After a few weekends in Paris with nothing major going on, we were off this past Saturday morning on the train to Caen where we’d rent a car and drive to the coast. In two days we drove between Deauville and Grandcamp Maissy making stops at Deauville, Houlgate, Trouville, Coursuelles-sur-mer, Gold Beach, Port-en-Bassin, Omaha Beach, Longues-sur-Mer, and a few more I know I’m forgetting. Some of these little charming towns had lively little marinas and old-fashioned pedestrian streets. Others were simple tiny town right by the long stretches of beachfront. The main focus of the trip was to visit the landing beaches of World War II. There were a number of sites to stop and visit to learn more about the events of June 6, 1944 and what proceeded thereafter.
Unfortunately the American cemetery was closed due to the Government shutdown state-side. We ended our first full day with a marvelous dinner at Château La Chenevière (the only place open late at night with good reviews). We decided to splurge and ordered the 10 course tasting menu with accompanying glasses of wine.
David and I felt so out-of-place, primarily because we didn’t expect to be in such an upscale hotel restaurant. All the other patrons were over 45 at least and were wearing collared shirts, jackets and ladies were all made up. We had just ended the day walking over the sand and had sea-breeze swept hair. But hey, we were paying customers too and regardless of how we looked, we still received the best service I have experienced in France so far.
It was the first time I’ve ever been given a menu without the prices in it! It was also the first time I’d seen listed on the menu, a “pre-dessert!” It was extravagant and the food and wine were absolutely delicious. Portions were small and sufficient enough that we would have felt just well satisfied if we hadn’t chowed down on the 6 kinds of mini bread rolls and an “after-dessert” that came with our coffees! We left at 11pm very full after the 3 hour meal.
Our second day in Normandy was spent at the Juno Beach Centre. I thought we’d stay an hour but it ended up being closer to three and there was still a lot of information that we didn’t completely read through. It was a fantastic and moving interactive display of life before the war in Canada, through all the events and up until the end with a display of life in Canada now. Notably, it highlighted Canada’s involvement at Juno beach and our cooperation with the British and American forces.
I hadn’t realized until I saw it myself how wide the beaches actually are. I can’t believe how far those soldiers had to run from the boats towards the highly protected German bunkers all the while being shot at, in a fog of smoke, noise and uncertainty. Parts of the harbour the Allies floated in from the UK for that mission are still there. Some of the German batteries, including the actual navy guns, are still in place. It was hard to see all that and not shed a few tears for the lives that were lost to ensure we retained our freedom. We wondered all weekend what would the world be like had Nazi Germany won… can’t even imagine it.
For those who don’t know this part of Canadian history for whatever reason, I urge you to take any opportunity to learn about it (for example click on the links in this post!). I learned so much more from coming here than I did in the ‘basic’ history lessons we had in high school. It made me realize, as Canadians, we aren’t taught enough history. I found the whole experience moving and inspiring. I felt so proud to be Canadian.
We couldn’t help but think of David’s maternal grandfather who served for Britain and his grandmother who was a nurse during the war. And also of David’s paternal grandfather who taught pilots in Canada and of his grandmother who lived her teenage years in a labour camp. I was left speechless at the sacrifice thousands of men and women gave for future generations, especially after seeing the ages of those men on their gravestones at the Canadian Cemetery, 25, 20 19, even 18 years old.
We ended the day at Pointe du Hoc where the American Rangers climbed the cliffs while being shot at. The craters left by the bombings are still visible on the terrain. The German network of bunkers and pillboxes are still there. It goes without saying, it truly was a completely different life than I could ever imagine and one I would never want to experience for myself or for future generations to experience.
By Sunday evening, we were back on the train headed for Paris. And even though it was overcast and pretty chilly, it was worth the visit, no matter what time of year it is.