A   P E R S O N A L   A C C O U N T   O F   A   V I K I N G   R I V E R   C R U I S E
First stop on the Normandy beaches bus/walking tour, a full-day, was at Arromanches at the Musée du Débarquement. You can see the concrete platforms on the horizon and closer to the beaches which were part of the port that was built to land the supplies and vehicles to support the D-Day landing and the liberation of Paris that followed.

Normandy Beaches
Thursday, November 4, 2010

We were at breakfast earlier than usual (7-9AM) since the three buses to the Normandy Beaches were scheduled to leave at 8AM and not to return to Rouen until 6:45PM.

After breakfast me meet boarded the buses and were on our way through the Normandy countryside to our first stop at Arromanches. It was here where we say a film explaining the importance of the landing at Arromanches where the allies built a deep water port called Port Winston. The port, consisting of caissons and a floating causeway, was built in England and towed across the Channel to Arromanches and assembled here. The film showed how the beach was battered by a monster storm, but half the causeway survived and within a week the allies were offloading supplies, vehicles and ammunition that would be needed to keep the D-Day landing forces moving toward Paris and Germany.

This little town with its museum, oyster farm, and little shops was a real eye opener. We had lunch at a bistro in town and then shopped for souveniers at two stores opposite the museum which beside the theatre had allied uniforms on display, maps showing the landing, etc. We left Arromanches after lunch and headed toward Omaha beach and the American Cemetery and Memorial... the one shown so well at the end of Saving Private Ryan.

Once again our guide, who provided commentary on the bus, was excellent. We learned that Normandy is all about agriculture which was no surprise after cruising through the countryside and seeing the farms, the fields, and the dark rich soil of the area. Normandy is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, after the US. Another surprise. In Normandy, we were told, it usually rains twice a week... the first time for three days and the second time for four. Apparently we were lucky. No rain except for the afternoon in Rouen. Funny, Viking had not mentioned the rain in Normandy in their brochure or on their web site as I recall.

Anyway, we arrive at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and are given about two hours to tour, explore and experience both. The place is groomed beautifully and we are treated to the sounds of mowers and trimmers for most of the time we are there. At the overlook point for Omaha Beach, two mowers are busy on the side of the hill and they make it difficult to hear the guides and to really let the sense of place take hold. No worries, the films and displays in the Visitor Center bring tears to my eyes and I have to get hold of myself to stop from sobbing. They are powerful. They show and talk about the young men who stormed the beaches on June 6, 1944. This was not a Hollywood film, this is real, the people are real, the place is real and the magnitude of what happened here can never be forgotten. We leave the Cemetery and Memorial changed people. The place will do that and frankly it came as a surprise. We had taken this trip for Paris and Giverny (which was closed) and had expected them to be the hightlights of the cruise, but it was the Normandy beaches and the American Cemetery and Memorial.

This is the view from the lookout at the Cemetery. There is a map to put things in perspective and to see the landing beaches, but just standing here is awe inspiring.

Normandy Beaches continued