I am actually really excited about writing this blog post, even though I should be writing essays, because this was probably one of my all-time favourite trips. Normandy is a beautiful and unspoiled part of France where the largest allied military offensive took place during the Second World War. I’m sure there a few of you out there really hoping that I don’t start talking about the history of the D-Day invasions, so I will try and keep it short. Essentially the allies landed on the beaches on June 6th, 1944 where they took the beaches and eventually won the war. Okay obviously it was a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea.
I am assuming that most of the people who read my blog are family and friends, in which case you already know that I am a huge history nerd and am majoring in History at University. So of course, this was a dream trip for me. Europe is so full of history and Normandy doesn’t disappoint, plus it really is a gorgeous area of the world which always helps. My dad and I planned the trip purposely to be in Normandy for the 73rd Anniversary of the landings which meant that there were celebrations and events going on all around the region. The coast of Normandy is basically spotted with small French towns which meant they all had their own celebration according to what their liberation looked like 73 years ago. For example, Sainte-Mère-Église is famous for paratrooper John Steele getting stuck in their church tower, where he stayed until he was taken as a POW. This town had a paratrooper dummy on their church tower in honour of him, along with bands and military representation.
One of the really cool things was that after the war was over, many people bought up the old military vehicles and refurbished them. Everywhere we went, and I honestly mean everywhere, there were people camped out in fields with their WW2 jeeps and motorcycles in honour of the anniversary. You were able to walk around their camps as well and see all of the equipment they had been able to maintain, even authentic WW2 sleeping bags! (Okay, after typing that I realize that sounds super lame, but at the time I thought it was really cool)
We definitely spent most of our time doing the beaches as there are 5 to see, each with their own museums and events that were taking place. If we hadn’t gone so near the anniversary it wouldn’t have taken us as long to do everything, but when you are surrounded by live music and military fly by’s you don’t really want to rush. All of the beaches were amazing but honestly, if I write about all of them this post will go on way too long. Each beach had their own history of D-Day and of course, were extremely interesting but, even before I got there, I knew what beach would be my favourite.
I’m sure most people know that one of the landing beaches was ‘Juno’ and that is where the Canadians landed. Being Canadian, Juno Beach was the key point of the trip for me and we spent A LOT of time there. We had dinner our first night there overlooking the beach and found our way back there at least 3 times again during the trip. We decided to spend the actual anniversary on Juno beach, our way of honouring the fallen countrymen I suppose. Sadly, the event was completely full so we didn’t get to see the actual ceremony but knowing that we were on Juno Beach for the anniversary was worth it all the same. The tour that we were given around the old German bunkers was amazing too, we actually got to go down into them and see what they were like.
I would say, the most amazing part of Juno Beach was that there are Canadian flags everywhere. I mean I had shivers about how, 73 years after the fact, this array of small town surrounding the beach was still so thankful for the Canadian soldiers who liberated them. In Bernieres-sur-Mer, ‘Canada House’ still stands, one of the first areas liberated on June 6th. They had pictures taken, then and now of the house and it even shows up in pictures that were taken during the D-Day landing.
I know that my posts usually talk about travelling on a budget but Normandy was so incredible to me that it was more important than a budget. I wanted this post to talk about the trip itself and less about the money because to me, it would be worth spending the money. There is so much to see in Normandy outside of the D-Day beaches like Bayeux and their namesake tapestry, but that will be for another post. If I could, I would go back to Normandy on the anniversary every year. I really don’t think that I can put into words how much this trip meant to me and how thankful I am to have had the experience.
In case anyone is interested in the history of the landings, this link sums it up really well: