Today’s A to Z Challenge takes us to a beautiful – and very significant – region of France: Normandy.
In late May of 1998, almost at the 54th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, Daniel and I spent a few days touring the area with our neighbors-turned-good-friends, also stationed in Germany with the US Army like we were at the time. They were also “history buffs” and so this trip was additionally filled with much discussion and fact sharing about the historic significance of the battles that occurred on these shores beginning on June 4, 1944. Thankfully, I had another woman along on the trip, so we were also able to indulge in the scenery, some good food, and a little shopping along the way, too! Normandy satisfied us all.
We arrived in Normandy at the town of Honfleur which is worthy of a blog post all to itself. We stayed at the elegant Hotel L’Ecrin. Honfleur is kind of a little harbor town by the Port of Normandy, which also boasts an incredible farmer’s market on the weekend and for the tourists, a Haagen Daas ice cream parlor and some yummy little restaurants.
Our goal was to tour as many of the World War II sites as possible during our stay, and our first stop was in the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where US Airborne paratroopers landed all over and began the campaign by land. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions have a museum nearby:
Close to there was the most western beach that was “stormed” by American troops on D-Day, Utah Beach:
At nearby Omaha Beach, the Americans also came ashore … and beyond that Canadian and British troops came onto the Normandy at Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches.
Point du Hoc on Omaha Beach is commemorated with a pillar that honors the Rangers under the command of COL James Rudder, who led the first American division to take possession of this area:
As one can imagine, cemeteries for the war dead litter the Normandy region. We visited a German cemetery at Mont de Huisnes:
And later we also visited the American cemetery by Omaha Beach at Sainte Laurent Sur Mer. NOTHING will remind you more of the greatest sacrifice of this generation of soldiers and Americans than row upon row – thousands – of graves, mostly white crosses, a few Jewish stars …
When we visited Omaha Beach, our friend and Daniel wanted to re-create storming the beaches by actually going into the water there … and then they rushed through the waves back toward the shoreline, just as the soldiers had done after departing their landing crafts on D-Day. While that may sound a little boyish and silly, to my husband and our friend, who were also soldiers at the time, it was almost their own little tribute – something to get a minor idea of what it felt like … minus, no doubt, the fear and uncertainty the soldiers who initially made this entry into Normandy felt!
On June 6, 1944, a British Airborne unit descended upon the Caen Canal under enemy fire and within minutes of their touch-down took their objective: Pegasus Bridge (originally named the Bénouville Bridge; renamed in honor of the British soldiers’ shoulder emblem, the Pegasus horse). This was a significant victory in obstructing the movement of the enemy (ie. the Germans).
Normandy isn’t just all about World War II history. The region is amazingly beautiful!! There are green grasslands along the shores with sheep and cows.
Also, Mount Ste. Michel is a Romanesque Abbey/Monastery (and prison during the French Revolution), a magnificent site (and trek!). A strip of sandy land connects the island during certain times of day (has to do with the tides … don’t ask me!) and one can visit then. Monks still live and work here.
The Normandy region was also home to the impressionist painter Monet. He lived in a quaint cottage in the town of Giverny:
The Normandy region was amazing … I repeat. Amazing! And we were able to share it with wonderful friends as well!!