That could possibly be my favorite place I've been to in France so far. When I was in high school and I studied abroad I was in the South. Living in Nice, I got to go to Cannes, Antibes, Eze, Monaco, and a bunch of smaller cities. I know I love the Riviera and the ocean, but there was something amazing about getting out of Paris and going north.
The day started bright and early for me. I was supposed to me my friend Cam (he's australian) at the train station to catch the train to Caen which left Gare St. Lazare at 9:10AM. We had plans to meet at 8:40AM just to me on the safe side. Something that is awesome about France is they have this train pass type thing for people that are between twelve and twenty five years old. That pass allows you to get a reduciton on your tickets anywhere within France. For us, round trip to Caen it was thirty two euro. So we were stoked. You just had to make sure you had that on you when you show your ticket to the guy on the train. And guess who forgot his...
So at 8:50AM I realized this. I had my backpack (full of my cameras, extra sweaters, a scarf, you know, the really important things...) and my big heavy winter parka on, running from the metro stop back to my apartment. I tried calling my roommate to see if she could meet me downstairs but she didn't pick up her phone. So I was freaking out, panicking that I was going to miss this train. I made it to the train station with my card with literally one minute to spare.
Cam and I get our spots on board. I could breathe. I take off my parka and my sweater and breathe. My face is as rosy as a tomato and I am sweating. Keep in mind it is in the thirties outside. Then we hear an announcement in French over the loud speakers. "Ladies and Gentleman, in order to secure the train, we will be delayed for twenty minutes."
But what ever. We got to Caen and all was well. Except for we didn't really know how we were going to get to the beaches from there. Caen is about eighty kilometers from the beaches so we were kind of just stuck. Then Hans comes up to us. Hans is this eighty something german man saying he was a tour guide and had been for thirty-five years. In the peak season his tours were seventy-five euros per person, but he could give it to us for sixty. Cam and I say we need a few minutes to talk. There was no way we were going to do that for sixty euro. But we go up to him a few minutes later and said we couldn't. Then he says we can take it for fifty. So we do.
It actually worked out really well. He wasn't the most knowledgeable guide, but he did take us to the main spots. We saw the four cannons that took down a British destroyer, we saw some of the landing beaches, and we were able to get out and walk around at Omaha beach. Omaha beach is one of the prettiest places I've seen in France.
We had amazing good luck because the sun was out the entire day. In Normandy in the winter, that is incredibly rare. But there we were, driving around with the sun shinning on our faces. At Omaha, Cam decided he wanted to get into the water. So he did just that. The water must have been no warmer than fifty degrees. But he went in in his skivvies. I stood there and watched. I was freezing in my t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, sweater and parka. And he was running into the ocean with a bathing suit that was just a little more than a speedo... But hey, to each his own...
After Omaha Hans took us to the American Cemetery. A word about Hans though. I have no idea if this is true or not, but he was telling us a little bit about his life. When he was sixteen and a half (in 1944) he decided instead of being drafted into the Nazi Army he would volunteer to go to officer school. So he did just that. He enlisted and was a part of the Luftwafa in Northern Denmark. The coolest part of the story was that a few months before the Nazis finally lost, he deserted and went to Austria to meet the woman he was in love with. I know, kind of just the perfect Hollywood drama, but it was what he told us his life was like!
Anyway, back to the American Cemetery. It was amazing. I probably took as many pictures in that one hour we spent there than I did in the three hours seeing everything else. Rows upon rows of crosses denoting soldiers that had died. The most moving one I saw was on that said something along the lines of "here lies a soldier known but to god" with a single yellow rose sitting at the bottom of it.
All in all, I know I need to get back to Normandy. It was a beautiful place and I know I haven't seen nearly enough.