Saturday, May 15, 2010

IMG_0364.jpgAfter a decent night’s sleep – Melatonin pills do help – we were anxious to hit the road, having picked up a couple of French pastries the night before, and inhaled them on our way to retrieve our parked vehicle and get on the Route de Normandie.  We had decided to drive to our westernmost point, Sainte-Mere Eglise, and then journey back east, along the Normandy coast for the next few days.  Our post-Normandy plans were going to take us to Belgium, so this plan made complete sense logistically.

It was a very comfortable ride on an initially sunny day, which later turned to a slight mist. The Route de Normandie going west from Caen to Sainte-Mere Eglise is far less intense and hectic as the intial leg taking us from CDG around Paris on on way west.  This being our first full day, we had a full list of D-Day places and events to experience.

First stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, one of the first towns liberated on D-Day. We visited the church, took some nice pictures of the wonderful stained glass windows depicting the paratroopers dropping into the town, and had some coffee. We skipped the museum, figuring if we’d seen one tank or MG42 we’d seen them all, and we had lots of places to visit today.

Next we headed to Utah Beach, and on the way stopped in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. The 101st Airborne took this town to prepare the route in-land for the beach landing troops. This was a charming place , with several plaques posted throughout the central town which told stories of interesting D-Day fighting that took place there.

At Utah Beach we got to see hedgehogs and some very long and pointy monuments. There is a museum here we skipped, and a nice cafe full of old Navy radio equipment salvaged from one of the bunkers there after the war.

On the way back we stopped at Brécourt Manor, site of the now-famous battle between Easy Company and four German howitzers that were shelling Utah Beach. This battle was accurately recreated in the second episode, Day of Days, of Band of Brothers. After meeting one of the owners of the manor farm, we got to tour the field where the battle took place. There’s nothing but pasture there, and some curious cows, but it was exciting to be there. We found a nearby memorial with a map, drawn by Dick Winters, showing how the battle took place.

Next we headed inland, to Sainte-Come-du-Mont, where the 101st tried to cut off the German retreat from the area, and a major cross-roads leading into Carentan. One location of interest is Dead Man’s Corner, where there is a museum and excellent selection of period relics you can purchase if you have the cash. Dead Man’s Corner was named after an American tank that was destroyed by a direct hit, with a dead crewman hanging out of the turret.

Next we headed into Carentan, a small town critical to linking the forces from Utah and Omaha beaches. The third Band of Brothers episode, Carentan, deals with Easy Company’s part in taking of the town, with some wonderful recreations of the town’s architecture.

Next we stopped at the La Cambe German Cemetary. The immaculate and solemn grounds house over 21000 German soldiers, most of whom are buried two per grave.

Finally we headed into Omaha Beach territory, first to Grandcamp-Maisy, a small ocean resort town, and home of the nearby Maisy Battery. We had a nice walk around town, found a great, inexpensive hotel right on the water, and had a fantastic seafood dinner. It was a long day, and time to get some sleep!

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