Day trip to Normandy.
A quick two hour train ride from Paris, Caen is the perfect day trip to be reminded of the history that took place during WWII at the Invasion of Normandy. It is a very busy day, and can be rushed, but well worth it. Take two days if you’re a big history buff and want to see everything.
Here’s how it goes:
Arrive in Caen, rent a car, and start heading to Pointe du Hoc, then work your way back to Caen, seeing Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and the Caen Memorial.
Pointe du Hoc – June 6,1944 D-Day.
To refresh your memory, Pointe du Hoc was the highest point between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east. The German army fortified the area with concrete casements and gun pits. On D-Day (6 June 1944) the United States Army Ranger Assault Group assaulted and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the cliffs.
Tip: If you go in the summer time, be prepared for lots of children and school tour groups. Running around throughout the bunkers makes it a little difficult to get the full affect.
To me, Omaha Beach was the most memorable during the D-Day Invasion due to the loss of lives being the greatest at this site – 3,881 American soldiers were killed, wounded or reported missing on June 6, 1944 at Omaha. The memorial is a raw awakening of what took place here not too long ago. A beautiful placement on the sand, lined with flags from all of those countries involved in the war, including Germany.
“No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great. Duty first.”
The American Cemetery covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of the deceased military, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.
Facing west at the memorial, you can see in the foreground the reflecting pool; beyond is the burial area with a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the United States and France.
This, for me, was the most emotional part. An absolutely beautiful portray of the history, videos, and memorials. I suggest doing your family research before visiting so you can look up your ancestors (they have a giant book of names and grave numbers so you can easily find them). Very moving either way. I also liked how they incorporate the Jewish Star of David into the Cross in order to respect all soldiers beliefs.
On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
After you walk through the graves and really take the time to sit and soak it in, be sure to take the path down to Omaha Beach. It’s a short, sandy beach, nothing out of the ordinary, making it difficult to imagine what it was like 71 years ago.
[I watched Saving Private Ryan after visiting Caen and thought it was a great film that really portrayed the story well for me.]
On the way back to Caen, we stopped and looked at a few Batteries where the German’s left abandoned guns and bunkers.
The Caen Memorial includes a huge museum that encompasses all aspects of World War II, not just Normandy, and not just the French history. I suggest allowing two hours to explore everything.
They even have the famous kissing statue in front, just like the one in San Diego. They say the statue is a representation of peace. But then question: “How is a forced kiss representative of peace?”
Overall, an incredible, emotional, educational trip and one I’m so glad we took the time to see.
- Go to the Arromanches 360 Circular Cinema up on the hill that overlooks the temporary harbor — Beautiful view.
- Get a tour or private tour (Overlord Tour is supposed to be good). Go during June to really feel the full affect. We were there June 19, 2015 — 71 year anniversary.
- If going in the summer time, be prepared for school groups and tour buses crowds everywhere! Which can take away from the moment.
- Be sure to stop in the Omaha Beach Memorial Museum to see old artifacts and hear stories from soldiers from the war.
- Visit the Normandy Tourism website for a full list of places to visit during your trip.