On the morning of the 26th, I took the Chunnel from England to France. For those wondering, you don’t drive through it. This may sound silly to those who know, but honestly, I didn’t know how the thing worked until fairly recently. Its a bit like a ferry…you drive your vehicle onto a train, and the train hauls you and your vehicle underground/water, then drops you off on the other side. The funny thing about it is that the entry and exit points are not within view of the sea, so it takes a bit of time to grasp that you’ve crossed anything significant once you get off on the other side. Kinda similar (for me, anyway) to how when taking a long flight, I struggle a little to convince myself that I just landed in a completely new place.
The next day, I went to some of the D-Day landing sites…not exactly a fun day, but definitely interesting, and important to do. Similar feeling to a few years ago when I went to the Dachau concentration camp site.
First stop was the Pointe du Hoc. Situated between Utah and Omaha beaches, there was heavy artillery here that needed to be taken out to improve the Allies chances of succeeding. Early in the morning on the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers landed here, scaled the cliffs rising out of the water while under heavy fire. The operation was successful, but with heavy losses. Upon extraction on the 8th of June, 90 Rangers were still able to fight.
The site itself doesn’t appear to have been altered very much since then. The terrain is filled with massive craters due to heavy shelling, interrupted only by the occasional bunker, some in far worse condition than others.
Walking through some of the intact bunkers definitely felt erie, but two things really struck me. The first was this wall at the entrance to a bunker that was absolutely riddled with bullet holes.
It doesn’t take much imagine to realize what was going on at that specific location. The other was walking down the narrow stairway to enter the bunker. Once underground, you had to make a left turn to get in, but of course, it wasn’t that simple. Waiting at the bottom of the stairway was a small hole in the wall, probably 2×3 inches, where a machine gun barrel would be sticking out, waiting.
What a creepy feeling to be standing there…I can’t imagine how terrifying the whole of D-Day was, but that spot especially struck me.
Next up was a stop to Omaha Beach, which now is mostly a touristy vacation area, as it’s quite a beautiful beach. Amongst the vacationers, there are of course some monuments built in honor of all who fought there.
To finish the day, I went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. And for anyone visiting this area, I’d recommend visiting this site last, as you likely won’t be too excited about doing anything after it.
Both the visitor center and cemetery itself were great to see. In the visitor center, they have a good amount of history, not only on D-Day itself, but also the lead up and aftermath. And not only is it talked about on the macro scale, but they also have lots of stories about the individuals that fought, and some who died there, making it seem a lot more personal. It seems like you can related to it a bit better with some of those stories.
Along with the various sites, I also happened upon a couple bunkers just while walking along the coast in the evening.
This first one catches you off guard a bit when you walk around a corner and find this barrel pointing out at you
And looking out from where the bunkers are positioned, you find this very different, wonderful view.
The following day was spent at Mont St. Michel. It was fairly crowded, but definitely worth it.
Mont St. Michel is built on an island of the north coast of France. It was built around an Abbey, which is on the top of the island, and around and below the Abbey are the housing structures and other various buildings. Because it’s small and on such a steep hillside, as you walk around it, its feels a bit like you’re walking up a giant spiral staircase.
I found this little bit interesting as well…They had a huge hamster wheel at the top, which they’d toss 6 or 7 prisoners into and make them start walking. Connected to the wheel was this huge sled loaded with food that would get pulled up to the top
Oh…and this happened…
Coming back from the Normandy Cemetery, about 10-15kms outside of La Larronnière, France, I was riding with the visor on my helmet open. Suddenly, a large insect is flying towards my helmet. Instantly, a scenario from a number of years ago flashes into my head, when a bee flew into my helmet and got stuck between the helmet and my temple, promptly stinging my head. Luckily, this time, then bug flew into my helmet and quickly exited out the bottom.
In the middle of the small village of La Larronnière, I learned that a) the bug flew out of my helmet and into my jacket, and b) the bug bit hard.
I felt a little itch on my stomach, scratched it, and immediately felt a bite followed by a strong burn. As I grabbed a handful of front brake and swerved into someone’s front yard, I felt a second bite. While trying not to let the bike fall over, I ripped of my gloves, jacket and shirt, just in time for the pain to quickly subside. So there I sat, on a bike, shirtless, in someone’s front yard, and probably looking a bit confused. Definitely a moment that I wish a passerby had a video camera.