The Beaches of Normandy Weekend: Part 1

Trip Start Sep 13, 2012
Trip End Dec 21, 2013

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Monday, October 29, 2012

A few weeks ago, 14 adventurers took off on a journey in a giant coach bus, to the chilly and coastal land of Normandy, France. Ok, really it was 12 of we AIFS students, our cultural coordinator, Jane, and a our bus driver, Jose. We began our journey at 8am on Saturday, 10/20/12, and headed north. Our first stop, two and a half hours into the trip, was the Second World War Museum in Normandy, dedicated to the lead up, event ,and aftermath of D-Day and WWII. The museum has a lot of artifacts and maps on display that explain what happened from all sides of the war as it progressed. 

We started our tour of the museum in their movie theater where they showed an amazing film made of real footage from D-day. It was all in black and white and split screen; the left side of the screen was the footage of the Allied forces, and the right side, the German forces. D-day was an elaborately planned aquatic and air attack on the German forces on the French coast, that took over a year to plan. The Allied forces went to great pains to make sure the Germans did not know where or when they were attacking. The film is really interesting because on the left side of the screen, the Allied forces are very active and making preparations for the attack. Tens of thousands of forces are loading into ships on the English shores to prepare for the journey to France. The film also shows footage of the Allied forces sabotaging German communication and transportation lines so the German forces on the beaches could not call for help when the attack began. On the right side of the screen, a calm and routine day is beginning at the German base on the beaches of Normandy. They had no idea what was coming. 

  As the attack gets closer and closer, the action and the music becomes more intense, until one German lookout on Point de Hoc spots the thousands of ships heading toward the shore: a wall of Allied forces. Panic ensues in the German base. When the first Allied marines land on the beaches, the screen extends into one. The battle rages for a few minutes, and then the music calms down to show the Allied soldiers leading any Germans left alive out of destroyed bunkers with their hands above their heads. The D-day battle was crucial to the Allies winning the war because it got the Allied forces back on the European continent where they were able to push back the Nazi forces from France and across Europe. The film ends with an aerial panning over the beaches with thousands of men lying dead. As the plane with the camera gets faster an faster, the image changes to color and footage from today of a shinning white sanded beach bordered by crystal blue water: an Atlantic vacation spot. The movie only lasted 15 minutes, but the entire time i couldn't help but wonder how the heck reporters and camera men got so much footage on D-Day. How is it that both sides had cameras ready? How did those camera men not get killed in all the chaos? It was pretty amazing.

After the film, we walked through the museum, beginning at the end of World War I with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. I recognized the picture because it was done in the Hall of Mirrors. Also, Eisenhower was in the picture at a big desk signing a fancy looking piece of paper. 

It was at this picture that Haley and I became friends. Jane was teasing us because we were taking pictures of everything, and we both said it was so we could post the pictures on our blog. Of course, I am a picture taking fiend regardless, but I wasn't about to tell Jane that. After that, Haley and I found out that we had a lot of other things in common, like the fact that we love to explore new places and have cool adventures, and, of course, to blog. We found out that we don't live too far from each other; she's from Boston. Over the course of the trip, we would hang out a lot, (as you will see in the pictures), and even plan a trip to explore Athens together. We were both so excited to find a travel buddy because we had both been having trouble finding people in our program group who wanted to see everything there is to see whilst we are here.   

Anyway, back the museum. It was pretty interesting; they use all types of media genres to help the visitors understand the feeling of the era. In one room there was an old fashioned radio playing news stories, reports from the fronts, and speeches by world leaders during the war. There were old military uniforms on display, letters that were addressed to families back home from soldiers on the fronts, and antique military vehicles. It was really helpful that all of the captions next to the displays were in both English and French. I think what made me like the museum the most was that, as you walk through it, it was like walking through a time line of events. It felt very much like an intense, thorough version of high school history class. Although, saw things in the museum that they would have never shared with us in a high school history class. I really feel now that i understand the panic, the devastation, the need for there to be hope back home in the States for the boys to come home. There was a brief section on the war in the Pacific; in every picture I looked for my grandfather. The last images in the museum were of the end of the war on the Japanese and German fronts: the devastation in Japan after the bombing, and the picture of Hitler and his wife lying dead in Hitler's office after killing themselves.

We did not have much time in the museum, so everyone grabbed a quick lunch in the food court there, and we headed out. Haley and I were the last ones because we needed to stop at the gift shop for postcards and souvenirs. Definitely worth it though.              
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