Day 3: Normandy
With our friendly B&B in Bayeux as home base, we set out today with the intention of exploring the most interesting D-Day locations along the Normandy beaches that we have read and/or heard about.
Starting furthest west (on the Cotentin Peninsula) and working our way back east, we made our first stop at Sainte-MÃƒÂ©re-Eglise, which is fitting given its history in the war. It was in and around this town where American paratroopers landed during the early morning hours of June 6th, 1944, and became the first to engage the Germans behind enemy lines.
To commemorate this event, the church maintains a parachute and a paratrooper figure atop the bell tower to honor the real-life story of the paratrooper who was hung up in the same location on D-Day. Additionally, a couple of the stained glass windows in the church now feature paratroopers and military insignias alongside the Virgin Mary and Saint Michael.
Making a quick stop in the town visitor center, we received a map and a friendly staffer circled points of interest for a self-guided walking tour. Well… that took us about 10 minutes and was “highlighted” by a company that makes parachute-shaped biscuits. So we were about to depart, but we decided to check out the Airborne Museum as well. What a pleasant surprise!
The museum documents the involvement of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in Operation Neptune. The museum also had this new-fangled technology (ok, it’s a tablet) called the “HistoPad” which was loaded with interactive software (the cool part) that gave us a deep dive into the history of these paratrooper missions and the aircraft that was used.
Primarily because it was awesome, the Airborne Museum took us longer than expected, and by the time we finished, we were definitely ready to find some lunch. While hunting for a food solution in the land of random French restaurant hours, we stopped by the German bunkers/gun installation at Azeville, but discovered it would involve becoming mole people for the next couple hours and that seemed like a crazy plan on such a nice afternoon.
Continuing on back-country roads heading east towards Utah Beach, we stumbled upon a seaside sandwich shop and bar that was actually open! Even better, we found a bunch of locals watching the first stage of the Tour de France on the TV inside. The place featured the exact menu for what we craved (burgers) and our stop coincided with the last 20km of the race. Perfect timing and perfect lunch!
We continued on to Utah Beah and explored their museum as well as the memorials outside. Some of the museum content was somewhat similar to the Airborne Museum, but it did cover more of the naval and infantry components to the landing on Utah Beach. Plus, the museum featured an original (restored) B26 bomber.
Utah Beach, while draped in history and bordered with memorials, is now simply a beach. Complete with swimmers, sun tanners, and kite flyers, there was a drastic difference in tone between the museum side and the beach side, though only a few steps from each other.
After Utah Beach, we drove south and east off the Cotentin Peninsula, back toward the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument (about 40 minutes). Situated just to the west of Ohmaha Beach, this monument pays homage to the rangers who scaled the cliffs in order to overtake and disable the German guns before they could fire at the troops landing on the beaches. It also makes a wonderful lookout point over the English Channel.
We took the scenic route back to Bayeux to finish out the night. Once again claiming residence within the blocked off streets, we snagged a parking spot directly in front of our B&B, and even successfully parked halfway on the sidewalk as apparently is the norm.
We returned to the Medieval Festival for dinner and intelligently purchased the entire bottle of cider this time. After a stroll around the shops and a quick visit inside the Bayeux Cathedral, we made it back to the room to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Tomorrow we’ll finish up in Bayeux and continue west!