Highlights of American Normandy

Visiting Omaha Beach had long been on my travel bucket list. As a major history buff, especially about WWII, as soon as I booked a flight to Paris, I knew I’d have to make a road trip up to Normandy. We only ended up with about a day and a half to explore, but you could easily spend three or four days seeing all of the sights, especially if you were to throw in a trip to Mont Saint-Michel while you’re in the area.

Renting a car is by far the best way to visit the D-day historical sites on the Normandy coast. Unlike other parts of Europe that I’ve visited, there isn’t any great public transportation around there, so a car is essential unless you plan on doing one of the big bus tours that we crossed paths with. I’m not typically a huge organized tour fan because I like having the freedom to explore at my own pace and spend more or less time at a certain location depending on how much it interests me. This was my third Europe trip in the last three years, all of which have involved driving, so renting cars over there doesn’t really phase me.

American Cemetery at Omaha Beach

Our next stop was the American cemetery near Omaha Beach. We were somewhat surprised to find metal detectors and baggage screening at the entrance to the main building, but we got through quickly since it wasn’t crowded when we were there.

We didn’t spend much time in the museum area because it was our third D-Day-focused museum in the last 18 hours. We did take the time to watch a fantastic short movie in a theater on the lower level that followed the stories of a few of the people who were killed in the Normandy campaign. I’m not usually much of a softie, but I was a little choked up at the end.

American Cemetery at Omaha Beach Memorial

This part of the memorial, behind a glass wall but lit by the sky above, hit me the hardest. Nearby, the following quote by General Mark W. Clark was inscribed in the wall: “If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked…was enough…soil in which to bury our gallant dead.” Googling at a later time informed me that the full quote specifically refers to Italy, but the same sentiment applied here in Normandy.

We were lucky to have a beautiful, sunny day to walk around the cemetery. It was cold and windy, but the day we were in Normandy was one of the nicest days we had the entire trip. The views from atop the cliffs overlooking the Channel were stunning.

American cemetery at Omaha Beach
The rows of white crosses and Stars of David were laid out in perfect rows that made the cemetery seem like it stretched on forever in a mesmerizing pattern. We walked toward the back along the cliffs and then I wandered through the rows reading names of men and an occasional woman who had died on foreign soil so many years before I was even born.

There was a little restaurant in a hotel called Domaine de l’Hostreiere outside of the cemetery, so we stopped for some crepes before heading down to see the beach itself. I had a simple butter and cinnamon sugar one, and was once again left jealous of the choices my mom and siblings made.

Crepes at a restaurant in Normandy, France
French food tally to date: Kris:0, Family:2

A short drive west of the American cemetery takes you to a small town called Colleville-sur-Mer that has access to Omaha beach. I read that you used to be able to hike a trail down from the cemetery, but that it had recently been closed for safety reasons. There were a couple of smaller memorials here that also presented some facts about the landings, but the most interesting part to me was being able to walk on what was the bloodiest of the D-Day beaches. There’s some uncertainty, but this may be where my grandfather came ashore in August 1944. We obtained some of his service records just before this trip, and he’s listed as coming over on Omaha Beach that August, but with Gold Beach handling almost all of the landing traffic at that point, we’re not certain that it’s accurate.

Memorial at Omaha Beach

Pointe du Hoc

We had one more stop to make before heading back to the Paris area for the next leg of our trip, and that was Pointe du Hoc. I thought it would be a quick roadside stop, but I would budget at least an hour for it. We had to hurry because we had dinner reservations at Disneyland Paris that night, so we power walked through and did it in about 35 minutes.

Pointe du Hoc was a fortified German position that overlooked both of the American landing beaches. US army Rangers took it at an unbelievable cost by scaling the cliffs and managed to hang on to it with until reinforcements came much later. This was the only area around Normandy that we were able to tour that actually showed remnants of fortifications and battle scars. The entire area was dotted with craters that gave it a moon-like feelin. My brother and I climbed down into one of them and it was almost double my height.

Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France

You could also peek into destroyed German bunkers and fortifications that housed large guns. The weapons are no longer there, but you can see the field of fire they would’ve had.

German bunker at Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France

On top of all of that, Pointe du Hoc also offers a stunning view of the Channel contrasted with gorgeous rock formations. I don’t know if the barbed wire that could be seen from the overlook was left from the war of if it was just placed there to keep stupid people from falling off the edge or destroying the rock formations, but it made an interesting contrast to the scenery.

Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France

Looking east back toward Omaha Beach, we were even treated to a rainbow. Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit Utah Beach, as we had to hit the road to head back toward Paris.

Rainbow over Omaha Beach

Read more about our trip to France, Belgium, and Luxembourg:

pin-am-normandy

15 thoughts on “Highlights of American Normandy

  1. Pingback: Disneyland Paris – Disneyland Park – Nomad By Trade

  2. I have been to Normandy last year and will be going again in 2 weeks. I didn’t visit Omaha beach but other places and I do remember the exhibitions outside the church showing scenes from right after the war. I have seen those bunkers however on the other side of the English channel and it did feel so strange… nothing but an empty beach and the bunkers…

    Like

    1. That’s cool. Were you more toward Utah beach? I remember looking up a cool church exhibit in Sainte Mere Eglise (I think) that I really wanted to visit, but we ran out of time that day. You should definitely check out the Omaha Beach area if you have time while you’re there.

      Like

  3. I went there a few years ago, it is quite special to walk around when knowing what went on. It seems so idyllic now. We did a guided tour at the America Cemetery as well, it was very interesting to know the stories of some of the men buried there. My fathers uncle was there at D-day as well, but as you, I am not sure about the details where he was.

    Like

  4. I do what I want to

    Lovely written with respect. I don’t like thinking of those horrible times of war, it always makes me question whether we’ve evolved or not, it makes me question if we really are the most sophisticated species in the planet. Then I meet travelers and I know we are beyond everything good people and there are a few bad apples.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. fromdreamtoplan

    I’ve been there a few years ago and I have a great memory about the trip as well, such an amazing place! And I love your pics, they remind me of the wonderful days spent there 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Serena

    Such an interesting piece, I never knew Normandy had that much historical features left to see. I also love that you included that background in your story, really helps it transcend the typical travel piece format 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: The Best Time to Visit the Eiffel Tower – Nomad By Trade

  8. Pingback: Paris – An Evening on the Seine – Nomad By Trade

  9. Pingback: An Evening on the Seine – Nomad By Trade

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s