A few years ago, I wrote about my first visit to Normandy, and you can read about it here and here. Since then, I’ve returned several times. Each time, the place impresses me with its moving images and museums, and its stunning landscapes. The above photos were taken at Arromanches-les-Bains; it’s a relatively new memorial to the Allied military men who risked everything to liberate the area in 1944. Made of steel, each image fades out, an apparent acknowledgement that so many lost their lives there.
The statue pictured at left also stands at the same site, a memorial to the men who have returned to commemorate the day and the battle buddies they lost during those difficult days and in the years since. The old man’s face tells the story of the lives he’s lived, with its joys and sorrows. He contemplates the statues above. Below him you can see the wreath of poppies from the 75th Anniversary celebrations that took place last June. Most of the veterans of that longest day are gone now, but the region makes sure they are never forgotten.
Arromanches-les-Bains is where you can visit the 360° Cinema that impressed me so much the first time I went. Since then, the film has changed. It is still very good and extremely worth a visit. The film is shown on nine screens and the images are raw and often wrenching. It shows the landing and some other footage, and for better or worse, doesn’t subject us to the worst of the day and those following. See a clip here. A bit of the old film and an introduction to the theater are here.
The area remains one of my favorite places in the world, largely because the memory of the locals is long, at least for now, and I am so proud to be an American when I visit there. It also boasts fantastic beaches. And just to the south, Mont Saint Michel rises out of the bay like an eternal guardian of the sea, the sun often reflecting off the statue of Saint Michael at the top.
A little further south, Bretagne, Brittany in English, with its rugged coastline and funny hats welcomes visitors with almost as much friendliness as Normandy does. Cancale village remains colorful and relatively quiet, with great restaurants, fun shops and a peaceful bay with fishing and pleasure boats a-plenty. Eye candy indeed.
I again took advantage of Saint Malo. I love a walled city, you know. And I recently read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Takes place in Saint Malo during World War II, and definitely one of my favorite reads. I highly recommend it, especially if you are traveling to Saint Malo sometime soon, or if you are interested in World War II. Unfortunately most of the walled city had to be rebuilt after taking heavy Allied bombardment to root out and drive back the many Nazi forces that had taken it. Nevertheless, it retains much of its charm.
I can heartily recommend these two hotels, one in Saint Malo and the other in Courseulles-sur-Mer, at Juno Beach, where the Canadian forces landed on D-Day. Both offer great locations and comfortable beds in clean rooms. If you decide to stay in Cancale, look for a hotel or B&B in Cancale Village, as it is charming with a small-town feel. Cancale is a city and not nearly as charming.
I also recommend this old movie, The Longest Day, for its depiction of June 6, 1944. Chock-full of stars like John Wayne, Red Buttons (as John Steele, who I wrote about in the blog post referenced in the introduction), Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, and a short scene with a very young Sean Connery, the film is realistic for its time and extremely well-acted, as you might expect. You see the Mulberry Harbors, the parachutists landing at Sainte-Mère-Eglise, and the Nazi mistakes that helped make the landing a success. It isn’t 100% true to facts, but they did a decent job.
Hope to see you next time I’m in Normandy or Bretagne, because there is no doubt I will return, if God allows.