I always imagined that, upon hitting milestones in my time abroad, I would write about reflections on this time. However, today marked 100 days, and I was too busy having my own adventure.
Carson and I enjoyed the hotel’s continental breakfast. There was a machine that juiced oranges for you, which was super exciting. The hotel brochure said that the American cemetary was only 10 km away, so we didn’t feel the need to get a super early start. We were on the road by 10.
We decided to walk along the beach. It’s a rocky beach, and the going was not easy or swift. Still, we persisted. Carson is from Florida so he isn’t as impressed by the ocean as a Midwestern girl. We persisted.
The beach ended in cliffs and the path lead us onto some large fields just past a “do not enter” sign. Of course we ignored this, planning to play the stupid American card if we somehow got into trouble. The view was amazing and we definitely made the right choice, although this was not a quick pace either. To our left were fields and fields of bright yellow flowers, and to our left was the low cliff and endless ocean.
We went on like the for some time. There was another opportunity to go down onto the beach but that was a dead end. Eventually, after finding a path through some thick bushes and shrubbery, we emerged at Point du Hoc.
This place was of special strategic importance on D-Day. It juts out further into the sea, giving German guns the ability to fire on two beaches and at the sea. The Rangers scaled these cliffs and seized the position, which they held for 2 days. The Germans had already moved their artillery by the time the Rangers arrived, but it was still an important foothold.
The terrain was more crater filled than the moon, due to bombing by the allied forces. Still, there were remains of the German fortifications and the mounts for the guns. It was very surreal and moving. Carson, being an active American serviceman studying at West Point, was able to offer additional insight into everything we saw there.
We moved onwards hoping to find a venue for lunch. We quickly came upon a restaurant, but it appears not to have been opened for a long time. It actually took hours before we found anything else, and this was when we arrived at Omaha Beach. We had lunch overlooking the ocean and set out to have a walk along the shore.
The various monuments were interesting. There was some incredibly obnoxious drum corps practicing on the sand that really ruined the mood. To see how long it would take, Carson walked all the way out to the ocean and then sprinted back. I can’t imagine the thousands of poor sweet boys who did the very same, exposed to machine fun fire, wet and heavy and loaded down with equipment, with a rifle that may or may not have been ruined by sand. It took Carson long enough, and those were the most ideal of conditions.
The beach was a bit marshy. When he came back his shoes were covered in mud, and the smell of oysters followed us for the rest of the day
We continued on towards the American cemetery. We could see where it would be on top of a nearby hill. The only trick was how to get there. We tried a path along the base of the hill first that seemed to lead nowhere. We couldn’t just climb straight up because of the thick brambles. We tried a road that lead to a small footpath. We were entirely sure where to go, so we tried the path.
After a while, we really weren’t sure if we were going in the right direction. We had found ourselves in the middle of a swamp. Turning back didn’t seem like an option any more. We had been on the path too long, we were committed.
Suddenly, we saw before us a fence, and through that fence was a different kind of sea. There were waves and waves of white tombstones. We had arrived. We weren’t sure if we were any where near the entrance and we had been walked for hours, so we made the impulsive decision to hop the fence. I’m not sure if anyone noticed us emerge mysteriously from behind the shrubbery, but it was alright in the end.
We spent some time in the grounds. We read the names on the tombstones, went to the chapel, and saw the memorial. Again, this was really emotional for me. It’s hard to fathom all of those young men, and all of the people who loved and treasured them, and yet they died anyway in the battle for Normandy.
We couldn’t spend as much time here as we would have liked. We were hoping to catch the bus that had taken us yesterday from Bayeaux to Grandcamp, having remembered seeing the American cemetary en route. We had caught the last bus and knew approximately what time it left Bayeaux, so it was time to go look for a bus stop.
We were thrilled to discover a bus stop for our line just outside the cemetery gates. However, it only stopped there in the middle of the day. It skipped the cemetery on the last run, which we had been hoping to catch, and the next stop was in the next town.
Carson and I then did something impulsive. Walking by the side of the road, we stuck out our thumb and… Yes, we attempted to hitchhike. I felt like if there was ever a time for it, it would be with an army cadet at my side just beyond the American Cemetery. Only to the bus stop. There’s basically only one road, and we only needed to get a few minutes further past it. The bus stop was just further than we could walk to before the bus arrived.
I have never faced so much rejection in my life. Car after car shrugged us off. A kindly old man finally pulled over, but he was going in the opposite direction. Still, we didn’t give up hope. It was the only way we knew of getting back tonight. The walk was much longer than we’d anticipated 10k to take us.
Finally, another car pulled over. This old man seemed barely coherent, but obliged to take us to St Laurent. We arrived at the bus stop with time to spare, and were elated at our success. Hitch hiking can be crossed off the bucket list, we were going to make it home for the night.
I felt like kissing the ground when we arrived back in Grandcamp. We went in pursuit of a supermarket for snacks, checked out a nautical store, and went back to the hotel room to finally relax. I accidentally passed out on the bed almost immediately. It was past 9 when we finally made it out for dinner.
Dinner was at a little local place. We tried famous Normandy cider with our meal. I had beef carpaccio and then mackerel, Carson had mussels and then a filet. It was delicious.
When we got back to the hotel we had gotten our second wind. Carson is on the West Point Salsa team, and taught me a little of the style called Buchata. Now, I love dancing, so this was a blast. He had a Skype date with his ladyfriend at 1:00 am, so we danced and enjoyed our bottle of côtes du rhône until about that time.
We also looked up the actual distance from here to the American cemetery. It was not 10 km. Even without detours through private farm property, the Omaha beach, a forest and a swamp, it was 24 kilometers.
That explains it.