Sunday, February 22, 2009


Today we drove up to the Normandie coast so Michael could spend some time at the Allied Forces landing sites and the associated museums. (I took a great book I was reading - Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris who also wrote Chocolat - fantastic book!)

We went to Omaha Beach to start and as Michael solemnly got out, I could not help but feel the desolation of the place as a lone seagull circled overhead. Mind you, there are holiday homes/weekenders now along the coastal strip, but it still looks lonely and foreboding. Anyway,I will let Michael continue the post and tell you about his day. For me, finished the book - you should read it - wonderfully written and I am off to find her other novels.

When you first cast your eyes upon this six kilometre stretch of sandy beach, it's almost imperceptable to imagine, almost sixtyfive years ago on the 6th June, this beach head was a crucible of courage, determination and destruction.

Albeit, there is a distinct solemnity over this tourist area. Perhaps, it is the weather, as the day was overcast, blustery and cold; and the only evidence of life was the occassional visitor and the tell-tale swirls of smoke from nearby chimneys.

All evidence of the Normandy Landings (Operation Overlord) had been removed by the mid 1950's. However at low tide, the broken teeth which were once landing craft, appear above the ebbing tide in a final salute. Towards the east end of the beach there lay the remnants of two German gun emplacements, under the watchful gaze from those monuments to the American Engineers and the 1st Division Infantry.

The day is bleak and blustery; Maria decides to remain in the car with her book and I head forth to explore. The memorials to the landing by the allied forces are stark as they are impressive. A granite edifice saluting the efforts by the advancing forces, impacts to the gravity of that day sixtyfive years ago. On the beach, in front of the granite marker, stands a stainless steel sculpture by Anilore Banon who designed the sculpture to honour "...the courage of these men: sons, husbands and fathers, who endangered and often scarificed their lives i hope of freeing the French people." In its silent stance, it is a most moving salute to those past sacrifices.

I move onwards towards the sectors of the beach, which were referred to as "Easy Green" and "Easy Red" during the landings. The loss of life during the storming of the beach appear to be ridiculed by these names. As I continue my walk, I can feel the sombreness which seems to rise from the sand - maybe the result of a fertile imagination. However, nothing could prepare me for what was to come.

After walking about three kilometers of the beach, I make my way back to Maria, whereby she has exchanged her reading for sleep. I decide to make my way to to the museum, which is closed until 2:30pm, however it's just a half hour wait before it opens again.

The museum is quite small and houses an array of equipment and weapons which were salvaged after the conflict. Overall, the displays have been fashioned as comemorations to all the sacrifices made.

After the museum visit we make our way to the American Cemetery. Like the memorial we saw at Washington DC, this memorial is just as impressive though more sobering. Upon entering the cemetery, you follow a path which takes you past the visitors centre and onto the memorial. Entry into the memorial is vide a large gate, which opens into a garden enclosed by a semi-circular wall. The wall has all the names of American service personel involved in the landing inscribed into the wall. The enclosed garden is dominated by the pillared memorial, sheltering a statue of world peace.

Moving around the garden's path leads you to stairs, which eventually takes you onto the memorial's platform. On either side of the statue are stylised diagrams, sheltered within vesibules, outlining the landings.

However, nothing could have prepared me for the view which I was to experience. Turning around to face into the cemetery, and across the Pool of Reflection, lay a forest of marble. I have seen war cemeteries in books and documentaries; but noting an prepare you for impact upon your senses at experiencing the overall loss and sacrifice - 9134 crosses.

On the way back to Pontorson and the Hôtel Montgomery we made a detour to Mont St-Michel to get a night photograph. Now, you have to remember that we are using Michael's little point and shoot camera (that erased all the photos at one point today) so the resolution is not what it could be. BUT I am telling you, this place is amazing. Driving towards the coast, we turned a corner and there it was off to our right, seeming to just rise up from the soil. The closer we got, the better it looked and this photo is taken from the causeway road that leads to the rock. At high tide, this road is cut and the Abbey and its associated town is isolated from the mainland. Visitor cars parked must be moved or they drown too! When the tides are right, you can watch the water rise and cut it off in less than 2 hours - and as you might guess, it won't happen again until the day we leave here - bugger! Anyway, we are going to visit the Abbey and the musems tomorrow.
Dinner tonight is at Crêperie du Couesnon again with Isabelle and Fabrice (hey, its Sunday night and there is not much open!) and they do not disappoint. Hopefully one day they can visit us in Australia!

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