When in Paris over Easter weekend I could have easily spent the four full days in Paris (and then some), but I was lucky enough to have my fiancé Tony along on this Parisian adventure and he insisted on a day trip. We thought about Versailles, but the gardens wouldn’t be open yet and about Mount St. Michele, but in the end we settled on a Normandy day trip, which is a 2.5 hour train ride west of Paris.
We took the SNCF trains and in exchange for 70 EUR got a ride to Bayeux station in Normandy and back to the Paris St. Lazare station at the end of the day. To search for your transportation options, I recommend using http://www.goeuro.com/. We hired Normandy Sightseeing Tours to be our guides for our half-day tour and it was a great decision.
Our guide Jonathan picked us up from the Bayeux train station just after our train’s arrival and off we went to Pointe Du Hoc. Along the way we were given a brief history of WWII leading up to D Day (as well as some history of WWI) and prepared for the locations we would visit during our tour.
Normandy’s Pointe Du Hoc
Our first stop was Pointe Du Hoc, where 225 army rangers landed on the morning of June 6th, 1944. Jonathan started by explaining the dire significance of their late and off course landing point. He showed us the German bunkers, armory, lookout points, and remains of guns that were capable of shooting targets up to 16 miles away.
We were given time to wander the area to further explore the undulating grounds made so by hundreds of mines and bombs.
Normandy’s Omaha Beach
From Pointe Du Hoc we headed over to Omaha Beach, which is also nicknamed bloody beach. This is the spot where tens of thousands of American soldiers landed on June 6th, 1944. Of the two divisions who arrived, there were 3,500 casualties on June 6th alone. The American arrival vessels were poorly designed and provided no protection to soldiers onboard. They were plywood boats with large bulletproof fronts, but to get out of the boat, the whole front had to be lowered, leaving each boat’s 35 passengers completely exposed to enemy fire. On top of this, many boats simply sank due to the extremely rough water conditions.
To me, the beach felt tranquil. To Tony, it felt eerie. Either way, we both felt weird about how beautiful and calm the setting seemed. It was hard to imagine the water running red for days after the attack, but we were told that was the case. To this day, after heavy rains, bullets, shells, shrapnel, and even the occasional mine wash up on this beach.
During our free time Tony and I talked about how this must be a popular place in summer, but how weird we would feel to be playing on a beach where so much blood was shed. We asked Jonathan about this and his answer was perfect:
“Those men fought for us so that we could be free and what better way to use that freedom than to enjoy the beautiful beach.”
Well said, Jonathan, well said.
The American Cemetery & Memorial in Normandy
We closed the tour with a stop at the American Cemetery & Memorial in Normandy where 9,380 American soldiers are buried and an additional 1,557 soldiers who were missing in action are honored. It’s a beautiful resting place right above Omaha beach.
Jonathan explained the significance of the pins next to names on the monument honoring those MIA, explained the layout of the cemetery, and showed us the resting places of some of the war’s most famous generals.
As we wrapped up the day we had out choice of being dropped off downtown or the train station and since we had an hour to spare, we spent some time wandering the streets of Bayeux’s quaint downtown.
The day was somewhat of a harrowing experience, but a great reminder of how lucky we are to be free. As we were leaving the cemetery Tony asked, “Do you think people will still come and do this 100 years from now?” I hope so. Freedom hasn’t always been a given and it’s experiences like this that help us remember just how precious our freedom is.
P.S. Normandy Sightseeing Tours was fantastic. If you’re interested in learning about specific events or want to know about loved ones who fought on D Day, they’ll do research in advance to provide you with a customized experience. Jonathan was a wealth of knowledge and I’ve heard their other guides are equally great. This is the tour we did. If you want to book directly, you can so do here.