The Normandy Excursion Update

Dear parents, guardians, family, and friends,

What a pleasure it continues to be to accompany your sons and daughters in France—to watch them move from isolated words to full sentence discourse in French has been a real treat (and the sojourn isn’t even near its end!).

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week we had our two-day excursion in Normandy. This has been our longest excursion and today’s blog post will focus on that. I’ve been jotting down my impressions of Normandy as well as taking as many photos of the students as possible to give you a better idea of their experience (there will be 50+ photos in this post alone!).

As normal, below is an overview of our visits and activities in Normandy that will be followed with more detail and pictures:

  • Malo (Tuesday)
  • Mont St. Michel (Tuesday)
  • Benières-sur-mer (Tuesday)
  • Pointe du Hoc (Wednesday)
  • Omaha Beach + American Cemetery (Wednesday)
  • Caen Memorial Museum (Wednesday)

St. Malo

From the outside, St. Malo looks like a fortified castle. Inside the walls it resembles a mini, port city metropolis full of shops, a grocery store, cafes, boutiques, and housing. Many students spent their visit walking the streets in groups to shop and some students walked along the ramparts where they could enjoy a view of the ocean and the busy streets of the city below. We only had an hour to visit the city (it would be been easy to spend the whole day here!), but here are some snapshots of St. Malo:

The busy streets of St. Malo lined with shops and cafes.
The busy streets of St. Malo lined with shops and cafes.
Sarah, Megan, and Ian just outside St. Malo's walls by the port
Sarah, Megan, and Ian just outside St. Malo’s walls by the port
I had a difficult time trailing students to get photos... but I found a bundle of them here in the candy shop of all places!
I had a difficult time trailing students to get photos… but I found a bundle of them here in the candy shop of all places!
Rachel, Cleome, Federica, and Jacob along the ramparts overlooking the ocean
Rachel, Cleome, Federica, and Jacob along the ramparts overlooking the ocean
An island accessible from St. Malo only during low tides
An island accessible from St. Malo only during low tides
A side shot of the city walls and beaches; as you can see, it was impressive!
A side shot of the city walls and beaches; as you can see, it was impressive!
The port of St Malo
The port of St Malo

Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel is one of the most well-known and most visited attractions in France. After parking, we were shuttled up to the entrance and began our ascent up the steps of Mont St. Michel (there were a lot of them). As we climbed Mont St. Michel, I overheard a few students talking about how the walk up reminded them of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter book series: there were so many different people bustling up and down the street visiting the souvenir/trinket shops and cafes. Once we entered Mont St. Michel, we visited the monastery, the crypts, the cloister, and also the gardens.

Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel
A group photo (as you can see we had a bit of rain that day!)
A group photo (as you can see we had a bit of rain that day!)
It's dangerous to walk around Mont St Michel due to quicksand. Here's a group taking a guided, barefoot tour through the mud (definitely not us!)
It’s dangerous to walk around Mont St Michel due to quicksand. Here’s a group taking a guided, barefoot tour through the mud (definitely not us!)
Students took shots of each others while we got tickets - here's Matthew
Students took shots of each others while we got tickets – here’s Matthew
Julia waits for a photo outside Mt St Michel
Julia waits for a photo outside Mt St Michel
Robin caught me sneaking a shot
Robin caught me sneaking a shot
Jacob, Federica, and Cleome
Jacob, Federica, and Cleome
Robin, Lydia, Alex, and Ellen
Robin, Lydia, Alex, and Ellen
Hannah, Joe, Alex, and Cassidy in one of Mt St Michel's many rooms
Hannah, Joe, Alex, and Cassidy in one of Mt St Michel’s many rooms
Lauren and Lindsey beneath the feather display
Lauren and Lindsey beneath the feather display
Our students ascending Mt St Michel!
Our students ascending Mt St Michel!

Benières-sur-mer

After Mont St. Michel, we headed towards the youth hostel located in Benières-sur-mer where we had a reservation to spend the night. The hostel was very comfortable: we had an entire building to ourselves, each room had its own restroom and shower, and the staff was very welcoming and use to accommodating large groups. After dinner and a pause, we headed to the beach (located less than five minutes walking distance from the hostel) where students had the occasion to relax on the beach or go swimming after our long day of visiting St. Malo and Mont St. Michel. It was a very agreeable evening:

Students excitedly head out for the water!
Students excitedly head out for the water!
Robin strikes a pose after making her design in the sand
Robin strikes a pose after making her design in the sand
The students who stayed on the beach take a group photo!
The students who stayed on the beach take a group photo!
Federica and Lauren strike a pose while playing some football
Federica and Lauren strike a pose while playing some football
The hostel where we spent the night
The hostel where we spent the night

Pointe du Hoc

During World War II, the Pointe du Hoc was occupied by German forces and fortified to protect the coast. During the morning of June 6th 1944, 225 American soldiers landed at Pointe du Hoc and climbed 30 meter high cliffs in order to take back the area. Even with heavy casualties, they captured and defended Pointe du Hoc—helping to establish an allied foothold to liberate Europe.

We visited this important site Wednesday morning. Even to this day students were still able to see the craters left by the artillery and the remnants of the German defenses: rusted iron, bunkers, barb wire, crumbling stone, anti-air battery placements…

It was a very calm and tranquil visit, with lots of wind from the coast and cloudy skies, but still very difficult to fathom all that must have happened at Pointe du Hoc:

Pointe du Hoc entry sign
Pointe du Hoc entry sign
Students read about Pointe du Hoc on the path
Students read about Pointe du Hoc on the path
Juilia and Rachel head down into a bunker
Juilia and Rachel head down into a bunker
Students walk along the Pointe du Hoc paths; the fighting that took place here is still evident from the earth
Students walk along the Pointe du Hoc paths; the fighting that took place here is still evident from the earth
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Christina walks along the paths at Pointe du Hoc
A massive weapon placement
A massive weapon placement
The memorial to the rangers who took the Pointe du Hoc
The memorial to the rangers who took the Pointe du Hoc
Troops had to scale these cliffs to take Pointe du Hoc
Troops had to scale these cliffs to take Pointe du Hoc
Lindsey, Becca, and Cassandra inside of a bunker reading a plaque to the rangers
Lindsey, Becca, and Cassandra inside of a bunker reading a plaque to the rangers
Paige descends into a bunker
Paige descends into a bunker
Lauren and Megan from a distance in front of the ranger memorial
Lauren and Megan from a distance in front of the ranger memorial
The outside of a battered bunker
The outside of a battered bunker

Omaha Beach + American Cemetery

We visited the Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery before visiting the Caen Memorial Museum. American troops landed here as part of D-Day and now the area serves as a memorial to the American troops. I felt awed and very proud to come from the United States during our visit here. As you’ll see from the photos, there’s many rows of cross-shaped tombs and other monuments dedicated to fallen soldiers. Many other Americans were visiting the site on Wednesday and a lady asked me in the chapel if I had been looking for someone I knew among the graves—it’s an emotional visit for many.

Several students take photos of the vast cemetary
Several students take photos of the vast cemetary
The interior of the chapel dedicated to troops
The interior of the chapel dedicated to troops
The roof of the chapel was made of tiny colored tiles into this mural
The roof of the chapel was made of tiny colored tiles into this mural
Christina, Ellen, Alex, and Lydia walk through the cemetery
Christina, Ellen, Alex, and Lydia walk through the cemetery
A soldier from Indiana
A soldier from Indiana
A soldier from Indiana
A soldier from Indiana
A soldier from Indiana
A soldier from Indiana
Students make the long descent to Omaha Beach
Students make the long descent to Omaha Beach
The entry sign to Omaha Beach - it's a protected site and they are very serious about respecting the it
The entry sign to Omaha Beach – it’s a protected site and they are very serious about respecting the it

Caen Memorial Museum

The Caen Memorial Museum is such a formidable experience and it really brought together all the sites we had visited up until then. We could have easily spent the entire day here reading and seeing all the Museum offered to commemorate the past: documentary films, testimonies, photographs, paraphernalia… The memorial seemed to take you through time: from the start of World War I up until the Cold War. It was a very informative and emotional experience that I would not be able to do justice in words:

Outside the museum, a sailor and a nurse
Outside the museum, a sailor and a nurse
National flags outside the museum
National flags outside the museum
A plane in the lobby of the museum
A plane in the lobby of the museum
Students in the lobby gift shop buying gifts
Students in the lobby gift shop
The start of the visit with 1918 tolls
The start of the visit with 1918 tolls
Students read and view images about the Great Depression in the USA and its ripple on the world
Students read and view images about the Great Depression in the USA and its ripple on the world
A giant, circular room where footage of Nazi Germany plays as students walk through
A giant, circular room where footage of Nazi Germany plays as students walk through
Students read up on life on the front
Students read up on life on the front
Ellen and Hannah in front of actual rubble
Ellen and Hannah in front of actual rubble
Students view propaganda posters
Students view propaganda posters
Megan takes a photo of the tank
Megan takes a photo of the tank
Ian and Megan at an exhibit featuring information from after Hitler's death
Ian and Megan at an exhibit featuring information from after Hitler’s death
The entrance to the Caen Memorial Museum
The entrance to the Caen Memorial Museum
A group of students in front of actual rubble while reading about the end of the war
A group of students in front of actual rubble while reading about the end of the war

Thank you all for the visiting the blog this week to see how the students are doing and what they have been up to this past week—I hope you all had an enjoyable 4th of July and thank you once again for raising such wonderful sons and daughters!

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