Normandy – A Contemplative Adventure

Visiting Normandy was one of the more contemplative trips I have had. It is one of my favourites, despite its less than exotic location. Normandy, on the coast of Northern France, was the base of the D-Day landings – the beginning of ‘Operation Overlord’, the allied invasion of German occupied France, on the 6th June 1944. As well as featuring heavily in hundreds of war films (modern versions include ‘Saving Private Ryan’), and computer games such as Call of Duty, for those interested in history, Normandy is home to a great number of fascinating historical sites. Each town along the coast has its own story to tell. Towns such as Caen, Cherbourg, Carentan and Falaise endured many casualties in the Battle of Normandy and liberation of the French.

There are many bunkers like these scattered around the landscape further inland. The first viewing of one was an intense moment.

There are many bunkers like these scattered around Normandy coast. The first viewing of one was an intense moment.

I found many of the historical sites in Normandy to be emotional because the remains are so young – they were not of some distant battle, lost in the sands of time, but of a world changing war of which many survivors and soldiers still exist.  The remains of armaments and destroyed buildings really captures your imagination. ‘Point du Hoc’ and next to it, ‘Omaha Beach’ were two of the most significant sites I visited. It was here that a large number of allied forces were deployed for the invasion. Point du Hoc refers to the cliffs above the beaches, where a number of German bunkers are situated. Many of the bunkers are very well preserved. They are constructed of concrete and were built to withstand bombardment of shells from the Allied forces back in Britain. Some of them are home to huge guns designed to shoot down allied ships, whereas others are home to machine guns intended to prevent the allied rangers from scaling the cliffs. Standing in these bunkers felt very strange, and was upsetting, due to the horrible circumstances for which they were constructed. Standing inside one of the bunkers of Omaha beach was even more harrowing, as I had seen it in various films. Point du Hoc is littered with various concrete constructions and there are huge craters from the bombardment of allied shells. It is a very popular site and there were many tourists here. The ‘Pegasus Bridge’ was another incredibly interesting site. It was a major objective of one of the British divisions. Soldiers were to land in gliders, secure the bridges without destroying them, and ensure that the Germans could not use them. The entire metal bridge is still there, and it was very important in controlling the German forces.

The clifftop of Point du Hoc, pockmarked with blown out shell holes.

The clifftop of Point du Hoc, pockmarked with blown out shell holes.

The observation bunker on the tip of 'Point du Hoc', still in incredibly good condition.

The observation bunker on the tip of ‘Point du Hoc’, still in incredibly good condition.

The cemeteries we visited were also very emotional places. The German, British and American cemeteries all have a very distinctive feeling. Whilst the German cemeteries are fairly small and grey, the American cemeteries are huge, home to thousands of pristine white gravestones, neatly arranged. It is located right next to the sea, and is home to a museum (of which there are hundreds spread across Normandy). We even had to go through a security checkpoint with some American soldiers guarding the cemetery to protect it in order to enter. It was interesting reading some of the stories of the soldiers and the whole trip made me think a lot. As I mentioned, Normandy is home to hundreds of museums, with collections of planes, tanks, ships, uniforms and anything else you can imagine from the war. Many of them are modern and very accessible, with plenty of English translations and videos to help.

The American Cemetery.

The American Cemetery

However, Normandy is not only home to Second World War history. Mont Saint-Michel is a medieval fortified town constructed on a small island just off the mainland. It is extremely impressive and millions of tourists visit it every year. It simply must be seen to be believed. It rises up out of the sea like something out of a fairy tale. Turrets and archery slits are everywhere, and the town inside is extremely well preserved. At the top of the town is an abbey and monastery, whereas at the bottom are huge stone fortified walls. The whole thing is like a giant castle. After ascending the town and seeing the fantastic views of its surroundings, eating an ice cream on the way down was a perfect end to this incredible site.

Mont Saint-Michel, rising out of the landscape like a Disney castle.

Mont Saint-Michel, rising out of the landscape like a Disney castle.

These photos aren’t that great as they were taken with a camera phone.

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