Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bucket List #19 - Done!

When I travel, I like to have one definite agenda point that I absolutely have to see. The rest is more flexible and allows for time to see things I didn't know about ahead of time. Sometimes it works really well (seeing the Red Bull air races in Budapest), other times it's a dismal failure (missing the free Placido Domingo concert in Madrid).

When I was invited to London and Paris this spring, I had a definite destination for each. In London, it was standing on the Prime Meridian. In Paris I had to take a day trip to the Normandy region to see Omaha Beach and the American military cemetery. I had tried to make this trip on my last trip to Paris in 2007, but couldn't find anything the day before I wanted to depart. Oops!

In anticipation of the trip, I took Stephen Ambrose's D-Day and read it through the first half of the trip. I had studied the invasion in grad school, but that was several years ago and I wanted to refresh my knowledge. I could have guided us on a private tour, but I wasn't so sure about driving in France, so we booked a half day trip with Viator that would provide us a small group of 8-10 people, an English speaking guide, and transportation to each of the sites.

We booked an afternoon tour that we met in Bayeux. Neither Bill nor I knew anything about the town, but I felt adventurous so I booked us on the first train from Paris that got us to Bayeux around 9 am and we spent the morning there.

We met up with Mags our tour guide who first took us to Point-du-Hoc, where the Army Rangers scaled the cliffs on D-Day. Many of the bunkers and pill boxes had been destroyed, either during the invasion, or after. A few remained, however, as did all the divots in the ground. Mags explained that the land had been given to the United States with the expectation that it would not be changed. It's not American land in the same sense that an embassy is, but more like a national park.

Monument commemorating the Rangers where President Reagan spoke in 1984

The next stop was Omaha Beach, the primary site of the American invasion. The tour we booked was the American version, so she took us to the American sites, knowing there wasn't enough time to visit everything. If I went back, I would figure out the car situation and spend several days visiting all the different sites and museums.

There were two monuments - for the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the invasion. The invasion stretched from the shore line, across the street now in place, and up the hill. We were there at high tide, so the invasion was so much further due to landing at low tide.

After leaving the beach, Mags took us on a quick detour to an overlook of Omaha Beach. We saw a tree in the field, that was actually the cover for a German bunker. Of course I went inside. It was a cold damp room with nothing to see inside. The vantage point, however, gave Germans a panoramic view of the entire beach.

The final stop was the American cemetery that also overlooked the beach, where over 9,000 soldiers are buried. The military offered to ship home the remains they could identify, and 60 percent of the families wanted the bodies returned, so the number buried in Normandy isn't even half of the dead whose bodies were recovered.

We were there at the end of the day to see the American flag taken down while "Taps" played.

Bill and I both enjoyed the day immensely. He thought the amount of history and commentary Mags provided was excellent. As a history student, I wanted tons more information, and unfortunately I could identify parts of her narrative that weren't entirely accurate, but I kept my mouth shut and enjoyed the day. I told Bill to go back to Paris and leave me in Bayeux for the rest of our trip :) I felt like we saw the main parts, yet there was still so much more to see and do. I could have foregone Paris altogether and spent six days traveling throughout the Normandy region. 2014 is the 70th anniversary and part of me wants to go back!

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