Friday, April 15, 2011

A Day in June

N is for Normandy

One of my absolute favorite trips.


We decided to drive to France and this was our first time taking our car on the Chunnel train where you get on in England and come out thirty minutes later in France. France- where the driver is now sitting on the right hand side of the vehicle and driving on the right hand side of the road. In the UK you sit on the right hand side of the car but drive on the left hand side of the road.

Is anyone confused?
Wait until you need to pay a toll.
Think about it.

Daughter1 rode the entire way in the third seat of our car facing backwards all the while working her Game Boy.
It makes me green just thinking about it.

We left the UK on a Sunday and learned pretty quickly that sleepy little French villages do not have much in the way of food on Sunday afternoon/evening. We stopped in village after village en route and nada. We had seen the Golden Arches as we were circling Caen and hubs exclaimed that he did not drive all the way to France to eat at the Golden Arches, nuh uh no way. When it appeared the only alternative was going to be a vending machine at the petrol station we reconsidered and in we went. Turns out you could have a beer with your hamburger in this Golden Arches so the guys were happy. My sister and brother in law were traveling with us.

Also, I see I've written an entire paragraph and have not begun to discuss Normandy so I think I'm going to need to find another letter to tag and make this a two-parter.
There is so much to say.

Isn't there always on thissideofthepond?

We had booked a B & B in a really tiny village called Villers Bocage.
The inn happened to be owned by a lovely British woman who was a model in her former life. She had given me driving directions but none of us could see any houses along the road where we'd been told to turn. Almost out of nowhere we spotted a drive leading down a hill and there it was...our B & B-

Hidden from the road but lovely.
And, because it was tucked out of sight we learned that the Germans had taken over this house during the war and used it as a base of sorts. There is a wall in the house where the owners have peeled back the layers of paper and put plexiglass over a spot where the Germans left their autographs...absolutely incredible to see.

Let me back up now and tell you about the first stop we made on Sunday afternoon before checking in to our B & B. If you make the trip to Normandy this is a must see-The Caen Memorial, which is said to be the best WW2 museum in France. It was built on the site of an old bunker and is only a few minutes from the D-Day beaches.

Included in the displays are letters written by servicemen during WW2 and we were all particularly touched by one a young man from Utah had written to his parents. In essence it said if they were reading the letter it meant he wouldn't make it home and to please take care of his wife and how much he loved and appreciated them. I am going to share something else about this particular young man when I talk about our visit to the American Cemetery.

The museum is absolutely packed with things to see and read as well as some videos which show D-Day reels from both a German and Allied perspective. We spent several hours here and I know some people reading are thinking 'yawn' but trust is anything but dull. Even my girls, who were 13 and 15 at the time, explored and read and were moved to tears.

The next day we headed to the beaches-

I'm not sure what I was expecting but I guess I wasn't expecting an ordinary beach.

We visited both the Utah and Omaha beaches and also spent some time in the museum at Utah Beach.

It was cold and windy and the seas were choppy and my heart broke a little bit when I thought of all those young, young men, boys really, who ran courageously into battle here.
I really can't do justice to my feelings with words.
You stand on the beach and you look at the rough sea and the steep cliffs and your heart aches and your heart swells.

Here you can see 'hedgehogs' in the background which were to stop the tanks from advancing.

One thing we were not expecting to see were bunkers.
I don't know why but I guess I thought they'd be filled in or closed over.

Well they're not and in fact, you can climb right down inside those bunkers. Crazy to think you're standing in a German bunker on a French beach but there you are.

Sadly there is graffiti in some of them.
There's no queue to stand in to get inside, no ticket taker, no postcard kiosk...just a beach and a hillside and your own two feet.
Here's the view looking out-

Have you seen the movie, The Longest Day?
It's the story of D-Day told from varying perspectives and one of the scenes takes place in a little town called Sainte -Mere- Eglise. As it happened some of the buildings in the town were on fire the night of D-Day so when paratroopers were dropped in here they were essentially spotlighted in the flames making them easy to see and kill.

One famous incident involved a paratrooper by the name of John Steele who was caught on the church steeple in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. He hung for two hours pretending to be dead before the Germans took him prisoner. He later escaped and rejoined his division.

Today there is a parachute left hanging from that same steeple commemorating his story.

I think this is a good stopping point.
You can read the rest a little bit later in the alphabet.
I will close with these words, which you see written in French, as you enter the museum in Caen~

"Pain broke me; brotherhood lifted me.
From my wound sprang a river of freedom."

And the heart aches...and the heart swells.


  1. I always enjoying seeing your pictures! How do you like this rain?

  2. Sobering, isn't it? We have visited many of the grave yards all over Europe. The American Cemeteries. You've probably been to the one in Cambridge. Our friend asked us to please go and find his cousin's grave. We did and took rubbings and pictures. Such a sad time in the history of the world. And yet...

  3. We took this same's a doozy! We also stay in Viller Bocage but I don't think the same B & B. Anyway, look forward to part 2!

  4. Now I must add Normandy on my list of places to go here in Europe. Thanks for sharing this one.

  5. I especially loved reading this, since my father-in-law fought in WWII. I could almost hear him telling his war stories again as I read your post.

  6. Wow, Joyce! You are so fortunate that you have been able to travel to so many historic places. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to stand on that beach where so many lost their lives.

  7. my husband's uncle was one of the men parachuting in the night the man got hung on the sad.
    it's an honor to talk to him about what all they went is truly amazing they made it thru. in fact, his wife's wedding gown was made out of his parachute when he made it home.
    so neat you got to visit there.

  8. It's so much fun to hear you talk about visiting another country when you barely have to step across a line. We, in the states, have to travel a bit to visit another country. I enjoyed your trip.
    Happy weekend to you and your family

  9. Thank you for sharing that. I am glad they did not fill in the bunkers. Every generation needs to see these things and hear these stories.

  10. Wow, what a moving trip that must have been. I can scarcely wait for part 2.

    I have to admit that visiting Europe was very low on my list of places to travel to (I hate, hate, hate to fly and there are so many places I have yet to go to here in the States ... where I can drive to) ... but seeing your pictures and reading your posts is changing that!

    Have a blessed Sunday!

  11. I just found your blog and I am so glad I did. I so enjoyed this post with all the information and beautiful photographs. We go to England often; my husband grew up there and we are headed back next week. Hope you will stop by my blog and say hello (it's English themed :-) ). Blessings from sunny USA/Arizona! Katie

  12. I can't imagine the pride and sorrow you would feel standing on that beach. Incredible.

  13. The bunkers would probably move me to tears, thinking the "boys" who once occupied it were the age my boys are now.

    Funny about the toll. I bet switching from left to right takes its own toll on ya! lol

    My late father-in-law was at Normandy. Wish he'd told more stories, but his famous words (being that he was an army medic," were always ,"Girl, you don't wanna know."

  14. World War II changed so much in our world. How wonderful to be able to see a bit of it in person, even at 60+ years' distance.