Sitting in Mr. Byrne’s American history class all those years ago, I never thought I would one day spend a day on the beaches of Normandy. I enjoy history and visiting historical places, but I never had the ganas to visit any sites in particular. Of course, when you have a history buff father, those things change.
My dad enjoys spending Sunday afternoons catching up on tax paperwork and watching war movies. The books on his bed side table usually have a similar theme, whether it be western wars with indians, The Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam or the Middle East conflict. I’m guessing when I say that WWII sticks out the most for him. Many adults in his life had been touched by that war, he was born in The Baby Boom and all the history seems so close yet so far away. Whether I am correct on my assumption or not, it has been important to him to visit WWII monuments like Pearl Harbor and, of course, Normandy.
So, the question is, is Normandy worth the trip for people who have NOT watched Saving Private Ryan seven times?
My answer is YES! I have seen bits and pieces of Saving Private Ryan and I still found Normandy fascinating, quaint and gorgeous. It’s all a matter of planning the trip right:
- Wear layers. Yes, probably in the summer too. Normandy receives a lot of rain from the coast but the weather changes rapidly. We arrived on a sunny and crisp afternoon in April and were able to wear jeans and t-shirts. The next day was projected to be the same but the whole morning was a cold mist until about 3 p.m. There are generally a lot of temperature changes so be sure to pack several types of layers depending on the time of year.
- Enjoy the French countryside. We arrived to the small town of Bayeux and stayed at the Churchill hotel. Bayeux is small, the people are kind, and it has charm. There is a small river the runs through where you can stroll, good shopping and plenty of places to eat or have a croissant. It’s fairly close to the beaches as well. We rented bikes and were able to reach the ocean in half an hour.
- Get a tour. The D-day beaches themselves are beautiful, but some are so, well, “beachy” that it does not seem like there was ever a war there. Finding someone who can bring you into that moment and tell you the stories makes the beaches so much more impactful.
- Open your imagination. In order to have the most meaningful experience, you need to imagine the struggle and efforts exerted on that land. Take time to picture men scaling the cliffs in Pont du Hoc. Contemplate the fear that they must have felt when the gates lowered on their amphibious tanks at Omaha Beach. Walk the giant craters left behind by airstrikes and visit the old bunkers created by the Germans.