pays de la Loire at the end of my travels with Steve, I was off for a stint of bunker hopping.

After a six-hour flight from Boston, Steve arrived in Paris only for us to discover that we could rent manual transmission cars, only. Since, at the time I did not know how to drive a manual automobile he drove the four hours north to our bed and breakfast at Madame Martin’s, in Pas de Calais. Advertised as a bilingual B&B (Steve is woefully ignorant of all languages except for English), the stark truth was quickly revealed. Only Madame’s husband, recently deceased, had ever spoken something other than French. To make matters worse (for Steve), our urine-scented room, the poor quality of food offered by Madame Martin, and the generally awkward atmosphere upped the ante. Luckily, I jumped in as translator to make this stay easier.

From Madame Martin’s on to bunkers! The Germans built the Atlantikwall between 1942 and 1945; it was a system of concrete fortifications in western Europe to protect the Germans from expected British ally invasions. These bunkers now scar the land in a strangely beautiful way – by means of urban archaeological decay.  Bunkers are found all across the coast of France (and Europe). During this trip Steve and I wandered the shores of:  (day 1) Pas de Calais to see the Le Blockhaus d’Eperlecques (le blockhaus), then north to Wissant, and lastly Oye-Plage at sunset for even more bunkers; (day 2) Dunkerque (Bray Dunes) and then time in Bayeux which included a walk in the countryside, a look at the magnificent Bayeux tapestry, and a lovely lunch at L’Assiette Normande; (day 3) Arromanches to see the Port Winston Ruins and then take a drive along the coast to Grand Camp-Masy and the Dunes of Varrieville for a walk through the Utah Beach Bunkers. The sites are surreal and the French people have learned to live with these mostly immense sinking constructions, re-imagining the usability of their coastal landscape without attempting to destroy the bunkers to restore the coast.

The Blockhaus at Eperlecques

The Blockhaus at Eperlecques

Port Winston at Arramanches

Port Winston at Arramanches

Port Winston at Arramanches

Port Winston at Arramanches

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