27th July 2009 – Day 5
Arrived in Caen in the late afternoon – our B&B Le Petit Chateau about 20 mins drive outside Caen, was precious! A charming house with 4 other bedrooms, all differently decorated by the owner. The hostess Mme Laye is very gracious and we would certainly return there if we are back in the region again. Since we arrived late, we dropped into Caen for dinner at a local a fish restaurant and called it a day.
28th July 2009 – Day 6
We were up early the following day – had a wonderful breakfast with crepes and bread rolls, prepared by Mme Laye. We met her lovely daughter who was kind enough to offer to play violin for us that morning while we had our breakfast. We were delighted with the special surprise – and even more so with her talent. She played beautifully – with the mother sitting in one corner beaming with pride! What a splendid start!
After breakfast we drove first to the Polish WWII Cemetery close by (the only Polish cemetery in France), as the B&B was located in a town called Grainville-Langannerie. The silence and tastefully landscaped cemetery bestowed a sense of deepest respect to these young men for giving up their lives and their efforts will never be forgotten. The badges of the Polish units can be seen on the fence of the cemetery.
Colleville Sur Mer – American Cemetery and Memorial site by Omaha Beach
Having paid our respects to these soldiers, we moved on to the American cemetery in Colleville Sur Mer – there about 11,000 graves there with 9,387 named headstones and 1,557 more soldiers named in the Garden of the Missing. This site overlooks Omaha Beach, where one of the bloodiest battle were fought with heavy losses on the Allied side.
The cemetery site is well placed with a view to the sea, a perfect site and peaceful. But the number of headstones lying there is a solemn reminder of the effects of the war. I couldn’t help but shed a tear.
For how to get there :
GPS Coordinates: N49 21.394 W0 51.192
Normandy American Cemetery sits on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel, east of St. Laurent-sur-Mer and northwest of Bayeux in Colleville-sur-Mer, 170 miles west of Paris. The cemetery may be reached by automobile via highway A-13 to Caen, then N-13 to Bayeux and Formigny, continuing on D-517 towards St. Laurent-sur-Mer and D-514 to Colleville-sur-Mer, where signs mark the entrance to the cemetery. There is rail service between Paris (Gare St. Lazare) and Bayeux, where taxicab and tour bus service is available; travel by rail takes 3 hours. Hotels are available at Bayeux and Port-en-Bessin.
Further information located on this website: http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/no.php
Today Omaha beach (one of the landing beaches of D-Day – 6th June 1944) is a serene spot with the occasional strollers and beachgoers dotting the landscape.
From Colleville Sur Mer – we drove another 20 mins to arrive at Longues Sur Mer, where you can see the German artillery battery that pounded the Allied forces cruising the coastline on D-Day. The following day, it was captured by the British without a fight. It is the only one in the region to have kept its battery guns, and because of its excellent state of preservation, it is well worth a visit.
From Longues Sur Mer, it was onwards to Arromanches Des Bains – to see the artificial harbour, one of the Mulberry harbour that are still around . You can see still see the huge concrete blocks on the sand and the sea. There is even a museum where you can learn more about the Allied’s use of these harbours and the technology and the engineering behind their creation.
Splendid view of Arromanches from a hilltop closeby
This year 2009, was the 65th anniversary of the D-Day. One the main reasons too, why we chose to drive to France for our summer vacation. An English couple who has a summer house in Normadie told us that if we wanted to see the complete WWII Normandie sites 2 days will not be enough – you need 1 week the least. That is so true. There are simply too many sites to cover, not to mention, on top of that, there are just too many pretty towns dotted along the coast you could simply spend an afternoon here and there wandering around.
Nevertheless to have come all the way to see these WWII sites have left a deep impression on us on the sacrifices made by the men and women during the war and how fragile peace can be and destructive wars can be. We must remember war leaves no side victorious and we must continue to defend the peace we have today.
Besides WWII sites, Normandie is also known for their apples/pears – hence the cider and the famed Calvados (apple brandy). You should try their little aperitif known as Pommeau, served chilled – a mixture of cider and Calvados yumm! For my sweet tooth, there were crepes and more crepes. Also I had flan, enough flan to last me a whole week. Far further west, you have the iconic Mont St Michel, which we missed this time too. I supposed we need to combine that with another trip to North of France in the future, possibly covering Bretagne at the same time.
I have to admit despite the slack the French keeps getting for their rudeness towards foreigners, I did not feel their impoliteness so far, neither in Paris nor Normandie. I have had only pleasant exchanges with them despite the occassional language challenge. Truly my first time in France and I have fallen in love with her already. I will surely return.
Notre Dame Cathedral – Bayeux
The day ended with a dinner in Bayeux, a pretty little town – famous for their Norman Gothic church – Notre Dame Cathedral and their tapestry (incl the one of William the Conqueror (his tomb is in Caen))
The next day, we departed Caen for Belgium, Ghent, another medieval town to check out on our way up to Copenhagen.