You wake up at Heathrow International Airport.
Eight hours, gate to gate. 6691 kilometers.
Am I really here or am I just having another Ambien moment? About three hours into the flight I popped an Ambien, but then I realized my in-flight entertainment “thing” had season five of “The Wire”. So I decided to watch an episode or several. If you take an Ambien and don’t go to sleep, you hallucinate. So I’m guessing that crazy person dancing in front of one of the monitors wasn’t real? Woulda been cool if they were.
You walk through the international terminal. You clear customs. Everyone around you is speaking English, or at least they claim it’s English. You find a cashpointe and realize why the Brits haven’t adopted the Euro yet.
I learn I’m not on vacation, I’m on holiday. This is why they’re called “Holiday Inn”. I’ve learned something new already and it’s not even 8am GMT. I’m finally in Greenwich Mean Time, also known as Universal time. It’s suggested when handling dates in any computer systems that you always use UTC and then adjust based upon your own time zone. I should start doing that. But anyway, back to London.
London reminded me a lot of New York – in both the good and bad ways, with one glaring exception: the food. The food was so bad that even their McDonald’s sucked. How do you mess up a Quarter Pounder? I suppose it wasn’t entirely bad since my appetite kinda went the way of the exchange rate.
After a few days of sightseeing we hop the chunnell to Paris.
There were two things I wanted to do on this entire trip.
1. Visit the D-Day landing beaches.
2. Eat a Royal with Cheese.
My name is Jack. I am cultured.
After several days in Paris, which included the usual sightseeing variety of The Louvre, where sadly the most memorable part for me was the chocolate cake I had at the cafe near the Mona Lisa, along with the Notre Dame cathedral and the Eiffel tower, we hop on a 6:45 AM local train to Normandy.
I thought I knew what a small town was - and then I visited rural France.
We stayed in Bayeux, a town which wasn’t destroyed during the war. All the German soldiers apparently deserted Bayeux to fortify Caen, which is a bigger city to the east. The hotel had some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. So much for the stereotype. Then again we were paying them, so who knows.
While in Paris there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. In the backseat of a minivan traveling 110 kilometers per hour toward the landing beaches, the sky turns grey. Across the channel darker clouds form. God would’ve been a great cinematographer. This is an area where bright and sunny skies don’t belong. Ever see Saving Private Ryan? They lowered the color saturation by sixty percent for that particular reason. Sadly, if you ever watch it on regular television or cable, the color saturation has been put back because ignorant television viewers were calling customer service in droves claiming that the color was messed up. Also because, well, on June 6, 1944 the weather was pretty horrible, so it fits aesthetically and historically.
Pointe Du Hoc has basically remained untouched. The entire area is a a massive landscape of craters and cliffs. German bunkers have been left in place. It’s surreal. I’ve seen this place in photos, in movies. I’ve played plenty of video games which featured this area, but to stand at that cliff and look down, and realize that sixty six years ago people had to climb these one hundred foot cliffs while people were trying to kill them – well it just kinda leaves you with something, much like bloody Omaha did.
Omaha Beach: Dog Green Sector. We arrive at high tide. The invasion took place at low tide, so the poor bastards had over three hundred yards of beach to clear before finding any real sense of cover. Then again if they attacked at high tide, all their landing ships would’ve been blown up by mines. So ya know, pick your poison. What struck me about this area most was how developed it is. Next to a rather large German machine gun bunker there is a summer house. Apparently several Parisians own summer homes in this area. The actual beach is like any other beach. People can sun bathe, go swimming, etc.. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I mean, it was liberated so that people could do such things, but on such an historic spot, I would think they would memorialize a part of it.
We drive along the coast and spot the original cemetery for the landing forces setup on June 8th 1944. We see churches which were destroyed by naval ships in case they contained a snipers nest. We see homes which German officers occupied. And then we make it to the cemetery.
I’m back on American soil.
The French gave this piece of land to America. Free of charge. Thanks. Though calling it free of charge is like the Bellagio telling me I’m getting free drinks while betting twenty-five a hand blackjack.
This is the second most visited cemetery in the world, next to Arlington. All grave sites point westward – toward the States. I’ve noticed that no one calls it America, or the US – they call it the States. Theodore Roosevelt’s son is buried here. Medal of Honor winner Frank Peregory is here as well. This guy single handedly overtook a fortified German machine-gun emplacement and took thirty prisoners. Yes, thirty prisoners – single handedly. Sadly, six days after D-Day he was killed fighting in the hedgerows. The majority of US casualties occurred fighting in the hedgerows, not on the landing beaches.
The cemetery sits on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. The graves do not contain the birth dates of any of the soldiers. There are over three hundred buried here in unmarked grades, their names known but to god. Local French families have “adopted” these grave sites, and bring flowers. Once a grave site is adopted, it’s a lifelong affair passed down to future generations.
On the forty minute trip back to our hotel, nothing is said. No one says a word. What can you really say after seeing these memorials? Then again my girlfriend has narcolepsy so she was half asleep and maybe the driver didn’t like me and didn’t wish to speak to me. All I know is I wasn’t in any mood to talk.
The rest of the trip included a visit to Mont St. Michel (yawn) and a couple day stay in Amsterdam. Whatever you’ve heard about Amsterdam – it’s true. Not much for me to add. We had a brief stop in Brussels where I learned that nothing is open on a Sunday.
I just want to get home at this point.
We land at 12:45 PM on a Monday. Two weeks in Europe come and gone. I clear customs, take out my cell phone and call our ride – the call drops.
America, how I missed you.