Friends, I am so excited to share with you the details of my travels to France! Many of you followed along as I posted photos on Instagram and Facebook. I truly appreciate your prayers for our safety and blessing in travel.
To say that we were grateful to make this trip is an enormous understatement. Visiting Normandy was a lifetime dream of my husband's, so it became my dream as well. To be in the places where such momentous events of the 20th century took place was, for us, a pilgrimage.
As you know, beginning in 1939, Hitler's forces occupied much of Europe, including France. The Nazis heartlessly visited their plans for domination of much of the free world upon all who would stand in their way. Most notorious for their systemic extermination of millions of Jews, the Nazis also killed and enslaved hundreds of thousands of others, all of whom they deemed to be inferior to the "Master Race." Allied with Italy and Japan in a quest to rule the world, Nazi forces had to be stopped.
But stopping a war machine as effective as the Nazis would not come easily. Allied leaders knew that defeating the Nazis would require an invasion of territory occupied by the Germans. To be successful, the effort would require huge numbers of troops as well as massive quantities of ammunition and supplies. Organizing an effort of such scale took many months of planning and the efforts of millions of people, both military and civilian. Those efforts came to fruition on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces mounted a successful invasion of Nazi-occupied France. From beachheads established in June 1944, Allied troops were able to push the Nazis back into Germany, liberating thousands of people who had suffered under Nazi rule and culminating with the eventual defeat of the Nazi forces and suicide of Adolf Hitler in the spring of 1945.
But what a cost. On D-Day, the Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy, including 73,000 Americans. By June 11, over 325,000 troops had gone ashore in Normandy. The evil of fascism was defeated at a huge price. Over 209,000 Allied troops were killed, wounded, or went missing during the Battle of Normandy.
70 years later, we who live in relative peace and prosperity owe much to the generation of men and women who paid dearly for that freedom. For us, visiting the sites where so many lives were given in the defeat of evil was a deeply spiritual experience. We have so much to be thankful for!
If you're not familiar with the historical events of 1944, I encourage to read about it. There are many authors who have written about the Battle of Normandy, and many of them are so good. I particularly recommend the works of Stephen Ambrose and Martin Gilbert.
And now a pictorial review of our time in Normandy! We took over 700 photos, but I'll share just a few.
First of all, we were amazingly blessed with a wonderful place to stay. I found the Chateau de Neuilly la Foret online, and after staying there I told my family I felt that I'd won the internets. In the 11th century, William the Conqueror gave some of the land in the Elle and Aure valleys to his half-brother Odon, Bishop of Bayeux. Odon had a chateau built in the marsh, which became an important fortress during the Hundred Years' War. Over the centuries, the chateau was used as a country residence for the bishops of the diocese, and it served as a place of refuge for the bishops during times of unrest. Gradually it was used less and less by the bishops until it was finally sold at auction. Part of the chateau was destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century, but part of it survives to this day--and that was the house I found as a vacation rental.
Be still, my history-loving heart!
From what we'd read online, we knew the house would be special, but our hearts skipped a beat as we drove up the lane.
Although much of the original chateau has not survived, the remaining house is amazing.
And the grounds? Well, see for yourself.
Remnants of a stone chapel and barn grace the landscape, just outside a beautiful walled garden.
Above the kitchen sink was what I think of as a "Monet window." See how thick the walls are?
The view out the window on a foggy morning looks like an impressionist painting:
Here's one of my favorite Instagrams from our trip: a little late-evening snack at the chateau. We enjoyed flowers from the garden and camembert made right in Normandy.
Just beyond the chateau gardens were pastures of Norman cattle. No wonder Normandy is known for its butter and cheese--there were dairy cows everywhere!
Here I am walking around with my three sons, ages 23, 21, and 17. Had we lived 70 years earlier, my boys might very well have been among those troops who landed on D-Day. My heart breaks as I think of the agonizing sacrifice of young lives made on these battlefields!
Another of our favorite spots was the village of Sainte Mere Eglise, made famous when many members of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions landed here. As you can see, St. Mary's Church is still standing.
The gun batteries of Longues sur Mer were amazing. Here the gun emplacements stand in excellent shape, having withstood heavy bombardment and 70 years of time gone by.
This photo will give you an idea of the size of those guns:
We also really enjoyed the Pegasus Bridge museum, located between Caen and Ouistreham. This bridge was vital to the invasion plan, and it was captured by a glider-borne unit of British airborne troops in the first few minutes of June 6, 1944. The bravery of the glider pilots and troops is especially inspiring to me.
We loved the fact that the historical sites are a boon to the local economy. These folks had to suffer through the devastation of having critical battles take place in their hometowns; how fitting that they would now benefit from having people visit! All over Normandy we saw signs that read "Welcome to our liberators!" and we were thrilled to see British, Canadian, and U.S. flags flying alongside the French flag.
We enjoyed visiting some other wonderful places in France as well as the battle sites. Here are a few of our favorites:
Mont St. Michel
(We snapped this photo from the car window, so delighted were we at the sight of the abbey rising from the sea just beyond the farmland.)
Bayeux Cathedral and the Bayeux Tapestry (remember, we were staying in the home of the Bishop of Bayeux)
and of course Paris sites such as the Eiffel Tower
the palace at Versailles
and the Arc de Triomphe.
Our trip was filled with fun and laughter, and we are grateful for a lovely vacation. We are most thankful, though, for the chance to show these boys of ours--boys who have lived primarily with peace rather than war--what a high price has been paid for their freedom. Having seen firsthand the vestiges of this awful war, I believe they're more deeply committed to peace. And I think they're more grateful for all that's so easy to take for granted. I know I am.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
(20th century French prayer, often attributed to St. Francis)
Have you ever made a pilgrimage? How has the experience shaped you?
I'm joining these lovely parties:
Thought-Provoking Thursday at 3-D Lessons for Life
Thoughtful Thursday at Eat Sleep Be
Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now