Thursday, October 16, 2014

France Day 7: Les Andelys

Saturday, August 23rd

Today was a day full of cruising and a short stop in Les Andelys.

After docking, we had the option of roaming around the small town on our own, or doing a guided tour up to the castle. Mom chose to go and see the castle, I chose to venture around the town on my own. I mean, the castle was a major uphill walk and I wasn't in the mood to get sweaty. Plus, like I said before, roaming around a town in France by yourself is pretty cool.

Like every other town we visited, Les Andelys was breathtakingly gorgeous.

Chateau Gaillard, the castle mom hiked to. This was King Richard the Lionheart's castle. He feared an attack from the king of France, so he built this in 1196 for protection.

Les Andelys Church

While waiting on mom to return from her tour, I decided I might as well stop at the local bakery. Nothing like eating an eclair while staring out onto the Seine.

Look how cute these tiny, fuzzy, French baby birds are!

Our boat!

View from the castle of our boat and Les Andelys. #nofilter

On our way to Conflans!
There were so many swans in the river.

Going through a lock. If you are like I was and have no idea what a lock is, it's basically just a way to raise/lower boats to match the differing heights of the river at certain points. We went through several of these.

On board drink and dessert. : )

Tomorrow is Van Gogh's town!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

France Day 6: Omaha Beach & American Cemetery

Friday, August 22

This morning we woke up quite early, had breakfast, and hopped on the tour bus. We had about a 2 hour ride to get to the Normandy beaches from Rouen.

Before leaving for France, Garrett talked me into watching Saving Private Ryan because it is set in Normandy and depicts the WWII scene that happened on the very beach we would be visiting. Before our trip, I think I was looking forward to this day the most. So much history. So much emotion. So much sacrifice.

The Normandy countryside is gorgeous.

Our first stop was a museum in Arromanches that had WWII artifacts and a short film about WWII. After the museum, our entire group had lunch.

Allies' flags.

In the water remained parts of ports that had been built for the allies.
Since it was a tightly scheduled day, our entire group had lunch at the same restaurant where they had already set out salads for us. A huge salad for lunch? No thanks. This one in particular had too many things going on for me.

I probably ate about 10 pieces of bread, and then headed to the bakery afterwards and had this little mini pizza thing. Salad smalad. 

After lunch we headed to Pointe du Hoc. Pointe du Hoc is the highest point in between the two American landing beaches. It features a 100 foot cliff that American soldiers were able to climb in order to take over this area from the Germans. I can't believe they were able to do that, there were so many rocky/steep areas that it seems impossible, but somehow they persevered.

Corn fields and a dark sky.

Remnants from WWII.


The land was very uneven and had huge pits that were used for hiding.

Pointe du Hoc/English Channel coastline. How the American soldiers were able to climb this in a war zone I'll never understand.

We were able to go into an actual German shelter/gun pit and look around. It was awesome, but also eerie, to think that you were standing somewhere that German soldiers had hidden and attempted to shoot Americans. This shelter was close to the edge of the cliff, so looking out you saw the coast and the English Channel.

After Pointe du Hoc, we headed to Omaha Beach. This beach is the exact beach that American ships landed on on June 6, 1944. This beach is the exact beach where so many soldiers lost their lives fighting for their country.

 "1st US Infantry Division. No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great, duty first. Forced Omaha Beach at dawn, June 6th, 1944."

"The allied forces landing on this shore which they call Omaha Beach liberate Europe - June 6th, 1944."

Standing on this beach was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Imagining the horror and loss that happened right where my feet were was heartbreaking. With tears in my eyes, I felt so much pride for those soldiers and our country.

We were only given 10 minutes on the actual beach before we had to head to the American Cemetery. I got on the bus, already an emotional mess, fearing that I was going to embarrass myself at the cemetery.

The American Cemetery is gorgeous. It is set right on the coastline, so there are beautiful views of the English Channel. The grass was green, the trees green and trimmed. The white crosses marking the grave sites all in rows, perfectly clean. The amount of little white crosses really puts everything into perspective. Any soldier who lost their life due to World War II is eligible to be buried here. There were so many. 9,387 to be exact. There are 33 pairs of brothers laying side by side.

We attended an American memorial service at the cemetery where Taps was played and tears were shed. You don't know American pride until you are standing in the American Cemetery in Normandy listening to Taps. It was something else. After the service, we were given roses to place on the graves. Earlier mom and I had come across an unknown soldier's grave, and as soon as I got my hand on that rose, I knew where I wanted it to go. Mom knew too because she asked me where I wanted to put it, and I was crying too much to talk so she asked if I wanted to put it on the unknown soldiers cross. I nodded my head yes.

The fact that someone is buried here and is unknown really breaks my heart. That means no one will ever come to this cemetery with the purpose of visiting them. That means that somewhere, a family was left wondering what happened to their loved one. That's hard to swallow.

After mom and I left the rose.

I look angry in this picture but I wasn't. It didn't feel right to smile so I just straight-faced it.

I couldn't get a grip. If no one had been around I would've done the ugly cry for about a half hour. Mom too, I think.

We had a little time left so we wandered towards the coast and the wall memorial. All day the sky had been dark and it had been rainy. A pretty accurate forecast for the feeling of the day.

Soon it was time to head back to Rouen and board the ship for dinner. 

After a long and emotional day, I think we were both ready to settle down and go to bed. This little guy was waiting for us in our room. : )

Looking back and trying to describe this day in words is difficult. It was one of the best experiences I think I have ever had and I am thankful for it. It was humbling and eye opening and something I will never forget!