Farewell to Normandie

December 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm Leave a comment

Day 16 of the 2011 European Adventure was our last day to see D-Day sites. A couple of friends had each told us that Arrommanches had a fantastic museum, but when I was researching, I found that Arrommanches had several museums. So I picked one, and while it didn’t have light-up maps on the floor (I have been wanting to go to another museum with light-up maps on the floor ever since I went to Gettysburg when I was 9), I’m glad that we ended up at the Mulberry Harbor museum.

Here’s another aspect of D-Day that I didn’t know before visiting Normandy: the Brits brought a homemade harbor to France, and that’s why the troops were able to continue advancing after the initial attacks. Churchill had the foresight to realize that they would need a major harbor to transport vehicles, equipment, supplies, more troops, etc. after the invasion. Unfortunately, the Nazis also knew this, so they guarded the northern harbor cities most fiercely. So the Brits built one. They had an incredible manufacturing industry throughout the country, and factories all over were converted into harbor-making machines. For the most part, the workers had no idea what they were making, since the top-secret venture was carried out in pieces. The pieces were then assembled into larger pieces, and when it was time invade, the larger pieces were towed toward Arrommanches. Storms destroyed much of the harbor just a few weeks after it was constructed, but replacement parts were brought in quickly. It really was an amazing feat of engineering, and one of the keys to the Allied success. And the museum on the process is really well done. After we went through the museum and watched a couple of films, we went down to the beach to see the ruins up close.

Mulberry Harbor 1

Mulberry Harbor 2

One of the classic tourist sites for Americans visiting Normandy is the American Cemetery. The Americans, the British, and the Canadians were all given pieces of land to bury the soldiers that were killed in the D-Day invasion and in the months after. As can be expected, the American Cemetery is the largest and most built up, with a huge parking area for both cars and tour buses, a large visitor centre, and several elaborate memorials.

Path in the American Cemetery
Walking past the visitor centre and towards the graves, I almost forgot that I was in a cemetery—this path has the serenity of a seaside park.

American Memorial
Of course, I remembered soon enough. The sculpture inside the main memorial where the graves start was stunning in the bright sunlight.

Reflecting Pool
The memorial also features a reflecting pool with lily pads, even more gorgeous on a day with a rich blue sky.

Of course I had seen the statistics for the number of lives lost, but you don’t fully understand until you are standing among the rows and rows of white crosses, keeping in mind that there are more plots with more crosses (and Stars of David).

More crosses

I am posting about this day all out of order—we actually did the American Cemetery before Bayeux, and then the Mulberry Harbor museum, but this order made more sense to me, topically.

Our last stop of the day was on a whim. We were heading back to Ouistreham for dinner, but knew that we were still a little bit early. I had put Ouistreham into the GPS, and instead of driving along the stop-and-go coastal highway, Lee (my GPS) took us inland for a bit, and we passed through the town of Bény-sur-Mer. I knew I’d written than name down in my notes, but I didn’t remember why, until I spied a red-and-white maple leaf flag waving on the side of the road. The Canadian Cemetery. So we stopped, of course.

It was smaller and simpler than the American Cemetery, with no tour bus parking. We didn’t even notice the gravel parking lot at first and left our car on the side of the road, but it didn’t matter. Only one other couple was walking through the grounds, and they appeared to be looking for a specific grave. The monuments were pretty, and Mom noticed that everything was written in both English and French, which made me wonder if, like the Juno Beach Centre we’d seen the day before, it took a while to get the funds together to build the memorials. Canada did not recognize its dual official languages until 1969. But that’s a story for another day.

Canadian Cemetery Graves
The graves were traditional headstone-shaped, with either a cross or a Star of David on each one, along with a name, dates, and sometimes an epitaph, too. I liked the flowers between the headstones.

Large Cross
This large cross is a memorial in the centre of the cemetery.

And of course the fleur-de-lis was ever-present, too.

Once in Ouistreham, we walked up and down the pedestrian-only Avenue de la Mer to choose a restaurant—we knew that we were going to stay far away from the mini-golf place this time! The one that we picked served 17 different kinds of mussels, so we each got a cauldron-full of them. Mine were baked with apples and camembert…for me, this is pretty much food heaven. The only thing that could have made it better was gelato, and that was our next stop. Pretty great way to spend our last night in Normandie!


Entry filed under: D-Day, Europe, France, Normandy, Photos. Tags: , , , , , , .

La Tapisserie de Bayeux Cow Crossing and a Medieval Abbey

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A serial road tripper chronicles her adventures.


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