My husband doesn't ask for a lot. He's literally the most validating in the person in the world to feed — that man will be the most grateful person ever if you just put a plate of bacon in front of him. His favorite Christmas gift is honestly just wool socks. Sometimes I think he loves rainy days just because he is thankful for being indoors and not sleeping on the wet ground and it gives him perspective.
He's totally a trooper on all of our travels — he'll go to antique stores with me (weirdly, he doesn't hate this, as he finds some cool military stuff at most of them), doesn't mind when I lolly-gag because I'm waiting for the right photo somewhere, and is perfectly content doing to nonsense hipster restaurants with me as long as it's not a vegan joint. And the only trip he's asked for the entire time he's been stationed in Italy is to go to Normandy during D-Day — and man, I've wished it for him so badly for three years. And finally, this year, he miraculously got to go.
I still don't know how Tyler scored a chute — he was the only person in his entire military company (about 100 guys) who was picked to go, and one out of a handful of guys from his battalion. I'm pretty sure that even after he got the slot, he tried to give it away to someone who he thought was more deserving — because that's just the kind of person he is. He really just thought there were soldiers who had earned it more than he did. But, there he was — on his way to Normandy with the 173rd during the commemoration of one of the most important military dates in American — and world — history.
And man, what an amazing experience it was. Tyler spent a little over a week in Normandy, and I flew up for the last few days of his stay there on my own dime with some amazingly supportive girlfriends, Delaney and Kirsten, to meet up with him. While he was there, he took part in a lot of fantastic ceremonies to commemorate D-Day and was able to talk to many French locals who were alive during actual D-Day — he even had dinner with a French family that took him and a few other soldiers in and fed them a proper, traditional Norman meal. He was in awe of how much the Normans still appreciate the Americans, and couldn't believe at the vast amount of American flags he saw flown during his time around the countryside. The stereotype of the French hating Americans couldn't be further from the truth up there.
Visiting Normandy during the anniversary of D-Day was definitely something that we'll never forget. It's one thing to learn about what happened from history books and be told how important these things are — it's another to see the vast beaches with your own eyes, touch the sand so many people died on so many years before, and talk to people who were actually liberated and are still so thankful for that sacrifice. I'm so thankful that Tyler was able to take part in the D-Day anniversary commemoration in Normandy, and that I was there to document his absolute appreciation and wonder at every piece of history he came upon.
WHAT WE DID:
- Hit the history hotspots: Normandy is basically Disneyland for paratroopers. My husband, who got there a couple weeks before us with work, had already scooped the loop on everything and was able to play tour guide during our trip. We visited the quaint towns of Sainte-Mère-Église (for the 82nd) and Sainte-Marie-du-Mont (for the 101st), where paratroopers were dropped, which are both dripping with history. We, of course, also drove out to Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, which can both be visited in a day, to gaze out onto the massive beachheads and comprehend what happened there.
- Got windswept at Le Mont Saint-Michel: For a little non-military day trip during our stay, we drove out to Mont Saint-Michel. It can be a bit of a haul depending on where you're staying, but it was totally worth it. It's easy to access — you park in the provided lots and shuttles come every 10 minutes to take you to the church and back to the parking lots. If you plan your trip perfectly, you can try to visit at high tide, when the church is up to its ankles in water, but we went at low tide, and actually got some cool photos walking around the vast beach. The abbey is definitely worth a visit, if only to marvel at the archtecture and views. I wouldn't recommend planning your lodging around Mont Saint-Michel, as it's only worth about a day trip at most, but we didn't mind driving to it!
- Went vintage shopping in Sainte-Mère-Église: There are a lot of cool antique shops (called brocantes in France) and surplus stores all over Normandy. Though they can be a bit overpriced and may sell more replication stuff than the real deal, it's still fun to look through. While Tyler picked through the wares at the surplus stores, we actually found women's vintage clothing booths in the back — best of both worlds!
- Went ham on some France goods: There are some things that Italy just does better than France, in my very humble opinion, and no amount of trying them will sway me — like coffee and wine. However, some things are just better in France without even trying, and the two things we can't go to France without getting are a) beauty products b) soap and c) bread. Like, if I go to France and only eat pain au chocolat, I am still happy. During this trip, we made a trip to the grocery store (our favorite spot for souvenirs) and bought a ridiculous amount of Le Petit Marseilles soaps, La Roche-Posay sunscreens and baguette after baguette. And don't you dare forget the cheese!
MORE OF WHAT WE DID:
- Stayed at the cutest nautical Airbnb in Blainville-sur-Mer: We totally loved our Airbnb, which had an incredibly sweet host and was decorated all in a nautical motif. The best part was the lodging came with bikes, so we biked to the beach one day — against that wind! — which was a fun adventure. Our lodging was a bit far from Sainte-Mère-Église, which is where most of the events were taking place, so if you want to be close to the action, book ahead of time! We didn't have that luxury, but were more than happy with our Airbnb. If you haven't used Airbnb before, it's our go-to method for lodging when we travel — we stay at the coolest, most authentic places! Enjoy this coupon for $25 off your first night.
- Spent the day at the commemorative jump at the Iron Mike Drop Zone: Our favorite event of all of the D-Day events was the commemorative jump, where reeanactors and active duty military soldiers jumped onto the original Iron Mike Drop Zone. We got there early — around 9 a.m. — which gave us plenty of time to find a good vantage point to camp out for the day, as it got busy towards lunchtime! Parking was also easy to come by and well-marked. There were lots of stands selling food and souvenirs, plus plenty of portable toilets, and we had such a fun day watching the paratroopers jump into the drop zone, only to be swarmed with local children asking for souvenirs (usually small American flags or unit patches). We spent almost the entire day there, taking in the international fare and appreciating so much of the sacrifice that took place there originally 73 years ago.
- Hit the poppy fields: Something that's become a bit of a trend in our travels is finding flower fields in season and taking an obscene amount of photos in them. Sometimes we even plan trips around flower fields! We didn't even mean to stumble upon poppy fields in France, but it was perfect because we missed the poppy blooms in Italy, as they're wildflowers that will get mowed down once the growing season begins. Since France is a little colder than Italy, June was prime season for poppies, so we got our poppy pictures — which was even more meaningful, as poppies are a symbol of honoring Americans who have died in combat, specifically on Memorial Day, which gave an extra layer to the reason why we were in Normandy in the first place.
To meet up with Tyler, I flew into Paris Beauvais, though it would've been equally as easy to fly into Charles De Gaulle or Orly in Paris. We rented a car and drove the long haul (about 3-4 hours) to Normandy. If you visit specifically for D-Day anniversaries or D-Day-affiliated activities, I'd highly recommend staying in or around Sainte-Mère-Église. Staying near Utah or Omaha Beach, on the east side of Normandy, wouldn't be a bad plan, either. We stayed on the west side, and it proved difficult to get back and forth to where we needed to be, and then the haul to Paris was a bit further (we ended up booking a hotel near the airport the night before our early flight). For planning purposes, the main events for the anniversary were the weekend closest to the D-Day anniversary, including the jump, which was on the Sunday before the anniversary. There were also ceremonies at the Omaha and Utah beachheads, as well as some reenactor camps in Sainte-Mère-Église the week leading up to the anniversary. The Normandy tourism website is incredibly helpful, and has a calendar of events in French and English.
Text and photos copyright © Katie Currid, 2017. All rights reserved.