Saturday, November 3, 2012

The D-Day Beaches of Normandy

The start of my drive to Normandy from Rouen was of interest. After sampling various croissants along my 20 minute walk, I finally got to the Esso gas station/Hertz rental car agency, no thanks to my GPS system in a precursor to the rest of my day.

I was quickly told that my reservation was not one of the only three that our agent had at the moment. Taking my reservation number, he called headquarters to try to clear up the matter but would put down the phone every time a cash paying customer came in to buy a tank of gasoline or Coke Zero.

Finally, he asked for my first name and responded, "Ah, GEORGE Contreras!" Sure enough, my reservation information was one of the three he had already looked at 15 minutes ago. He then, with a smile, informed that my rental car's battery was dead so the car was inoperable. Since he only had three cars in the lot for the three previously mentioned reservations, we had a problem. His solution was simple and effective. He just upgraded me for free to a bigger car in the lot. My problem just became the problem of whichever of the two remaining Hertz reservation makers showed up last. C'est la vie, on to Arromanches, ground zero for the D-Day landings in 1944.

Garmin, what can I say about my five year old Garmin GPS system? GARBAGE!!! She was a total disaster the whole trip not recognizing roads and steering me in the wrong direction constantly. At the end of my longest day, I simply asked her how to get to my base city of Bayeux. ONLY ONE CITY IN ALL OF FRANCE STARTS WITH A "B" ACCORDING TO GARMIN AND IT IS NOT BAYEUX OR BRON FOR THAT MATTER! Since my French phone's GPS only works when I have Wifi, I had trouble brewing. I followed the road signs to Bayuex's historic center but had no clue where my hotel was located other than its address. I followed the signs to the Tourist Center hoping that it was still open and that they could help me. I found a free public parking lot, parked, got out to cross the street towards the Tourist Center and voilà, my hotel magically appeared 10 meters from the parking lot. I caught a break at last.

I read where D-Day boiled down to the German's inability to make a decision vs. the Allies total confusion. Today, driving, I was one of the Allies.

The first D-Day stop was the city of Arromanches where the Allies built an all important harbor called Port Winston that was used to disembark men and equipment to use against the Nazis once the beaches were secured. The raw weather was a perfect backdrop for my mind's eye of the mood on that fateful day, June 6, 1944. Up on the bluffs overlooking the town you can still see remnants of the 115 cement blocks called Mulberries that were each the size of a football field that were used to make the much needed harbor. Impressive to say the least.

Next up was a short drive to the West to see the last four remaining German gun installations on the Normandy coast. They were a few hundred yards from the beach and needed an observation bunker on the sea cliff to help them aim their artillery. I got caught in this bunker for about five minutes during a fierce downpour that included some hail.

My final stop for the day was Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery located above the highly exposed area where so many lost their lives. It is a very moving place to say the least. As I watched them lower the flag for the day, somewhere in the distance a bugler played Taps . . . A VERY, VERY EMOTIONAL MOMENT!

Normandy is famous for its crepes, so I had to try the St. Jacques (scallops) for lunch and a Camembert cheese and apple one for dinner. Both were outstanding as was the honey crepe for dessert after dinner.

And so good for me too!!!

In the evening, I visited Bayeux's Cathedral. It is very well lit at night which added to its overall beauty. There were only about 20 people inside and the piped in Gregorian chant music really added to the religious feeling if it all.

On deck for Saturday are the Bayeux Tapestry Museum, the Utah Beach Landing Museum and a visit to Ste. Mère Eglise which was the first village liberated by the Allies.

The History Channel is alive and well in Normandy!!!

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