Author Archives: hedera

Utah Beach and Normandy

This will be a longer post than I thought.  I spaced out on the fact that, after touring Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach (and eating our bag lunches on the bus because it was raining), we went on to tour some of the French villages that were liberated by paratroopers in the early hours of D-Day.  So stay with me, folks.

The photo galleries for this are Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach (the last 2 pages), and a second gallery, Elsewhere in Normandy. This gallery has many more shots of the local churches than I could include in this post.

Utah Beach is full of official monuments – a Federal monument honoring all the U.S troops who participated, a monument honoring the 90th Infantry.  They’re in the gallery, but I want to share this one.  The Higgins boat is how most of the infantry came ashore.  Look at one and think about it.

Higgins Boat memorial, Utah Beach

They also had a museum on Utah Beach, a little back from the beach front.  There was a museum at Omaha Beach too, but we didn’t get into it, probably due to the ceremonial visit to the cemetery.  The Utah Beach museum had one that just charmed me:

Replica B-29 bomber, the “Dinah Might” – Utah Beach Museum

Isn’t that name a classic?  I can’t think of anything more “World War II American.” 

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Pointe du Hoc

Saturday June 8 was a very busy day and is going to get two posts.  It started out as a very blustery and wet day, to the point that my pants were soaked while walking from the boat to the bus, and the weather continued on and off.  (They did dry on their own.) 

The photo gallery for this and the next post is Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach.

We began the day at Pointe du Hoc, a flat-topped bluff, about 100 feet tall, right on the Normandy coast.  Here’s the view of the range of bluffs.

View of the south coast from the edge of Pointe du Hoc

A slightly closer look at those cliffs:

Cliffs at Pointe du Hoc

American Rangers had to climb these bluffs to capture and disable the German gun emplacements, particularly the 155mm artillery positions, which could have wreaked havoc on Utah and Omaha beaches. 

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Omaha Beach

This was our first D-Day tour.  Our original itinerary for this day, June 7, had us landing at Caen, then driving to Arromanches-les-Bains to see the 360° theater, and then the German gun battery at Longues sur Mer, before going on to Omaha Beach.  However, landing at Caen required the boat to go up a very narrow waterway with several locks on it, and the night before, our captain had informed us that the predicted high winds would make it difficult to navigate the locks; so we were going to land at Honfleur, which is farther north but much easier to get into.  This meant that the drive to Arromanches took more time than expected, which is probably why we didn’t visit the gun battery.  We would see plenty of German gun batteries later in the tour. 

The gallery for this post is called Omaha BeachFeel free to look at all the photos.

We started out on main roads, but eventually had to transfer to what a British friend of mine once called the “gray squiggly roads;” in that stretch of the French coast there are no main roads within about 3 miles of the coastline.  Arriving at Arromanches, we all trooped in to the theater.  I have only one photo; it really wasn’t possible to shoot still pictures of it.

Arromanches, introduction at the 360 degree theater

Watching the screening, however, was really overwhelming.  These looked like real video of the war, with sound, and it was deafening and scary.  After the show, there was quite a bit to see.  Here’s the coastline, south from Arromanches, which is about half way between Juno Beach and Omaha Beach.

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Portsmouth

On June 6 we checked out of the London hotel (had to have the bags ready for pickup by some unholy hour) and after a very early breakfast, headed for Portsmouth and the D-Day Museum – and Le Boréal.  The drive through the English countryside was gorgeous.  The gallery for this day is Portsmouth, but I’ll share some photos here.  Our first goal was Southwick House, somewhat north of Portsmouth, the advance command post of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).  In other words, Eisenhower’s HQ for D-Day and beyond. 

Southwick House

We heard an absolutely fascinating lecture on the process of planning D-Day, and how Ike made the actual go-ahead decision for June 6.  He based it on the weather predictions of a 28 year old Scot named John Stagg, who had a reputation for accuracy, and more sources of weather information than the Germans had.  The lecture was in the map room:

Map room at Southwick House

We then adjourned to the room across the hall, where the D-Day decision was actually made.  I love history and I really enjoyed this.  I spent the trip, and some time after, reading Stephen Ambrose’s book D-Day, which I recommend heartily.

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Flying to London

In the fall of 2018, we signed up for the Celtic Lands cruise, in early June 2019, , especially as it included a 2 day side trip through the D-Day beaches, the day after the 75th anniversary.  We both looked at the brochure and said, “I wanna DO that!”  So we reserved our spots and spent the next 6 months paying for it in installments, and dealing with Life.

We left for London on June 3.  We considered the 10-11 hour flights between San Francisco and Europe (Heathrow going, Amsterdam returning), and decided to fly business class, the first time either of us has done so.  It’s appallingly expensive but boy, does it help.  For one thing, we waited for our outbound plane in the Delta Lounge, in comfortable chairs, waited on by attendants with free food and drink!  For another, when they feed you in business class, you get a table cloth and cloth napkins, and real plates and silverware!  (And real food.)

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And Going Home

We had another day at sea after leaving Victoria, and my group spent it rehearsing, as we did a brief performance that night in one of the many ship’s lounges.  As I mentioned in my post on the Ketchikan stop, we didn’t get much support for our performance, so the audience was not very large, but they were very appreciative.  Fortunately the concert didn’t last very long; I was concerned about how I was going to pack.  Ship’s rules said that any luggage you wanted the crew to take off the boat, had to be out in the hall before dinner.  This meant I had to wear the same clothes to dinner that night, and to disembark the next morning; and underwear and some other items had to move into my rolling carry-on, already pretty full.  As usual, I worried about this more than was warranted, and the whole thing went quite smoothly.  I was expecting my husband to come pick me up, but he had had trouble with his car on his hiking trip (don’t ask), and didn’t want to risk it.  I took a taxi home, which worked just fine.  Here endeth the Wade in the Water cruise.

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Touring Victoria

Before I go on, I’d like to share some observations on large cruise ships, which I take from my travel diary:

I find cruising odd.  There are no public trash cans.  The staff takes care of everything.  When you finish eating, you walk away from the dirty dishes; the staff will pick them up.  I discovered that some people make cruising their hobby; it appears to be the only way this group takes vacations.    It’s all kinds of people – fat, thin, young, old, disabled, active, with and without kids.  They’re mostly very chatty and friendly.  Cruises have activities every waking hour.  In addition to the obvious – movies and music – there are towel animal folding competitions (I’m not making this up), game shows, lectures, and auctions.  Many bars have live entertainment.  The ship had 2 jewelry stores but no “convenience” store:  I couldn’t buy a pencil, or a candy bar, or a bottle of water.  Or, per my roommate, a hearing aid battery.  Except for in your room, or outside, there is no silence; and it’s kept air-conditioned a little too cool for my taste.  Now, on to Victoria.

Our last stop on the Wade in the Water cruise was Victoria, B.C.  I like Victoria; my husband and I have visited it several times, the last in 2016, making our own reservations.  There are some very nice bed and breakfasts there.  Our option on this trip, of course, was one of several bus tours – only one, because the ship was scheduled to leave at 1:30PM! Cruise tours do not leave much time for contemplation.  There was a bus tour option to the fabulous Butchart Gardens, which is a solid half hour north of Victoria; I doubt they had time to view the whole thing.  Last time my husband and I toured it, we took most of a day.

All my photos from this stop are in my gallery Victoria, which I encourage you to check out; I took many more photos than I’m sharing here.

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Endicott Arm

On our way to the last stop, in Victoria, B.C., we stopped to look at the Endicott Arm.  We were supposed to tour the better known Tracy Arm, a common stop for cruises; but according to the information desk, the ice there was too thick.  So we stopped at the Endicott Arm, a larger fjord a little south of Tracy Arm.  Nothing much happened except views of beautiful water, mountains, and glaciers.

Endicott Arm

Sumdum Glacier in Endicott Arm

Endicott Arm

A few more photos available in the gallery.

 

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Skagway

Before I talk about Skagway, I want to share an incident from the cruise ship which made my day, and almost made me miss the Klondike Highway tour (which left at 8:30 AM, gah).  My “official” dining room (I think it was Botticelli) was way at the back of the boat, but Da Vinci dining room was much closer to my cabin, and I could eat breakfast there if I didn’t mind sharing a table with other lost souls.  At the table that morning was Ed (not his name), 89 years old, a Korean War vet.  He was recently widowed and was on the cruise looking for a “nurse with a purse!”  He was so funny I couldn’t leave the table as early as I should have.  Still, I made the tour.

We got back to the Skagway area around 11:20, and the tour stopped to look at the reconstruction (preservation?) of Liarsville.  If you read the Wikipedia article I linked, you’ll find that Skagway was a major entry port for the Klondike Gold Rush.  The first steamer full of prospectors docked in Skagway at the end of July 1897.  Wikipedia doesn’t give the pre-gold rush population of the town (they may never have bothered to count), but Wikipedia says,

The population was estimated at 8,000 residents during the spring of 1898 with approximately 1,000 prospective miners passing through town each week.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, by June 1898 Skagway was the largest city in Alaska, with a population between 8,000 and 10,000.

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Ghosts from the Past

You never know what you’ll see in the newspaper.  Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle had a front page article on the issues involved in identifying victims of the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise, CA in November 2018.  There have been a lot of articles about the aftermath of the Camp Fire; but this one had this photo on the front page:

A memorial (left) for Bill Godbout and the victims of the Camp Fire stands March 5 at Skyway Road and Skyway Crossroad Road in Paradise.

A memorial (left) for Bill Godbout and the victims of the Camp Fire stands March 5 at Skyway Road and Skyway Crossroad Road in Paradise.

The photo on the right is Kimberly Gin, the Sacramento County coroner, who was called in to help Butte County out.  It’s a very interesting article on its own; but the picture hit me like a sock in the gut.  Why?

I knew Bill Godbout.  I did business with Bill Godbout.

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