Normandy: Day One

After a few hundred kilometers on the A13, where there isn't much to see, just like our Interstate Highway system, we arrived at Caen, navigated our way through several traffic circles, and continued west to Bayeaux. 

I wanted to locate our hotel first, before we started sightseeing.  Fortunately, there are signs in Bayeaux to help you find your hotel in the city, or you never would.  Bayeaux looks much as it probably has for the last two hundred years.  Narrow cobblestone streets and twisting old roads through the city center make navigating it a bit confusing for a newcomer.  With the aid of the street signs, we eventually found the Best Western Hotel Brunville, and I went inside to ask about check-in time.

There was no clerk in our hotel, but a sign that told me to go around the corner to the Hotel Luxembourg, which is another Best Western property, and that someone there would help me.  I found a clerk who told me that we couldn't check in until 2, and as it was now only 12:40, we decided to go get some lunch and start sightseeing first.

We found a patisserie for a quick bite to eat, then pointed our Clio west in search of Omaha beach.  I didn't have a firm grasp on the route to Omaha beach, but I assumed it would be marked, and with the ocean to guide me as a boundary, we soon found it a few miles west down a winding narrow road.

Omaha beach itself today looks much like any other beach, though it is massive in size.  The tide was out about 70 yards or so when we arrived, and the thought of crossing that much land in the open while under enemy fire terrfied me.  We gathered a few stones as souvenirs, then began climbing the hills toward what remains of the German fortifications.

We paused to examine the concrete bunkers, or what remains of them, and to read the memorial to the Big Red One.  Holly and I then continued farther up the hill to the American Cemetary.

They're in the midst of constructing a new interprative center at the Cemetary, which is on land that has been permanently given to the United States by the people of France.  I noted that this was the site of the only drinking fountain I had seen in France, and I wondered if it had beem imported from the US, as I have not seen another one anywhere.

We stopped briefly in the office to sign the guest register and then entered the cemetary with the rest of the visitors, who were mostly Americans.  There are over 9,000 US soldiers buried there, and it is a somber and beautiful place.  The grounds are immacuately maintained, and found myself wondering what equipment they used to trim the grass so evenly around the headstones.

We walked completely around the cemetary, which overlooks Omaha beach and the Atlantic Ocean beyond it, and contains a small chapel in its center.  At the west end, two statues stand, and at the east end, there is a pool and a large memorial.

Especially sad are the hundreds of graves that hold the remains of unknown soldiers, who were unable to be identified.  Given modern forensic science, I'd think that many of them could be identified now, though it would certainly be a massive job to do so, and after so long, I'm not sure whether it'd be "proper" to do so or not.

A few of the graves had fresh flowers on them, or small American flags.  There is a group of local French citizens who occasionally come to place flowers upon the graves, and there were small wooden crosses placed by someone at many of the markers for the unknown soldiers.

We eventually left the cemetary, found our way back to the Clio near the beach, and bought a coke from the vending machine there to quench our thirst.  We then set off for Pointe Du Hoc, which is about 10 miles further west along the coast.

Pointe Du Hoc has also been given to the United States to use as a memorial to the Rangers who fought and died to take it.  I'd explain more about that battle, but you can read about it at Wikipedia on your own, and I suggest you do so, then return here.

What was really interesting about Pointe Du Hoc is that the craters from the naval bombardment are all plainly visible today, though they are now covered by grass.  There are more German fortifications here, and they're preserved better than the ones by Omaha Beach.  It's easy to see why the German's felt this position was unassailable, as the sheer cliffs are pretty imposing.

After spending an hour or so at Pointe Du Hoc, we got back in the Renault and drove further west along Utah beach, then turned around and found our way back to Bayeaux, where we checked in to our hotel.

Our room in this hotel was very small, and the bed was pretty shoddy.  While we did at least have a double bed, it was so soft that both of us sort of rolled into the middle of the bed, because it sagged so much.

We walked around until we found a brasserie still open, where Holly got some croissants for herself, and I bought some type of baguette that was filled with some type of meat, I think it was ham or bacon, as well as some type of cheese.  It was sort of injected down the middle of the bread, and while I'm not sure what I ate, it was good.

There was a cinema directly across the one-lane street from our hotel room, and we saw that Spiderman 3 was playing at 9:00.  The poster listed the language as being English, and a theatre showing the movie in Paris also said it was English with French subtitles, so we figured we'd go see the movie.

It was 7 Euros each to get in, and then we bought some popcorn and a coke, only to discover that the poster was in error, and the movie had been dubbed into French!  We snuck out pretty quickly, and forfeited our 14 Euros in embarassment.  The french popcorn is rather different than ours.  It's not buttered or salted, but is glazed with sugar, sort of like kettle corn, but different.

Having given up on the movie, we returned to our hotel room to watch CNN International, the only English channel on our TV.