The Beaches of Normandy

Trip Start May 05, 2007
Trip End May 15, 2007

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Where I stayed
King Hotel, Port-en-Bessin

Flag of France  , Normandy,
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Driving on beautiful little roads, through tranquil villages, the rain finally stopped, and the sun peaked through the cloudy skies, just as the sea came into view.

Our first stop was Pointe-du-Hoc. Dad knew the name - I had to look it up in my book.  The Americans landed here in an amazing feat of courage, determination, self-sacrifice, and desperation. If you've seen "Saving Private Ryan", you've seen how desperate landing at Pointe-du-Hoc was. The Americans, constantly bombarded by the Germans who had built case-mates on top of the cliff, had to climb rope ladders while getting shot, up a steep and tall embankment. Those who made it were confronted at the top by the Germans waiting for them, while the rest of them were pinned on the beach below.

Nowadays, the place is eerie, the wind blowing through the ruins of a few remaining case-mates, the ground still lending testimony to the events of June 6, 1944, with deep craters now covered with long green grass, and pieces of cement with rebar laying around the ruined case-mates. The silence is moving, and emotional. Tourists walk around slowly, somehow easily imagining the chaos, noise and terror of that day. How terrible, horrifying...

Today, with clouds galloping in a windy sky, and the waters of the English Channel dark and foreboding, our emotions are strong as we share our impressions. My parents think back to the days, when mere children, they heard of the invasion. Their memories are surprisingly vivid, tainted as they may be by years of movies and history book accounts of the events. Nonetheless, they both remember second and third hand stories of veterans who lived to tell the stories of the day.

We left Pointe-du-Hoc, and merely a few miles away, drove by Omaha Beach. It's beautiful - and here, no sign of the events, really. Houses perched on the low hill across the road look too nice to have survived the war. The road is quiet, peaceful now. The beach - wide, empty for a few old fishermen.

We continue towards the Omaha Beach Museum. Less formal than the Bayeux Museum we saw in the morning, it nonetheless captivates us with its countless artifacts, pictures, old letters, German edicts to local residents, old abandoned jeeps, recovered ammunitions, satchels, pieces of uniforms. A very vivid display.

Our next stop is even more impressive. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer is the final resting place of over 9,000 American soldiers who lost their lives in the invasion and subsequent days of fighting in Normandy. Impeccably manicured, rows and rows of aligned white marble crosses and Stars of David mark the graves of those who gave their lives. American tourists and foreigners alike walk around in near-silence. It's impossible not to feel moved - it doesn't matter that the invasion was over 60 years ago, and that I've never met these people. Melodramatically, I could ponder the theories of what would have happened if the Allies had not invaded successfully -- what would the world be like today? But on a more minute level, each and every one of these men and women gave their lives without real choice, but with the knowledge that they were truly engaged in the ultimate war against evil.

Serious, somewhat melancholy, and impressed by the gravitas of the sites we had seen that day, we headed back on the road, intent on finding a place for the night. We had no official destination (ah, the freedom!) and yet, knowing that my parents needed at least a modicum of comfort (though they are easy and flexible travellers), I felt responsible for finding something decent at a reasonable time.

We saw a sign for a Chateau that served as a B&B. A short detour took us to this grand estate, but upon closer inspection, we thought the room looked cold and unwelcoming. So we headed towards the little town of Port-en-Bessin. The choices for shelter were limited, and we ended up opting for an "American style" motel-like structure, called the King Hotel. Nothing spectacular, but clean and sufficiently comfortable for a night...

We had a nice dinner at La Marie-du-Port, then walked about the small town, located right on the coast. The wind had finally died down, and the sun was out. A beautiful evening...

After repairing back to the King, I turned on the TV, and was amused to find that "The Longest Day", the John Wayne classic about the Normandy invasion, was playing. Nothing compared to "Saving Private Ryan", but nonetheless interesting to see the places around us reflected through this movie. Pointe-du-Hoc was featured, as was Omaha Beach. Wow...
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