Normandy (Europe Days 6-7)

It seems appropriate that I’m writing this entry from the airport in Baltimore, sleep-deprived after getting up at 3:30 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight and wishing I could have slept on the plane.

This is about hitting the wall.

So after our whirlwind tour of Frankfurt, Germany, a train ride to Paris, France, and two packed days around the City of Lights, our third full day there was one spent dealing with hitting the proverbial wall.

We took a lot of bus rides (again), just checking out the sights. Did a little shopping. Ate some good food (more macarons; a delicious, ridiculous, oh-so-sloppy French version of an American cheeseburger in a little pub along the Seine) and generally took it somewhat easy.

It didn’t make for the most exciting blog, I’ll admit, which is why we’re going to go ahead and jump to …

Day 7, and our trip to Normandy.

When we were planning our trip to Europe, we knew Paris was the destination. But when our travel agent brought up the possibility of a day trip to Normandy, we knew we had to add that in.

I read every book on WWII I could when I was a kid—some that really weren’t proper “kid” reading material. I’m not sure now what it was about that war—and to a lesser extent, other wars—that piqued my interest. But I devoured every detail. I was hesitant to ever ask my grandfathers about their experiences, but I did eventually talk briefly with my paternal grandfather about his time in WWII.

He came into Europe through Normandy, although he landed a couple days after D-Day. And I think one of my grandfathers was involved in the Battle of the Bulge, although my memory may be playing tricks on me.

Regardless, I’m proud of their service, and I’m proud of all those in my family who served our country.

Back to Normandy. Our tour guide first took us to the hills overlooking Omaha Beach, where we toured the German bunkers that still stand. It’s awe-inspiring to look out over the English Channel and imagine the massive fleet that filled the waters below; to stand above the deep craters left behind by the Allied bombs; to go to the American cemetery where rows and rows of white crosses mark the graves of those who died on that day, and the days after.

While we were at the cemetery, there was a group of Americans who must have had a family member buried there, because the National Anthem and Taps were played over the speakers. The anthem came at a good time for us; nothing against France, but it was good to hear a bit of home.

I wish I could say more about the experience, but it’s one I’m still processing damn near a month later. To walk on beaches and fields where such an important conflict took place, to see grave after grave of those who gave their lives to the ultimate cause … it’s a lot to take in, and to try and find the right words for it has left me lacking (hopefully, only so far).

This looks familiar. I was struck again by the similarities between home and western Europe. Normandy is about a three-hour drive from Paris, so our tour guide drove us by highway. And just like in the States, there are travel plazas along the way—your typical gas station/convenience store.

Friendly French. Speaking of our tour guide, Celine was quite chatty, which was nice. Aloofness is not a trait one wants in a tour guide. She was also very forthcoming with her opinions from the time she went to the States as a high school student—we love our peanut butter too much, apparently—and on the presidential election. I won’t go there because I’ve vowed to not discuss politics because we’re all snapping at each other because of the two despicable people running for president, and I won’t be party to that.

Restaurant du jour. Our evening dinner was at Le Scheffer, a restaurant not too far from our hotel. I’m not a big fan of fish, or seafood in general, but if you serve me haddock in lemon butter, apparently I’ll devour it.

The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on

So I joined about umpteen million other people in using part of that quote from Fahrenheit 451 to commemorate the death of Ray Bradbury. Here’s the full quote:

“And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the backyard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands? He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

Damn, that’s good. Some more memorable Bradbury quotes are here.

I can’t say that Bradbury was my favorite writer — I didn’t strive to become a writer because of him — but his impact on the literary landscape is indelible. He will be missed, and the world is a darker place without him.

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Of course, the world was a pretty dark place this time 68 years ago. D-Day was an incredible risk for the Allies, but it paid off with the eventual victory in Europe. Here’s a photo gallery of some powerful images.

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And today was National Running Day. Figures it would fall on my off-day. Oh, well, back to it tomorrow.