The highlight of my recent trip to France was not Paris as one might think from reading my recent blogs—but Normandy. During June of this year a lot was made of D-Day in 1944—not only here in the USA but at the site of the landing itself. Even Queen Elizabeth and President Obama were there to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
In thinking about that length of time, 70 years, it doesn’t seem possible to me that D-Day was that long ago. What I’ve had to realize is that as those happenings have aged, so have I. People who fought in World War II used to be everywhere but over the years their numbers have dwindled to a handful.
Before I left the USA, I got to thinking over the possibility of visiting Normandy during my trip. I pretty much forgot about it by the time I reached my friends’ home in Paris though. We had a lot going on and a trip to Normandy seemed pretty much impossible. Under ordinary circumstances, to visit the former war zones as well as the many beautiful places in Normandy, one would need at least a week. I didn’t have that much time available but I was thinking if not this trip, when? For those of us who have been lucky enough to reach our eighties, time is almost rationed to us these days.
After my first week in Paris, I once again began thinking about a quick trip to this area located about two and a half hours away. Two dilemmas caused me not to let my heart get set on such a trip though. First, these days I walk with a cane because my mobility is not what it was when I was much younger and hopping all over the globe. Then too there was the problem of transportation itself. How did I get from one of those remarkable places to the next? Local trains and buses? No, I saw no way I could make this trip in a day. The only way was to go on a one-day bus tour to Normandy but they didn’t go to multiple places. So, I ended up not giving the idea much real thought.
Then my good friends Bob and Theresa Hamm of Boston, who somehow always are coming to my rescue, called and we talked on the phone. I mentioned this wild desire of mine to take a one-day farewell tour of Normandy. Bob, who is never stymied by the impossible, simply said, “Do it.” He said he would pay for me a chauffeured driver to accomplish this mighty twelve-hour feat I was proposing. He was very serious. Three days later at 8 am a chauffeur in a black suit driving a black Mercedes showed up and we took off on this madcap adventure.
The chauffeur’s name was Alex and he was from Normandy originally. It turned out he was a 30 year old who loved a challenge and was delighted to try and put into action the plans of this 80 something year old. So off we sped toward Normandy.
(Place mouse over picture for caption.)
We first went to one of the most beautiful little cities on earth in my opinion and that is the fishing village of Honfleur. It has been a favorite of artists from Monet on for its beauty and style of architecture. My friend Ken, with whom I was staying in Paris, had been there a year or so earlier. He loved it too and had found a specialty store with a brand of canned tuna, which he said was the absolute best around. I found the store and bought him ten cans. He was delighted upon my return that evening.
Alex and I had lunch dockside right in downtown Honfleur and the food was excellent. As we sat there enjoying our meal, I felt like I was inside one of Monet’s impressionist paintings of the city. It was hard to drag ourselves away but we had miles and miles to cover. Reluctantly we left this most beautiful of places and drove to Deauville. The city itself is lovely and is like a quaint Beverly Hill Rodeo Drive with all its fancy shops. All the architecture is in Normandy style and handsome in every aspect. Their casino is world famous for its jet set clientele. I of course had to take a quick pit stop to bet a few Euros in their slot machines. (I won but like all amateur gamblers, I put it back in the machine and lost it.) I was really impressed how beautiful this casino was inside. Elegant is hardly the word. Being that I arrived in a black Mercedes with a chauffeur, they of course thought I was a high roller. A casino steward met me as Alex pulled up at the entrance. I was guided inside, given a brief tour and they turned me over to their fashionable one-armed bandits. The stay was short but sweet.
We went on next to that part of Normandy where war got its bad name. The beginning of the landing area of D-Day is near the city of Caen. This city was 70% destroyed during the fighting. They have a very large memorial building in the city which houses everything you might want to know about that area and the term D-Day. They show a film that lasts 30 minutes which is very ingenious. It has no dialogue. On the left side of the screen you see Normandy as it looked to the Allies as they approached by sea; the right side you see what the Germans viewed headed in their direction. The end of the film is when the two collide. The memorial is excellent as a war museum.
From Caen you enter into the main beach areas of the landings. As Alex said, nowadays they are just beaches so there’s not a lot to see. You have to let your imagination do most of the work. Time was pushing us and we looked over the area briefly and then quickly zipped back to the auto route to return to Paris.
Alex was an excellent driver and we made it back to Ken and Christian’s apartment in Paris at 8 pm on the dot. Thus concluded my 12 hour/one day trip to Normandy to re-live 1944 and see that beautiful little city of Honfleur and throw a few coins in the casino in Deauville. What an experience! What a wonderful adventure! What else can I say except, “Thanks so much Bob and Theresa for making this dream come true for me.” What wonderful memories I have from this 12-hour trip!