A Week in Normandy

A  FEW WEEKS AGO Melissa and I stood in front of our wall-sized map of Europe (thanks Van Essens!)  and tried to figure out where our family could spent a week for a late fall vacation.  The kids are on the German school calendar and had two weeks off coming up in middle October, and it had been a long time since we had taken a family vacation together. So after some staring and hand wringing we pointed our fingers at Normandy and set about to make some arrangements.

Then only last Wednesday after an uneventful 9 hour drive in The-Stupidly-Expensive-Van we found ourselves pulling up into the drive in front of the French gite that would be our home for the next week.

The Gite – or French holiday home – was truly unique. It was located in the countryside (far, far out in the countryside) in the tiny town of Gorges, found only on winding roads through cow pastures and corn fields.   It was remote – too far for our big, loud American-sized family to disturb anyone (our closest neighbors were cows), which made it the perfect place us to operate out of for the next week.  It offered plenty of bedrooms, some really short doorways and hallways (head still bruised)  and a really cool perspective.

The road our Gite was located on was bordered by long stretches of thick hedgerows.

Here’s why…First, Normandy is a big, amazing place.  Most people like myself mostly associate it with it’s WWII war history, but the reality is that there is much, much more there than just war history. It has a deep and ancient history and is rooted in an incredible culture that started hundreds – thousands – of years before June 6, 1944.  Having said that, the war history is hard to ignore.

For example…this Gite we rented was located in the countryside  in the middle of a triangle between the cities of Carentan, St Mere Eglise, and Periers. War history buffs would recognize at least two of those town names because they were ground zero for the 82nd and 101st Airborne’s objective to link Utah and Omaha beaches for D-Day.  I stood for a moment in the front lawn of the gite and considered this: Had we stood there together on the eve of 6 June, we would heard the drone of C-47s high above, perhaps occasionally catching a glimpse as the sky is lit up by anti-aircraft fire.  We would have seen – from our bedroom window – men in parachutes float silently to the ground with M1s at the ready.  We would have winced as we saw a few of them sink helplessly into the fields across the road that had been intentionally flooded, or be cut down by defending troops who occupied the farmhouse just down the road (which had been de-roofed for a better view of the night sky).  We would have seen the paratroopers rally in bands and march East towards Carentan (indeed, there are photos of the paratroopers assembling in Gorges), taking cover among the hedgerows.  Later, we  would have heard the distant reports of mortars and artillery from Carentan as the paratroopers cleared the way for the invasion.  While it is true Normandy is full of history, that history is hard to ignore.

The road signs in this area read like Battle Histories

We saw a lot of stuff in Normandy, and will share the highlights in a few posts over the next few days.  In the mean time, here are a couple pictures of the Gite we stayed in and some of the surrounding area.

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