France Travel Update: Normandy {D-Day Beaches}

Ben gave me full freedom to set 96% of our French itinerary. Of the 27 days we were abroad, he made one single request: to visit the D-Day beaches in Normandy.

Omaha BeachMy sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law James came to visit us in France for a few days (yay!), and we decided to take the trip to Normandy together. The day was both extremely educational and extremely moving.

Normandy-GroupI had been to the D-Day beaches previously, and I remember feeling moved, but visiting them a second time with Ben, Elizabeth, and James made the day more tender. Had the four of us been alive 70 years ago when D-Day occurred, who is to say Ben or James wouldn’t have been one of the boys storming the beaches? Even Ben wondered if he would have had the courage to disembark that morning and face a beach covered by mines as German fire rained down from the bluffs above.

At the Pointe du Hoc, we wandered through leftover German bunkers and marveled at the craggy landscape, still battered by a rain of bombs and artillery. On D-Day, 225 rangers scaled this 100-foot cliff with the goal of disarming deadly German weapons. Only 90 survived.

Pointe du Hoc

Elizabeth in the crater at Pointe du HocWe also stopped by Omaha Beach, where more than 2,000 Americans lost their lives. If you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, Omaha is where the opening scene takes place. Looking over the wide expanse of sand and directly up into the enemy hills, I was overwhelmed by the task the Allied soldiers had to face.

Photo Side by Side - Omaha Beach

A photo posted at Omaha, depicting the Allied forces storming the beach on D-Day.

We visited a few other sights, then ended the day at the American Cemetery, a place of peace, remembrance, and honor to all of those who lost their lives to make the world a more just and free place.

American Cemetary in Normandy - Unknown Soldier

American Cemetary in Normandy - Tombstones

To those men and to their families, I wish to say: Thank You.

Thank You - Omaha Beach

Normandy Travel Tips:

  • Starting off: We arrived in Bayeaux by train, a charming town near the beaches. We spent the morning exploring its gorgeous cathedral and informative war museum. If you are into tapestries, the town houses one of the most famous in France (William the Conqueror), though we did not have time to see it.
  • Bayeaux eats: In addition to pastries upon arrival, we stopped into Les Douze Apotres (The 12 Apostles), which had a nice location along the main drag and offered the quick service we needed, but the crepes left something to be desired. I did, however, manage to squeeze in two Norman specialties, Camembert and cider, so I’m calling it a win.

12 Apostles Creperie for Lunch

  • D-Day tours and transport: D-Day sights are inaccessible by public transportation. Rather than renting a car, we used Normandy Panorama. It’s a tour company that provides small group visits to the American D-Day sites and is lead by two Normandy natives. Our guide Natasha was engaging, provided good information, and was able to answer any question we put her way. Warning: these ladies book up early. I snagged our tour spots back in March, and they were the last available for the week.
    • Tour Note: If you are a D-Day history buff, I’d suggest renting a car so that you can set your own itinerary.
  • Read up: Ben devoured The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan before our trip. Not only did he deem it the best book he has ever read, the information he learned (and graciously shared) enhanced our experience and allowed us to appreciate Normandy in a way we would not have otherwise.
  • Watch: The brutal opening scene on Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan is considered an accurate portrayal. Though it is so, so hard for me to watch, having that imagery helped me better understand the sacrifice and bravery of the Allies on D-Day.

For more France travel updates: Stay right here! As of last night, Ben and I are home safely, but I plan to put up a few more posts to share our later adventures. To ensure you don’t miss the Frenchie fun, sign up for my email list and Like The Law Student’s Wife on Facebook (don’t forget to double click the “Like” button and select “Get Notifications”).

 

Ready for a mental vacation? Don’t miss these other French travel posts:

About Erin Clarke

I’m fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, travel enthusiast, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN…

17 comments

  1. Beautiful post, Erin and a fitting way to end your trip. It’s impossible for me to read this without weeping. I’m 77 and though I was just a child I remember the war years very vividly. Although most people are aware from films what the war was all about I think very few realize how Americans at home contributed. Everyone’s mom went to work in the ship yards, aircraft factories or just to fill the jobs left by guys who joined the forces. Food was strictly rationed by gov’t issued coupons and many items were totally unavailable for years, like bacon and butter. Gas was rationed thus the birth of the carpool. Aside from relatives returning safely (sadly, my father was not among them) the thing I remember with much joy is Fleer’s Double Bubble gum back in the store and kids lining up around the block to buy it for a penny a piece. Thank you for sharing your very moving experience with us.

    • Thanks for sharing a bit of your experience of history, Maralyn. Erin, you must be flying back tomorrow, right? It was good that you saved the somber, solemn day for last. I did watch Saving Private Ryan and remember well the first scene more than the rest of here movie. I think your reflections may have been similar to mine when I visited the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima years ago. Very poignant! Thanks for helping us always remember one of the most important lessons from history.
      Best,
      D

      • Derek, although this wasn’t our last day, it was certainly the most moving the trip. I feel so grateful for the experience to travel places that are in important part of history. Thanks so much for your kind comment too!

    • Maralyn, thank you so much for your kind words, and for this beautiful reflection. I feel so grateful to you and to your parent’s generation for the sacrifices that they made. Also, I am so sorry to hear about your father. I am sure that he was an amazing man. Please know that he and your whole family have my deepest gratitude (and my prayers too!)

  2. Erin, your photos gave me goose bumps. The cemetery you visited looks exactly like the ones I’ve been to in other places. I don’t know how people can’t be moved by visiting places like Normandy and Omaha Beach. Seeing the actual places where the battles took place must have been amazing. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  3. By the way, you look just like your sister!

  4. Welcome home! I’ve loved all your travel posts. What a beautiful and moving place.

  5. I am the same age as Maralyn and remember those days so vividly.
    There were railroad tracks about a block and a half away from our house. Some one would yell” troop train!”, and all the kids would run to wave at the boys heading to the port of embarkation in Boston. Sadly, we also saw the trains with the returning wounded. Later, we would thumb our noses when the German and Italian POWs came by.
    What I never will forget, tho’, were the blue stars in all the windows. And the days too many of them turned to gold.

    • Yes, Kathryn I remember that well. In those days all the neighbors knew each other and had watched the recipients of those gold stars grow up. Sad days for the whole neighborhood when the gold star appeared.

    • Kathryn, thank you so much for sharing these memories. As I shared with Maralyn, I am so touched by and thankful for the sacrifice of troops and their families and friends.

  6. Wow. My great-uncle was on a landing craft just off the beaches on Normandy – he was there for D-Day. He just recently started talking about his experiences during WWII. He’s 89 years young – and still remembers nearly every detail. He says they are burned into his mind. His stories send chills up my spine.
    Your pictures show a quite, peaceful, empty beach – it’s hard to believe that this was the backdrop for such a terrible time. That so many men died there.
    My husband has always wanted visit – I can’t wait to share these images with him. (And I think he has read ‘The Longest Day’ already!) Thank you for sharing, Erin!

  7. I’m kinda in tears over here. I’ve never seen Saving Private Ryan because I would never be able to recover, but I can only imagine. And then Gretchen’s comment up there? Wow. I recently met a man who owns a famous bbq shack in Texas who opened up about being in Normandy. He was in his 90s and he cried just saying the word ‘Normandy.’ We’re so blessed, aren’t we?

  8. This is such a wonderfully moving post – Richard really wanted to go to Normandy on our trip and we will definitely have to make it next time. I was afraid it was a little far for a day trip from Paris and we only had three days there – so much to see and too little time! I am going to tell him about that book because he may want to read it!! I am bookmarking this for our next trip for sure :)

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