Wednesday, September 17, 2008
France - Day trip to Normandy/Omaha Beach
After hitting the snooze button on the alarm twice, we rolled out of bed at about 830am, another early morning in Paris. We quick dressed and walked down to the kitchen to scam some free breakfast of cereal, fruit cocktail, toast, hot chocolate and coffee. Back up to the room, this time on the 4th floor, to pack our bags and store them for the day. We had no trouble finding a cab this morning, unlike last night, to take us to St Lazarus train station for the train to Bayeux, France. We got ourselves situated in some very comfy first class seats, these first class eurail passes might just pay for themselves. The train ride was a bit rough and Heather napped for a bit. The ride was a lot like going back in time, many of the farm places and villages look like very little has ever changed. We passed through Caen, which was almost completely destroyed in ww2, and was now a modern looking city.
Upon arrival to Bayeux, we crossed the parking lot to the bus pickup spot. There was nobody in the ticket office over noon hour, we couldnt make heads or tails of the schedule as it was in French and in no logical order we could stumble our way through. We should have taken this as a sign, but to our luck a bus came up and stopped and we asked the driver what time the bus 70 left for Omaha beach. Finding we had a bit over an hour wait, we walked into town to find lunch. Bayeux is home to a HUGE cathedral, and also the worlds largest tapestry, some 70 meters long....thats a bit over 200 feet long for those not on the metric system. It was done to show William the conquorer taking over the region back in about 1067, so its also quite old. We chose not to see it as it cost about 7 euros, and decided on lunch instead. We found a little cafe just inside the village and ordered an order of fries and kind of a pizza sandwich with tomatoes, ham, and cheese. On the walk back to the station we found some cheap ice cream cones we enjoyed on the walk back. There's something about the ice cream here in its soft creamy goodness, nothing like the usually hard ice cream in the states. Walking the streets of the town they hang flags of all the allied forces that liberated the area from the Germans in ww2. Kind of cool to see they are still thankful for it, and also I'd imagine they are up because this seems to be a huge tourist town as its close to all things Normandy related. We finally caught our bus to the Cemetary, which turned out to be about a 25 minute ride on a very crazy bus that would make about anyone sick from all the roundabouts and fast turns. (Yes including Heather)
We arrived at the cemetery with about 2 hours to spend. The first thing we noticed was this place is immaculate. Absolutly spotless. The grass is bright green and maintained better than any golf course. All the trees and shrubs were neatly trimmed. There were gardens of beautiful flowers and plants. The headstones were shining white and spotless marble. Very impressive for being over 50 years old and being exposed to the rainy/foggy weather the area can get. Our day here was perfect weather, sun shining, few clouds, and a nice, but a bit cool breeze coming off the ocean. We made our way around the edge of the cemetery a bit where there was a huge plaque depicting the various beaches that were invaded and where the troops of each country had landed. This was at the top of the hill overlooking the beach itself, and they have a walking path down to the beach. They say plan on 10 minutes walk down, and 20 back, so we decided to do this first. The trail kind of zig zags down the hill onto the beach through the brush, which was a lot thicker than imagined. The beach itself is beautiful. The calming sounds of the waves coming ashore, the fine grains of sand that run on for miles in each direction. A bit to the northwest you could see point du hoc, but for some reason today there were no tours of that site. Looking up the hill towards the memorial site it was hard to imagine what took place here in june of 1944. It really puts things into perspective just how brave the soldiers were who took this beach and the others near it. The walk back up took about 20 minutes as said, with one break on a bench to rest our weary feet.
The next area was the cemetery itself. Like much of what we've seen on our trip, its hard to put this into words. Its the final resting place of over 9000 US soldiers that gave their lives for freedom in ww2. Walking through you feel emotions like awe, thankfulness, patriotic and proud. Like we said, the place is immaculate. Any way you look at the headstones, in any direction, they are in perfect rows. We checked out the various statues around the grounds, and also the chapel on site. We walked back towards the visitor center and passed through the memorial and the garden of the missing, which shows all the names of the missing in action in the region. Inside the visitor center you had to pass though a metal detector, which we thought was silly because it looked like just a few plaques, but soon saw a stairwell going downstairs. It was full of various soldiers uniforms, weapons, things they carried with them, and tools they used. They had 2 areas where films were being shown with stories being told by those who fought in the battle, along with story boards of what happend leading up to the invasion and also the aftermath.
With about 15 minutes before the bus was scheduled to come, we headed back outside to catch it. About 20 minutes after the bus was supposed to be there we got a bit worried, so we went back to the visitor center to find out how we can get back to Bayeux since it looked like the bus didn't come since we were 2 of 4 people that got off at this stop. We figured they thought it wasn't worth their time for just 4 people and just flat out didn't come. We never saw the other 2 people that got off with us so they must have found other means back to where they were going.
Luckily for us the man working the information desk was an American who offered us a ride when he was off at 6pm. He was very nice and very knowledable about the history of the region, neither of us got more than a few words in the whole ride back, we're guessing he was happy to have 2 people interested in the history of the region to speak to. Turns out he lived in Minneapolis for about 3 years in the uptown area, again small world. After a nice ride back to the station and meeting yet another great person, we sat and waited an hour for the next train to Paris.
We arrived back to Paris to the hostel to find we are now in room 145. We thought great, we dont have to walk up 5 flights of stairs!! Wrong!!! apparently that room is on the 4th floor, room 5, the one is meaningless somehow. So back up the stairs we go to get some much needed sleep.