Parental Visit: Normandy

After one day and night in Paris,we took the train to Caen, a town in Lower Normandy in northwestern France.  We took the tram and a bus to the Memorial Museum, where we had a couple of hours to explore until our tour of the D-Day beaches.

The front of the museum.

The front of the museum.

The museum was really cool with a lot of information; I wish we had had more time to explore!  But I was able to see the stuff about the D-Day beaches in depth so that was good enough for me.  And the museum was practically empty; I guess a couple of days before Christmas isn’t peak tourist season!!

My favorite part of the museum was a room that went through the landings on all the different beaches in order and explained about them.

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World War II has always fascinated me, and even more that I knew in a number of hours, I was going to be on those beaches!!

Conveniently enough, the museum had both a restaurant and a quick snack shop, so we grabbed some sandwiches at the snack shop about half an hour before our tour left.  I took the opportunity to snap a picture of the main entrance part of the museum; we were sitting on the second floor near a balcony overlooking the entrance.

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After we finished eating, we went downstairs by those glass pyramids to wait for our tour.  It turned out that we were the only people in the tour group!!  Just the three of us, our driver, the tour guide, and a tour guide in training.  We were able to put our bags in the back of the van, and we were off!

The tour was SO COOL.  Our tour guide was super nice and knowledgeable; the only bad thing was that it was rainy and windy for the first few hours of the tour (it lasted 5 hours!), but it didn’t hold us back!  We saw a lot of cool stuff and luckily, Mom took great notes so that we could remember everywhere we went.

The first place we went was Arromanches, which is where the Allies built an artificial harbor in order to bring in all the men and supplies they needed.  They used a floating harbor, which we could still see remains of!

They were basically huge hollow concrete blocks that partially sank, and went up and down with the tide so the harbor could be used at all times.

They were basically huge hollow concrete blocks that partially sank, and went up and down with the tide so the harbor could be used at all times.

The next stop was Longues-sur-mer, which had German bunkers that were part of the Atlantic wall.  There were still guns in place!

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This is the sea-facing side of one of the two bunkers.  This one’s gun was mostly intact, but if you look on either side of the barrel you can see that the left side has a larger hole, from where it was hit.

A closer look: you can see how the shell (bomb? whatever it was) hit the front of the gun…

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And then ricocheted around on the inside a bit, rendering the gun useless.  Score one for the good guys!

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You can see where it hit on the right side (a little skid mark area), then on the left (the big dent).

Here’s the back of one of the bunkers.

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The other bunker was a lot more damaged and we couldn’t go inside.  Here’s what was left of its gun:

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Oh if you’re wondering what the fuzzy thing is at the top of most of these photos, it’s my gloved hand, trying to keep the rain off my lens!

It was REALLY damaged.

It was REALLY damaged.

Our third stop was the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-mer overlooking Omaha Beach, which is where many of the American soldiers killed in the D-Day battles are buried.  France gave that land to the US, so we were back on American soil!

Walking into the cemetery, we could see a statue with olive trees, which are symbols of peace, on either side.  Then on the walls to the right and left of the statue there were maps showing the movements on D-Day.
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On the walls around the outside of the entrance, the names of all those whose bodies were never recovered were engraved.  A few of them had bronze rosettes by their names, which signified that their bodies were later found.

So many names.  So many graves.

So many names. So many graves.

This was taken from right in front of the statue, looking down the length of the cemetery.  The building at the far end is a small chapel.

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Mom and Dad, with the chapel behind them in the distance.  Note the umbrella peeking out at the top and the raindrops on the lens.  The weather definitely made the mood more somber!

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There were soo many graves, most with crosses, but Jewish soldiers had the star of David.  Our tour guide told us that families of fallen American soldiers have the option of burying the body there or bringing it back home, so not all the soldiers who died there are buried there.  However, this is the one American cemetery in the area; I guess there are many British cemeteries.

Next, we went to Omaha Beach, which is one of the five landing beaches, and the one with the most casualties.  There were two memorials there; here you can see both of them.

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I preferred the one on the beach, called “Les Braves.”  The other one just looked like a big ramp to me.

View from near the water.

View from near the water.

On the hills/cliffs right behind the beach, we could see multiple bunkers and machine gun nests.  All the houses there were taken over so that the Germans could have a view of the beach, all except one; the mayor of the town was said to be a Germany sympathizer so his house was left intact.

Our fifth and final stop on the tour was La Pointe du Hoc, a cliff where Army Rangers had to climb up to disable the guns that were there.  It didn’t go smoothly; first, they went to the wrong cliff, so they had to fight the current and come back, and were thus behind schedule.

The cliff all the way down is the one the Rangers went to first.  On the other side is Omaha Beach; Omaha is a big u-shape.

The cliff all the way down is the one the Rangers went to first. On the other side is Omaha Beach; Omaha is a big u-shape.

The Rangers had equipment to climb the cliff, but the ropes weren’t long enough, or something, so many of them had to climb it bare-handed!  It was hard to get a good picture; this was the best I could do.

They try to leave it untouched, but decided some wire was okay to keep the cliff from eroding.

They try to leave it untouched, but decided some wire was okay to keep the cliff from eroding.

Once the Rangers made it to the top, they discovered that the guns that were supposed to be there had been moved, but they found them a bit farther away and disabled them with grenades.  They had been moved because the guns weren’t in bunkers, but out in the open, and the Germans discovered the hard way (after the first gun was destroyed) that huge guns out in the open are super easy targets.  Umm duh.

This is the memorial at the top of the cliff.

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Right under the memorial is a bunker.  We couldn’t go inside so obviously Dad needed to get as close as he could to see inside.

Kids.  So curious.

Kids. So curious.

Dad going down to check it out some more.

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There was another bunker that was made into a lookout point.

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Taken at the lookout point.

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This is where one of the guns was before it was moved, in the middle of the big circle of concrete.  By using this method instead of putting the guns in a bunker, the guns could swivel and shoot at the whole coast, since it was a u-shape as well.  Theoretically, that’s a good idea, but defense-wise… not so much.  My ancestors, everyone.

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As you can see, there are lots of bunkers, concrete remains, and craters around.  On the other beaches, they fixed the ground and got rid of the remains so that the land could be usable, but they left this one as-is.

After that, we headed back to the museum.  They were really nice and dropped us off at our hotel near the museum, where we checked in, then walked to a nearby hotel restaurant for dinner, since there was nothing else around.  When we got back, the receptionist/manager offered us a free glass of wine at the hotel bar.  Umm okay!  But he didn’t speak English so I had to translate between him and my parents the whole time.  Not gonna lie, that was pretty cool 🙂

We slept super well in the hotel that night, then took a taxi to the train station the next morning since it was Sunday and the buses weren’t running as early as we needed them.  We took the train back to Paris and spent another day and night there before heading to London!  That’s where I’ll pick up on the next post.

One more pic: I didn’t make it into many pictures this trip since I was the main photographer but I really like this one of me and my dad at Omaha Beach.  You can see how windy it was (my hair!) and Dad is almost smiling, which is rare for him in a photo!!

It was a somber place, but we were happy to be together.

It was a somber place, but we were happy to be together.

Edit: After I wrote this it made me really want to watch Saving Private Ryan.  Well I just started it and the first scene, with the old man, is in the cemetery WHERE WE WERE!!!  HOW COOL IS THAT???

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Categories: Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Parental Visit: Normandy

  1. Clarette

    Somber is right, but it was nice to see y’alls smiling faces! I might have to watch Private Ryan now; haven’t seen it yet.

  2. Bret

    Normandy was one of the high points of the trip for me.

  3. I can’t be the only one that thought the memorial at La Pointe du Hoc could’ve been a little less penis looking…. hahaha

    I can’t wait to go there now! Thanks for the post!
    (also, welcome to our nice Norman weather haha. That’s default weather here lol)

    • OH and I totally thought about Saving Private Ryan too when I was reading this. I even googled to see if Omaha beach is the one where everyone blows up at the beginning

      • LOL my grandparents read this blog… glad you said it so I didn’t have to 🙂 yeah it is Omaha Beach where they are at the beginning!

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