Day 3 – Normandy Beaches

Arromanches Travel Blog

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Sept. 19, 2007:  Day 3 – Normandy Beaches


            Breakfast at Family House was amazing!  The dining room had a warm cozy feel to it, and one long table was setup with silverware, dishes and food.  The food was the best I’d had so far in hostels and consisted of cereal, bread, croissant, orange juice, apples, ham, salami, and yogurt. 

            I explained to Jordan my dilemma with Steph and he absorbed it but didn’t say much.

  So I left him to think on it.  Meanwhile Justin and I paid for another night and got ready for the big day ahead.

            Nathalie said she’d meet us at the grocery store at 11am and then we’d head over to the train station.  I told Justin and Jordan this while they were wrapping up a chess game, and we were about to hit the road for the store when Jordan pulled me aside.

            He wanted to let me know he understood my dilemma but he felt he had just as much right to go with us as Steph did since Nathalie had invited him the night before.  I agreed, and was happy he talked with me about it.  It made me feel some relief.

  Before breakfast I had picked out the cheapest and most bang-for-your-buck bus tour I could find of the beaches.  If you are ever there without a car or Couchsurfer, call +33231227580 and you can reserve a spot on the tour.  The van can hold up to eight people, and starts at either 9:30am or 1:30pm and lasts about five hours.  It costs 40 Euros (36 if you’re a student) and goes past four major sites.

            After buying stuff for lunch and getting picked up by Nathalie, we met Steph at the train station.  I told her how sorry I was, and she was accepting.  I had text her the night prior and told her the situation so she was aware that she might not be able to go with us.  I even gave her a bunch of tourist brochures and maps (the ones Nathalie had gave to us), and a banana, apple and chips to snack on.

  And off we went to the beaches.

            Arromanches was our first stop.  It is the beach where the British troops first landed, and I believe was supposed to be where the American troops were supposed to land also if not for the bad weather which drove them to land at Omaha and Utah beaches.

            We stopped at the cliffs overlooking the Arromanches beach.  Left behind from the war and floating in the water about 10 yards from shore are about twenty huge floating barges that the British used to reduce the waves I believe.  They dragged them all the way from England.  A few of them were broken and had washed ashore.

  At the top of the cliffs remnants of gunnery stations littered the edge, and one of them was full of trash.  We all shook our heads in disbelief at the disrespect.

            We walked down to the beach and it felt surreal to walk where hundreds if not thousands had lost their lives.  If only the soldiers who lost their lives could see the affect their courage has had on France and the world.

            Our next big stop was the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.  I had no idea but according to Nathalie the United States owns the property that the cemetery is on.

  As we walked past the entrance I could tell we were headed toward a massive memorial.  The walkway points toward the ocean, and is very simply laid out with no fancy statues or intricate architectural designs.  A flat rectangular pool of water stands almost motionless on your right as you walk alongside of it.  When you reach the cliff’s edge, you get a view of Omaha Beach.  You turn left, and can view the white crosses in the distance through the trees.  You turn left again and walk up a short hill, and then turn right.  In front of you is the rear of a large statue.  On your left and right is a circular wall with the names of all the American soldiers who lost their lives at Omaha Beach.  It reminds me of the Vietnam Wall.  As you walk up the few steps to the statue you are presented with a view of the entire cemetery and the thousands of white crosses and Jewish stars.
  It is huge.  The length of the cemetery is about two hundred yards and the width is about one hundred yards.  I am probably off by a lot so please don’t quote me on this estimate. 

            A group of elderly Germans were beginning their tour of the cemetery and it made me realize how much different their perspective must be from mine. 

            As we walked through the cemetery I again took my leave to absorb the atmosphere on my own.  I could not believe how many graves there were.  While walking I realized the cemetery was organized by last name.  After walking about thirty yards I passed by the A’s.

  It made me angry and sad at the same time.  I hate war.  I really hate war.

            After walking through the cemetery we regrouped and went back to the car where we re-energized ourselves with food and apple cider alcohol.  Nathalie had brought the apple cider and some French pastries (croissants, chocolate filled pastries, etc.), and us guys had purchased the rest earlier at the grocery.

            We then walked down to the beach.  It was a long walk down and I couldn’t imagine fighting my why up the hill with no cover, bullets and mortars whizzing past me and mines exploding around me.  The beach itself was empty with no remnants of the war.  Far off in the westerly direction I could see Ponte du Hoc which was our next and final destination.

            Pointe du Hoc was the most dramatic with huge craters, bunkers and gunnery stations left behind after 225 Army Rangers scaled the cliffs and eventually took the area, with 90 men left at the end.  If you saw the cliffs they scaled, you would be in awe at this feat.  The craters were on average twenty feet in diameter and ten feet deep.  They are from the US Naval bombardment prior to the Rangers scaling up the cliffs with Nazi soldiers firing down upon them and cutting their ropes as they climbed.

            On the way back to Bayeux to drop Jordan off at the train station I found out that Nathalie and I shared something very unique in common; we both used to listen to the same style of music when we were younger.

  The style is very rare, and for anyone who knows me, you know what I’m talking about.  I, nor anyone else in the vehicle, could believe their ears.  Looking at Nathalie, and me for that matter, you would never have guessed that either of us used to listen to that type of music.  But since I’m not going to tell you what type it was, I suppose you wouldn’t be able to guess anyway, ha!

            Nathalie dropped Jordan and I off at the station.  I was going to wait for Steph’s tour to finish and drop her off at the station so I could see how her day went. 

            I waited for about thirty minutes and the tour van finally came.  She said her day went well and we chatted for a bit before her train took her back to Paris.

  While we were chatting, another traveler started talking to us.  He had just been dropped off by the train and was staying in Bayeux.  He was looking for Family House, and so I invited him to walk back there with me. 

            The traveler ended up being Greg from Seattle, Washington, USA.  He was traveling around Europe and had been on the move for about 1.5 months.  He had camped out a lot since he brought his backpack and sleeping bag.  We walked to the hostel and I introduced Greg to Justin.  Nathalie had gone home to correct some homework, and was coming back later. 

            When she showed up, we all walked to the center of town and shared a pizza and beers on the street.

  We made our own outside pub and attracted some other hostellers who ended up chatting with us and walking back to the hostel around 10:30pm.  A couple of the new hostellers were from Minnesota and had actually heard of a small town called Seney in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which I always passed on my way to college when I drove from down-state Michigan…ok, I’m rambling.

            A couple of other funny French words I learned were “crotte de nez” and “crotte au chocolate.”  “Crotte” means “poop”, and it’s what they use for nose hair, and certain chocolate pieces during the holidays.  Hilarious!

            We had to say goodbye to Nathalie.  It was sad!  She had been such a help and we all got along so well with her.

  I hope I see her someday in the US so that I can return the favors and hospitality she extended to us (I’m actually chatting with her on Skype right as I type this actually, ha!).

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photo by: fabienuk