Got up really early and hiked over to Gare St. Lazarre. This is the only train station with trains to Normandie and we are getting to Normandie, by hook or by crook. On the metro it takes only a few minutes and it isn't on strike (it was the day before we got to Paris). We get our seats, eat our little breakfast and then the train leaves, right on time. Weather still sucks, cold and rainy. The train ride was very fast. It took about 2 and a half hours with 4 stops. To drive with no stops would have taken 3 and a half. Definitely cool.
As soon as we get off the train we book a 1pm tour of Normandy D-day sights. Then we walk towards the center of town and find our hotel. It is about 10am so our room is not quite ready. We dropped off our stuff and head for the post office. We are mailing yet another package home to ourselves. Now we are getting 3 packages total from three different countries. Jo and I are taking bets to see which will arrive when. We had done something very similar on our honeymoon and we got random stuff at totally random times then. We expect more of the same since we ship everything extra slow, extra cheap.
While we are being helped by quite possibly the friendliest postal worker since Norway, Jo gets the courage together to ask if there is a McDonalds in town. Let me give you a little background. You see, we were in NY for 3 whole days to start our trip and we sneered at MickieDs, they are on every third corner in Manhattan. Our face muscles were getting tired. As soon as Jo is out of the US she starts craving insatiably for an Egg McMuffin. Fortunately for us not a single restaurant in all of Scandinavia serves the Egg McMuffin on their menu. In fact they are open for breakfast but just serve burgers, ehww. Somehow this only strengthens Jo's resolve and increases her craving. Since that first day in Oslo we have been on a mission to, nay a quest for the ultimate in breakfast sandwiches. Divined by the hormonal imbalance my wife is suffering as part of her pregnancy. We stop in every single stupid golden arch restaurant in every major city in every country we have been to until now. That's 9 cities in 5 countries for those playing at home, Fitjar is the only city we haven't been in one, that is because it doesn't have one. Compounding this is my own deep personal disgust for Ronald and his gang of corporate thieves. Why you may ask because they epitomize american corporate sellout and their idea of vegetarian options is french fries. Does that matter to Jo's hormones? Hell no! So now we have spent in excess of about 30USD in less then 3 weeks. I probably haven't spent more then the price of a phone call inside a McDonalds in the last 10 years.
Do you think it can get any worse? Of course. Europe is different then the US, thank goodness. Which means that there are plenty of changes in good old MickieDs. They have different menu items, strange hours that change from store to store and they seem to hire the most employees with the least chance of speaking any english. Strange. That doesn't keep every single store from being absolutely mobbed with people. Probably all of them are addicted to nicatine they inject into the beef like patties they call burgers.
I thought Jo was going to give up. As we head south the countries are going to be less US aware and will probably have even worse or hopefully fewer restaurants. Then we get to Paris and Jo, looking like a junkie on 2nd day of withdrawals, goes into another store, low and behold they have the Egg McMuffin, but they don't serve it after 11am. It happened to be about 3:30pm. This was the tiny shred of hope Jo needed to keep going. Now back to Bayeaux, the present. It is 10:30am and the postal clerk says there is a store in the north of town. That is all Jo needs to hear. She compells me to find that last golden arch, if I really loved her. She can't get there without me, because I usually know where I am going. I could kibitz and make it impossible, I mean come on, half an hour and I am home free. But I am duty bound, I said I do 3 years ago so in my love for her I have to find this stupid McDonalds or else. Besides much like all of Jo's other cravings it will probably disappear once she has whatever it is. And in 45 minutes I can put this one to bed. So we walk north. And we walk, and we walk. The restaurant is not in the north of town, it is out of town. Time is ticking and I am getting real paranoid that I am not going to get her there on time and we are going to have to go through this again.
As we make our last turn and come across a beautiful green park, we see it. Those distinctive arches. That disgusting brown shingled building. The all too dirty multicolored playland bolted on to the side. We have 5 minutes to spare. Big sigh of relief. We both order EMs. I do because I have to find out what the hype is about. We pull into a brown plastic uncomfortable booth. We simultaneoulsy open our paper wrappers on our muffins and throw out the sausage patty. It was barely edible for me. Joanna practically passed out with pleasure. Done, viola. May I never have to go to another McDonalds again.
After our little american snack we wander over to the SUPER market. So super it is open 24-7. Yes! The french being the forward french thinkers they are actually keep something open so that the citizens can shop at 3am. Freakin' magic. Viva la France! Something unmatched by any european country we have been to yet. We pick up some clothes so that we won't have to do laundry. Then we walk back to town after a minor rain storm delays us in the market. The weather is a total pain now. It never rains very long, but it is always enough to keep us from doing what we want in a timely manner. Like seeing the tapestry . Just don't have time.
Did I mention the tapestry? We picked Bayeaux for its proximity to the D-day beaches but it also happens to be the former seat of William the Conqueror. It houses the tapestry which commemorates the battle of Hastings. It was done shortly after the battle and is housed about 200 feet from our hotel. We won't see it. That blows. Guess we will have to come back.
We hike back to the train station to catch our tour. We get there about 5 minutes early and end up waiting half an hour for it to start. I thought that maybe another guest was late. Nope, all of the (mostly American) tourists were johnny on the spot like us. Turns out the guy standing next (the whole time) is the guide. He is lounging, eating a sandwich and drinking a beer the entire time. Come on! Grab the sandwich, chug the beer and let's make some time folks! Needless to say I do not start the tour in a good mood.
So far there have been many reminders of the war. All sorts of signs saying "We welcome our Liberators" on shops all over town. There are all sorts of people in authentic fatigues and the most surprising thing are literally hundreds of real WWII vehicles. All sorts of Jeeps, trucks, half-tracks. You can rent them if you want.
The anniversary of the invasion started yesterday. So there are many veterans, from Canada, Britian and the US. Amazing to see how many still come back.
Let me just get this out of the way so I can get on with what we saw. The tour totally sucked. We got split into two vans. Our van had the driver who spoke no english. The other guy hardly ever spoke at all. It was like a taxi ride. We were very put out. This is an RS recommended tour, sucked.
Our first stop was the museum at Arromanches. It is dedicated to the military harbor the british built in 3 days that served as the only entry point for all of the Allies' equipment. The US had built one at Omaha but it was destroyed by a storm. This bottleneck proved to delay things quite a bit at the time. But because this harbor survived it was absolutely essential to the victory. It is a true monument to battle engineering. Some of it still exists and the museum has an excellent display on what it looked like and how it operated.
From there we went off to the American Cemetary. It is quiet. A lot like Arlington. Very respectful. About 9400 soldiers lay there. Some 14,000 more were sent back to the US. It is amazing all of the Madore brothers survived. We did not have near enough time there. We missed the chapel and the garden of the missing. A sobering experience. A lot of lives, gone. Every life died for something though. I am certain after seeing Anne Frank's house.
Our next stop is Point duLuc. It was the sight of a small but important battle. It was the german fortress with big guns that fired on the Allies at all the beaches. A team of about 230 US Rangers ascended the cliff face with grapling hooks and knocked out the fortress. The Rangers took very heavy losses, over half the men were killed. But without that victory Omaha and Utah beaches would have had to suffer against constant attack by 5 155mm guns. The site is an untouched monument. They have preserved all of the cratering from the attack and done nothing to restore the fortress. You can walk all over the monument, in and out of craters, through burned out rooms. It is no playland. You can tell people suffered here.
Our last stop is Omaha Beach. No different then any other beach now. There is a memorial and plenty of people walking around. It is vast and impressive. A good 2 mile stretch where Americans were crossing every inch of it. Something the movies have trouble conveying. A lot of people moved through there.
The group we travelled with was all American or Canadian. They were an interesting buch, some were really friendly. Like the 3 Texans. Two were cousins travelling together from Dallas. The third was from Austin travelling alone. All were staying as long as they could in Europe. Austin was planning on staying at least 6 months. He was doing stuff like washing dishes to save on room and board. We all tagged together to see if we could get in on the dinner they serve. The meal turned out to be for meat eaters only. So we passed and said our goodbyes. Since Normandie is the beef and dairy capital of France we are hard pressed to find anything without these two items in it. So we settle on pizza. It turns out to be pretty good.
The day was more emotional then I wanted it to be. I never met my Grandfather George, he is only a very rarely mentioned footnote from my Mom or my Granma. I happen to look a lot like him, same eyes, round face, similar smile. I would have loved to have known him and I have felt closer too him when around all of his brothers and sisters in Maine. I hoped for some of that connection when going to Omaha Beach. He came through Omaha Beach as a french translator for the army. Him and his two other brothers were involved in the invasion because of their language skills. At the beach the connection wasn't there. I was dissappointed and jealous of the other families who were with their grandfathers coming back to that place. It isn't their fault. But it hurts none-the-less. I try to look to the positives, like all three brothers survived. And the war did not leave heavy scarring any of my more immediate family, like Granpa Oscar and Hogie. None of the men in my family who served in that war were defined by it. They all came back to lead lives of peace and happiness mostly. I may not have had George but Hogie was always there and a true blessing. That is our legacy, not of war but of peace. It still hurts, but not as much, nor too much.
The trip to Normandie was definitely something every American should do if they are in Europe. It is a very strong link back to where most of us came from. It is also in a place not so different then the US. Which should scare all of us. It was horrible and the memory is more powerful then our more recent wars because of the the obviously closer cultural ties.
After seeing it all I pray my cousin Jens, who is going into the Army in a couple of months doesn't have to go through this or anything like it.