I have been wanting to visit Normandy for about 3 years now and we made it a priority to go. The historical significance of this trip is deep and I am thankful that we did not miss the opportunity to visit the WWII memorials and historical sites that are present here.
We started off the trip with a pit stop at Monet's house and gardens in Giverny. This is the famous location from his lily pad paintings. The gardens were beautiful and they did a nice job recreating the artwork and furnishings that were present during Monet's time in this home. As you can see it is a very popular location and well established on the tourist route.
We met up with Kyle, Julie, and their two boys along with Linda and Jerry in Honfleur with a jaunt to Deauville and Truville. We enjoyed a fun weekend of exploring the town, cooking some delicious food, and spending time with friends. We also stumble across a tapas restaurant and enjoyed some cocktails. You can see Connor honing his skills as a future massage therapist. You can tell from his face how serious he was about his job.
Honfleur is an old fishing village and is known for its women mussel collectors. It is now a career of the past but they continue to pay tribute to the women mussel collectors with this statue. I have also included a few pictures from the town and port.
We stayed right next to a beautiful church and bell tower which meant early morning risings thanks to the church bells. The church was unique in that it was made entirely of wood and we were told that it was designed and built by ship builders so if you turned it upside down it would float.
We made a day trip to Etretat and had to pass through Villanville. I wonder who lives there! Etretat is known for its white cliffs. They were quite impressive.
We stumbled upon a WWII site.
Chateau on the way to some place or another.
Our home in Normandy for 5 days
Arromanches les Bains is the location of the debarquement museum where the British and Canadian forces landed and built a floating port in the ocean. They towed over special bridges in a flotilla of 6,000 boats from England to build a port and invade the beaches of Normandy on D-day. The scale of the operation is difficult to imagine and included an array of logistics difficult to imagine. This involved combustible hot air balloons floating to protect them from air attack, sinking ships and giant metal containers to create a water break for the ocean, getting floating bridges inline to offload thousands of trucks, ammunition and other equipment, all while under the threat and constant attack of the Germans. The museum does a great job illustrating the effort and some of the water break caissons as well as pieces of the floating bridges remain. It was an unfathomable operation that was developed over 18 months and included such trickery as sinking the caissions in the Thames river so that they would not be spotted from enemy planes when flying over England. There was a second harbor attempted at Utah beach but this was destroyed by bad weather and a variety of other unfortunate events.
A German gun battery. The cement was 6 feet thick at the top. You could see all of the bombing damage but it remained intact. The Nazis had significant fortifications all along the coast which included quite a few gun batteries. I believe this is one of the most intact examples and the guns remain.
As it was getting close to D-day during our visit there were many military groups doing joint exercises, touring in uniform as well as people dressed up in period uniforms and driving around in period specific vehicles.
The American cemetery is the final resting place of over 9,000 military members from WWII and one from WWI. Two sons of President Theodore Roosevelt are buried in the cemetery. One died during WWI and the other during WWII. They placed them together after WWII so they would rest in the same location. The vastness and grandness of the cemetery is overwhelming. The designers and managers of this site did a very nice job of honoring those who lost their lives in the war effort.
There is also a powerful museum onsite that has audio from people who were part of the war. There is also video and different items from the time but I found the audio recordings to really provide a glimpse into what it must have been like.
As part of the logistics of running a cemetery it was interesting to see that they fabricated a special lawn mower that goes around each of the cross markers without damaging the cross and provides a precision cut. This cemetery is maintained by a special government agency and the main caretaker lives on site in a very lavish house next to the site. The logistics and management of running an overseas cemetery and museum were quite interesting.
There are also memorials on the beaches and there were planes doing demonstrations as part of the exercises in honor of D Day. This one is from Omaha beach.
For me, Pont du Hoc was really an amazing spot because they trained 225+ Army Rangers to climb up these incredible cliffs and take control of a gun battery for the upcoming landing on the beaches. In the end only 90 fighting soldiers remained after this invasion. It turned out the gun casements were empty but they were able to take over other guns that were present and complete a roadblock to cut off additional troops and supplies. Specially training troops to climb up rope ladders that were shot up a 100 foot cliff using a specially developed launcher is aboslutely insane. Now add on that they were being shot at from above and the threat of enemy cutting your rope ladder while you are on it. War is unspeakable. I don't have a picture that shows the bomb ridden steep cliffs so I will link to another website here.
Afternoon bike ride
This museum was incredible because it detailed the life of all people and equipment attacking by air. They used so many gliders during the war and they had a glider available to walk though. Trying to imagine being dropped in on one of these gliders is a scary feeling. There were old uniforms, history of women in the war, old toiletries kits and more. There was also a video on Ronald Rhegan and quit a bit of propoganda surrounding his role in the war. It almost seemed like the museum had been funded by his foundation. I did a little digging because I found this to be odd and lo and behold.
This observation is not to take away from the greatness of the museum. It just seems to be a little too much when there were so many important players in the war to learn about. I really enjoyed this museum and learned about the equipment and also every day life of the soldiers. During the invasion one paratrooper got stuck on the church tower. They still have a statue on the church today to commemorate the event.
Fun fact: During WWII they used women pilots to move planes around the US because there were a shortage of male pilots.
In Utah Beach they have another debarqument museum. This one is related to the Americans landing during Dday. They had a video explaining the attack which very clearly illustrated the events of the day. This was also the only museum to have Nazi items including a pair of boots made with human hair from prisoners who were killed. They also had planes and information about the work camps that Germans went to after the war. I have never read much about this before so it was quite interesting. One of the most interesting exhibits included information about intelligence gathering. The allies dropped 3000 carrier pigeons by parachute in little cases with instructions on how to fill out a form and attach it to a little tube on the pigeons leg. It also included food for the pigeon and a form to fill out to provide information on the positions and weaponry of the Germans. They dropped these in France hoping to get information from the French farmers and resistance operators. The pigeons could make it back to England in under 2 hours. This whole idea just blew my mind.
These boats I believe held around 20 people and were the main way they shuttled troops onto land during the attack. They also had different amphibious vehicles although I do not have a picture of those. The landing gear for the amphibious boats was engineered by the great grandson of the engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge. The Roebling family has played quite the role in American history.
We also visited the German Cemetery. This cemetery is the resting place for more than 21,000 people. We went later in the evening and were almost alone during our time there. There is also a garden of trees surrounding the cemetery that is a peace garden. Many of the gravestones are just labeled, "a German solider" and this cemetery is maintained completely by volunteers and donations. Many of the graves were boys 17-18 years of age.
The experience of Normandy, its beaches, towns, people, and museums really made a big impact on me. One can just begin to get the sense of the invasion and the area in general. It is just the smallest glimpse into the arduous battles, life lost, and massive impact on the entire continent and world at large. Three years ago we visited the sites of eastern Europe including the Nazi concentration camps and devastation of the cities of Poland. The experience of seeing all of these locations first hand is one I am grateful for because it is a completely different experience than reading it in a book.
Onto a lighter note. This abbey makes it onto almost every "must see" list for European travel and I was determined to visit before we left. We were so lucky to have a bright and shiny day to experience.......drumroll.....Mont Saint Michel
We walked across the long boardwalk to the hill and it took about 45 minutes one way. Then we played on the sand bars and ate some mussels at a restaurant on the site before making the long trek back. They do have these neat buses and horse drawn carriages but unfortunately for us, no dogs allowed. The walk was beautiful and not too hot so no complaints here.
We ended the trip with a visit to the towns of Dinan and Dinard. We went on some beautiful bike rides including one between the two towns and enjoyed the coast and historic towns as well as the local FREE zoo right in the middle of a city park.
This was a trip to remember and well worth the 9 hour drive home! We loved Normandy, its cider, crepes, history, historical character, and bike paths.