Plan your trip to Normandy and your life will be changed forever

Normandy, France.

It has always been a life wish of mine to visit Normandy, France.  I am not a fan of the term “bucket list” so I term my travel wish list as my “life list” and always have a plan in mind for getting to see what both my husband and I desire to see.  It is not always and in fact almost never, a direct flight in and out of an area but rather a trip designed with a soul to the extrusion.  The soul of this trip was Normandy.

The Voyage

Aboard Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, our recent voyage certainly covered more than just Normandy and is aptly named The Paris & Normandy Cruise. Anyone who enjoys a love of culture, art, romance, extraordinary landscapes and of course history cannot go wrong with this all-inclusive journey.  In our case, we wanted to see the beaches of Normandy and the cemetery and museums before the seventieth anniversary had passed us by but make no mistake…enjoying the…”The City of Light”, Honfleur, Rouen, and Avec Sur Oise was fabulous! Giverny is also a stop during the warmer months as well. The Seine is the amazing vein for all these must-see cities and a trip where you can sail the Seine without carting your luggage from hotel to hotel. The hotel travels with you, and it is an amazing and very cost effective way to combine all of your desires and needs in one travel experience. I just love river cruising and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises as a means to travel Europe and Asia. 

The Normandy Cemetery Experience

Mulberry Harbor at Arromanches also known as Port Winston.  Arromanches was a remarkable human undertaking with over 600,000 tons of concrete & equipment moved across the channel.  This was all during an active war to create and serve as a base for the allied troops.  It was, in fact, an artificial man-made port for supplies of men, weapons, and ammunition. We explored the D-Day Museum, and it became quickly apparent why this history changing event had to happen here with the proximity to the sea. This beautiful coastline broke our hearts as we walked the beaches and became one with the realization or how vulnerable these brave young men were to German firepower. With guns pointed at the sea at the remarkably close range, there leaves little doubt as to why so many died so quickly.

 Our Canadian fellow travelers had the same experience while seeing the museum at the Canadian Center and walk to Juno Beach where the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landed into hell.  The coastline for Americans to experience was Omaha Beach.

The American Cemetery and memorial to American soldiers who lost their lives is nothing short of breath-stopping.  At one point while walking and turning a hedged corner, the thousands of crosses with American flags appear, almost at once into view.  You just do not know where to put your eyes, the crosses, the lawn, and the trees are perfect in every way but are staggering.  Aesthetically and geographically perfect in placement, this combination of peace and heartbreak will hopefully never be created again for any other generation.

Uniworld guests can participate in a special ceremony during their visit that involves a wreath laying, the American national anthem, and a moment of silence.  I believe all on our excursion participated and four of the passengers who were American Veterans laid the wreath for that day’s ceremony. 

The French Students are never the same

We stood in silence while the American National Anthem was played and the wreath was laid.  Then we were asked to turn in mass toward the direction of the United States of America with hand on our hearts, while Taps were blown in commemoration.  For a point of clarification, the sea is behind the memorial, and the direction of the U.S.A. is looking towards and over the cemetery. If there were dry eyes among us, they eluded me, but it was the talk by the cemetery guide assigned to us that helped to cement the experience forever in our hearts.

She first made the acknowledgment and thanks by the cemetery staff for visiting. This is in part because it is us, the citizens of the United States that must never forget the generation who made this sacrifice.  Unlike all other battles, there are VERY few children who visit this remarkable place.  Not that they are neglectful, but in fact, they do not exist for the most part.  The young men buried here were between 17 and 25 years old.  They did not live long enough to have children.  Their sacrifice and subsequent slaughter on these shores bring home the obvious….they had no offspring to keep their memories alive, and many of the young brides are dead or dying at the same rate as the surviving soldiers.  We, nieces, nephews and grateful citizens must continue to make this pilgrimage in whatever way we can so the sacrifice can be witnessed and appreciated fully for generations to come.

Secondly, she stated the French must remember.  She explained that the French senior level high school students are now required to travel to Omaha Beach and visit the cemetery for a course on the war.  The culmination of the study is that the students are ushered into a room and shown pictures of the dead young men one by one (many their age). The appreciation of their sacrifice is brought home effectively and in the heartbreaking detail of the soldiers’ faces.  We were told that these students “are never the same.”

Disney is not always the answer

With vacations few and far between for hard working Americans, I know that your children will beg for the Disney properties and of course you will have a ball while spending oodles of cash but please consider such a voyage to Normandy as they get older.  The D-Day anniversaries come and go fast now, but the accomplishment against all odds and the price paid is something that you need to witness and explain to the next generation.  It is indeed heartbreaking, but it also cements what we are and what we possibly misplaced over the past few years in our hearts; that America is a good light in the world and remaining so is important to the existence and the vein of Americans and the entire world.  It will restore your pride in humanity and America!

 

 

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