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October 3, 2015 - Day 7 - Normandy D-Day Beaches

A 4:00am wake up call this morning and we were down waiting for a car to the train station at 4:45am.  Caught the 5:13am RER train into the city.  Transferred to the M14 Metro Line to Saint Lazar and arrived around 6:20 for our 7:45am train to Normandy.  So hung around the station and waited.. and waited…  and 20 minutes before departure our train popped up on the board with a track number and we found it and boarded.  We arrived in Caen just before 10am and found our tour group for the short bus ride to the Caen Museum.   Our guide walked us through the museum and then joined us for lunch.  After lunch boarded a mini-van for the ride up to the beaches.  Started at La Pointe Du Hoc then continued east/south to Omaha Beach, Normandy American Cemetery and Arromanches before returning to Caen just after 6pm for our 7:11pm train back to Paris.  Once in Paris reversed our morning course taking the M14 to the RER A to Disneyland arriving at Disney security just before 11pm.   On the walk back to the hotel stopped at McDonalds which was mobbed but we were starved so picked up some food and hiked back to the room to each and call it a night.


Thoughts & Observations
  • The 4am wake up call came way too quickly for me.  It was very dark and cool as we awoke and got ourselves together to meet our 4:45am pickup time.
  • The shuttle bus to the train station does not run this early.  We talked to the front desk about our options and learned that the security for the Disney Village did not open until after 6am and we could not walk through there so in order to get to the train station we would have to walk around the main road which was substantially further and we were unsure about doing that in the darkness and cold morning air.  We asked for a cab and instead they booked a van service.  It was about a mile to the train station and it cost 20 euros for us to go that mile.  Not sure if this was due to the hour or what.     We arrived with no problems but it was a very expensive mile.
  • Everything worked like clockwork and ran on time this morning.  We opted to catch the first RER train into the city.  We could have taken the first, second or third and made our train but we wanted a buffer in case of a problem and figured we could eat something at the train station in Paris.   We arrived with no delays and had well over an hour to wait at the train station in Paris.  We learned that nothing was open that early.  There was a Burger King but they did not open till 11am.  Even the Starbucks did not open till close to 7am.   A couple of the bakery/coffee kiosks did open around 6:30 so we could get something there.
  • The train ride to Caen was uneventful.  We upgraded to their first class seats (I want to say it was about 10 euros more only so nothing substantial).  I did not go to see the coach seats.  Ours were ok.. nothing spectacular.  The train was fairly full.  The trip up was uneventful.   One note is they made no announcements in English.  So you really had to pay attention. 
  • We had booked a tour of the D-Day Beaches that picked us up and dropped us off at the train station and was limited to 7 people in a minivan.  As we disembarked we headed for the lobby and found our tour guide.   They confused us a bit and made everyone board a bus to the museum in Caen which was a 10-15 minute ride only.   Then we broke into the smaller groups for the rest of the day.
  • The first couple of hours were spent with the guide walking us through the museum and providing the narration. This covered the post World War I years and into World War II.  It skipped the landings themselves as the afternoon was to focus on those when we toured the sites.  The take away from this tour for me really was the scale and scope of the war.  The numbers of casualties in the millions and the amount of equipment involved was staggering compared to what we have seen in recent wars/conflicts.  Having a guide was extremely useful and helped to focus our attention vs just wandering around. 
  • The tour included lunch in the museum.  I always try to avoid tours that include food because the odds of me eating anything are slim to none.  We had a choice of three dishes.  I choose the chicken since it held the most promise.  Turned out to not be good.  The only good part of the meal for me was the bread.  Others enjoyed the salad.     I also found it odd that wine and water were included but not soda or other beverages.. well I guess during dessert they had coffee or tea too.  Our guide joined the group for lunch and answered any questions we had and wanted to know our thoughts on the day and visiting France.   The other two couples in our tour group were from United States also.
  • We left the museum about 1pm to head to the beaches.  The 7 of us, plus the guide road in a van with a driver.  The guide used the cars audio system to talk to us and it very easy to hear and interact with him.  Also great that he could concentrate on being a guide and did not have to drive.   The ride up there turned out to be more like Mr. Toads Wild Ride.  Our driver was right at the upper bound of the speed limits and on small roads with a decent size van it felt really fast to us in the back.
  • First stop of the day was at La pointe du hoc.  From this point we learned the story of the US Ranges that took the point and their mission and sacrifice and were able to look toward both Utah and Omaha sectors and the cliffs down to the sea.  It was a great afternoon with some sunshine and no wind at all.  It was the warmest day of our trip so we really lucked out.. being October and comfortable without a jacket on the cliffs of Normandy.
  • Our second stop was at Omaha Beach.  This was one of 5 landing beaches and it was where the we suffered the heaviest casualties (1,000 dead and 2,000 wounded and missing).   The tide was high so there was not a lot of beach but standing there at the site of memorial and the tide of the English Channel right next and looking at the surrounding area I tried to visualize what it would have looked like back in 1944.
  • Our third stop was at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.   The cemetery is the final resting spot of nearly 10,000 United States soldiers who died during the D-Day Landings and Battle of Normandy.   The cemetery is on land granted forever to the United States from France and is supported by the United States Battlefield Commission financially (meaning the US Tax payers).   The cemetery is very busy year round drawing over 1 million visitors annually.   Because of the number of visitors roaming around it meant I had to hike to the far corner to try and get pictures with no people. It also was sort of an odd feeling with so many roaming around the markers.   The tour was timed so we would be there for the nightly flag retreat which included the playing of taps as the 2nd flag was lowered (I include a video in the picture set).   I thought this was a poignant way to end our visit.  I would have liked our guide to have explained more about what was there and the options.  He did not mention the visitor center. I would have liked to have visited and seen it and picked up a map/brochure.  I found a digital one but did not have time to visit because I opted to hike to the far side for pictures.    I also would have really have liked to heard live taps vs a tape.. but a tape is better than nothing.. and it was an experience to be there on the bluffs in Normandy in an American Cemetery as the flags are lowered with Taps playing.. 
  • Due to the way the roads are set up we had one more stop to go on the way back to Caen.  The flag retreat would have made a perfect ending/bookend to the tour and the last stop seemed a little anti-climatic but it was interesting. 
  • The final stop on the tour was Arromanches.  This is an artificial harbor that the allies created to allow for supplies to be brought into Europe.  Today you can still see several of the concrete blocks in the sea below. 
  • I thought the tour we choose gave a good overview of the beaches and our guide was easy to understand and he knew a lot of facts/figures about the events that unfolded.   Having a small group, 7 guests, 1 guide and 1 driver was worth it us to allow for flexibility and flow vs a large bus tour.   I thought our guide was a bit flat at times.  He did it because it was a job not because of a love of history and it showed at times if you probed beneath the basic facts/stories.   Also he did a poor job of telling you what was at the places in terms of things to explore.  They seemed to keep us away from the visitor centers.    I vaguely remembered reading about them but I was not as prepared as I could have been to question what was there.   The length of the tour seemed reasonable and I never felt rushed.  I could have done without the lunch at the museum, I am betting I would have eaten something at the Cafeteria vs the Restaurant but that was not a choice. 
  • We made it back to the train station just after 6pm and had some time until our 7:11pm train.  We hung around waiting for them to post a platform number then made our way out to the track to wait and head back to Paris.  Retraced our steps once there using the Metro to reach the RER A line and then back to Disney.  We missed the RER train by a couple minutes and had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one due to it being late and on a weekend.  We returned to Disney property about 18 hours after leaving.  It was a very long day but well worth it.  By the time we got to bed it was about a 21 hour day from the wake up call.
  • One of the few places still open when we walked through the Disney Village was McDonalds so we decided to pick up a bite to eat.  This was a mistake.. it was insanely crowded and took us nearly half an hour to get our through the line and our food.
  • As soon as I decided to go to France the one stop on my must see list were the D-Day beaches.   I am not a huge history buff but I am interested enough to know I wanted to see the beaches.  Sort of along the lines of when I made my first trip to Hawaii my goal was to see Pearl Harbor…  We knew it was going to be an extremely long day because of the choices we made staying at Disney and not in Downtown Paris or out in Normandy but we opted for this to save the hassle of moving around.   Also we booked so far in advance we were really just guessing and hoping for decent weather and the schedule and weather both worked perfectly.    The day went off without a hitch and we all were pleased with the experience.

Pedometer Stats
Miles 6.5
Steps 17,228
Moderate Steps 10,593
Moderate Steps/Time 95

D-Day Beaches Sightseeing Day: D-Day Landing Beaches

A day trip to Normandy to tour the D-Day Landing Beaches

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