Travel Diary: 2000 km and Counting

Did you know… you can fit approximately 16 France’s into Canada? It’s true (one of the many interesting facts I learned about Canada at the Juno Beach Center in France. Embarrassingly, many of the facts presented there as part of the exhibit describing the Canadian political, economic, and social environment of Canada prior to WWII were new to me. I clearly need to brush up on my Canadian history…

What I am learning is that France is huge. Also, Germany to Belgium to France is a long way – Much, much, much farther than we naively imagined. Some of you are wondering how, with google maps at our fingertips, we would not have appreciated this fact prior to undertaking this adventure… well… we planned our route this past December or January… and we did it in spurts when we could snag the time in the evening or weekends. It went something like this…

“Oh, 400 km – that’s nothing!… we can do that stretch easily… Oh, 300 km – no problem!… 200 km – we do that in an evening to visit the family in Calgary – simple!”

Here’s what we know now… 400 km in Western Europe is different from 400 km in Western Canada. Some of the roads are much faster, yes, but some of them are much slower… and ALL OF THEM require a great deal of defensive driving. There are roads in France with a speed limit of 90 km/hr that we would generously call bike paths at home. No joke. It is exhausting (… maybe as much for the driver as for me?!…bahahaha…). Also, as we continued to add-on legs to this trip, we did not take the time to add those legs up… my current guesstimate is that our trip odometer will cross 5000 km before this journey is done. I wonder if the rental car company bargained on that when we signed up for unlimited kilometers?!

The most recent leg of our adventure took us down the coast of France to visit Dieppe, and the beaches of Operation Overlord (Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah). As with our visits to the hallowed sites of WWI atrocities, these also held great significance and were truly moving for us all.

The beaches of Dieppe are not “beaches” as you might imagine them – rather, they are hills of tennis-ball sized rocks rolling one atop the other as the Atlantic ocean rolls in and out. They are difficult to walk on, never mind run amid machine-gun fire carrying 80 pounds of gear…

The beaches of Dieppe.

 

Canadian monument at Dieppe with Dieppe Castle rising above.

But, the lessons learned at Dieppe in 1942 paved the way to what might be the most dramatic multinational war effort in modern history. The beaches of Normandy are now popular with vacationing European travellers. Sandy beaches, ice cream shops, and cafe’s line the water’s edge. However, just as the peaceful, picturesque towns and fields of Flanders are filled with monuments of remembrance for those who gave their lives to freedom, these beaches carry reminders and memorials of the sacrifices given on D-Day and beyond as our nation partnered to defend and restore Western Europe.

I was amazed with the size, grandeur, and attention to detail at the Normandy American Cemetery (Coleville-Sur-Mer, France)

 

Normandy American Cemetery (Coleville-sur-Mer, France)

 

Very proud to see our flag flying at these many sites on the coast of Normandy.

 

Gold Beach (Arromanches-les-Bains, France)

 

The remains of the Mulberry Harbour (Arromanches-les-Bains, France)

 

Juno Beach today

 

Picnic Lunch on Juno Beach (Courseulles-Sur-Mer, France)

 

Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian Cemetery.

 

As with the Canadian Cemeteries and Memorials in Flanders, the Canadian Cemetery at Beny-Sur-Mer is lined with Maple Trees.

 

Oh the tanks and artillery… and you can bet we looked at Every. Single. One.

 

The Grand Bunker Museum at Sword beach (Ouistreham, France)

And after all that…

I don’t like to be negative… and actually I would argue that maintaining a positive mindset is critical to the success of a family adventure like this one… so it goes a bit against the grain, but…

I’m done with war.

In truth, my heart just can’t take it anymore. I have a very active imagination, and can’t help but read every inscription, every placard in every museum… and the photos and video footage… oh, the footage (particularly graphic for WWII due to technological advances by that time)… well, my mind is overwhelmed, full, grateful, shocked… and a myriad of other emotions that I can’t really describe…

Next, we are on to Paris, and it does not escape me that I am blessed beyond measure to drive away from all of this and fill my mind with brighter things… fully knowing that there are countless others who could only imagine such a luxury.

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4 thoughts on “Travel Diary: 2000 km and Counting

    1. Will

      Really enjoying your updates you lasted a longer than I would have with all the war memorals. I just pray my grandchildren will never experience the wars that took place

      1. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think that my generation and definitely not our children have a true appreciation of what “war” looks like. Visiting these places and experiencing the stories of those that did live it is humbling and eye-opening to say the least. We are extremely grateful to have been able to experience this with our kids.

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