Sunday, May 8, 2016

Normandy


Wednesday-Sunday May 4-8, 2016


Wednesday May 4
Joe had off work Wednesday May 4 and Thursday May 5 for National Remembrance Day and the Ascension. It was the perfect time to take a long weekend vacation. It had to be somewhere we could drive to since Jackie is 33 weeks and could no longer fly on most airlines. But this also meant we could bring Chance along for the trip. We had been wanting to visit the D-Day sites in Normandy, France with sidetrips to Mont St-Michel and Etretat. 
We left this morning around 9am on the road to Normandy, France, a 6 hour drive from Eindhoven. As soon as we hit the Belgium border, we encountered the Antwerp traffic well past a normal morning rush hour time. We really hate driving in Belgium. Brooklyn usually takes a nap at 1:30/2 in the afternoon. Around 11am Brooklyn must have been just too bored in the car. She fell asleep. So much for taking a break for an early picnic lunch for her to run around before her nap. Shortly after we got into France, we hit the toll booths. Lots of toll booths. Our hyper active dog couldn't handle the window going down so often. Brooklyn only took about an hour long nap before the toll stops were too much for her to stay peacefully asleep. We stopped for gas and ate our picnic lunch at a little playground before continuing on our way. Brooklyn definitely hates riding in the car which makes for a long whiny car ride. We arrived at our rented Airbnb apartment called La Petite Ferme (Gite Normandy), a cottage on a farm near La Bazoque southwest of Bayeux around 4pm. It was a 2 bedroom with a travel baby bed and pet friendly. This was going to be Chance's first trip away with the family. There was a large fenced in grass area so she was happy to be along for the trip so far. Our biggest complaint here would be the very slow internet connection that was only available from the corner of the kitchen. 
After we got settled into the place, we drove out to find somewhere nearby for dinner. We parked in the center of Bayeux to head to dinner. We walked down Rue Saint-Jean and around a few streets of Bayeux.

Most places did not open until 7pm, an hour from now. Knowing that Brooklyn had been awake since noon, we couldn't push her that hard with a late dinner.
La Cathedrale de Bayeux (Bayeux Cathedral) 




We picked up a few items to eat from a charcutterie place on Rue Saint-Jean in Bayeux and head home to eat and put our little girl to bed.
There was no internet in the living room nor cable TV. We were stuck with watching the random DVD collection at the apartment. 

Thursday May 5
Today's agenda was to visit multiple sights along the D-Day Beaches. We started by heading to Arromanches, ground zero for D-Day invasion before we would make our way toward Omaha Beach. In route, Brooklyn puked up her breakfast. We were halfway there. We changed her into the spare clothes we keep in the car and decided to continue on our day.
Arromanches was where Port Winston Artificial Harbour was erected. It was a British creation, a Winston Churchill brainchild. Here they sank 17 old ships bow to stern forming a sea barrier, then 500 tugboats towed 115 Phoenix cement blocks to sink, and then 7 floating steel pier heads linked to shore a 4 miles long floating roads of concrete pontoons. You could still see some of the remains of Port Winston along the shoreline 
We went inside the Musee du Debarquement (D-Day Landing Museum) to appreciate how the artificial harbor was created. On a hill beyond the museum was a Sherman tank, section of pontoon road, anti-aircraft gun & a Higgins boat. 
We watched the English movie but we didn't want to wait around due to the crowds who had now filed into the museum. 
With Brooklyn's current state and much more to see, we skipped the film Normandy's 100 Days at the Arromanches 360 Theater.
Next up were a few Omaha Beach D-Day sites. First stop: Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery. There were 4 German casements (with 3 guns intact). These guns could hit targets 12 miles away. It is situated between Omaha and Gold Beach. 




Observation bunker at Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery 

Observation Point from Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery 

The view back to Port Winston remains in Arromanches from Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery 
Next we stopped for a quick lunch at one of the few places we found open with clear American and British appreciation. Joe had some great scallops and Jackie enjoyed some sweet crepes while Brooklyn munched on fries and juice. 
Our next stop was the WWII Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. 
We walked through the thought-provoking visitors center for a bit. There were plaques presenting the progress of the Normandy invasion in 3 hour increments, with Omaha secured within 6 hours of landing. 
We followed the path that leads to a bluff overlooking Normandy Beach.
There we met for a guided English tour of the cemetery. There are nearly 10,000 (9,387) white marble headstone crosses & Stars of David honoring Americans who gave their lives on the Normandy beaches. About 25,000 total Americans died at the Battle of Normandy. 60% of the families elected to have their sons bodies sent back home to the US instead of having them buried overseas in Europe. 
WWII Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial 

WWII Normandy American Cemetery 










WWII Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

In the semicircular Garden of the Missing there are 1,557 soldiers names still not found, but some with a metal button indicating they have been located. 
Buried here in the cemetery are 2 of the Niland brothers, who were the basis of the story behind the film Saving Private Ryan.
Spent the Netherlands National Remembrance Day (Liberation Day) in Normandy, France paying our respects at the American Cemetery & Memorial by Omaha Beach 
WWII Normandy American Cemetery headstone flowers 



WWII Normandy American Cemetery headstone flags
Jackie finally got Brooklyn to sleep in the stroller around 3pm while Joe took many photos of the Normandy American Cemetery 
WWII Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial 


Joe and Jackie 33 weeks pregnant with baby boy at the WWII Normandy American Cemetery 
WWII Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial with Omaha Beach & English Channel beyond 



It was hard to imagine the scene of this site on June 6, 1944. German machine guns were firing 1,200 rounds a minute. The beach was littered with "Czech hedgehogs" (rusted metal objects with several legs to prevent boat landings on the beach). Many soldiers died by drowning after being wounded existing the Higgins boats. 
Since Brooklyn was napping we decided to skip a walk on the Vierville-sur-Mer beach and drive onto Pointe du Hoc. Although she woke up in the stroller due to the loud people near the bathrooms, she thankfully still made the transition back into a nap once in her carseat. Brooklyn was still asleep in the car when we reached Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument, so Jackie stayed with her while Joe checked out this site. 
Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument is the best site to imagine the intense bombing where US Army Rangers scaled impossibly steep cliffs with bomb-cratered lunar-like landscape & remaining bunkers. Joe skipped the visitor center and film. 
The viewing platform held 6 155mm guns capable of firing 13 miles. From this site, Omaha Beach was only 9 miles east & Utah Beach was 8 miles west. The Allies bombed this site to smithereens with over 1500 tons of bombs but only 5% of the bunkers were destroyed. The Rangers used rocket-propelled grappling hooks connected to 150 ft ropes & climbed ladders borrowed from the London fire department to overtake this site. 
At the bunker hanging over ocean, there is a stone column at its top as a memorial to symbolize the Ranger "Dagger" planted firmly in the ground.
Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument 

Looking west toward Utah Beach from Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument 



Looking east toward Omaha Beach from Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument

We returned home to borrow some laundry detergent from the owners and give the carseat and clothes a good wash. Nothing like driving all over Normandy all day in a puke-smelling car. At least the weather was nice and we could open the windows for some fresh airflow.


Friday May 6
Today's agenda was to visit Mont St-Michel. We chose to go here in the middle of our weekend since it was our hardest drive day since it was an 1.5 hour drive southwest (besides the 6-7 hours on Wednesday and Sunday home). The high tide today was at 7:30am & again at 19:53pm but still under 12.85m so access was not supposed to be covered at all. The tides here rise above 50 feet, the largest and most dangerous in all of Europe. The surf speeds 8 miles in and out with each tide cycle. Quicksand here is a peril. 
Since the 6th century, hermit monks in search of solitude lived here. 
We parked and started our walk across the new bridge to the island of Mont-Saint Michel. 
Our first view of Mont St-Michel from the parking area on the shoreline 
It is about a mile long walk to Mont St-Michel. 

There are shuttle buses running but we wanted to enjoy the view in and then shuttle back when Brooklyn would be likely loosing it ready for her afternoon nap. A new dam across the Couesnon River was built in 2010. 
Selfie at Mont St-Michel #island #abbey #tidalmudflats #montstmichel #normandy #france #dutchbrooklyn 
Bridge to Mont St-Michel 
Mont St-Michel Abbey closeup 
Jackie 33 weeks pregnant with baby boy at Mont St-Michel 
Mont St-Michel from the new bridge 
Another family selfie before entering Mont St-Michel island
Mont St-Michel fortified island shoreline 


Boat on mudflats shore 4 hours after high tide
Now that is a medieval entrance to Mont St-Michel

Walking up the old medieval street at Mont St-Michel
We passed Restaurant la Mere Poulard, the original place for quick and tasty omelets but at high prices. 
We decided to stop for an early lunch at this upstairs creperie
We were so glad we did. While we waited for our food, a line of people waiting for tables grew and the streets around became more and more crowded as well as other restaurant locales. 
Brooklyn watching Daddy enjoy his cidar
After lunch, we walked off the main street to walk along the ramparts with view of the mudflats.
Inside Mont St-Michel
Mont St-Michel abbey from the medieval town 


Mont St-Michel fortifications and surrounding tidal mudflats



You could do guided walks along the tidal mudflats surrounding Mont St-Michel 
Lots of stairs to climb at Mont St-Michel 
The Mont St-Michel Abbey has been an important pilgrimage center since the year 708, when the bishop of Avranches (St. Aubert) heard the voice of Archangel Michael saying, "Build here and build high." From 966 until 2001, it was a Benedictine abbey and now a new order of monks from Paris have taken over. 
Mont St-Michel abbey 


Love the gargoyle downspouts of Mont St-Michel abbey
Mont St-Michel water spicket 
Mont St-Michel door
Love these old building connections over medieval stairs and alleyways


Mont St-Michel abbey steeple with a gilded statue of St Michael the Archangel 
Mont St-Michel abbey
A series of photos of the growth in model form of the Mont St-Michel abbey & town 



A view back down toward shore, the bridge and entry into town of Mont St-Michel 
A view north of guided walks in the tidal mudflats surrounding Mont St-Michel
Brooklyn and Jackie walking around the Mont St-Michel abbey terrace
Brooklyn cheesing on a step on the west terrace of the Mont St-Michel abbey, 19 months old 
Mont St-Michel abbey entrance on west terrace 
In 1776, a fire destroyed the west end of the church, leaving this grand view terrace at 240 feet above sea level.
Mont St-Michel Abbey Church



Mont St-Michel Abbey Church door 
Mont St-Michel Abbey cloister





Brooklyn sitting at the Mont St-Michel Abbey cloister 

Brooklyn and Jackie at the Mont St-Michel Abbey cloister
Mont St-Michel Abbey cloister door 
Mont St-Michel Abbey Refectory is the dining hall for the monks


Mont St-Michel Abbey Guests Hall directly beneath the Refectory for receiving royalty and nobility 
Brooklyn running around crazy in the Mont St-Michel Abbey Guests Hall 

The view of the mudflats from the Mont St-Michel Abbey Guests Hall 
Mont St-Michel Abbey Saint Martin crypt
Round Stone Relief Sculpture of St. Michael depicting the legend of St Michael the Archangel appearing to Bishop Saint Aubert in his dreams for a third time, when he drove his thumb into the bishop's head, leaving a mark that he could not deny. 
Mont St-Michel Abbey details 





An enormous treadwheel crane which served as a windlass to bring supplies to the prisoners when Mont St-Michel functioned as a prison around 1820. The prisoners would have to walk inside the wheel to rotate it. It is a replica of the pulleys used for hoisting building materials in the Middle Ages 

The tidal power was ingeniously harnessed to load, unload, and even transport the stones. 
In the nearby polderlands, the farmland is grazed by sheep whose salty meat is considered a local treat.
Mont St-Michel Abbey Saint Etienne chapel 
Mont St-Michel Abbey Knights' Hall beneath the cloister used as a work and study room for the monks 


One last view of the tidal mudflats. The small black spots of crowds of people wading out on tours 
Brooklyn finally fell asleep on the carride back home. We stopped in the cute town of Torigni-sur-Vire to pickup more charcuterie type of a meal for dinner at our airbnb.  

Saturday May 7
Today we continued with more D-Day sites, particularly the Utah Beach sites where the American airborne landed. The Airborne Museum had a slightly earlier opening time and we had more options for lunch in the town of Ste-Mere Eglise than at the Utah Beach Landing Museum so we started our day there, with intentions of ending the day at the Caen Memorial Museum, France's most thorugh WWII musem.
We parked in Ste-Mere Eglise and head to the Airborne Museum which is a must-see sight into the paratroopers experience. 
The Airborne Museum is housed in 2 parachute-shaped structures & 1 low-slung, hanger-like structure. In the Utah sector 23,000 men were dropped from planes (surprisingly only 197 died) as well as 1,700 vehicles & 1,800 tons of supplies.
Sherman tank outside the Airborne Museum 


Waco glider in the first building of the Airborne Museum used to land supplies
Douglas C-47 plane that dropped parachutists in the second building of the Airborne Museum with models of soldiers & their uniforms surrounding it with General Eisenhower




Another plane in the Airborne Museum 
Brooklyn by a plane propeller at the Airborne Museum


The Day They Came sculpture 

In Ste-Mere Eglise, in the center of action for American paratroopers, 1 American dangled from town's church steeple for 2 hours. A parachute has been reinstalled albiet on the wrong steeple corner but more visible from the Airborne Museum 

We waited around to eat lunch at Um Monde sans Faim for a burger, fries and pulled pork sandwich. 
Nearby at the Church of Angoville-au-Plain 2 American medics treated German & American wounded for 72 hours straight. The soldiers were ordered to leave their guns outside or leave the church without treatment.
After lunch we drove to the Utah Beach Landing Museum (Musee du Debarquement), one of the best museum on the D-Day beaches.
Sculpture outside the Utah Beach Landing Museum

U.S. Navy Monument at Utah Beach

The Utah Beach Landing Museum was built around the remains of a concrete German bunker nestled in the sand dunes. 
Jackie decided that if she had to chose between visiting the Utah Beach Landing Museum and the Caen Memorial Museum, she'd chose Utah since it has more emphasis on the D-Day and less on WWII overall. 
Caen Memorial Museum (Le Memorial de Caen) is the most thorough, needs at least 2.5 hours, is more expensive, and has 2 wings "World Before 1945" & "World After 1945". The Utah Beach Landing Museum has better exhibits on D-Day & Battle of Normandy so we opted for that.
Jackie walked Brooklyn around in the stroller for a bit before she drifted off for a nap. She also rocked little baby boy to sleep so she didn't have to deal with his kicking while checking out the exhibits. 
Model of Naval forces at the Utah Beach Landing Museum
LVT-2 Waterfront Buffalo at Utah Beach Landing Museum 
We watched the "Victory in the Sand" 12 minute film in the theater. 
An originally restored B26 "Marauder" bomber with its zebra stripes & 11 menacing machine guns, one of only 6 remaining examples of this airplane still in existence worldwide. 




Utah Beach D-Day exhibit showcasing innovative invasion equipment with DUKW, an amphibious duck vehicle
From within the glassed-in room overlooking the beach, Pointe du Hoc looms to the right over the re-created German trenches 
There were videos including testimony from Richard Winters, leader of Easy Company from Band of Brothers in the finale glassed-in room overlooking beach which peers over re-created German trenches.

Sunday May 8
We left our Airbnb near Bayeux this morning with a planned detour to Etretat, a 2 hour drive away, a perfect stop to stop for a picnic lunch. 
As we exited off the main highways around Honfleur, we encountered a lot of curvy roads. As we get to about 10 minutes away from Etretat, Brooklyn pukes all of her breakfast all over herself and carseat. We spent a good while on the side of the road cleaning up and cursing life. What a great start to Mother's Day. Jackie held her guns and said she still wanted to go since they were already to close and have driven out of the way. 
Jackie had planned to find parking in the town of Etretat and go see the cliffsides from the beach and walk as much of the trails as we had time to. There was tons of Sunday traffic so we continued driving up to Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde, a little church with grand views.
There were many other dogs and families enjoying the views by the church so we distanced ourselves from the cliffside to have a family picnic in a grassy field, near an old German bunker that must have protected the Atlantic Wall of Normandy during WWII.
Les falaises d'Etretat



The view north of Le Chaudron arch from Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde in Etretat
One last selfie on Mother's Day on our detour home through Etretat to see the beautiful white cliffs
Last holiday photo
Brooklyn, Dad and Chance at Etretat 
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