Friday, October 24, 2014
I think it's day 9.
I'm kind of running out of time here.
There's so much to do each day I'm finding it harder and harder to remember where I was the day before.
Yesterday though was easy to recall as we visited the landing sites at Omaha Beach, the American Cemetry and the D-Day Landing Museum at Arromanches Beach.
We were up early yet again, (6:30 am.) and on the buses by 8:30 to travel to the coast? Once again we travelled through beautiful country towns, typically French and I marvel at the agility of bus drivers who manage to fit through the narrow roads without incident.
We arrive eventually at Arromanches after being given an ongoing commentary by our guide who today is brilliant with her narrative telling us the stories of war and how the local people coped with invasion. Her mother was a little girl when this all happened so her story is second hNd but extremely accurate and she narrates with a sense of the time and with much animation.
We have a look through the museum which focuses on the D-Day Landing and surprisingly there are quite a large number of people there (for a mid week) and we then watch a news reel movie for 15 minutes which tells us the story of how the allies worked out a plan to make an artificial harbour off the coast of France so as to transport soldiers, artillery and tanks from Britain by the shortest possible route. There were paratroopers also with one of the first being caught in a tree and shot by the opposing forces. The first number of tanks that came over also were driven into water too deep for them and a large number of American soldiers drowned as a consequence also.
Those that made it to the beaches were shot by the enemy as they were easy targets...sounds a bit like Gallipoli doesn't it. I can only wonder why men do not learn that killing masses and masses of men is not the answer.
You may recall 'Saving Private Ryan', the movie. The reality of what happened is similar to the initial scenes as the Americans landed on the beach and the actual story line is true regarding the soldier who lost three brothers as a result of the war. The only main difference is that a priest was designated to find him, not a platoon as was demonstrated in the movie.
We leave Arromanches then travel to a beautiful country manor house where we have lunch which consists of a three course meal.
This is Normandy we are told, where food is cooked in cream Nd butter, never oil and they drink a distilled apple brandy during their lunch to aid digestion. First course was similar to fried Camembert cheese only it was sharper and to die for. Second course was for Murray, a roast pork with vegetables and for me a piece of baked cod which also was wonderful, and I eat every little bit.
We then had an apple sorbet with this liqueur I mentioned earlier and trust me, just two to three teaspoons of it and my head is swimming.
Dessert is then served and is not one, not two but three different cakes... One is Neapolitan, one is coffee and one is like an apple cake. Once again... Magnifique!
This is all followed by coffee and chocolat!
Mon died, how do they eat like this all the time I wonder.
Following lunch we are encouraged to wander around the farm house and take numerous photographs as it is absolutely out of my world at least.
It's time then to climb back on the bus and go onto The American Cemetry which once again is so moving, I cry.
There are rows upon rows of crosses, as far as the eye can see. Every so often there is a Jewish Star Of David instead for those who were not Christian but Jewish boys. I will call them boys as the youngest in the cemetery was 14 when he died. There were many others of course of various ages and the beauty of the place is not that they were buried according to rank. Soldier was buried next to soldier, regardless of where he stood and what he was so it is not unusual to see. Private buried next to a major or even a general.
There were few exceptions with regard to where people were buried here. The brothers I mentioned before from Private Ryan (not their real name of course) were buried together as were a couple of brothers from other families but generally as I said before, soldiers were buried as they died and were not even buried alphabetically. Incidentally the one brother who was found initially did not return home, choosing to stay and fight with his comrades. Approximately 12 months later he was repatriated home to rejoin his family and lived a long life.
Once we have very quickly visited the Visitors Centre at the Cemetry which is a sad but amazing place we return to our bus and travel quickly down to Omaha Beach, one of the landing places. We alight from the bus and spend a short time there. It's beautiful yet again with children playing despite the inclement weather, others riding horses on the beach and there is freedom all around. So different to those days of bloodshed, death and trauma.
I collect a pine one and a couple of beach pebbles to remind me of the day, in the future Nd it's time again to mount our trusty bus and wind our way back home yet again through different villages yet again.
I have made myself a promise that I want to return to this beautiful place....there are so many bed and breakfast places which would give us a good base to explore further so our next European foray will be an even longer one than this time.
We are back to our boat by 5:30 pm. and prepare for dinner, the inaugural seafood buffet.
That is a story in itself. We were fashionably 5 minutes late and I have never seen so many avaricious poisson eating carnivores fighting for the opportunity to access the mussels and oysters and crayfish. We eventually got our share and were once again happily replete (it's not like we've had the opportunity to starve!!!)