Thursday, May 31, 2007

D-Day Beaches

Our stay in Paris came to a close and I still can’t get over how excellent our dinner was the night before. I will definitely recommend this restaurant to the next person I know visits France. We awoke to a dark and cloudy sky which had me intimidated. The last thing you want on a busy travel day is rain.

We arrived at our train station an hour early to Nicole’s dismay. I have this real problem, a burning desire inside me to be organized and on time for everything, so no risk can be taken when it comes to trains and their punctuality. At times, this desire will awake me in the middle of the night just to organize a few things a few feet away. Some may think it is crazy, but I like to call it a “Beautiful Mind”. However, the one desire that always conquers me is hunger and it was on a rampage again. Surprisingly, even the train station in Paris takes their food seriously. I was able to find a fresh and crisp baguette with butter and saussion sec, which is the French version of chorizo. It does not have the punch of flavor that paprika and garlic bring to the Spanish version, but it is still filled with a subtle French style flavor boost. Nicole quietly enjoyed her tender, buttery and slightly sweet croissant.

I have anticipated our visit to the Normandy region for two reasons. The first is obviously to explore the important history that occurred there during World War II and to pay my respect to those who sacrificed so much for freedom and to enjoy Norman food. What I have learned throughout my readings about the food of Normandy is that it focuses on deep down rustic and earthy dishes like pot roasts and stews because of their rainy weather and then highlighted by their artistic approach to Camembert cheese and Calvados, an apple cider that they turn into brandy.

We approached Bayeux, a small village in the region of Normandy with a population of about 19,000. We scurry for our hats when the thunder blasts and the hovering black clouds shoot rain over the green pastures dotted with thoroughbred horses and numerous hedgerows obscuring views of what could be around the next corner. The village is small and quaint. There are not many people around except for a few tourists and tour guides. There are plenty of advertisements painting sides of small stores and billboards of anything D-Day and its history. There are no taxis in sight so Nicole and I decide to hump it to the motel. We are a little lost, but come up on a small map and our hike began. We tugged our oversized luggage in the drizzling rain. We found our motel about 2 miles along the round and up a steady incline. It did not bother us though, because we decided a few days earlier that we have to earn all the wonderful meals we are going to enjoy.

A D-Day tour was number one on the agenda. As soon as we secured that, lunch was necessary. Our time constraint prevented us from leaving the motel premises, so we decided to eat in their small restaurant. The service was amicable, and I must say, their food surprised me. I had the “menu” (or prefix) and Nicole the vegetable lasagna. The prefix menu included an appetizer buffet of cured meats, fruits, various composed salads, and “peel and eat” shrimp. My second course was a rustic Veal Roast with a Mushroom Cream Sauce and the best haricot vert I have had. The green beans were simply sautéed with salted butter, but they were tender and perfectly cooked. They were not overcooked, but not undercooked either. I was completely satisfied with this meal.

Our tour guide arrived promptly and we piled into the van. The guide was friendly and it was a relief that his English was good. JD, the guide, shared his in depth knowledge of the history of the invasion of Normandy. Operation Overload, what the Allied forces called their mission to make this amphibious assault on five different Normandy beaches, was a bold and brave move by the Allies that would suffer many losses, but it was their thought that was the only way to take back Europe from the Germans. The estimated loss of troops for that day dumbfounded me – 15,000 between the U.S., Britain, Canada and a small contingent of Polish, French, and Dutch soldiers! It is ironic that this enormous battle would take place in Normandy. This same place the Normans, or better known as the Vikings, would set off on all their missions to conquer other parts of the world.

We first visited a British Museum on Gold Beach which focused on the humungous artificial harbor named Winston that was built in England and shipped over the channel. This strategic move and its execution were believed to be the absolute key to success in the Normandy region. There were still pieces of the harbor in the ocean and on the beach when we arrived. What amazed us is that after one day of the invasion, this harbor was being assembled while under fire. Apparently, by creating a port city in the middle of all the beaches, the Allied forces were able to transport more supplies and at a faster rate that would serve as the catalyst to our success in liberating France.

The American Cemetery was somber, but beautiful all at the same moment. The simplicity of the white cross tombstones, and the occasional Jewish star, aligned perfectly with waves crashing in the background gave praise in such a remarkable away to all those that sacrificed. One must go to feel the aura that surrounds this area. This was truly a time to be respectful and, most of all, thankful for everything we have and everyone we have. Nicole and I do not have any known family or friends that passed in World War II so we did not search out anyone specifically, but we did notice 309 tombstones, in particularly, that made us reflective. It was those that were unidentifiable that read “Here Rests in Honored Glory a Comrade in Arms Known but to God”.

The most interesting site on this tour was Point Du Hoc. This was a 100 yard high cliff, right above the crashing waves on shore, where 225 Army Rangers attacked a German stronghold loaded with four 115mm canons protruding from reinforced concrete barricades. Our guide told us that this area was left exactly how the Rangers left it during the war. The concrete barricades were demolished, the cannons were inoperative, and there were a wide array of 40 foot craters created by the US air support dropping 500 pound bombs on the area. These groups of Rangers are honored for their bravery because this stronghold had a perfect defensive position on the other beaches being invaded. At the end of the day we were left with only 90 soldiers from this battle. Again…the ultimate sacrifice. It makes one think about the things one stresses about in this day and age.

After this great tour, dinner was more essential rather than a time for exploration, so we stopped into our popular motel restaurant. This time Nicole had a French omelet that was so burnt I’m surprised it came off the pan and I had an Entrecote Steak (Rib-Eye) with Béarnaise Sauce, Fries and Haricot Vert. The steak was so chewy and tough that not even the sharpest machete could cut through this. This dinner was an absolute waste of calories and money and should serve as an embarrassment to the country of France. It barely deserves mention in this writing.

The history of D-Day was definitely the highlight of this day and all we had to do was sacrifice some bad food and a lot of rain. We’ve got it good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Guys-

Thanks for keeping us updated on your trip. Sounds amazing and makes me wish I was there to share a French pastry with you both.

You'll have to share your photos of the D Day tour with me so I can pass them on. My brother in laws father was a boat driver dropping soldiers on the beach. He won't speak of that day and what he saw, but my brother in law loves the history.

Have fun, stay safe! Trish-

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