Europe, France, Travel

Mont St Michel and the Beaches of Normandy – A Weekend Trip (Day 2)

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The train from Pontorson to Caen takes about an hour and half and costs about €30. Since we booked this trip on Friday we hadn’t yet booked a hotel for the night so we set out in search of a place to rest. As with most areas surrounding train stations the location was less than desirable but we eventually found a hotel in a ‘nicer’ part of town, grabbed a quick bite and got some much needed rest.

Getting To The Beaches Of Normandy

Although the Beaches are not particularly far away (~50km), there isn’t really a direct route to reach them. All of our online research said that public transportation was risky (as in unreliable time tables) and the best way to reach the area was by rental car. Since we arrived later in the evening all the rental car areas were closed and unfortunately they were in the morning as well (Sunday).

We finally decided that we would give the public transportation a shot and if all else failed we would pay way too much for a taxi. It would’ve been a shame to come all that way and not make it out there.

To our surprise, this turned out to be a great decision. We boarded a train from Caen to Bayeux. The train took 16 minutes and cost €7. Upon arriving at the station in Bayeoux the public buses were waiting out front. The bus driver told us they made stops at all major points along the Beaches so we jumped on. This cost €1.40 and after 30 minutes of winding roads through Normandy towns and hamlets you start arriving at the D-Day sites.

We decided to get off at the Omaha Beach stop for a couple reasons. First, we were limited on time and we wouldn’t be able to see all the sites but we prioritized Omaha Beach as it was an American landing beach and was home to some of the fiercest fighting. Second, it was the furthest stop on the map and our plan was to get off there, walk the beach back to the American D-Day Cemetery Memorial and catch the return bus from there.

Omaha Beach

Being a history fan, I knew this would be a very rewarding trip. However, after seeing the beaches, you gain a whole new level of respect for the men that charged and eventually took the beaches. The first thing I noticed was how long and wide they were. With German bunkers lining the bluffs, constant machine gun fire, beaches laden with land mines and countless other obstacles, it was truly a remarkable accomplishment that day, 6 June 1944.

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The Omaha Beach Museum provided a great glimpse into the strategy of the D-Day assault as well as the weapons, vehicles and equipment that were used. It was well worth the €6.50 for admission.

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From there, we walked east along Omaha Beach. It took us about 30 minutes to walk down to the American D-Day Cemetery Memorial which was another major landing site and now is the final resting place for over 9000 American troops.

American D-Day Cemetery Memorial

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I’ve seen the photos but nothing quite prepares you for the real thing; the layout of the memorial, the history, the precision of the burial sites and ultimately, the number of tombstones. As mentioned above, there are over 9000 Americans that were laid to rest here. This site is the largest American Cemetery on foreign soil and really does a great job in paying tribute to all the fallen soldiers.

Inside of the Memorial there are a couple of short movies that really put the size of Operation Overlord (code name for the D-Day invasion) into perspective. Over 100,000 allied troops landed on the Beaches of Normandy on June 6 1944. Over 34,000 Americans on Omaha beach alone; of which some 3600 lost their lives.

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The inside of the Memorial was also rife with stories of heroism and it was inspiring reading about the bravery that took place.

At the time of the D-Day invasion, WWII had been going on for 5 years and Germany had a stranglehold on much of Europe. After the success of the D-Day invasion and subsequent march to Berlin, Germany surrendered less than 1 year later and Japan followed shortly thereafter.

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In Conclusion, Day 2

Visiting the Beaches of Normandy was a very humbling and rewarding experience. Many of the freedoms that today we take for granted may not have been possible if not for the bravery of the allied troops on Jun 6 1944. If you ever get the chance, please take the time to visit this historic area where you will undoubtedly be standing on hallowed ground.

I Give Unto Them Eternal Life and They Shall Never Perish – American D-Day Cemetery Memorial

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Getting Back To London

A 5 hour ferry ride and a 1.5 hour train ride later we found our way back to London. It was definitely a long, exhausting weekend filled with many miles of walking and traveling. But as I say ever too often, it was well worth it.

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