My father served in World War II in Europe. Born and raised in New York City, he began his invitational military service (he was drafted) at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, one of the forts guarding New York harbor. After Pearl Harbor and our official entry into the war, Dad’s unit was sent to Iceland. Later, Dad spent time in Northern Ireland and England before landing in Normandy less than two weeks after D-Day. In addition to France, he also saw action in Belgium and the Rhineland. He did not return home until after V-E day in 1945… After walking the beaches in Normandy with my brother in 1987, Dad said he wanted one day to do the same with me. In 2002, I finally arranged a trip for us to Normandy and Iceland (an upcoming blog about our visit to Iceland is in the works). For the Normandy segment, I booked us on a 2 ½ day tour through Tours International (T-I), a British specialty tour outfit offering military, literary and other types of tours for small groups. Guided tours are not my first choice when I travel but this one was exceptional for the vast historical and local knowledge of our guide as well as his contacts, allowing us access to people and places we would not otherwise have had. Even if I had been able to put together something similar, we could not have managed to see it all in such a short amount of time.
The Normandy tour
We bookended our tour with a night in Paris and made connections by train. We were met at the train station in Bayeux by our guide (I still have the paper he held up with my name on it; a few fleeting minutes of fame). Unexpectedly, our group tour was a private tour because no one else had booked the same dates for that particular tour – this was less than a year after 9/11, travel numbers had not yet recovered). This added a level of personal attention that Dad appreciated, particularly because it was getting difficult for him to walk distances or stand for very long – we rode in a car instead of a van, so we could park closer to entrances and such.
On this first afternoon, we took a short walking tour of Bayeux, enjoying
the old town area and going past the exterior of the cathedral before we checked into our hotel (a Holiday Inn-type place at the traffic circle just outside town). Bayeux is another lovely town where I found myself thinking ‘I could live here!’ We then went into
La Fringale, a small restau offering Norman specialties, for an early dinner. I had stuffed oysters to start followed by skate, spinach and sweet potato and Dad had coquilles St. Jacques. Pont l’Evêque and Camembert made up the cheese course (we were in Normandy, after all!) As we left the restau, I noticed that the butcher across the street had a slew of medallions proving that his veal and lamb were the very best. His place is only open for lunch, though, and I don’t remember the name.
Back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow, the first of two very busy days in Normandy.