Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Normandy Trip

Considering Sunday was Veterans Day, I thought a post about our trip to Normandy would be fitting.  I've actually been meaning to blog about this trip and several others we took before we left Italy, but I just keep putting them on the back burner.

Although we had a fantastic time in Normandy, there were a few factors that I wish I could have changed.

1. I'd preferred not to have to drive 13 hours each way and instead have flown to Paris Beauvais and then rented a car, but with Boomer (our Min-Pin) and nobody to watch him, we had no choice but to bring him along.

2. We did this on essentially a three day weekend. Although we saw lots of the D-Day sights, there were so many other places in Normandy I would have liked to have visited as well and with our limited time, that just wasn't possible.

That being said, we still had a fantastic time and this was actually our last trip that we took while stationed in Europe.  Normandy, specifically the D-Day beaches and other sights were high on both Sean and I's to-see list, so I'm really glad we got to see such a historic place before we moved back to the States.

Sean and I left for Normandy on a Thursday evening in a rented car. I wasn't comfortable taking our Cobalt that was sans power steering through mountain passes. Turns out, the Fiat Panda we were driving wasn't much better.  We didn't realize until it started raining (driving through those mountain passes) that the windshield wipers would not wipe the rain off the windshield! Sean has awful night vision to begin with, but the car was a manual, so he was stuck with driving it. A few weeks earlier I'd had an awful dream where Sean and I drove off a cliff and I woke myself up as I was dying in my dream. So imagine how scared I was driving in the rain, near cliffs, through mountains, in the dark, with a car that's windshield wipers weren't properly working.  Because of the rain, it made the drive slower and it was 2 a.m. before we stopped on our midway point of getting to Normandy.

I'd reserved rooms at an Etap hotel for both the first night and then the next two nights outside Bayeux.  Normally I try not to stay at chain hotels, but since we had Boomer and they allowed pets and they had good prices, I went ahead and booked them. Let me just say, I was pretty impressed with them.

1. They had free breakfast included. Not to mention the breakfast was nothing to sneeze at. Fresh baguettes every morning? Yes, please.
2. The rooms weren't huge, but they were plenty comfortable for two people.
3. They had air conditioning, TV and free wif-fi. All of those get high marks in my book.
4. Although the Etap was outside Bayeux, it was only about a five minute drive into the town and they gave us a coupon for a percentage off the restaurant that was next door to our hotel.

Some lovely views on the drive to Normandy

I don't leave home without my trusty Rick Steves guidebooks. We also used Major and Mrs. Holt's  Battlefield Guide to the Normandy D-Day Landings. It was pretty extensive and another great resource to have if you're ever in Normandy and are wanting to visit the D-Day sights.

Our first day in Normandy we stopped by the German cemetery.  Although I've been to several war cemeteries in Europe, I'd yet to go to a German one. It was an interesting change from the American cemeteries. For one, it was less crowded and it was very plain and simple.

This is an unknown German soldier's grave.

We also stopped by St. Mere Eglise, featured in the film and book The Longest Day.  This is where during the night before the invasion of D-Day happened, that a paratrooper was stuck from the top of the church.  They still have a dummy paratrooper hung on the corner of the church, although I've been told it's the wrong corner.  Inside the church are some beautiful stained glass windows dedicated to paratroopers.
This is one of the windows inside the church.

The second day we started out by visiting the floating harbor near Arromanches.This is what is left of one of the two floating harbors that were constructed so that vehicles and supplies could be brought ashore after the invasion.

This one of several gun batteries that the Germans had installed along the coast of Normandy. These are at Longues sur Mer.  It was so amazing to see these huge guns that were left from a war over 60 years ago.  Down closer to the cliff there was a battery you could actually go into and see the view that they had of the sea.

This is the view from the gun battery

Looking down the Normandy coast. Much farther down is Omaha Beach.

This is a map, showing the invasion on D-Day. This is located above Omaha Beach and below the American Cemetery.

Stormy skies above the American cemetery

One of the many who sacrificed their life on D-Day.

Looking out at Omaha Beach

Another shot of Omaha Beach.  To the left, you can see some of the cliffs/ high places that surround Omaha Beach.

Bomb craters at Point du Hoc, where the Rangers scaled the cliffs. The Allies bombed this area for weeks leading up to the invasion.

The Ranger Monument at Point du Hoc

We revisited St. Mere Eglise the second day we were in Normandy, simply because there were several things we didn't get to see the first day, including a paratrooper museum.

We stopped by the 101st Easy Company memorial on the way to Carentan (another episode on Band of Brothers)  This is actually the second memorial we visited dedicated to Easy Company. The first one we saw was near Bastogne, Belgium where the Battle of the Bulge was.

This is the Dick Winters statue (commander of Easy Company) that was dedicated just a couple of days before we got to Normandy.

This was a church in Angoville au Plain where two American medics tended both the wounded Germans and Americans. What makes this church special and kind of haunting, is that you can still see bloodstains on the pews, where the wounded were lain.

These were located outside the museum at Utah Beach.  Seeing some of the obstacles left over from the beaches was honestly, kind of chilling.

On the path to Utah Beach

Utah beach.  Let me just comment on the fact that Omaha Beach was somber, quiet and had monuments on it. Utah Beach was teeming with people (although you can't see it in this photo) sunbathing, swimming and playing ball. It kind of weirded me out to see it. I just don't know that I'd want to treat a beach where many men died, as a recreational area. But hey, that's just me.

Obviously these are just a few photos from our trip. And there are some places we visited, like Brecort Manor (another Band of Brothers site) that there was nothing really to take a photo of. 

Our last night in Normandy we went into Bayeux to eat dinner.  I used Tripadvisor to pick La Fringale, a restaurant with some good reviews. Let me just say, we were not disappointed.  I wish I'd taken photos of our meal, but I was so enjoying the delish food put in front of me, that it didn't even cross my mind.  Sean and I both chose the three course fixed menu, although there was also the choice of a 5 course or 2 course meal.  I had a Kir Normand drink to start out with (fabulous!) fish pate as an appetizer, veal with cream sauce for my entree and creme caramel for dessert. Everything I had was fresh, homemade and tasted amazing. If you're ever in Bayeux, I highly recommend this place.

Normandy was fantastic! I'd go back in a heartbeat. The people were friendly, the area had lots to see, and seeing such a place ingrained in our American history was just amazing. I never though I'd have that opportunity when I first learned about this place back in my high school American history class.


Chantal said...

Amazing photos!

JG said...

Wow, what an experience.

Amanda said...

We have a trip to Normandy booked for May, and we're staying in Bayeux. I'll definitely have to check out that restaurant!

Karen said...

That looks like you had an amazing experience there. Thanks for recommending that book - I'm going to buy it for my hubby for Christmas, he's heading on a Battlefield Trip to Europe in February with his unit at work.

Dana said...

Can't believe you did that drive in a PANDA! That alone is a story to tell :)

Kim said...

Beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing!