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Postcard from Normandy: D-Day, camembert, and more

8 May

8 May 2019.

The famous Invasion in June of 1944 changed Normandy forever and the (mostly) English-speaking hoards have continued to invade for the past 75 years. Luckily the locals are still celebrating the arrival of the Allies and welcoming Americans, Canadians, Brits, and Australians by millions. We ran into a lot of Dutch as well.

Bayeux is about as close as you can get to the D-Day beaches and not be on them. It was our base for a week. Crowds aren’t bad, but the town and surrounding hamlets, cemeteries, beaches, and museums are gearing up for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Windows are painted in greeting, museum exhibits are being reworked, and hoteliers are preparing to clean up.

Window painting, Bayeux, honoring the 75th anniversary.

Window painting in Bayeux, honoring the Invasion 75 years ago.

A tour of the D-Day sites alone could take a week or more. Every village that secured a relic tank or WWII airplane has a museum, and every village has a tank or period airplane, not to mention oodles of ammunition, rusted helmets, German and Allied weapons, medic kits, and uniforms. Our tour guide told us there were 60+ museums in Normandy dedicated to the Invasion. We did not visit them all.

German battery, Pont du Hoc, now a tourist lookout.

This little Dutch boy was having a blast playing in an overgrown bomb crater, Pont du Hoc.

If you have seen “The Longest Day” you know the scene where the parachutist gets caught on the clock tower of the church at Sainte-Mère-Église. True story, kitchily depicted today.

After visiting a couple of (good) museums and spending 9 hours touring sites like Sainte-Mère-Église, Utah and Omaha Beaches, and the German and American cemeteries, we were pretty much on Overlord overload. Still, every time we ventured to another location, a bit more about D-Day was revealed. We realized our grasp of that day — of the entire Invasion — was not equal to the event. Sure we’ve seen movies, read books, maybe even paid attention in high school history class, but being there is sobering and overwhelming. The statistics (numbers of parachutists, numbers of planes, numbers of ships) are mind-boggling.

The logistics make what FedEx does every day look like a children’s party.

We had lunch at the cafe on Utah Beach, built in a building (the only building) that remains from that day. All WWII veterans are invited to sign the bar or any other surface in the cafe.

Utah Beach is now for walks with dogs and building sand castles. Like Oregon, it is too cold to go in the water. Except that is, of course, what thousands of men did on D-Day.

Perhaps the most eye-opening experience for us was seeing Port Winston at Arromanches. This was a Mulberry Harbor, a temporary portable harbor established to support the Invasion until the Allies could secure the ports held by the Germans. Neither of us had read much about this except in our Rick Steves guidebook.

The various components were fabricated in England and sunk in the Thames River to hide them from German surveillance. Shortly after D-Day, they were towed across the Channel and the harbor constructed. Seeing the remains of the caissons and floating piers along with displays and dioramas in the excellent museum brought to life the enormity of the operation.

View from above Arromanches. You can still see some caissons offshore.

WWII photo of the actual temporary harbor.

A piece ot the floating roadbed called a “whale” used in Port Winston. Ric for scale.

We had the luxury of a week in Normandy. Plenty of time to absorb the WWII history and ample time to devote to the countryside, medieval history (William the Conqueror was from Caen), and food. I swear my pores are oozing Camembert. We tried to drink enough red wine to whisk those nasty artery blocking fats out as fast as we consumed them. We’d make a nice healthy salad in our apartment in the evening with great local produce, lean chicken, a whisper of olive oil and balsamico, but we’d add Camembert. We did not, however, have butter on our baguettes. The cider, too, is a wonderful thing and quite perfect with the local food. Goes great with mussels freshly harvested and served ala Normande with (God help me!) cream!

Fresh scallops, anyone? No question that there were not frozen.

Fresh chicken too. Maybe she’s just for laying?

On the Aure River in Bayeux, two waterwheels are still spinning.

We hiked up La Côte de Grâce above Honfleur for the view of the Pont du Normandy.

In Barfleur, the Fête du Printemps was underway with curious street decoration.

Cute Barfleur, filled this sunny Sunday with French people out for a drive and lunch, which is what we were doing.

One can cover a lot of miles in Normandy without seeing all of it. We confined ourselves to the area from Honfleur in the north to Barfleur near Cherbourg and Caen. We realized part way through the week that this area of France requires additional time if one is to include Mont Saint Michel as well as points north like Etretat.

I guess a return trip is in order. Save me some Camembert.

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15 Responses to “Postcard from Normandy: D-Day, camembert, and more”

  1. Kathy May 9, 2019 at 17:04 #

    Laurel,

    We were just in Colmar and Normandy also (April 20 – May 3). I wish I had known you were there! We stayed in Bayeux and drove to Mont St. Michel – what a sight!! We didn’t go up into the commune due to me being in a wheelchair with a fractured leg, but it was worth the drive from Bayeux just to see it. Love your posts and pictures!

    Kathy

    Like

    • Laurel May 9, 2019 at 23:03 #

      Wish we’d been able to meet up! We were in Colmar Apr 25-30 and Bayeux Apr 30-May 7. In Paris now. I am glad you got to see MSM and I am resolved to go there “next time!” Where are you now?

      Like

      • Kathy May 10, 2019 at 05:10 #

        Laurel,

        We had a direct flight from Houston, TX to Amsterdam on April 17. My first travel goal was to see Keukenhof Gardens at peak blooming time. We then took a flight to Strasbourg and a train to Colmar on April 20. Enjoyed many of the small towns and sights that you posted about! We took a fast train from Strasbourg on April 23 to Paris for a 7 night stay .

        On April 30 we took a train to Caen and rented a car for our 3 days in Normandy. I looks like we were there at the same time!! It would have been fun to meet up! We picked up the car and decided to drive directly to Mont St. Michael. We had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant there and drove back to Bayeux to our Airbnb that night. Our Airbnb was right beside the Cathedral in Bayeux with a lovely view from our room. May 1 was our all-day Overlord Tour of the American beaches. May 2 we drove to Honfleur to explore.

        May 3 – My husband wanted to drive through northern France to Lille (not something I would do again) where we spent the night. ( I don’t think they get many tourists there – not many people speak English and my French is lousy. We only stayed one night in Lille and returned to Amsterdam for our last two days and our return flight home.

        Kathy

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        • Laurel May 10, 2019 at 08:22 #

          Wow! Great trip! So sorry we didn’t know about each others’ plans! As we say in Italian, “Ala prossima!” We will be in Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen in Sept/Oct.

          Like

        • Kathy May 10, 2019 at 08:34 #

          Ortisei is a place we hope to return to and Switzerland is another bucket list location. We may have to plan a meet up there! Do you think Sept/Oct is an optimal time to travel to these locations?

          Like

    • Laurel May 10, 2019 at 09:02 #

      Kathy I do think fall is wonderful there! We have had unbelievably good luck in Lauterbrunnen even in late September/early October, which is when we will be there again. But weather is fickle. We are staying two weeks in each place so that helps in case of inclement conditions.

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  2. Marcia Kakiuchi May 8, 2019 at 10:51 #

    Been to Normandy twice and the pictures you posted so remind me of our wonderful visits. Locals very welcoming. Museums so interesting. We stayed in a beautiful old castle/chateau . It was the first week of December last time we went and the weather was chilly but sunny. Ohhhh the history lessons!

    Like

    • Laurel May 8, 2019 at 23:40 #

      That must have been Oregon cold in December! It was Oregon cold for us a few days, too, but not much rain, thank goodness!

      Like

  3. Sarah May 8, 2019 at 09:54 #

    The photos and commentary regarding Normandy are emotionally stunning. I can’t wrap my head around the whole operation.
    Glad you have plenty of red wine at hand! 😉

    Like

    • Laurel May 8, 2019 at 23:39 #

      Thanks, Sarah! We switched to white last night in Paris.

      It did take a visit to wrap my head around it! Movies and books cannot depict!

      Like

  4. chloe erkenbrecher May 8, 2019 at 09:09 #

    Fortunately, we love Normandy as we have had to take every guest to our home there. We used to love the movie that was shown at Arromanche, but sadly it has become too political now and no longer shows as much of the invasion as it once did. Many of our French friends take their families to the beaches in Normandy in order to remind them of the sacrifices that were made for them by other countries. Omaha Beach still brings me to tears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel May 8, 2019 at 09:18 #

      We only saw one brief film at the Arromanches museum more about the building of the artificial harbor. I think the longer one, in a theatre, might have been the more political one? We skipped it and went to the 360-degree cinema at the top of the hill. That was OK, we thought, but the view from there was stupendous! The beaches are sobering in the historical perspective and yet y are now “normal” beaches like we live by in Oregon. That brings me to tears!

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      • chloe erkenbrecher May 9, 2019 at 06:18 #

        Actually, I was talking about the 360 degree film. At one time it was devoted to only the landings and the fighting that followed. You felt as if you were there.

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  5. pagebypage14 May 8, 2019 at 08:43 #

    Superb post, Laurel, of a sobering time in our history, and thankfully the D Day operation was successful. As usual, your food descriptions make my mouth water. Did you see the Bayeux tapestry? Grier

    Like

    • Laurel May 8, 2019 at 08:54 #

      Yes, Grier, we did see the Tapestry and it was so much more interesting than I expected! It is challenging to include everything in the blog, but there is so much more to Normandy, Bayeux, the D-Day sites and our consumption of glorious French food! We are now in Paris, still eating. I think we will let up in the U.K. next week.

      Like

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