Morning came too early for me. I had spent two nights in Europe already, and couldn’t seem to get my internal clock right.
After I shook off the cobwebs from not enough hours of sleep, I repacked my Timbuk2 bag and grabbed breakfast at the buffet downstairs. Once we were all finished eating, we headed to a conference room where our WWII expert explained, in detail, the beaches we were visiting today and what nations were assigned to each. We would see Utah beach first, the village of Ste. Mère Eglise, the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc, and Omaha beach later in the afternoon. It was gonna be a long day for sure. Ste. Mère Eglise was the first village to be liberated by Allied paratroopers on the morning of June 6th, 1944. To honor this and the soldiers who lost their lives, the village of Ste. Mère Eglise built an impressive airborne museum similar to the museum by Utah Beach.
One thing I quickly noticed on our long bus rides through the countryside (when I managed to stay awake at least) was the impressive rest stops the French had to offer. While each rest stop offers the typical amenities such as rest rooms, prepackaged food, and bottled water; the additional offerings are what stood out. Fresh squeezed orange juice, very good espresso (either by vending machine or made by a barista), and all types of sandwiches and salads. I’ve never seen an espresso vending machine before, and never so many coffee machines as I did in France. It’s safe to say the country really runs on coffee!
Another cool thing to note about the rest stops in France was that the larger ones actually offered alcohol (with meals only). You could get a single serve bottle of wine to enjoy with your lunch or dinner, which is usually a buffet style offering. This blew my mind! Something like this would never be offered in the states, however, it does reflect the mature views the French have toward alcohol. Needless to say, it makes your lunch much more enjoyable. (of course I never took any pictures inside…)
We got on the bus to head to Utah Beach and the corresponding museum. Utah Beach is known as one of the “screw ups” of D-Day. Due to the horrible weather on June 6th, 1944 Allied forces were a mile off from their intended landing point. While this doesn’t sound like much, that mile off landed them onto tougher emplacements and harsher terrain.
Standing on the beach (during the same low tide that the troops stood) was a humbling experience to say the very least. Jumping off one of those landing crafts and looking up towards those emplacements must have been terrifying. We were lucky to see the beach on a beautiful sunny day, which was an interesting dichotomy from all the media I have seen about Utah Beach. It reinforced my respect for the members of the armed forces as I don’t think I could do what they do.
The museum at Utah beach was also very interesting. I could be biased though, since my lucky number was on a few of the exhibits such as a landing craft that was used on D-Day. We had wonderful presentations from our museum tour guide as well as our trip tour guide and D-Day expert. I did my best to try to video tape with my DSLR without a steadicam mount (which proved to be difficult). However, I did manage to get some great video footage of my dad and grandfather explaining some of the stuff they knew about in the museum further.
I joined the rest of the group and we got back on the bus to head to our next destination. After a couple of hours we arrived in Ste. Mère Eglise and were greeting by an impressive village square. A church steeple that one of the WWII parachutists got stuck on still had a parachute hanging from it. Right across the square from the church laid a large airborne museum. We piled out of the bus and I hurried inside to check out the artifacts. We only had a couple of hours to tour the area and eat so I didn’t want to waste any time.
While the museum wasn’t extremely large, it was crammed with all types of airplanes and equipment that was used in the airborne assaults of France and airborne operations for the entire war. The tight confines of the museum really stretched the wide-angle limits of my 17-55mm lens I was using, which made me get creative on trying to capture everything I wanted in one shot. I ended up also taking out my iPhone (on airplane mode most of the time except for Foursquare checkins) to use the Pano app to capture some stunning panoramic shots.
To be continued….