D-Day Overload

Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
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Trip End May 23, 2008


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Friday, August 17, 2007

Caen, Normandy, Northern France
GMT +1:00 hour

In the East, the vastness of space will... permit a loss of territory... without suffering a mortal blow to Germany's chance for survival. Not so in the West! If the enemy here succeeds... consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time
- Adolf Hitler

Tourism Proper
We rose early today and had breakfast in the hotel. God bless the French baguettes (the French know a thing or two about croissants too). We then made our way to the bus station in the hopes that there was some sort of a tour bus willing and able to ferry us around some of the sights (if they can be called that) of the nearby D-Day beaches. There was, and soon we were en route through the rural Normandy countryside, an area of the country famous throughout France as the land of Camembert (rich, soft, creamy cheese), Calvados (dry apple brandy), cider, seafood, and an area whose butter & cream based cuisine boasts a proud disdain for most things nouvelle. As we drove through some of the quaint villages dotting the countryside we were able to view some roadside pictures from 1944, pictures showing the same villages as they sat in ruins. It's remarkable how much has survived or been restored since the Allied landings in 1944 and the subsequent Battle of Normandy which killed thousands of civilians and reduced nearly six hundred towns and villages to rubble. But no pain, no gain; within a week of the eventual conclusion of the Battle of Normandy Paris was liberated.

D-Day
Even I understand there may be some people out there who aren't aware what D-day is, or was. If you happen to be one of them then let me first congratulate you on a job well done navigating to this page in the first place - it was obviously a chore. And for your reward let me explain that 1944 the boy Hitler and his Nazis had a firm grip on the European continent, much to the annoyance of the English, French, Americans and Canadians (The Allies), most of whom were taking refuge across the English Channel in England. D-Day saw the beginning of The Allies attempts to wrestle the continent back from the Nazis. To do this they launched a massive military attack, only the biggest military assault in history, from across the Channel. The rest, as they say, is history and if it wasn't for the sacrifice of the Allies who, early on June 6th 1944, stormed the Normandy beaches during 'Operation Overlord', we'd all probably be speaking German right about now. The storming of the 5 Normandy beaches (code named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword) began the Battle of Normandy, which ultimately lead to the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation.

Our Itinerary. Today and Tomorrows.
As part of our tour, which departed Caen at 9:30am and returned at 5:30pm, we visited Arromanches, where we visited a few museums and saw how the Allies ingeniously built a floating harbour to aid supply to the continent, viewed German gun placements at Longues Sur Mer & Pointe Du Hoc and visited the American War Cemetery at Collville-sur-mer. Say what you like about the Yanks but they sure do know how to honor their war dead. We've weaved some thumbnail of some of the picture we've uploaded with this entry into the text but you can view all 10 uploaded pictures here. The pictures, as is my style, are more than just pictures: they are descriptive and help explain our day in more detail.

Tomorrow we continue in the WWII history vein as we visit the Caen Memorial, touted as one of the finest museums in the world, if not the finest, on the D-Day landings. We reckon we'll be pretty much WWII'ed out after that, which is fine because we have an afternoon TGV (train grande vitesse, meaning it's quick) trip to Paris to look forward to. Ahh Paris....l'amour ... but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Still a bit of Caen to see. But not until tomorrow.

Before we close this entry here are a few observations from today. Oh BTW, we now know why everything was closed yesterday. It was Assumption Day, and seemingly if, like us, you're a tourist it's a day of the year to avoid being in France. Whoops.

Day 3 Observations (August 16th 2007)

Poignant
While driving along the Normandy coast from Caen we saw signs for Juno beach, the only one of the 5 D-Day beaches stormed by Canadians (the other 4 were assigned to the Americans and the Brits). The signs pointing to the beach, a beach sadly not on our itinerary, had fallen Maple leafs as a decoration. Quite touching, we thought. Btw, that the D-Day invasion happened here at all and not nearer to Germany, was partly a result of the failed Canadian raid on Dieppe (further east of here) in 1942.

Familiar looking
The Normandy scenery is quiet rural and well farmed, with endless hay fields, barns, EU-milk-quota dairy cows and splendid centuries-old half-timbered manor houses. Anyone familiar with 'Saving Private Ryan', 'Band of Brothers' or even the scenes depicted in any WWII D-Day computer game would already be familiar with the scenery.

Quick eats, sprinkled with rudeness
We spent this evening having our first sit down meal of the trip. Nothing fancy; just pizza and pasta with some wine (we should have probably waitied until we get to Italy for that sort of meal), but it showed us the French, or at least the French in Caen, penchant for speed eating. Even though they give you menus when you take your seat, it seems like you're almost expected to know what to order before you sit down. And as for the service. While you may not have to wait long for your dish to arrive it's a good guess that you'll have to wait a long while for any sort of smile from your server. Our waitress was positively uninterested and her service manner bordered on rude, a common characteristic all the French are reputed to have. Not that we can verify this as true (not yet at least); up to now we've had nothing but friendly "des Bonjour", "des merci beaucoup" and "des au revoir", everywhere we've gone.

Sleeping Beauty
We've already taken 3 forms of public transport, 4 if you include the ferry that got us to France, and Meg has managed to sleep on all of them.
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Where I stayed
Hotel St Etienne

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