My weekend at Omaha Beach in Normandy
(Note: This isn't a real guidebook-style article like my other pages on Cool Stuff in Paris; it's just an entry from my personal blog, with photos and stories from a trip I took with my girlfriend and her family a couple years ago. I leave it here in the hopes that it might inspire your own trip to Omaha Beach and the rest of Normandy. )
On Halloween weekend 2009, my girlfriend (Marjorie)'s dad happened to be visiting Paris from La Réunion, so he and Marjorie and her two sisters and I rented a car and drove up to Normandy to see a bunch of historic sites from the D-Day invasion. We saw Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery there, slept in a hotel where President Eisenhower himself stayed after WW2, played in some real Nazi bunkers, saw a couple D-Day museums, and enjoyed a tremendous amount of good Normandy food (and drink!): seafood, crepes, cheese, wine, calvados, et cetera. Here are some pictures from the weekend...
A nice Spanish fellow offered to take our picture. That's me, Pascal, Marjorie, Jenny, and Deb.
Inside the museum at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.
The American Cemetery.
Pascal on the beach.
Me and M.
These were weird little cars that're pulled by sails! I'd never seen that before! There was a race that day.
Inside a German bunker overlooking Omaha Beach.
You can see where a shell chopped a big piece out of the wall.
Marjorie on the other side of the bunker.
In our hotel room Saturday evening. My Halloween costume was an orange shirt. (The French don't really do Halloween, so of course no one but me actually knew it was Halloween, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from at least representin' with some orange.)
The view from our room the next morning. That monument marks the spot where a huge cannon was situated during both World Wars.
Our hotel, Le Casino, had this stuff hanging in the lobby, with a letter from President Eisenhower on the left, photos of Eisenhower in the middle, and a signed photo of General Omar Bradley on the right. Eisenhower definitely stayed at this place, and I'm not sure about Bradley but I would assume he did too.
Sunday morning we visited another D-Day museum near Omaha Beach; there are apparently a lot of these semi-tourist-trap-esque D-Day museums! And that's totally fine by me; I really enjoyed these places. Check out those horse gas masks on the lower right.
Haha, this photo goes with the next one...
No one could blame you, German policeman. (They left off the "out.")
For gas alarm and New Year's Eve only.
WW2-era computer. Judging by the interface design, I'd say it's a PC.
Isn't that Hellboy's gun??
I never, ever get tired at looking at old packaging and old graphic design.
You can just barely see here that somebody crossed out Stalin. I'd love to know who and when. (Take your pick as to why.)
I adore these French postcards. Wow, imagine how Americans in 1944 would react to a postcard depicting a white woman addressing a black man (in the formal tense no less) and begging for a kiss.
One of my absolute favorite things in the French language is the name for brass knuckles: le poing américain; the American fist, or alternately le coup de poing américain; the American punch. The variation here, coup de point is either a typo or a less common version that I can't find any reference to anywhere.
Here's Jenny with a real landing boat from the D-Day invasion.
Our last stop before returning to Paris was this church, Sainte-Mère-Église, which is famous for the story of an American paratrooper who got stuck there during the invasion. He played dead and watched the combat going on below, eventually got captured by the Germans, and later escaped. There's a mannequin up there now to commemorate his story, which of course is meant to honor him, but in a silly way it feels kind of like they're making fun of him.
A whole big piece of the trip that I didn't manage to photograph much was our visit to the Pointe du Hoc. It was pouring rain so I didn't take my camera out for more than a moment, but this place was a real highlight of the trip. The Pointe du Hoc was a German base on a high cliff just West of Omaha Beach, and the Germans thought it was impenetrable because of its location. A group of American Rangers managed to approach it from below by firing rope ladders up onto the cliffs and climbing up as the Germans shot at them, cut the ropes, etc. The place today is a beautiful green field with steep cliffs looking down over the sea, and the landscape is full of old broken German bunkers and huge holes left by the bombs that were dropped by Allied planes. It was pretty breathtaking and I wish I had more pictures, but there are plenty to be found on Google.
Kaboom! That's me, Marjorie, and Jenny in a huge hole left by an Allied bomb in 1944 (and there's another one behind us there). We're all wearing crappy windbreakers to protect us from the crazy violent wind and rain up there. I'd brought my good umbrella but the second I opened the thing it immediately turned inside out and broke! At least in the bomb hole there was a little less wind. Immediately after this was taken, Marjorie and I climbed out of the hole as fast as we could, stranding Jenny; the sides were a lot steeper than they look here, not to mention slippery with mud. I think she's still there.
That's all for my trip to the D-Day beaches! It's amazing how you can read about history, watch films, etc, and think you have an okay understanding of it, but as soon as you're really standing in the place where these things happened, it becomes so much more real and intense and moving. I'm really glad I got to spend a weekend up there and understand a little more about what the people on both sides went through back then.