normandy: the caen peace memorial & the d-day landing sites

Saturday, July 1, 2006: We have a wonderful breakfast at Le Manoir served by Sue Roberts and her sister Lizzy: granola with hazelnuts, yogurt with berries, fruit salad with sugared lime, boiled egg, croissants with lemon curd.  We chat with a nice Australian family from Sydney; the boys enjoy their 16-year-old son.  The couple tells us their favorite site in Normandy is the 360 degree film at Arromanches.

Today we explore the Normandy D-Day landing beaches.  We head to the Caen Peace Memorial then some of the D-Day landing sites: Arromanches-les-Bains, The Batterie de Longues, and Omaha Beach.

The film about the invasion is excellent, bringing tears to my eyes.  The museum traces the growth of fascism in Germany.  Fifty million people died in World War II, 27 million of them Russians.

The 360 degree film at Arromanches, which the Aussie family recommended, is fabulous!  The filmmakers juxtaposed current tranquil scenes of the Normandy countryside and villages with actual violent war footage.  It brings home the fact that much death and destruction once occurred in this peaceful land.

After the film, we eat sandwiches and glaces in Arromanches.

The town of Arromanches-les-Bains lies along the stretch of coastline designated as Gold Beach during the D-Day Landings on 6 June 1944; it was one of the beaches used by British troops in the Allied invasion. Arromanches was selected as one of the sites for two Mulberry Harbours built on the Normandy coast, the other one was built further west at Omaha Beach.

Today Arromanches is mainly a tourist town. Situated in a good location for visiting all of the battle sites and War Cemeteries, there is also a museum at Arromanches with information about Operation Overlord and in particular, the Mulberry harbours (Wikipedia: Arromanches-les-Bains).

At Mulberry harbour was a portable temporary harbor developed by the British in World War II to facilitate rapid offloading of cargo onto the beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy (Wikipedia: Mulberry Harbour).

Alex and the Caen Peace Memorial
Alex and the Caen Peace Memorial
Normandy battlefields
Normandy battlefields
Normandy landing beaches
Normandy landing beaches
me in Normandy
me in Normandy
Caen Memorial
Caen Memorial
Caen Memorial
Caen Memorial

At Pointe du Hoc, the boys have a good time running in and out of bomb craters and old German bunkers. The boys chalk some graffiti on the walls of a bunker.  The weather is gorgeous, cool and quite breezy.

Bunker
Bunker
The boys make their marks on the German bunkers
The boys make their marks on the German bunkers
Adam... hmmm.
Adam… hmmm.
bunker
bunker
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Adam
Adam
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Normandy beaches
Adam
Adam
Normandy coast
Normandy coast
Normandy
Normandy
Normandy coast
Normandy coast
me and Normandy beaches
me and Normandy beaches
Adam in a bunker
Adam in a bunker
Normandy
Normandy
Normandy
Normandy
Alex: Appropriate T-shirt??
Alex: Appropriate T-shirt??
Normandy coast
Normandy coast

We come across a wedding taking place on the battlefield.

a wedding takes place on the battlefield
a wedding takes place on the battlefield
Mike
Mike
Adam in Normandy
Adam in Normandy
Normandy coast
Normandy coast
Normandy coast
Normandy coast

We then head to Bayeux where we encounter a Medieval festival with Middle Age reenactors.

Street performers in Caen
Street performers in Caen
more street performers
more street performers

Mike and I eat pasta and Alex eats pizza at Le Florentin, which is quite warm and close, despite the cool breeze blowing through the streets.  We get some small glaces in Bayeux too.

We then head back to the Manoir.  Mike and I sit in the main house setting room for a while to read.  The couches are huge and fluffy; we sink right into them.  I’m reading Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, which I’m enjoying.

 

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france: arrival in normandy

Friday, June 30, 2006:  This morning, we run to a patisserie for pain de raisins and then to Starbucks, where we sit at outdoor tables and enjoy watching fashionable Parisians stroll past.  After gathering our bags, we take a taxi to the Hotel Invalides to Europcar, where we pick up our blue Renault Laguna, squeeze our luggage into the trunk, and take off for Normandy.

The drive is straightforward and uneventful, although I’ll never get used to the speeds on European roadways.  We stop for a nice lunch at a roadside stop: for me, a salad with chicken, corn and cheese.  We have trouble locking the driver’s side door, and after finally figuring it out, we realize we have to do it manually every time.  What a pain!

We make a stop in Arromanches before heading to our hotel in Normandy, the northern region of France corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy.  This area grew out of various invasions of West Francia by the Danish, Norwegians, Vikings, and the Anglo-Danish in the 9th century. Normandy began in 911 as a fief, probably a county, in the sense that it was held by a count (Wikipedia: Duchy of Normandy).

The name is derived from the Vikings (“Northmen”), who settled the territory from the 9th century. For a century and a half following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Normandy and England were linked by Norman and Frankish rulers (Wikipedia: Normandy).

We see the artificial port remnants from the Normandy campaign in World War II.  We have 1664 beers at an outdoor cafe then stroll through the little town.  We also treat ourselves to eclairs and croissants at a boulangerie/patisserie.

me with Mike on the beach in Normandy
me with Mike on the beach in Normandy

During the Second World War, the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches, under the code name Operation Overlord, started the lengthy Battle of Normandy, eventually liberating Paris and restoring the French Republic. These landings were a significant turning point in the war.

One of the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy
One of the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy

Normandy’s population is around 3.45 million, accounting for 5.5% of France’s total population (in 2005) (Wikipedia: Normandy).

Normandy beach
Normandy beach

Lower Normandy is predominantly agricultural in character, with cattle breeding the most important sector (although in decline from the peak levels of the 1970s and 1980s). The bocage is a patchwork of small fields with high hedges, typical of western areas. Upper Normandy contains a higher concentration of industry. Normandy is a significant cider-producing region, and produces calvados, a distilled cider or apple brandy. Other activities of economic importance are dairy produce, flax (60% of production in France), horse breeding (including two French national stud farms), fishing, seafood, and tourism (Wikipedia: Normandy).

The region is bordered along the northern coasts by the English Channel. There are granite cliffs in the west and limestone cliffs in the east. There are also long stretches of beach in the centre of the region. The bocage typical of the western areas caused problems for the invading forces in the Battle of Normandy (Wikipedia: Normandy).

We drive on to the Manoir d’Hérouville and check in to the pigieonnier.  After moving into our rooms, we take naps, since we feel a little drowsy after our long drive and the beers in Arromanches.

In the evening, we go out for dinner at a lovely French restaurant called La Grignotiere, where the chef greets us personally.  We have Picot biere accompanied by mackerel and salmon spread on bread.  My meal is wonderful: noix de lotte au chou vert et au lard fume (walnuts with green cabbage and smoked bacon).  The boys loved their brochettes of beef.  Alex liked his profiteroles (cream puffs), but Adam didn’t care for them.

me at dinner in Normandy
me at dinner in Normandy

Back at the pigieonnier, the boys encounter a “huge” spider, so they’re afraid to sleep upstairs in their loft.  Mike brings a mattress downstairs and the boys camp out watching the video Cool Runnings.  We fall asleep with a cool breeze whispering over our heads.

Adam's self portrait
Adam’s self-portrait
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