Normandy & Northern France

July 2002

We left Germany on Monday at 9am by train.  Our first change of trains was in Paris, where we arrived at about 2pm.  After taking a Metro train across town to the St. Lazare station, we boarded the second train to Bayuex, located about 2 hours northwest of Paris.  It is the closest medium-size city to Omaha Beach, site of one of the main D-Day invasions in June 1944. After arriving in Bayeux, we took a taxi to our hotel in Colleville, a small harbor town right on Omaha Beach.

Since we waited until the week before the trip to buy tickets, all non-smoking 2nd Class tickets were sold out.  So, we splurged and bought 1st Class for the Germany to Paris part of the trip.  It was only $35 more per ticket, and we ended up having a 6-seat private compartment all to ourselves.  Forget air travel, trains are the way to go!!

This is the dining car on the train.  No waiting for a stewardess to bring you a small bag of peanuts.  You can order anything from a snack to a full meal and stretch out and enjoy your meal.
After a long day’s travel, we arrived at the hotel and went for a cool dip in the pool.


The next morning (Tuesday), we met our tour van at 8am in front of the hotel.  We had to run back to Bayeux to pick up 3 more people, then it was off to Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc is a cliff jutting out into the English Channel about 1 kilometer (6/10 mile).  In 1942, the Germans, recognizing the significant importance of this location, built 6 concrete pits for their 155mm long-range artillery.  These guns were situated so as to be able to cover Omaha and Utah Beaches.  Opposing armies landing on the beaches below would have to scale the high cliffs under heavy fire to reach these guns.  In early 1944, the Germans decided to reinforce these positions with stronger concrete enclosed casemates, and moved several of the guns about 200 meters away to protect them from American bombing. This was a great stroke of luck for us.  On D-Day, troops from the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions landed on the beach and scaled the cliffs.  Overcoming intense fire from the Germans, they secured the area the same day.  Of the 225 Rangers (just 2 of several Battalions) who landed on Pointe du Hoc, 77 were killed.

Looking at Pointe du Hoc from the Omaha Beach side.  Behind me were several gun emplacements.  Today, it is such a strikingly beautiful area.
 It is hard to imagine the horrors of D-Day.
Spencer with Pointe du Hoc in the background.
Spencer is standing in front of one of the few surviving casemates for German artillery at Pointe du Hoc. This was one of many trips we took around Europe to visit historic locations as part of Spencer’s home-school education. Reading about D-Day in a book is one thing, but walking around the area is much more meaningful.

Beth and I standing by one of the German artillery casemates. Dozens of these along the hilltops covered the beach and landing zone with intense bombardment on D-Day.
Spencer went inside the casemate and explored to see the German point -of-view of the D-Day invasion.
Spencer looking out of the top of the German casemate.
Spencer enjoying the view out of the German casemate.
View out of one of the German casemates along Normandy Beach.
Another view of the inside of a German casemate.
This is all that remains of a German ammunition bunker that was destroyed by
a direct hit from American artillery at Pointe du Hoc.
Nearly 50 feet tall, this is the monument at Omaha Beach.
The plaque reads:
The Allied Forces
Landing on This
Shore Which They Call
Omaha Beach Liberate
Europe June 6, 1944
Spencer standing by the Omaha Beach monument.
Engraving on the side of the Omaha Beach Memorial
depicting soldiers landing on the beach.
Spencer took this picture of Omaha Beach.
Today, it looks like any tourist beach.
One of the signs showing the different sectors of the Normandy Beach.
Spencer standing on Omaha Beach, with Pointe du Hoc in the distance. The German artillery at Point du Hoc
had a clear shot at the entire beach where allied forces landed.
This plaque shows where we are (Omaha Beach) on Normandy Beach. We will soon be working our way east
towards Colleville, Arromanches, and Bayeux.
Our next stop was the American Cemetery. This was the site of the original cemetery, which was later enlarged and moved nearby.
Covering 172 acres, the cemetery is the final resting spot for 9,387 servicemen and women.  Of these, 307 are marked as “Unknown”. Also in the cemetery is the Garden of the Missing, with the names of 1,557 additional service members listed as missing.
Some of the many rows of Crosses and Stars of David
at the American Cemetery.
This platform at the American Cemetery overlooks a section of Omaha Beach.
Centered in the open arc of the memorial facing the American Cemetery
is this 22-foot bronze statue –
“The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”
Another section of the American Cemetery. It is very humbling to see how many men and women gave their lives to free Europe.
The beach at Arromanches was designated as the location to build a Mulberry Harbor, using large floating platforms towed over from England. These platforms hooked together to form a harbor to unload ships of soldiers and supplies.
This photo from shortly after D-Day shows the man-made harbor at Arromanches.
These are some of the Mulberry Harbor remnants in 2002.
One of the D-Day gift shops/museums at Arromanches.
Another gift shop/museum at Arromanches.

After a long day of exploring Omaha Beach, we returned to Colleville and walked
 along the shoreline of this quaint harbor town.
These cliffs near Colleville presented a formidable barrier to allied forces landing on D-Day. The Germans had heavy fortifications and machine gun nests along the top of these cliffs, firing down on soldiers trying to scale the almost-vertical walls.
Walking back from the town of Colleville to our hotel (about ½ mile from the harbor),
we passed this pretty home which would have been right on the front lines of D-Day.

Visiting the beach at Normandy and witnessing the incredible sacrifices made that day was very humbling. We’re glad Spencer could witness this as part of his time in Europe.


Before leaving the Normandy area on Wednesday, we decided to explore the city of Bayeux.  It is a very interesting, medium-sized city with a large market area, many shops, and a large cathedral.  We found this waterwheel on the stream that runs through town.
Approaching the Bayuex Notre Dame Cathedral.  The buildings along the front are so close, it is impossible to get a good picture from the front.  This is not to be confused with the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
View of the magnificent entrance to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Bayeux.
Inside the sanctuary of the Bayeux Notre Dame Cathedral.
Exploring the market at Bayeux.
The market at Bayeux attracts farmers with their fresh fruits and vegetables.
Bayeux Market.  Yes, the combs are still on the chickens, and the birds to the left appear to be smaller game birds.  Beth swore one was a pigeon.
The meat/seafood market at Bayeux. Wow! Look at all of that fish and shrimp!!

After exploring the market and the large Bayeux tapestry at the local museum, we headed back to the train station

to catch the 11:51 to Rouen, about a 2 hour ride.

Beth picked up this little souvenir on the train to Rouen.  Actually, the French lady across from us had to go to the restroom,
so Beth offered to hold her sleeping baby. 
I wonder if he went “oui-oui” in his diaper while she was holding him? Get it – French baby — Oui Oui.  Oh, never mind.


Our next stop was Rouen, France, just north of Paris. This town is known as the site where Joan of Arc was captured, imprisoned, then burned at the stake in 1431. Joan of Arc was a peasant girl who claimed to hear Saints telling her to lead the reunification of France.  This did not go over well with the English, who controlled much of the area in what is now France.  Captured by the Duke of Burgundy, she was handed over to the British, who held a mock trial, finding her guilty of heresy and being a witch.  She was tortured and burned at the stake in the town market square. She was mostly forgotten about until the 18th Century, when a statue in her memory was erected. It was not until 1920 that Joan of Arc was beatified and canonized, and this resulted in changes to the square.  Allied bombing destroyed the square and all markers in 1944.  The new church situated on the square today was built in 1979. 

By 2pm, we were in Rouen, just north of Paris.  Much of the town looks much like it did then,
although one of the old-style buildings nearby houses a McDonalds.
Today, there is a memorial cross and church dedicated to her memory at the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
The alter and stained glass windows of the church.
A tribute to Joan of Arc in the church.
The Tour Jeanne d’Arc is the original tower where Joan of
Arc was tortured before her execution.
There is much to see in Rouen besides Joan of Arc sites.
Rouen even has its own Notre Dame Cathedral.
Inside the sanctuary of the Rouen Notre Dame Cathedral.
After our 3 hours in Rouen, it was time to head back to the train station (above) and get on the train for Paris.  We lucked out.  We arrived at the station a little early, and Beth noticed there was a train leaving in less than 5 minutes (our ticket was good for any train that day).  It was a non-stop train to Paris that only took 1 hour. We ran through the station, down the stairs to the train, and jumped on the train as the warning bells were sounding for the doors closing.  Close one!  We arrived in Paris at our hotel over an hour earlier than planned. Wednesday was a busy day!

From here, we headed south to spend a few days in Paris. Watch for an upcoming travelogue as we visit the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles, and many other famous landmarks around this great city.

Thanks for joining us on our trip to Normandy!

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