Saturday, April 18, 2009


Walking with Ian in the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.

Last week we had one of the best vacations we've ever had as a family. The morning after Easter we took a train to Dover, a ferry to Calais, and then spent the rest of the week in the Normandy region of France. Now for me, Normandy is synonymous with D-Day, and we saw a lot of the museums and landing sites while we were there. But Normandy is an amazing coastal farming area as well, with some great old cities to visit. We loved everything about it.
We found a nice little cafe in Rouen as we started our trip. The people were great--very patient with our poor attempts at French speaking. Our lunch was fantastic (Duck confit with pasta, below), and when we raved about the apple tart they served for dessert, they brought us more. Nice.
On our first day in Arromanches Ian made a friend. His name was Albain, and while his dad spoke fluent English, he didn't speak a word. It didn't stop them from playing non-stop for two days. Below they're playing on the beach near some of the remnants of the Mulberry harbors from D-Day.
Ian and Albain climbing a pole just outside our restaurant.

These are more of the leftover harbors built in the first few days after the D-Day invasion. They're ingenious things--making possible the delivery of the supplies that made the invasion successful. Below is the beach at Arromanches.
Our inn was one of the highlights of the trip. The hosts were great, even though we had a comically difficult time communicating with them. They were gracious and fun, with easy laughs, and we missed them when we left. Below Ian is with their enormous dog Oslo in the main dining room.

On our first morning there was a light fog that made everything look a little mysterious.
Ian at our front door.

The grounds at the inn, which is a converted 13th century monastery.
Our breakfast spread. The light green eggs are from the ducks at the inn, and they were delicious.
Ian having a pensive moment looking out onto the grounds.
Enjoying another great breakfast.
Sunset from our window.
If you're not familiar with the story of Pointe du Hoc, it's worth looking up. There were some big guns up there that had a clear view of the Omaha and Utah landing sites. They were heavily fortified in concrete bunkers and protected on the ocean side by steep cliffs. They were pounded from the air for weeks before the landings, but couldn't be destroyed. When it was proposed that a unit try to disable the guns on D-Day, the majority of the planners said it couldn't be done. On 6 June group of 225 US Rangers landed on the beach under heavy fire, climbed the cliffs and took the hill. Only 90 survived. As it turned out the guns had been moved, but the Rangers found them later and destroyed them.
The cratered landscape of Pointe du Hoc. Some of the holes are 20 feet deep and even wider across. When the Rangers got to the top, their reconnaissance maps were useless because the terrain had been so radically altered.

Ian and Albain had such a great time playing in the craters and ruins of Pointe du Hoc. They climbed on--and through--everything they could find. Many of the bunkers still had functioning tunnels, and they spent almost as much time under the ground as over it.

At first I was a little queasy about how freely they were playing. So much happened on that site. So much sacrifice...part of me wanted to keep them quiet, respectful, even mournful. But then I thought about the guys who had fought there--the ones who had accomplished what the planners had deemed impossible. I'd like to think they would have approved of our little boys having such a good time there. I'd like to think that that was why they fought in the first place--so that other boys could laugh and run and climb on that very spot. In my own mind that day I saw Ian and his friend honoring the price paid by the Rangers over the first few days of the D-Day invasion. It put tears in my eyes every time I thought about it.

The next visit for us was to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Nothing really prepares you for being there...for what you see there. We read the inscriptions and walked among the crosses, and then down a beautiful path to Omaha Beach itself. It was a truly unforgettable thing to experience.
A fountain memorial at the Cemetery.

Standing with Julie and Ian on Omaha Beach.
Ian and I took a boat trip out into the Channel to see Omaha Beach as the soldiers on D-Day would have seen it for the first time. If you look closely, the line of white just below the trees are the crosses at the American Cemetery.
On the boat, with Omaha Beach in the background.
We did some sightseeing on the way back to Calais. This is in Trouville.
Our last stop was a beautiful port town called Honfleur.
More Honfleur.
Ian in, you guessed it, Honfleur.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:43 AM

    Glad you enjoyed the trip But?
    How was the lasagne ??


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