Normandy landings

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November 21st 2013
Published: April 30th 2014
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I'm writing this post really late... several months after having been there, so I'll probably have forgotten a few details. I think my best contribution with this post are the photos that I took and edited.

I didn't have the best weather during my short stay in Caen, so I didn’t really get to do all that I wanted there. Besides, I wasn't able to find a car to rent and moving around in public transport between villages is pretty difficult, especially if you're on a time frame. So, first tip: if you've been planning to get here for a while and really want to get the most out of your stay, rent a car or book tours way in advance.

While I was there I decided to do the “Band of Brothers tour” (based on the HBO miniseries), but as it was a last minute request, it was already fully booked.

But I don’t want to sound pessimistic about my visit. I still got to see quite a bit in two days and fulfilled the objective of getting a brief overview of that part of WWII, which was very interesting and I certainly learned a lot.

I stayed at "Le Vaucelles", an OK budget hotel in the center of Caen (very close to the train station) and moved around from there. A few hours after my arrival I headed to the Caen Memorial, which is from my perspective, the place to start in Caen.

It’s an incredible museum that not only concentrates on WWII, but also incorporates world history previous and after. It also includes different aspects and points of view from the allies and countries of the axis. Some of the displays are about the hardships lived by the civilian population during the war and it’s pretty impressive to see what they went through when one looks at the photographs. It leaves a big impression on the cruelty of war. The museum is huge and it easily takes 2 days to visit it with time. This is something totally worth visiting.

The next day I took a tour which is organized by the same museum and it's done in a morning or an afternoon. I had an English speaking French guide and the rest of the people in the tour were British and Americans. The guide, of course talked a lot about the specific history of the battles that took place in the area; the story behind operations Neptune and Overlord, etc. I learned about the whole deceit campaign to trick the Germans into thinking the invasion would be done between Cherbourg and Le-Havre (In which the allies used false armies, inflatable tanks, etc.).

The tour starts in the artificial harbor of Arromanches, used by the allies to gather the vehicles, weapons and materials needed for the assault. It includes a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, the German defensive battery in Langues-sur-Mer and the clifftop Pointe du Hoc (where the US Rangers had a distinguished action). It ends with a visit to “Bloody” Omaha Beach in which we stopped for some time.

During the tour we went through some towns, but without stopping in them. In general, I think that for the price an duration of the tour, even though it felt a bit rushed, it was pretty good.

From what I got to see while we were driving around it that the countryside had great landscapes and most of the towns that one reads about in the landings history are now well-kept beach towns.

One of the nights there I went out for some drinks with 2 girls I contacted through Couchsurfing. We went to an area of the city with a vivid nighlife (mostly college students) and had a few drinks at a bar called "La Tour Solidor". It was good fun and I tried a local drink called “L'Embuscade" (the ambush), which is a mix of beer, white wine and a shot of Calvados (a popular local apple brandy).

On a final day I took a train to Bayeux, but it was pouring down so I really didn’t get to enjoy the visit. I walked around for a while, took some photos and had lunch at a cafe. I only spent a few hours in the town mainly due to the weather. Not much to tell there.

Caen has other things to offer besides visiting places that have to do with Operation Overlord and WWII. It's the biggest city in Normanfy and it has a rich history. Interesting places to visit include an 11th Century castle built by William the Conqueror, one of Europe’s biggest fortifications, a few abbeys, etc. Most of these attractions can be followed by doing the “William the Conqueror circuit” (either with a guide or self walking tour).

To summarize my stay in Caen, I think it was brief, but productive. Better to have been there with lousy weather that having had skipped it. I was now very close to my trip's deadline and from Caen I went to Paris for a few final days in France.

Additional photos below
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