On a January visit to Paris, three of us wanted to take a day trip to visit the D-Day beaches. In our planning, we were limited because of the number of daylight hours during January and because of the train schedule. We also wanted a private tour in English to see the beaches, hear the history again, see the American Cemetery, ask questions easily and be where U.S. troops had been during WWII.
The middle of January may not be the ideal time to visit the windy beaches of Normandy, but I was lucky enough to find Sabrina Pitois of Normandy Excursions & Tours. We exchanged emails and she was ready to take us on a tour. She and I arranged everything with train times and what we wanted to see.
And, as our visit got closer, she looked at the weather and wrote advising us to wear waterproof shoes/boots. (Thank goodness we took her advice!) Once more, before we left the United States, she wrote confirming our details along with a wish for a good flight. Her attention to detail and concern really made us feel comfortable and happy with choosing her to guide us.
Train Travel (and an odd delay)
One day after arrival to Paris, we went to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station to travel to Caen, switch trains, then travel to Bayeux. The train from Paris was late. After some time, I heard an announcement that we were late because of a malfunctioning door. We finally left Paris and Sabrina called and texted to let me know that she had checked at the Bayeux station and found out about our delay.
Our ticketed train from Caen to Bayeux had left the station, but, Sabrina had called the Caen station, found out the time for the next train, and explained all of it to me. (She would have driven to Caen to pick us up, but it was a 45 minute drive and the train only takes about 12 minutes, so her picking us up would have created even more of a delay.) Again, it was reassuring for her to check on us, advise us of the time of the next train and explain what we needed to do.
Since we did not have a ticket for the next train, I took our tickets to the ticket station and asked the representative for help. He turned over my printed ticket and wrote a note on the back and stamped it. We were ready for the next leg of our journey!
What About Lunch?
But, another change of plans was lunch. We were going to eat along the way with Sabrina, but decided we should eat at the Caen train station to save time. No real old-time café in the station, but we found a kind of pop-up stand and grabbed baguette sandwiches and waters. When we were on the quick train ride from Caen to Bayeux, we made a little picnic as the countryside whizzed by us. (Sabrina had also texted me to find some food there, but I had turned my phone off so didn’t get her message until we arrived in Bayeux.)
When we arrived at the Bayeux station, Sabrina was there to meet us – smiling on the platform, in the gusting wind, with a sign with my name on it. She greeted us as friends, then we hopped in her van and immediately took off toward Pointe du Hoc.
Soaked in History
During our drives and while visiting, Sabrina explained so much history, answered questions, pointed out interesting sights along the way, and told the story of D-Day: from how it was planned to what actually happened, to the outcome on those days at the beginning of the liberation of France. We were late to start with, but Sabrina got us going and gave us plenty of time at each stop.
Pointe du Hoc
First, we visited Pointe du Hoc, where the first Rangers came into Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944. The battlefield above the beach has been left as it was except for erecting a monument. Craters are all over the area as well as giant bombed casemates that were built to house the German big guns aimed on the Allies. Visitors can also walk in and around a dormitory/command post built by the Germans for their defense of Normandy.
Next, we went to Omaha Beach. Sabrina explained how Operation Neptune was the largest naval assault in history while showing us how the beach stretched for miles down the coast. She explained the tides and how important those and the moon phase was to the military operation. She had great enlarged photos that provided a great overview and she even told stories of some of the people in the photos.
Then, Sabrina drove us above Omaha Beach to the American Cemetery. The entire cemetery inspires reverence. White crosses and Stars of David stretch across the acres of lawn. A memorial and chapel on either ends are dedicated to Americans who lost their lives. American flags fly over head. From the edge of the bluff, you can see how easy the Germans had it for picking off American soldiers trying to scurry from the beach to the bluff. We happened to be at the cemetery when they lowered the American flag while playing a recorded version of taps. Here is the video of lowering the U.S. Flag at the American Cemetery. A truly memorable visit.
After quietly leaving the American Cemetery, we went on some back roads to Gold Beach. Road construction was blocking two of the main roads, but no problem for Sabrina! She grew up near here and knew how to easily navigate alternate routes on very narrow, one-lane roads. (No GPS required!)
At Gold Beach, we could see the giant German guns inside their casemates. From these sites in France, the Germans could fire shots targeting Allied ships. Amazing to hear the story and see it in person at the same time.
Return to Paris
Sadly, our train back to Paris would soon depart. So Sabrina drove us back to the Bayeux station telling stories of the countryside on the way. She even went into the station with us to make sure our train was on time. Then, Sabrina told us goodbye and bon voyage.
On a lighter note, Sabrina showed us some big, old mansions along the way and also told us about Normande cattle. The Normande is a local dairy (or beef) cow that has red or brown spots on a white coat as well as patches of color around its eyes. They dot the countryside and produce excellent milk. Normande cattle are beautiful on the green fields with their mottled white and brown colors. It was sweet to see a little calm country atmosphere while on such a somber visit to battlefields.
Sabrina’s attention to detail, her knowledge, her care for us (and her driving skills) are unsurpassed! Unless you want to spend a couple of days going to all of the beaches, this was more than enough to really get a feel for D-Day. If you go, do not skip the American Cemetery. It was my second visit and it is definitely worth a visit or two in your lifetime. Again, although it is a somber day, no one could have made our trip more enjoyable or memorable than Sabrina.
If you go to Paris and want to go to Normandy, I highly recommend Sabrina at Normandy Excursions & Tours. Make arrangements well in advance.
Normandy Excursions & Tours
Guided Group and Private Tours in Normandy
Email: [email protected]
Tél.: +33 6 16 45 32 14
Official website: https://www.normandy-excursions-and-tours.com/
If you love history, check out the UNESCO World Heritage Sites In and Around Paris.