This river cruise itinerary while wonderful is also a bit unusual… you don’t normally while on vacation (at least I haven’t in the past) taken a day out to remember one of the worst times during our history… the Normandy Beaches and D-Day.
It was really though a highlight of the trip and I was glad that I was able to share it with Ilyse, especially considering before we went on the trip she thought that the day we visited the Normandy Beaches was going to be a day to pack her swimsuit.
Our ship was docked in Rouen… this meant about a 2 hour drive to the area. We took a 20 minute “comfort” stop halfway there and while we were driving and looking out over the wonderful countryside of the Normandy region our tour guide for the day was giving us various information on the area and also on the beaches that we were going to be visiting. This gal had a Masters in History so she gave us a ton of knowledge.
On this particular sailing we had about 18 Canadians that had asked to be dropped off at the Juno Beach area and allowed to have more time at that particular museum and beach area where the Canadians along with Brit’s stormed the area. I did not know this but Canadian soldiers for WWII were strictly volunteers and were not drafted due to I believe the rift between the English-speaking Canadians and the French Canadians. So those that participated in WWII were very special soldiers.
We left them off at Juno Beach and the driver continued onto the D Day Museum in Arromanches which was the area that didn’t have any soldiers arriving but was the area that Churchill and others had chosen to build their “port” for supplies and soldiers after they secured the area from the Germans. Really interesting how everything was constructed and set up. The museum is small, there was a film explaining everything and then displays of the various uniforms and such from each nation that participated in D-Day.
After the museum we were given some free time in the town to do some shopping and have a light lunch (the Canadians rejoined the group during this down time) and we were all off once again to visit Omaha Beach where the Americans landed and then off to the US cemetery.
I was surprised when we landed on Omaha Beach to find that the area now had many summer vacation homes lining the beach. I don’t know if I would particularly want to look out my front window and see the beautiful water and then remember what had happened all along the coastline, but to each their own. There were little markers along the way in people’s front yards marking where graves used to be, again not a great feeling…
After Omaha we were off to the US cemetary of which the land was given to the US by France and technically it is US soil… the only US soil where you don’t need to show your passport to enter.
Alexandra had given each person the night before a sheet with a soldier’s name, date of death and the location of their grave in the cemetery. When we arrived she was waiting for us with a single rose to place on their grave. We were only told that if the area was roped off (as they have to periodically replace sod etc. since there is so much traffic at the cemetery) that we place the rose on another soldier’s grave.
Ilyse and I found our soldiers and thankfully their plots were not under repair so we could visit and lay the flowers. All the grave markers face the United States and there are also some Canadians buried there too… so Alexandra gave our Canadian passengers those names and marker numbers since they were not able to visit the cemetery for their soldiers. I thought that was a nice touch.
There is a small museum also on site and after we walked around we visited there. There was an area that you could type in a name and they would tell you of all the soldiers with that last name and a little bit about them. Smith is too common to even check out but we did type in Ilyse’s last name of Champagne and found that there was one soldier with the same name…. we didn’t have a lot of time left at the cemetery (they gave us about an hour to look around and visit) so we hightailed it out and walked as fast as we could to the area where he was buried. I think that it meant more to Ilyse to have someone there at the cemetery that shared a name and made it even more special for her. Her grandfather on her father’s side fought in WWII but he was in the Pacific campaign and didn’t travel to Europe.
After the cemetery we went directly back to the ship with no stop along the way to get back in time for a little later than usual dinner on board the ship. It was a very long day… 8 am – 7 pm but well worth it.
If you didn’t want to see the D-Day museum in Arromanches by the way you could take a separate bus that went to the Tapestry Museum in Bayeux and then carried on to the Omaha Beach and cemetery later. And if neither of those appealed to you or you have already been and didn’t want to go again the ship was docked in Rouen all day so you could just spend the day there instead. So many options depending on your mood.
Tomorrow the mood lightens as Ilyse will discover the shopping district of Rouen!