An American friend sent me a message yesterday. She had been looking at the 75th anniversary of D-Day ceremonies and hunted up prices for a tour of the invasion beaches. Four or five days out of Paris, coaches and hotels, breakfast and guides included. That sort of thing.
I said if she was going to assemble a group, I’d go with her.
Not sure why. I’ve been to Omaha Beach three times already. Each time guided by myself, hiring a car and driving around.
Perhaps it’s not so much the battle zones and cemeteries, poignant and historical though they are, as the land. I love Paris, and the Normandy/Brittany area is delightful in its own green and rural way.
Old towns, tiny stone villages, rolling hills and orchards, chateaux on the hills. The food, especially the seafood, is solid and flavoursome, and the wines and ciders complete the picture. A litre of Normandy cider for a Euro beats the hell out of the jacked up imported price I have to pay here.
Mont St Michel is rightly one of the world’s heritage sites, and the nearby Intramuros of St Malo is one of my favourite places on earth.
And, of course, there is the Bayeux Tapestry, a piece of mediaeval propaganda that turns a brutal invasion into a quest for justice. Right.
My first time, I walked along Omaha Beach, made my way around the moonscape of craters and concrete bunkers of Pointe du Hoc, read the names on the gravestones at the huge American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer above Omaha, and prowled around the church of St Mere Église, where American paratroopers landed on top of the German garrison.
Subsequently, I was there for the cider and the companionship of friends and lovers, and not so much for the invasion. But I looked through the cemetery each time, silently saluting the boys – and they were teenagers, mostly – who fell on that first bloody morning.
The Germans of today likewise pay homage to that battle. It wasn’t really one nation against another. It was the forces of freedom against a brutal tyranny, and the Germans did well to escape the Thousand Year Reich envisaged by Hitler. How much freedom would Europe have if the Nazis had retained their mastery over Germany and all the conquered lands?
Even the Germans are thankful for liberation.
And if I travel to Normandy again, I’ll be thankful to be in a position where I can travel to a distant land to be with old friends, drink cider, and mangle the language.
Image credit: Britni Pepper