Thursday, October 24, 2013

Normandy

Hi, Internet.  Long time no blog.  But lets just get going right away to keep things from getting awkward.

We took a trip to France over Oktoberfest.  We had no desire to be with 7 million drunk people.  The first part of our trip to France was Normandy to see D-Day sites.

We landed at the Charles De Gaul Paris airport.  We wanted to eat lunch before we left the airport, but there was literally not a single place to get food in the terminal or by the baggage claim.  There were, however, huge ads everywhere against counterfeit goods.  In Paris, even carrying a counterfeit handbag can land you in jail with a €5,000 fine.

Pippa and I hung out while T collected our luggage.  Which actually took a long time.  Then we had to get our rental car, which actually took a long time.  And this was our first introduction to snooty Parisians.  The rental car guy had major attitude and took for.ev.er.  (Slow service seems to be a theme all across Europe...)  We finally headed out of the airport to the car and got pushed out of the way to get on the elevator.  Yeah, we were there waiting first and had a baby, but this other group of six men had no problem pushing us out of their way.  Then there was a dent on the car that wasn't listed on the paperwork.  So more waiting.  Finally we headed out for the three hour drive to Bayeux.

Baby Pippa napped a bit on the drive and was mostly good.  When she wasn't happy, I would give her raisins and that would keep her happy for a bit.  There's a German brand of raisins that is our favorite because the raisins never get moist and stick together in giant clumps - they are always dry.  Because you wanted to know about our German raisin preferences 

Our hotel in Bayeux was super tiny.  We put Pippa to bed and T planned the rest of our time in Normandy and I read the first part of "Band of Brothers" to get a better / fresh grip on some of the sites we were going to see.

We started the next day bright and early.  Except it wasn't bright at all.  We got all ready then I opened the curtains fully expecting it to bright outside because it was 7:30.  And it was still pitch black.  Wha???

The first thing we did in Normandy was a 1/2 day D-day tour.  If you ever make it to Normandy, take a D-Day tour.  Every tour we looked at had fabulous reviews so I don't think the tour group matters, but just take a tour.  The sites are so much more meaningful when you hear specific stories of specific people at that specific place.  We tried to book a full day tour, but there weren't any available, so a 1/2 day tour it was.  It actually worked out better that way because I don't think baby Pippa could have handled a full day.  She was so good on the 1/2 day tour until the last five minutes when the tour guide was dropping everyone off.

T and Pippa both being good while in the tour van.

* A side note:  T took a bunch of photos with his film camera, but they are on the other laptop so hopefully later I'll add those photos in.

The first stop on the very windy tour was Pointe Du Hoc.  Pointe Du Hoc is a big cliff between Utah and Omaha beaches (the US beaches) that was scaled by the US Army Rangers early on D-Day because the Allies thought the Germans had several big guns there that would be able to fire on both beaches.   At the edge of the cliff there is a monument to the Rangers.  It's supposed to represent the Ranger dagger.

Pointe Du Hoc is a serious cliff.   This is the Pointe part of Pointe Du Hoc.

Looking down from the top of the cliff you can see that it is almost perfectly vertical.

The Rangers started the day with 225 men and after two days they only had 90 remaining.

The whole area was pockmarked with deep craters.  The craters came from the US bombing that immediately preceded the Rangers attack.

I think Pointe Du Hoc was my favorite D-Day location because it has remained untouched since the end of D-Day.  This bunker's damage is purely due to bombing on d-day - not the weather.


The bunkers were built to hold guns, but when the Rangers got to them they discovered they were just tree trunks - the guns hadn't been installed yet.



Here's T inside to show just how big these things are.

The underground bunkers had extremely thick concrete and were very fortress-y.

 A machine gun hole pointed at the entrance steps to the bunker.

Next we went to Omaha Beach - specifically the Charlie and Dog Green sectors.  I'm sure you already know that Omaha beach saw some of the worst fighting and most casualties on D-day.


We went at low tide, which is how it was when the first troops landed on D-Day.  At low tide it's almost a mile of beach to reach the cliffs (the objective was to scale the cliffs and take control of the guns / bunkers / area / roads).   These houses didn't exist on D-Day.  The cliffs aren't nearly as tall as Pointe Du Hoc, but they are still intimidating.

For a sense of scale that little person on the sand on the right side is T.

I wondered why the Allies would want to land at low tide - the longer the distance to run, the more times the troops can be shot at.  It's because at low tide the hedgehog (left) and gate (right) barriers put up by the Germans would be exposed instead of hidden by the water.  The hedgehogs would tear up the bottom and sides of the landing craft.  The gates were physically big, plus the Germans would put explosives on the top of the gate so a hit gate (by a landing craft or a German specifically firing at the explosive) would cause a lot of damage.




















Being at Omaha Beach was very special.  It felt heavy and almost sacred.


Then we headed to the American Cemetery.  It's also a very heavy, but peaceful place.  It's like Arlington Cemetery but worse.  Arlington Cemetery has a lot of graves but they are from many wars and some graves are of veterans who lived long lives after they fought in wars.  The American Cemetery in Normandy has over 9,000 graves and all the deaths came from D-Day and the three months following D-Day.

The Memorial Chapel has this gorgeous mosaic on the ceiling.
This half represents American sending her sons as soldiers to war.

The other half represents France holding and crowning a dead soldier in thanks for his sacrifice.  The dove represents the return of peace.

The mantle in the chapel says "I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish."

At the other end of the cemetery there is a large semi-circle wall that has the names of all those missing in action and presumed dead from the three month battle of Normandy.  This balcony overlooks the wall and the quote says "To these we owe the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live.

Part of the enormous wall.  The wall was divided by branch of service.

On the left side you can see a small dark spot.  It's actually a rosette.  It's added to the end of a name when their remains are identified.  

T took some really great photos at the cemetery with his film camera, but like I said earlier, those photos will be added later.

The tour was over and we ate at this cute litte restaurant.  The food was really great - I just wish I could remember the name of what I ordered!

Right outside the restaurant was this beautiful church so I took Pippa out to scooch around on it's lawn while we waited for our food.


Pippa was absolutely not interested in eating, but she absolutely WAS interested in this other group speaking French.  She watched them intently the entire time we were there.  She was not even distracted by pizza.

Pippa was still antsy so we let her scooch about in the rental car.  There were lots of buttons to press so she was pretty happy.

Then we headed to the D-Day Museum in Caen.  Pippa fell asleep on the way there so I stayed with her in the car while T headed in.

When she woke up we had her in the carrier for a bit then she got antsy again so I took her out to scooch around.


As we were leaving we saw a free nursery in the museum where we could have left her with lots of toys and little friends to play with.  She would have been much happier there.  C'est la vie.

The museum was pretty cool and gave a really comprehensive account of D-Day.  There was also a pretty comprehensive account of the war and everything leading up to the war, but I mostly skimmed that part...

T took this photo - I have no idea what this is about.

A propaganda poster of a Samurai destroying Pearl Harbor.

On the drive back to the hotel Pippa was blowing a ton of raspberries.
video

The next day we visited more sites.  These stained glass windows are in the church in St. Mere Eglise.  In the early early morning (1:30 am) of D-Day US troops parachuted into the town in a surprise attack.  One man's parachute got stuck on the steeple so he hung there playing dead until he was cut down by Germans and taken captive.  The town was later liberated by US troops.

The photo is not the best, but it's the Virgin Mary with parachuters coming down around her.  This window was installed by the town just a few years after they were liberated by the Americans.

This window was put up by the 82nd airborn and the town together.  At the bottom of the window it reads "To the memory of those who through their sacrifice liberated Sainte Mere Eglise.  They have come back. 25th anniversary of the veterans of the 505th 82nd airborne division."

Not a WWII stained glass window.  It's Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt - I just thought it was beautiful.

Next up Utah Beach.  Next to a WWII tank.

With a hedgehog.

This is Utah beach.  It's sand dunes.  The fighting was not nearly as fierce here.  The beach was captured fairly easily.


A statue of Dick Winters the CO of the 101st Airborne (the "Band of Brothers" guys).   The plaque reads "Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in great men."  Richard D. Winters Easy Company 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment 101st Airborne Division Dedicated to all those who led the way on D-Day.  

T with a monument to the 101st Airborne Division just outside Brecourt Manor.  
I'm not really explaining these places or people or situations, but if you've read "Band of Brothers" or seen the TV series or are a WWII buff you probably know them.

The French countryside is gorgeous, quaint, and ridiculously charming.  It's everything we thought the English countryside would be.  Instead of fences to keep the livestock in, farmers used hedgerows.  These hedgerows are EVERYWHERE.  They grow very tall (like 20 feet), pretty thick,  and have ditches on either side.
The hedgerows made the fighting in Normandy especially difficult.  The US troops would drive down the road and not see the Germans hiding behind the hedges.  The US tanks couldn't get to the hedges because they couldn't handle the deep ditches.  The hedges were difficult to destroy.  It was slow going and it's been said that for every meter of hedge the US had to tear down and fight through five men died.

The Norman people are so nice - pretty much the opposite of Parisians   Apparently all the French people who live outside of Paris also think Parisians are snooty.  People in Normandy still love Americans and are still so grateful for being liberated.  There are multiple plaques in every town and handwritten signs in houses and restaurants.  It's remarkable and quite touching.

The next day we went back to the American Cemetery because we only spent 30 minutes there with the tour.  The museum in the visitors center is fabulous.  Pippa fell asleep on T while we were in there.  I sort of love that you can only see her little shoes poking out.

The cemetery overlooks Omaha beach.

Technically all three of us are in this self portrait.

Part of the wall of MIA.

You can see that one name stands out here.  It's because there is sand rubbed into it.
There is a French association here and each member is responsible for one name on the wall.  Once a year the member collects sand from Omaha beach, rubs the sand into the name, puts a rose on the ground under the name, takes a photo, then sends the photo and the remainder of the sand to the family of the name on the wall.  It's a touching and lovely tribute and I love the Normans for doing it.


Girlfriend LOVES to climb stairs.  We let her do SO many stairs in Normandy and Paris (usually in museums when she would get squirmy).



Asking a stranger to take your photo is always a risk.  This one turned out ok.


 A sculptural tribute at Omaha beach.  The three areas represent Wings of Hope, Rise Freedom, and Wings of Fraternity.  We brought some sand back with us from this spot on Omaha beach.

Asleep in the car on our way from the 360 theater to Longues Sur Mer.

I stayed with baby in the car while T went out to explore.

The guns are still at Longues Sur Mer.


Looking down that massive barrel.



Eventually baby woke and we went out to meet T.  And of course Pippa wanted to play in the rocks.  She really loves rocks.  


"I'm a Republican." (gun)  (It's a quote from a crazy TV political ad.  I can't find it to link to it, but it's unintentionally hilarious and T and I quote it pretty much anytime guns are mentioned.)


Remnants of Mulberry, the temporary floating harbor the Allies built after D-Day to bring in additional troops, guns, and supplies.  Read about it sometime - it's quite impressive.


For the 101st Airborne


The morning we left from Normandy (specifically we stayed in Bayeux) to head to Paris it was ridiculously foggy.  Also, the car had this little glass that popped up in front of the driver showing speed and the next direction from the GPS.  Kinda cool.  But two speeding tickets from Bayeux to Paris was not cool.  (They were from cameras so we found out about them after we got home.)  T was driving so fast because baby had had enough driving the last four days but she fell asleep so we were trying to go as far as we could without her being awake.  You know how it is.