Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 556 : Excursions around the Calvados region, Normandy, France

First things first, the dinner last night at our Auberge with a specially created menu by the resident chef was fantastic! It started off with a melon apple summer soup that was light, airy, flavorful, and almost creamy, although there was not one ounce of cream in it. The perfect thing to begin the meal. It was then followed by the local and in season vegetables that had been roasted with a homemade basil oil -- rustic and farmsteady with an refined simple elegance. Next up was a simple cheese plate composed of local Camembert, Pont L'Eveque, and Livarot, all of which were crafted in the region. This was paired with homemade fresh breads and a simple salad. To finish was a vacherin mont d'or with fresh local strawberries -- light, not too sweet, and the perfect way to end our creative simple country repast.

After a peaceful sleep and a run through the countryside, we started out on our day's journey. The first stop was the General Eisenhower Memorial Museum in Caen, a museum dedicated to chronicling the D-Day offensive. Next up were visits, with a stop or two, in between to four out of five of the Normandy beaches that were part of Operation Overlord, the Allied offensive that was the beginning of the end of World War II. At our first stop at Omaha Beach where the Allied troops hit land on June 6th, 1944, the weather was appropriately somber -- overcast, quite chilly, and grey for mid August. It was a chilling experience looking out into the ocean where all those brave men stormed the French shores in the hopes of tackling and overcoming the German troops. Moving along, we next stopped at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, one of fourteen permanent American World War II military cemeteries on foreign soil with 9,387 headstones and commemorating 1,557 soldiers who died missing in action. Situated looking right out at the English Channel, the cemetery was one of the most simple and moving tributes to the men who fought and died for America -- a modest marble cross or a star of david was utilized as a headstone for each. It seemed as though the field of crosses and occasional stars of david went on forever. A time to reflect for being alive and savoring the gift of life we are all given -- to think back on those that are no longer with us and those that currently make our lives great.

From this amazingly beautiful and peaceful tribute to a stop at a local cidery for tastes of their cider, pommeau, calvados, and saporange (a liqueur crafted with Eau de Vie, apple juice and orange nectar). Each more delish than the last! We also purchased some of the local Camembert which was the perfect snack with some roasted and salted almonds while continuing our drive. We both remarked that Camembert was one of our least preferred cheeses in the US, but here, this Camembert was remarkable. Maybe it was because we were hungry or maybe it was because it was made with raw milk or maybe it was because the commute from production to plate was so small, who knows, but it surely was fantastic.

From our fabulous Camembert to the next three landing beaches -- Gold, Juno, and Sword. Each had a monument erected to the men who had fought and died but each beach didn't feel like the sort of beach you would want to actually sun yourself and consequently swim at, these were haunting memories of history that one as an observer felt lucky to have had the opportunity to visit. Apart from the beaches, we also got to see the remains of the mulberries (or artificial ports) the Allied troops built in order to begin their offensive. These were incredible relics of an amazing moment in history.

Overall today was a day to be thankful to be alive, to look back on the incredible feats of the generations that have come before, and to feel lucky to be able to participate in these acts of remembrance.

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