With 100 degree temperatures forecast for our area of Belgium, indeed most of inland Europe, Ben and I high-fived each other that we had chosen this weekend to get away.
We left Wednesday afternoon for the Normandy region of France. It was 96 degrees in Mons. When we arrived at our first stop in Etretat the temperature had dropped into the mid 70s, and that’s a trade I will gladly take.
Etretat is a very cute beachside town and a perfect place to start a Normandy vacation. We took a stroll on the rocky beach, nearly got wiped out by a sudden, unexpected wave at sunset, collected stones before seeing the sign asking us not to, then tried to fall asleep to the not so quiet screams of the local sea gulls. So loud. All night long. The next day started drizzly but we headed to the top of the cliff to check out the view and the tiny museum dedicated to Etretat during the war years. The museum docent even pointed out himself in a photo of a local school celebrating the liberation of their town.
Beach? check. World War II history? check. And both of those reasons were why we were there.
As an American family, especially one with a military member, it seemed like a necessity to visit the Normandy beaches before leaving Europe and I’m very glad we did. I only wish I could have done it at the age of 14 so that I might have had a fighting chance to get a better understanding of (and a higher grade in) the history we were required to study in high school. So now my kids have no excuse. But more on that later.
Our next stop was Honfleur, which was nice to finally see as we currently have a painting, done by Ben’s grandfather, of the Honfleur harbor hanging over our mantle. And the original Bonpapa is in good company. Artists have always flocked to the city to paint the port and it’s unusually tall quayside buildings. The city is now full of galleries dedicated to local art. And nautical striped shirts.
Later that day we arrived in Arromanches and spent the evening on the beach. Dragging nets through the water produced enough fun creatures for Ben to label the bucket a perfect bouillabaisse, but the kids decided to set their new friends free before he could boil them up. This area is well known for its extreme tides and it was quite surprising at first to see hundreds of feet of beach get swallowed up while we were playing.
Also surprising about the beach is your first sighting of it as you drive into town. Arromanches was the town chosen by the Allies during World War II to hold the temporary harbor for unloading supplies (and trucks and tanks and people). Within the week after D Day an entire harbor was floated over from England, sunk into place and made operational. Because who needs to fight for an already existing harbor when you can drop one into place in no time? Unbelievable engineering. And a truly eerie sight when you see the huge pieces still lying there on the beach and just off the shore.
For the next two days we gave the kids their first lessons about the war. Many more pictures to come.