Despite our last-minute (read: non-existent) plan to drive to Normandy, we had pretty accurate road maps from MSN MapPoint and ViaMichelin. The Michelin map helped us avoid the tolls associated with driving in (and out of) Paris.
Of course, we had to make the obligatory "stop-at-one-of-the-worlds-six-remaining-Trappist-breweries" (Orval) [pictures]. Read more about the "legend" about Orval and also about Orval and Trappist Monasteries. At the end of this long day (about 500 miles... in the van... with four kids) we ended up at an IBIS hotel in Granville, France (about 80 KM) from Sainte Mere Eglise (near the D-Day invasion site).
The next morning - which came too early - we had the obligatory "when-in-France-do-as-the-French-do" crepe on the way to the Airborne Operation at Sainte Mere Eglise [pictures]. I have to tell you that if the rest of the world appreciated their freedom *and* the service and sacrifices made by men like those involved in D-Day, things would be much different. The people of Sainte Mere Eglise (and everywhere else we went in France this weekend) gave nothing but thanks and honor to the Veterans we saw. It was very impressive. I wish I saw more Americans treating veterans with such thankfulness and high regard. We also visited the Airborne Museum in Sainte Mere Eglise.
That evening, we visited the nearby Utah Beach [pictures]. This whole area (a forty-mile stretch) is a really long, flat piece of coast and I can see why it appealed to the Allied brass - in terms of unloading massive amounts of armor, artillery and infantry - back in the day.
The next morning, in what may have been good luck, we arrived just in time for the roads to close (for VIPs) for the ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery. Fortunately, we arrived plenty early to visit Pointe du Hoc [pictures]. The Army Chief of Staff made reference to the now-famous speech made by Ronald Reagan on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day. It was also a sudden delivery of sad news (to us) that President Reagan had passed away. For once, I was thankful for Meshell's "gift of gab". She spent quite a while talking with (and listening to) a few of the returning D-Day Army Rangers (from 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers). I spent most of my time with the kids and taking pictures.
We knew we'd have to visit the Normandy American Cemetery [pictures]. We also knew that it was getting late in the day and we had 500 miles (or more) to drive to get back home. Alli (age: 6!!!) had to leave for a two-night school trip the next morning. We decided to walk around the cemetery and observe Omaha Beach from where the cemetery overlooks it (from some distance).
I'm already looking forward to our next visit to check out Omaha Beach "up close" and visit more of the less "touristy" attractions. We have a better sense of locations, distances and accommodations now.
All the pictures from this weekend can be found here.