Travelers who love history can re-live one of the key sites of World War II in Normandy, France. Allied troops crossed the English Channel and landed in Normandy in June 1944. A river cruise down the Seine from Paris or an ocean cruise porting in Le Havre or Honfleur is perfect for visiting the Normandy beaches of France.
We visited Normandy from the port of Le Havre while on a cruise to northern Europe embarking from Dover. We left the ship via bus at 8:30, not long after arriving in the industrial port city of Le Havre. Before boarding the bus, I grabbed a few rolls and croissants from the buffet and put them in one of the many ziploc plastic bags I had brought from home. The baggies really came in handy for packing a light breakfast on many of our shore excursions. We also both took large covered insulated mugs for coffee (Ronnie) and hot tea (me). Some of our fellow passengers commented on what a great idea it was to carry them along!
Several buses were used to transport the 300+ of us going to the Normandy beaches, but each bus visited the various sites in a different order so that we wouldn't all be at the same places concurrently. We were divided into groups of about 30 passengers. On our way to the D-Day beaches, we crossed the Normandy Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world. It goes over the Seine River near where it pours into the English Channel. This river is the same one that flows through Paris, but is much larger since Paris is over 3 hours upstream.
Our first stop was to be at the Pegasus Bridge, the first site to be liberated by the Allies during the June 6, 1944 invasion. The bridge is located at Benouville near Ouistreham. It took the Allies only 10 minutes to take the Pegasus Bridge, and they used gliders. The invasion started at midnight on June 6. It took the Allies another 6 weeks to capture nearby Caen on the Orne River. The bridge was rebuilt 4 years ago, because it was too low for today's trucks. The new bridge is a replica of the original, only larger. The original was moved away from the small Caen Canal it crosses, and sits on land next to the Pegasus Bridge museum.
On the 2 hour drive to the bridge, our guide provided many facts about D-Day and what the invasion meant to the French and to the War. She also gave us some of the flavor of the Normandy area. Our guide explained that the D-Day movie The Longest Day, was fairly accurate in its portrayal of the events of June 6. I made a note to rent the movie sometime after returning home. Just wish I had seen it before we visited the Normandy beaches. Some of us slept--we were still jet lagged--but the drive went by quickly. The bus was equipped with a bathroom, and the countryside was lovely. The bus had to stop and pay tolls several times, but the traffic was relatively light.
Normandy, like much of the rest of France, is famous for its cuisine. Our guide described three interesting food products. First, Normandy is colder than the rest of France, and grapes don't grow well. However, apples do, and the French make both cider and an apple brandy called Calvados in Normandy. The cider is only about 3 percent alcohol, and is like a sweet beer. We tried some for lunch, but neither of us cared much for it. The Calvados is very strong and is said to make a "Norman hole" in your stomach. It is customary to drink Calvados during the 2-day celebration at Norman weddings that consist of almost non-stop eating. The Calvados is needed to bore a hole in your stomach so you can eat more!
One Normandy dish our guide told us people either love or hate is tripe à la mode de Caen. According to cuisinenet.com, it is made by layering onions and carrots on the bottom of a casserole, then adding a halved steer's foot with its meat, on top of which is laid beef tripe (intestines), garlic, leeks, and herbs. This concoction is covered with apple cider and -- since Caen is a city in Normandy -- finished with a shot of Calvados. The casserole is then sealed under a paste of flour and water and baked for 10 to 12 hours. Finally, it is served cold in its terrine. Doesn't it sound yummy? (Personally, it sounds yucky to me, but I'm a pretty finicky eater.)
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