Courtney and I decided that it would be an insult to our heritage to be in France and not visit the beaches in Normandy where Canadian, British and American forces came to liberate France. So, we rounded our troops– Courtney, myself and another fellow Canadian Ben– and headed North to the coast. Those of you who have visited France probably understand when I comment on its inefficiency and often illogical way of doing things. It was no surprise that getting to the beaches wasn’t easy. Thankfully, Courtney and I are pretty good with directions and maps, so we ended up making it there in pretty good time. A 130 km/h speed limit helps, too.
As we tried to find Juno Beach (and the Canadian museum that is located there), we began to get little glimpses of home. Canadian flags were randomly placed along the side of the road, reminding us (and everyone who goes there) what an important role Canadian forces played on D-Day. We stumbled across the Canadian cemetery, which was beautiful and quaint. You don’t really know how you will feel at a graveyard for fallen soldiers until you’re there. We were the only people there, and despite the terribly cold weather, we just couldn’t seem to pull ourselves away.
We reached Juno Beach, which is tucked away in a cute little town called Courseulles-sur-Mer. There were actually signs directing us to the Canadian museum, probably because it’s owned by the Canadian government and we realize the usefulness of helping people get somewhere. At the museum we met some nice Canadians working there. Walking along Juno Beach is, like the cemetery, not something that can be described. I tried to imagine what it would have been like for a soldier walking up the beautiful sand dunes not knowing if they would be alive by the end of the day. Before seeing it in person, I wasn’t able to even picture D-Day. Being there really changed how I view World War 2.
After a beautiful drive along the coast, we arrived at Omaha Beach. This is where American troops invaded. The American cemetery has 9,000 grave sites. It is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The simplicity of the cemetery with the beach in the background is a subtle yet striking tribute to American soldiers. The cemetery is in many movies, such as in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.
On the drive home, we decided to stop in a town called Bayeux 1) because we were starving and 2) because we were going through an extreme World War 2 obsession. Bayeux was the main post for the British Army in Normandy. It was a typical cute French town loaded with bakeries and coffee shops. We bought a little snack from a man and he gave us free croissants. Ben said it was because it was the end of the day, I said it was because we were speaking French and he was loving our Canadian vibes.
Being able to experience Normandy in person was well worth the Euros and the long, treacherous drive in the pitch black/pouring rain. Considering I have a proud-to-be-Canadian moments with even the slightest mention of Canada abroad, you can only imagine how Court, Ben and I felt all day.