We started off the day early, leaving our hotel in Paris and walking to Montparnasse Gare (curses for still not figuring out how to use the Metro until later this afternoon! We turned a 3 minute Metro ride into a 45 minute walk). After renting the Fiat from National Car Rental, we hit the road...in Paris morning rush hour. Let me warn you, this is not for the faint of heart. As the designated driver, given that I am the only one of us two that could drive a 5-speed, I almost broke down into tears. This is the worst traffic I have EVER encountered, worse than LA, worse than New York, and the first time I've ever been the driver in such conditions. It's not like the traffic wasn't moving, but there were so many lanes (but yet, no lanes on the actual road) it was chaos. Motorcycles weaving in and out, aggressive drivers, we couldn't find the street signs...getting onto the Peripherique, four directions of cars converged into one little 20 foot ramp. I ate my Bueno Bar and tried not to think about the cost of denting the rental car...in Euros. Once we were on the highway though, it was just like driving back home. Only better. I do so love roundabouts and France is full of these. So much safer and quicker!
So, we only got lost (or confused, as Becky put it) a couple of times and eventually made our way to Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where the Airborne troops landed early in the morning on June 6, 1944. This was at the time occupied by the German army, but it quickly fell to the Americans. The Normandy coast is actually one of the most American-friendly areas of France because of the D-Day liberation. Not that we encountered any unfriendly people though. Here we visited the Airborne Museum, saw tanks, gliders, large mortar guns, and the weirdest mannequin soldiers ever. I think they were female mannequins dressed up as men. Strange. But still, a very moving exhibit and an interesting movie that told the story of Sainte Mere Eglise and D-Day that lasted about 15 minutes.
Next up, Omaha Beach! It was a beautiful sunny day with a bit of a breeze, definitely jacket weather. It surprised me that there were a few people out in bathing suits. Whooo, chilly! The English Channel was a bright, lovely blue and the memorial at Omaha was very sobering. Think about it. 65 years ago, hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers died on this very beach fighting for freedom and trying to overthrow Nazi oppression. It was hard not to feel very moved. Plus, we got to see the amazing Les Braves sculpture on the beach. I wonder if they'll have something like that for the World Trade Center when it's completed?
Just down the road from Saint Laurent sur Mer and Omaha Beach, is the American Military Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer. We hopped in the Fiat (can I take it home with me??) and made our last stop of the day here. This was truly the most breathtaking part of our entire trip today, and maybe of our whole European experience. Here, overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel (La Manche), are the graves of all the American soldiers killed on D-Day. I'm sure this must be what Arlington Cemetery looks like, but this was incredibly powerful. There's just this peaceful silence and serenity in the air and all you can see are white crosses and Stars of David for what seems like miles. There were a bunch of visitors there the day we went, but still, everyone was respectful and appropriate. I'm sure I took about 100 pictures there and would've taken more if my batteries hadn't died. As an aside, battery death was an ongoing saga until I finally, finally found lithium batteries in the airport in Milan. I love plain old Duracell nickel cadmium batteries, but lithium is the way to go in digital cameras.
Our trip to Normandy was one I think every American should make at some point to learn more about our history and how powerful a group of individuals can be who believe in doing the right thing. It was definitely the trip of a lifetime and even though we had many adventures in the Fiat (finding gas stations, finding lunch, getting lost in Paris, eating sandwiches from gas stations), it was still a wonderful, amazing, unforgettable experience!
Next up, our weekend in Rome!