For our family summer vacation we decided to go to Normandy France. Daniel has read a number of books from members of the 101st Airborne, not to mention we have all watched the Band of Brothers and a number of other movies that cover the beach landings in Normandy. You cannot live in Europe for an extended period of time without visiting Normandy!
After researching our driving route, we decided the best plan would be to first drive to Bruges Belgium and spend the night. Ironically enough, the day we decided to drive to Bruges we had to go through Brussels. While driving through Brussels, we witnessed several protests of Muslims in the streets. There were also police patrolling the streets with guns. Once we arrived in our hotel in Bruges, we saw the news story where a Muslim man had attempted a massacre on a train headed to Brussels. Luckily, 3 Americans traveling on the train restrained the man and everyone survived.
Bruges is a beautiful medieval city noted for its canals, medieval buildings, and cobbled streets. For centuries, it has served as an important center for fishing and European trade. The city center offers horse drawn carriage rides (which we took), with guided tours on the 17th century houses, the first hospital in Europe which operated in the 11th century, as well as a 13th century bell tower. We ate a dinner of mussels and pommes at a quaint outdoor cafe. We could not leave Bruges without indulging in some Belgian chocolate. So we visited a little shop and let the kids pick out some of the gourmet chocolates that appealed to them.
The next morning we got a "move on," and headed to our home away from home for the next 7 days. We rented a "chalet" on the beach in Normandy. Of course "chalet" makes it sound so fancy, when in reality it was a house. However when you walk out the back door, you were literally standing right in the sand. What was amazing about this beach was how child friendly it was. If you are like Daniel and myself, you may worry that a child might slip out the back door down to the beach, and perhaps try to take a swim. Well this beach was perfect! First of all, the beach was extremely big. With the tide out, it took a good 10 minutes to walk all the way down to the water. This was great because there were all kinds of little pools while heading down there where the kids would find all kinds of wonderful treasures such as shells, crabs, and even a jelly fish. Even when the tide was in, the water was extremely calm. I kept telling Daniel as far as the tide and the waves were concerned, it was no more dangerous than a lake. The water was also extremely shallow for a very long ways out. Once again, perfect for any little ones who may stray. So all in all, safety was not a big concern! What was incredible was that there were old German bunkers all along the beach where we were staying. It was a short walk to explore something as incredible as an old German World War II bunker. I would dare say one of the best parts of the trip was walking and running the beaches, looking for old bunkers and pieces of history left over from the war.
To back up for just a minute, on our way to Normandy we stopped in Ypres Belgium to visit the Flanders Fields Museum of World War I. The museum itself is situation on actual battle fields where you can see what were once trenches. The museum tells the story of the invasion of Belgium, the four years of trench war in the area, following the end of the war. I must admit I was never that interested in World War I. However, after seeing this museum, I cannot articulate how chilling this museum was. It truly highlights how important it is to know our world history so it may never repeat itself.
I could sit here and write pages upon pages, sharing with you all the historical sites we have the privilege of seeing in Normandy. Unfortunately, we saw quite a bit of rain on our trip, which is from what I understand not uncommon for this area. In fact, the beach landings in World War II had to be rescheduled because of bad weather. This was perhaps a good experience for us. We were there in the warmest month of the year, yet we had quite a bit of rainy, cold weather. It really made me think about the elements these men endured!
To name some highlights of the trip, we visited Omaha Beach, one of the beaches in German occupied France where the allies landed in June 6, 1944. We saw Utah Beach, another landing beach for the Allies. We visited the The American Cemetery, honoring troops that died during World War II. To see the number of headstones of all the men who never made it home, was quite a difficult site to take in. We also visited the German Cemetery, where 21,000 German soldiers are buried from World War II. It was extremely interesting to see both sites, as the American cemetery was quite impressive, where as the German cemetery was less so. It was quite an opportunity to see this and come to the understanding that most of the German soldiers fighting had no choice. We visited Point Du Hoc, a 100 foot cliff overlooking the English Channel, where during WWII Rangers landed to take out cannons aimed at Utah and Omaha Beaches. Imagine trying to scale this cliff on a flimsy ladder, carrying your gear, with Germans at the top firing at you like fish in a barrel. We visited Sainte Mere Eglise, where John Steele, of the 82nd Airborne parachuted and got hung up on the church steeple. As he hung there alive, he watched his comrads die. At one point, he realized he was just a hanging target, so he played dead. Eventually he was "rescued" and captured by Germans. He was able to escape and rejoin his unit in the fight. We were able to visit this church were today, a stained glass window with John Steele hanging from the top of the church by his parachute is in place.
We were able to take two shorter day trips. One was to a place called Mont Saint Michel. This abbey is located in Lower Normandy. When the tide comes in, the Abbey is surrounded by water. Constructed during the 9th century, it is a great example of the feudal societies. On top is the abbey. Beneath that, are the town halls, below this are the stores and housing, at the bottom are the walls, fisherman and farmer housing. Today, there are only about 45 residents of the island. Over the course of history it has been a strategic site for defense, a jail, a tomb, and a place of pilgrimage.
We also took a day and drove North to the port town of Honfleur France. Honfleur is a medieval town with old homes. It was the site of Claude Monet's work. Saint Catherine's Church is found here, a vaulted wooden structure built by shipbuilders beginning in the mid-1400's. The church is the same of a ship's hull. Despite the rain, we had an outdoor lunch under a canopy, walked the old city streets, and visited this incredible church. It was quite a cold, wet day, so we made this somewhat of a quick trip.
We had a couple nice days to take in the beach at Normandy. Of course with our Irish luck, the weather was gorgeous on the day we departed. However, we were not done! We headed to Rouen France (pronounced Rowan!), where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Rouen is once again an old medieval town located on the Seine River, complete with hundreds of half timbered houses, gothic churches, cobblestone streets, and a monument to Joan of Arc. We also ate a fantastic dinner here in Rouen at a craperie. When many people think of crapes, they think of sweet fillings such as Nutella. However crapes can also be found with savory fillings and eaten as more than just a treat. One thing I love about traveling with the kids are all the amazing foods they get to eat. They really look forward to trying new things and all the local food just as much as Daniel and I do! We spent the night in Rouen, then headed back to our German home of Weilerbach. All in all, I have to say this trip was chucked FULL of history. Our children know more about World War II first hand than I could ever dream!
On a side note, I am experiencing some technical difficulties with my photos uploading so this is only scraping the surface! These are all the photos from Teddy's and Daniel's devices. I will update as soon as possible with more photos!
Bruges Bell Tower from the 13th Century
Parusing the streets of Bruges
Trenches at the World War I Museum
World War I Museum Trenches
Rouen in front of the Gothic Cathedral
Saint Mere Eglise. You can see the soldier hanging
from the church in the background.
Weilerbach's French sister city, Isigny Mer! We had to
get a photo.
Inside a left over German bunker
One of the nights we walked the beaches looking at old bunkers
One of Utah Beach's old German Bunkers
Our 11 year old history buff!
French Memorial site from Utah Beach Landing
Our crew at Point Du Hoc
What is interesting is there are farm animals (cattle
and sheep) grazing all over this area in these huge
holes made by bombs.
Paddy Pumpkins at Point Du Hoc
Point Du Hoc. Beautiful place with tumultuous history.
Point Du Hoc
Point Du Hoc. Patrick in a bomb hole.
The kids had a fantastic time running
from hole to hole, bunker to bunker,
Point Du Hoc where the Rangers scaled up the cliffs
Point Du Hoc Bunkers and Bombs
Point Du Hoc German Bunker
Inside Point Du Hoc Bunker
Point Du Hoc German bunker raided
by the rangers. They had to blast the
doors off of this one.
Checking out Point Du Hoc. Daniel had
a death grip on Liam on this whole excursion.
There were quite a few places to fall and
get really hurt.
Patrick inside a bunker at Point Du Hoc
Point Du Hoc. I am not a "history buff"
yet this site is incredibly well documented
and tells the story for all. We were also
lucky enough at one point to be walking
behind a guided tour in English.
Infinity pool at American Cemetery at Normandy
American Cemetery in Normandy
This is by far the most beautiful cemetery I have
ever seen. I could not believe the views.
Visiting the Roosevelts in the cemetery. Theodore
Roosevelt Jr. stormed the beaches of Normandy with
a cane! He survived, yet died a few weeks later
of a heart attack.
Patrick in the American Cemetery. This
boy is so photogenic!!
Family photo in the American Cemetery
Dick Winters Memorial- Band of Brothers
Teddy in the German Cemetery. Teddy was able to
read and translate so much of the material. A German
education pays off!
Kids on the monument in German Cemetery
Ein Deutscher Soldat means a German
Mont Saint Michel. We walked out at low tide,
I would say about a 3 mile walk.
Walking with everyone out to Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel and our pilgrimage!
Entering the gate into the town
Stopping for a beer/coffee/crepe
Mont Saint Michel Abbey
Of course with so much in the world, photos do not
do this place justice. Low tide on top of Mont Saint Michel.
Sitting on top of Mont Saint Michel. Once again Liam
had a death grip on him the entire day!
Braving the rain and wind to see Mont Saint Michel.
Who could tell it was August?!?!
In the town area of Mont Saint Michel
Normandy Beach in front of the house we rented
If you look waaay out there, you can see my family!
One, two, three... show me your muscles!!!!
Aw... these are the moments I live for
Sand castle building. In the back is our beach house.
Honfleur. This day was cold and wet.
The port of Honfluer
My smart girl in Honfleur
My curly haired boy playing at lunch
Muscles and cidar
Half timbered home in Hon Fleur
Honfleur half timbered medieval homes
Memorial to Joan of Arc. Spot where
she was burned at the stake in 1431.
Joan of Arc Memorial
Rouen with my kiddos
The "big" boys
A quick break for a refreshment
Anatomical clock in Rouen with the boys
My most favorite girl in the whole world
Rowan in Rouen in front of the gothic church