Chapter Fourteen: Remembering D-Day

P1030957Chapter Fourteen:  Remembering D-Day

Day Fifteen – Walking In The Footsteps Of History, Germ Warfare, Checking Out the City of Bayeux Plus An Inventive and Incroyable Dinner

Up early, the four of us walked through our countryside estate, said hello to the swans (the ducks were sleeping…or hiding) and strolled down to the Place de Quebec (maybe that’s why Mary thought we were Canadians yesterday), where, at a little before 8:30 a.m., we were to be met by our guide from Overlord Tours who would take the four of us (and three others) on a half day tour of D-Day sites.

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We first stopped at the nearby L’hôtel Reine Mathilde where we had four awakening café au laits.  At about 8:20 our van showed up, and the seven of us along with our guide hopped into it for the beginning of the tour (55€…cash only).  We had booked the tour a few months previous to assure our early time.

Fortunately, we were not seated next to our guide, because, as a couple from Seattle was about to find out, she had a terrible cough (she even made the people on our influenza-laden flight over to France seem healthy).

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Our first stop was at the Batteries of Longues-sur-Mer, which housed artillery used by the Germans.  This was one portion of the Germans’ Atlantic Wall Fortification.  This particular battery is located between Omaha and Gold beaches.  According to our guide, the Germans fired hundreds of artillery shells into the area of oncoming ships, but they all missed their mark.   Everyone walked around the area looking at the bunkers and the remaining weapons.  On the eve of D-Day, this area was heavily bombarded, although the allies also had trouble hitting the mark, with many of the bombs striking nearby villages. FD14K05Back at the van, the guide, who now had hacked up the equivalent of about four lungs in one hour, was amazingly puffing away on a cigarette.  Yes, there is no cure for stupid.  As our guide drove to our next location, through her coughing spells, she told her van mates not to worry.  “It’s only an infection that is not contagious.”   Meanwhile, the couple from Seattle were looking through their medical records to see when they received their last flu shot.   FD14M11Our next stop was famed Omaha Beach, and it was quite remarkable to be standing on such a historic piece of earth.   In between her spastic coughs, our guide did provide us with lots of invasion details.

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It was especially interesting, personal and moving for Mary, whose dad was part of the D-Day invasion.  He had saved one of his comrades from drowning by cutting his too-heavy pack, and years later, after Mary’s dad had passed away, the person he saved arrived at Mary’s door to tell her the story of her dad’s heroism.  She had never known about it.  It was hard not to think about the thousands of lives lost on June 6, 1944, during Operation Overlord.

We then drove past some other historical sites, including the National Guard Monument located in Vierville-sur-Mer, on Omaha Beach.  The monument sits on the spot where the 29th National Guard Division broke through German defenses on D-Day.

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Our guide, however, did not give us very much additional information.  She spent most of her time on her cell phone, because to add to the woes caused by that terrible cough, she received news that her dog might also be dying.  Eisenhower didn’t have this many problems coordinating the entire Normandy invasion.

P1030936Soon, we arrived at The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach (Cimitére Americain).

P1030956Tracy and I had visited here in 1998, and it was quite an emotional and moving experience, especially when they played Taps late in the day.

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Nearly 9,400 servicemen and women are buried here.

P1030957The crosses and Stars of David seemed to stretch forever.

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Our group was allowed to tour the cemetery on our own for about 45 minutes.

P1030943We meandered throughout the crosses and Stars of David, and came upon Teddy Roosevelt Jr.’s tombstone, which signified he was a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.  Teddy survived the invasion, but died a little more than a month later from a heart attack.  He is buried next to his brother, Quentin, who was killed in World War I (the only World War I grave in the cemetery).

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We exited next to the semicircle garden where the names of 1,557 American missing are inscribed on the east side of the memorial. In the center is the bronze statue, Spirit of American Youth.  In 1951 Donald Harcourt De Lue received a commission to create seven works for a memorial to the fallen soldiers of D-Day.  This is his most famous.  The statue was cast in Milan, Italy.

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There was one more important stop on the tour, and soon we were at Pointe du Hoc. This is where the U.S. Army Rangers scaled great heights to combat the Germans. FD14M51Pointe du Hoc is a promontory located to the west of Omaha Beach.  The German positions were well fortified, and this is where the United States Army Ranger Assault Group assaulted and captured Pointe du Hoc after scaling the steep, steep cliffs.

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The Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument has been restored honoring “Rudder’s Rangers.”  The Ranger Memorial was rededicated at a June 6, 2011, ceremony attended by Rudder family members and numerous other dignitaries.

P1030970The landscape around Pointe du Doc is basically littered with bomb craters. We had about 30 minutes to walk around the area, and it’s pretty remarkable to think about what went on here nearly 70 years ago.

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If you want a really good read, pick up David Brinkley’s book, The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion, which intertwines the story of the valiant Army Rangers with the speech Ronald Reagan gave on the 40th anniversary of D-Day.  It was literally I book I couldn’t put down, because I read it in one sitting.

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Pointe du Hoc is,to me, the most interesting of all the stops along the way.  We climbed in the bunkers where the Germans and looked out on the vast expanse of land and sea where the Allied troops came ashore.  A feathered friend also kept watch.

P1030972The entire tour takes four hours. I thought the tour was informative and well worth the price, but I do think they could do a better job.

FD14K37There was lots of dead time in the van where perhaps a sound system explaining more details could come in handy.  Plus, it would have drowned out our guide’s coughing.  I do hope the dog lived.

FD14K35Before leaving, we saw our new friends from Seattle (who were trying to contact the nearest Hazmat Unit), and bade them farewell (or was it really farewell…foreshadowing alert).  Back in Bayeux, the four of us sat down for a relaxed lunch at a restaurant on the town’s main street.  We then wandered the streets of Bayeux on a bustling Tuesday afternoon.

FD14M63We stopped in a few shops and did a little window-shopping and bought some Irish beer for Kim and Mary.

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We think that Bayeux is the perfect locale to base yourself when traveling to Normandy.

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We did get a little chance at a nap after our daily routine of saying hello to all our water-logged friends back at the inn.

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For dinner, Kim and Mary decided to stay at the hotel and dine there (they enjoyed their meal, especially the chicken), while Tracy and I made one last walk into town for our supper.  Our hotel had made reservations at a restaurant that had received a good deal of hype in the Foodie world.  Not really being a foodie, but one who enjoys a good meal (obviously), I was skeptical it would live up to the hype (doubting Thomas, I guess).

686Le P’tit Resto (photo of restaurant above from website), 2 Rue de Bienvenu, lived up to all the advance press and more. We were seated in the front section of the restaurant near the bar (the trend continues), and we only saw a few more tables seated in this tiny restaurant on a drizzly Tuesday night (we sat between a couple from Cape Cod and a couple from the real Canada…not Mary’s Canada).

P1030990Tracy and I started with a Kir Cassis, and after that we didn’t have a kir in the world. This is a restaurant for more adventuresome diners, because the menu changes often and is rather limited. Although the selection is small, our choices were spectacular.  We started with the amuse-bouche of warm figs with jambon.

P1030991Next up was the appetizer. Tracy had crème fraîche and caviar on soft bread. I sneaked a bite, and it was the first time I ever tasted anything with caviar (not that I dine on caviar often) that I enjoyed. So much for the doubting Thomas routine. “This is going to be fun,” I said to Tracy.

P1030996I started with an appetizer of foie gras (I didn’t tell the ducks when I got back to the hotel) with cinnamon and apple slices.  It was fantastic.

For the main course, I had a delectable pork tenderloin on a bed of risotto with a shot of caramel sauce on the side for 17€.  It sounds weird, but the caramel sauce was the perfect complement to the meal.

P1030992Tracy opted for the smoked salmon in a puff pastry on a bed of mashed peas with a shot of warm gazpacho.  It, too, was magnificent.

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This was no time to stop even thought we were rather full, so on to dessert we traveled. Tracy’s Baba-au-Rhum was like no Baba-au-Rhum we’d ever seen (well, we had never seen one in person, but had looked at pictures).  I had one little bite, but Tracy liked it so much she wouldn’t share, a unique experience from my usually caring spouse.  

The Baba-au-rhum was reconstituted with framboise and a shot of liquor that wasn’t easily recognizable, although through our sheer powers of deduction we figured it must have been some sort of rum.

P1030993Not to be outdone in the dessert department, I had a scrumptious chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell on a bed of pistachio cream.  Our bottle of Saumur vin rouge lasted almost throughout the entire meal.

The total bill came to 101€, and it was totally worth the price. Le P’tit Resto served up one of the best meals we’ve had anywhere in the world.

P1030998We stopped and rook one last look at the cathedral (with that red door standing out even more at night) as the mist started to pick up…

P1030997…and somehow were able to amble back to the hotel, saying one last farewell to the wood ducks, and soon we were packing for the following day’s journey.

We only had one more stop to make before returning to Gay Paree.  Tomorrow, we would be traveling to a town that, in retrospect, we gave short shrift to back in 1998.  We had enjoyed our stay there on that trip, but didn’t know everything it had to offer.  This would be the perfect stop to refresh our engines before our final few days in Paris, and even though both rooms at our next lodging would present some minor “challenges,” it was a cool, little spot in a very charming town.

Next: Day Sixteen – Harboring Four Americans, Is That A Boat Or A Church, Killer Caramel Crepes, Dancing In The Street, Death Stairs 2012, What’s This Tree Doing In My Shower, Not Dine But Dash and The Perfect Way To Spend An Evening

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