I have very much been looking forward to this part of the trip. The beginning of the trip was very WW2 heavy, but the WW2 portion ends with Normandy. How fitting! Before I get to the actual Normandy tour, I will tell you about Friday. I got into Caen late morning and checked into my room straight away (so glad for an 11:30 check-in time!). Then I set out to get lunch and just check out the area. Because I did not have a car, I could not go to Mont St. Michel for a day trip as I had been planning. I was unable to locate a tour to take me there and it wasn’t until Saturday when I learned there WAS a train that goes there. I know I looked at the train situation, but I may have looked at it from Rouen, my previous stop, not Caen. Anyway, after thinking I was going to spend the afternoon reading, I researched and found that I could go see a movie and it would be in English. I had wanted to go to one in Rouen, but after finding so many things were in French, I just assumed movies would be, too. Not so! There are some showings that are dubbed in French and some with French subtitles. Score! So I got to see Gone Girl after all. I was worried I would miss it being here. It was definitely an experience seeing a movie in France. The prices are just as expensive (if not more so, as I was at a matinee) and there are TONS of what I thought were previews, but turned out to be ads before the actual previews, I guess. And you have to exit the theater straight outside. I found that out the hard way, but at least I was following a French girl, so it wasn’t just me!
On Saturday I got up and went to Memorial de Caen, the Normandy museum, which was also my tour in the afternoon. I went through the museum in the morning, had a quick baguette sandwich, and then set out for the tour. There were 7 of us, plus the guide and the driver. Our guide was Mario and he was awesome! He initially commented on my very German name, which was odd considering the circumstances. But it turns out he is Italian and actually just loved my name. He told me that. After calling me “Mrs. Schneider” all afternoon! It was supposed to be five hour tour, but we went a little long. It was nice that it was smaller so we could have a more personalized and less strict tour. We started at Point du Hoc. We did not go to Utah Beach, but we could see it to the West of Point du Hoc. It was pretty amazing being up on that cliff and imagining the Rangers that had to use their daggers to climb the cliff to fight the Germans. Incredible feat. The memorial there is a dagger going into a book. We also got to go inside one of the German bunkers there.
After that we made our way to Omaha Beach, the bloodiest beach of the battle of Normandy. At first I thought we weren’t going to stop, because we saw some memorials and we kept driving. But we stopped at the main area where the memorials are. It’s pretty neat to say that I stood on Omaha Beach. I got a little choked up there. I was able to get some great shots of the memorials with just the American flag. Yes, I know, it was a joint effort, but I was feeling very patriotic! And Mario said that before the Allies stormed the beaches that morning, 177 French soldiers went first. Before he said that, he goes, not don’t laugh. And then he told us. And then I laughed. I couldn’t help it. The French? Fight? You must be joking. But this is before I knew he was Italian, so I didn’t want to offend him. I was sitting next to him, after all! Anyway, he said it was symbolic. I”ll say.
After Omaha, we went to the American cemetery. So sad. I really wished we had had more time there. I thought we were going to have time to do our own thing and meet back at a specified time, as we had previously. So I wasn’t taking as many pictures of things, thinking I could circle back. I did learn that there are 4 women buried there. None died in combat, obvs, but one was a red cross volunteer and the other three were WAC soldiers who died after the war was over. I was the only female on the tour, so Mario was disappointed that I hadn’t asked if there were women there, but I just assumed there weren’t. We also saw Teddy Roosevelt Jr’s grave and his brother who died in WW1, but they made an exception for the President’ son, I guess! We also saw the graves of “Saving Private Ryan’s” brothers. That was cool. It was so sad to see so many marble crosses (and stars of David). So much sacrifice, but for so much good. Imagine the genocide numbers if those brave men hadn’t stepped up and stormed those cliffs or fought in the Pacific. We owe them a great debt and it was never far from my mind. (The average age of soldier buried there is 23 years old.)
After he cemetery we went to Longes-sur-Mer, where we were able to see the German guns in the encasaements that they were building for them. These guns were able to have 360-degree movement, but then they were vulnerable to air attacks. So Rommel was having them encased, reducing their range of movement to only 120-degrees. These were not finished being built, and the Germans didn’t think were going to attack Normandy, but rather Calais, so the guns weren’t even armed! It was neat to see the almost fully-intact guns and encasements. But that was really all that was at that site.
Our last stop was Arromanches. This was pretty incredible to learn about. This was close to Gold Beach, a beach the Brits stormed, and once we won the battle of Normandy, the Allies needed a way to bring in reinforcements and supplies. So the needed a harbor. But there wasn’t a harbor there. So the British Royal Engineers made a fake one. First, they put weird metal things (I forget the names) under water to create a breakwater, but that didn’t fully work. So they brought over and sunk a bunch of old ships. But that didn’t fully work, either. So they brought caissons over… big concrete blocks, essentially. After the war, everything else was removed except the caissons. It was really a spectacular sight and it didn’t hurt that we had gorgeous weather for it!
I usually don’t like to take tours, as I generally like to make my own way. But I learned so much from Mario and had a great time. My fellow tourists were 4 kids studying abroad from Georgia Tech and 2 pilots (one Greek and one Slovenian). I got to talking to the Slovenian at Arromanches and we talked about where we were from, etc. He said that they were pilots and had just flown in from Poland (so we talked Poland) and that they were flying a charter plane to Paris today. I laughed and said I was going to Paris today, too, but by train! He then offered to let me fly on the charter plane with them! He had to confirm it with the Greek, who said yes, but I didn’t feel quite comfortable. It was so nice of him, and I am sure it would’ve been fine, but I feel like I have to be hyper-sensitive to safety issues. Getting on a plane with two guys I don’t even know is probably not the safest thing. But it would’ve been cool!
I then went to bed early when I found out that MLB.tv was only going to be streaming games 1 and 6 of the NLCS. I planned to sleep until 2am and get up to watch the game and then sleep until 8am. Well, people were super loud around midnight, so I woke up for a bit. But then slept soundly until 2. It was so hard to get up! But I did and watched the first half inning before I lost the video stream. (The WiFi at that place was sketchy.). But I had the audio feed. As if watching and listening to Joe Buck isn’t bad enough, just listening to him was worse. I was falling asleep, so after 4 innings, I succumbed to sleep. We’ll get ’em tonight!
A quick example about why I hate the French. I got on the train at Rouen on Friday morning and was stopped by a conductor as I set me things down. He says to me, “Madame, Madame, first class.”. Yeah, no kidding, jackass. I go, “yeah”, like DUH. But I didn’t feel like he was sufficiently chastened. And he was French, so…I said, what, do I look like I don’t belong? That did it. Let’s just say I was quite happy to present him with my rail pass when he came around. Honestly.
I will include today’s events in tomorrow’s blog. I got to drink Magnet’s tonight, eat good food, and watch most of the Vikings game at my hostel (not to mention get some laundry done), so it’s gotten late. And also, Happy Golden Birthday to Zeke! Glad I got to Facetime with him tonight (was kind of bummed to hear about all my family that was over for his party, though…).