A Norman Invasion
by Janine Spencer
Rosine Martel, our tour guide and campus director, greeted us at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. On the bus to Normandy she immediately captured our hearts with her endearing personality and charming accent.
Lisieux, the town that served as our home base, is considered the capital of Normandy's central region. It is known for its basilica, dedicated to St. Thérèse and modeled after the Sacré-Cour in Paris. Much of Lisieux was destroyed during World War II, except for our hotel, the Grand Hôtel de L'Espérance, which served as the German regional headquarters during the occupation.
Similar to other Alumni Campus Abroad programs, we made daily excursions from our home base after morning lectures by local professors and guides.
The rich Norman cuisine gave our travelers an added incentive to walk as much as possible. Everyone enjoyed strolling one morning through Claude Monet's gardens in Giverny, where wisteria bloomed along the footbridge near the famed lily ponds. That afternoon we visited Rouen, the "city of a hundred spires" and Normandy's largest city. It was here in the Place du Vieux Marché that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.
On the road from the charming fishing port of Honfleur, we stopped at a Calvados distillery to learn about — and, of course, sample — Normandy's noted apple brandy. We learned that during World War II alcohol derived from apples was used as fuel while gasoline was scarce, making Calvados truly one for the road.
Other excursions included a morning in Bayeux, home of the famous medieval tapestry depicting the events of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. We spent one full day at Mont-St.-Michel accompanied by William Jordan, a British travel writer. While climbing the 400 steps to the abbey, Jordan pointed out similarities between the medieval fortifications and the World War II German bunkers.
After our climb, no one felt guilty about asking for extra "crème Chantilly" on an apple pastry. And no meal was complete without a shot of Calvados and a selection of local cheeses, notably "the big three" — Camembert, Livarot and Pont-l'Evêque.
In Caen we visited the Peace Memorial, where we watched D-Day newsreels. Afterward we visited the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-mer. Everyone was deeply moved.
The trip's finale was an NAA reception, capped off by a rousing rendition of "Go U Northwestern" led by Elizabeth "Betty" Forrer Applebee (C40) and Hal Stewart (C68, GJ70).
About half our travelers extended their trip to Paris, where I took them to Picpus Cemetery, the subject of my research. General Lafayette and more than 1,300 victims of the Reign of Terror are buried there.
The Normandy trip plus Paris was a truly enjoyable journey. We wished we could return for this fall's NAA trip to Normandy that will take place during the yearlong celebration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day. It will be hosted by my colleague, Michal Ginsburg, chair of the Department of French and Italian.
Janine Spencer (G76, 88) is director of the Multimedia Learning Center and a lecturer in the Department of French and Italian.
For more info visit www.alumni.northwestern.edu/travel or call 1-800-NU-ALUMS.