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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Princess Cruise Excursion to Normandy and a Day at Sea

Wednesday, September 9th, Day 7

I woke up at 5:00 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. At about 5:30 am I decided I was just wasting time so got up and showered. I was probably too excited about leaving early for our trip to Normandy, France.

As we left the port, the sun was rising this absolutely gorgeous shade of red and I would have taken a picture of it, but the part of the port of LaHavre we were docked in is not very pretty so the sun was rising over transport containers in the dock yard, which is definitely not the prettiest of settings for a sunrise.

We headed out through LaHavre to the beaches of Normandy as that is our excursion for today. On the way, we went over a really extraordinary bridge over the Seine River. To our right was the mouth of the Seine where it joined the sea, and to the left was the Seine River flowing toward Paris. At the mouth of the Seine we went by a town called, “Honfleur” which is where a group of explorers left from France and settled in Canada. I felt a real connection to that town because I am part French Canadian on my dad’s side and it was really exciting to see where my French ancestors came from.

I have to say I was not looking forward to this excursion but on our last transatlantic cruise, I promised Chuck that if he took me to Paris,(which he did) I would go with him to the beaches of Normandy on our next cruise in the area, so here we are. I didn’t want to go because I thought it was really going to be incredibly sad. But for some reason that I can’t quite fathom, most of the men I know are really intrigued with war, especially World War II, and Chuck is included in that group so we were on our way. It was a 2 ½ hour bus ride. The guide was quite interesting, although he was originally from Australia. I was disappointed that he was not a native of France. We passed a lot of fields with cows, sheep and horses. The terrain in France is mostly fields with some hills, but not high hills. More like slopes with lots of green grass. We saw a lot of hedgerows, although the guide, Geoffrey said that 70% of the hedgerows in France have been taken out. There are no forests in France so what people did was to make rows of earth that are about 3 to 4 feet high. They planted trees in rows on top of these mounds, and used them as living forests. Not only did they serve to delineate fields for farmers, but each year branches would be sawed off and used for firewood, and every 10 years, the trees would be chopped down to make lumber to build things, with more trees being planted to replace them. During WWII, the Allies lost a lot of men when tanks would try to go over the hedgerows and expose the bellies of the tank as it was going up the hedgerow, and the Germans would shoot into the belly of the tank which was the most vulnerable part, and blow the tank up. Within a few weeks of breaking into France, the Allies came up with a way to prevent that from happening by using metal spikes to attach to the front of the tanks that would act as teeth and dig into the hedgerows, and pulling the tanks through without exposing the bellies. Geoffrey also pointed out many apple orchards in this area of Normandy which are used to make apple cider and apple brandy. We stopped at a rest area which had a bakery and coffee shop and shared a croissant which was absolutely delicious. It was moist, light and flaky and pulled apart easily, which is exactly what you would think a pastry from France should be.

Our first stop of the tour was at Point du Hoc. When you get off the buses you follow a path down toward the cliffs. On the way is a series of plaques with pictures of some of the rangers who were the first to climb the cliffs and take fight the Germans. The plaques honor those men who died either on the beach, or within 24 hours after they made it to the top. It was quite sad to see their faces.

Past that, the path leads to the top of the cliffs. All around were grassy fields and it was odd to imagine that this is what those men saw when they climbed up the cliffs. Although on that day, they probably couldn’t see much due to smoke and exploding ammunition. There were still huge craters on the earth, now filled with grass and some wildflowers, where the Allies had been trying to fire at and explode German cannons and gun arsenals. I thought it fitting that the wildflowers are growing in such a place of destruction and death. It seemed a fitting tribute to our men who gave their lives at this place. I have seen enough movies about WWII that I could imagine the sounds of gunfire and explosions all around me. I also imagined seeing US soldiers falling down dead and hurt all around me through smoke and a gray sky and tears sprung into my eyes. I felt no sympathy for the Germans who also died that day. They were fighting for something so evil, I find it hard to find sympathy for them. Here are a few pictures of those craters.

We wandered around in that field for awhile, and were able to go down inside a German gun embankment, where rooms had been built underground to house German soldiers and a lookout area was built in the concrete structure to look out to sea. In front of that was a fenced off area but we could go to the edge of it and see the cliffs the rangers climbed up after they landed on the beaches of Normandy that day. It is really as sheer and straight up as the movies portray. Some had grappling hooks to help them climb up.

After that somber experience, we went to Omaha beach, which is an open area where the ships came in. There is a monument there with flags flying in front of it from each of the Allied countries. I went down to the water and walked around the beach and touched the ground. I needed to walk where these brave men walked, and to touch the ground they walked on to defend freedom. I could only get 1/2 of the flags in the picture.Here's also a picture of Chuck in front of the monument on the beach which symbolizes wings and freedom.

After this we were supposed to go to the American cemetery. I am sure you have seen pictures of all the white marble crosses that overlook the sea. Unfortunately, pictures are all we will have of this site as well because the cemetery was closed due to a loss of electrical power there. No one could quite figure out what electrical power has to do with a cemetery, but we were denied access. Everyone on the bus was quite disappointed.

I want to mention here that at this point I was quite sad. This trip is very moving but not easy to someone who is sensitive to the suffering of others. I would have much preferred to get out and take pictures of all the beautiful old stone farmhouses we were passing in the French countryside. By noon I had had enough about death and destruction. Here is a picture I took from the bus of the narrow streets we were driving through on the way to various beaches. They were very quaint.

Since we were not able to go to the cemetery, we went to lunch earlier than planned. Lunch was held at a very pretty country club surrounded by a golf course. We sat down to beautiful table settings on white tablecloths. We had a choice of French Rose wine, or a Merlot. Each setting had 2 wine glasses. The first course was a wonderful salad with a piece of French bread. On the side of the salad plate were 4 round slices of cheese which were delicious and very rich tasting. The main course was chicken, a solid potato patty, and a baked tomato. Dessert was a custard type of patty that tasted as though it had pineapple in it. All in all, it was delicious taste of French cuisine.

Back on the bus, we headed to Gold Beach, and then another area above Gold Beach where there were still German guns present in the embankments. Our guide said he didn’t know why they had been left there because after the war, metal was hard to come by and almost anything the French could get their hands on was melted down. It was so peaceful up above the ocean, it was hard to imagine Germans being there and looking out to the sea, within walking distance to French houses. It must have been so hard for the people of that village to have the Germans occupying their land. Chuck is the man in the blue striped shirt in front of the cannon.

The last stop of the day was in the village of Arromanches. This was where the D-Day museum is located. On the way into the village, many of the stone walls and sides of homes had large pictures of the Americans coming into the village as heroes and the townspeople greeting them with enthusiasm. I truly don’t understand why the French seem to dislike Americans so much today when we helped set them free from the Germans 70 years ago. I should have asked the guide about that.

The town itself centers around the D-Day museum. There are lots of gift shops and the museum itself, all set along the beachfront area. The museum is small and old, and with a few bus tours in there all at once, very crowded. There are lots of models of the beaches and surround areas. There are examples of uniforms and helmets worn, and guns, canons, etc. that were used in the war. One whole wall is full of portraits of the generals and important Allied political people such as Winston Churchill, Franking D. Roosevelt, and generals I have never heard of but were important. The museum also offered a diorama of the floating harbor built in England and transported to this beach because the Allies were unable to capture any of the harbors the Germans held, so they designed their own and brought it over. That was actually really interesting and quite ingenious of them to do. You can still see some of this floating harbor in the water. The museum offered a 20 minute movie which everyone raved about on the ship since many of them had already been to Normandy. I was disappointed because it was a black and white movie, probably done in the 1940s and it wasn’t about the storming of the Normandy beaches, but all about the floating harbor only. After the movie we had 30 minutes of free time. I wandered around and took some pictures, mostly of the village, since I didn’t get many pictures of France today, only war related items. Chuck and I then met up and went in one store and bought a book about the Normandy Beach landings.

Then it was back on the bus for another 2 ½ hour bus ride back to the ship. We were tired after this day so just ate in the Horizon buffet and enjoyed our meal. We went back to the room, read a little and headed to bed.

Thursday, September 10th, Day 8

Today is the first day I woke up at a normal time. We went to bed at 11:15 pm and I woke up at 8:00 am. I hope I am adjusted to the change in times now because I am tired of feeling tired. We had another wonderful breakfast at the Horizon Court buffet area and came back to the room. At 11:15 Chuck went to a port lecture about the port of Lisbon, Portugal while I went to a Ladies’ Pamper Party put on by the spa staff here on board. I would have gone with Chuck but we had already booked our excursion for Lisbon and I thought it would be fun to do something different. Basically the Pamper Party consisted of the spa staff demonstrating the spa products such as make up remover, toner and moisturizer, and then letting us use them as a group by ourselves. We also tried a teeth whitener, and a “California Sun glow” product that they put on us and is really a bronzer. We did our regular routine after that, which included lunch, a movie and a nap in the room. I watched the movie, “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon. After a workout, we got ready for the first formal night of the cruise. I was excited that as I was waiting for Chuck to get ready for breakfast I went out on the balcony of our room and saw dolphins off the side of the ship. For those of you who have read my cruise blogs before, you may remember how happy these sightings make me. And since I have seen dolphins in the wild in their natural habitats, I have no interest in ever going to an aquarium again. There were about 12 of them, leaping over the water next to the ship. It’s is truly an amazing sight to see.

We headed downstairs to the atrium area in time for the champagne fountain to start. The waiters came around and offered everyone champagne or mimosas and the champagne began flowing into a pyramid of champagne glasses. At 7:45 the captain came out and introduced himself and his main staff. The staff passed out chocolate lollipops to celebrate Princess Cruise Lines 50th anniversary!Here is Chuck all dressed up for formal night with his lollipop!

We then went to dinner in the Symphony dining room. Chuck had salmon and I had beef which of course was delicious. After dinner, we went to a show by the Princess Theater singers and dancers titled, “Colours of the World.” The troupe sang a series of songs from different countries and it lasted about 45 minutes. It was quite colorful and there were 4 main singers, 2 guys and 2 girls, and a troupe of about 12 dancers.

After a relaxing yet eventful day at sea, we headed to bed to rest up for our day tomorrow in Vigo, Spain.

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