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Thread: France, Belgium - Omaha Beach, American Cemetary, Ardennes, Pics/Vid

  1. #1

    France, Belgium - Omaha Beach, American Cemetery, Ardennes, Pics/Vid

    Day #1

    This week is the 61st anniversary of the WWII D-Day invasion in Normandy, FR... June 6-8 1944. Germany controlled much of Europe. The Allies needed a toehold in Europe to start the offensive. The beaches of Normany were selected. More details Day #2.

    I found myself in Belgium on business the week before. A friend arranged for a BMW R1200RT rental out of Brugge, Belgium and I couldn't resist a five day journey through northern France and Belgium. My sweet wife gave it her blessing.

    The sun made a significant presence only twice during the five days! When at the Omaha Beach area (fortunately) and the last day when riding through the Ardennes. Otherwise, it was showers, cold, wind, downpours, and generally blustery conditions. Ah... memories, but limited pictures and only one video (Day #5). Still one of the best rides for me ever. And when one is dry and warm, no big deal.

    Here is the ride... counter clockwise from Brugge, Belgium...

    Brugge, Belgium is a popular destination for many. The city survived WWII intact, and I was told a German commander was ordered to bomb it but he elected not to given its beauty. Early morning of Day #1 before the main square became filled with visitors...

    Had more work during the day and didn't leave until 4:00p. I stayed at a friend's house and here's a pic of the bike just before departure. Sweet bike... just right for the journey and conditions ahead...

    And this is it for Day #1. Shortly after, on the way to Calais, FR. I was hammered with rain and hail... cars pulling over, parking under overpasses. I pulled over once to fix my riding pants for rain was pouring into the boots!
    Last edited by sfarson; 03-12-2010 at 09:18 PM.

  2. #2
    Day #2

    This is a big day.

    I used the heater in my Calais, FR room to dry the clothes (like the socks and boots) and then loaded up the bike in wind and rain. Wanted to first explore the coastline and get off the main highways. This is where I had my first taste of rural towns of France. Really liked how the structures were tucked together in an intimate or cozy kind of way... small businesses, a hotel/tavern, homes. This is after passing through the community of Escalles just west of Calais. The English Channel is about a mile to the left.

    Getting closer to the Normandy Beaches. Here I'm ready to cross the Seine river at le Havre as it empties into The Channel...

    Wrong! It was just a bridge over a nearby canal. About a mile later, here's the bridge...

    OK. I make it to Bayeux at 2:00p and find a small hotel room. The sun comes out. I ride to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery. If you ever saw the movie Saving Private Ryan, this is where the opening scenes happen. More importantly, this is where history happened. Many web sites devoted to this. One with background and historical images is here:

    I was surprised to see how many people were there. The big anniversary events were to happen days later. I waited in line to sign a visitors log at he visitors center, and this is when I started becoming quite emotional about the significance of this place. Thousands were there, and many were signing the log book from places in Europe and around the world. I stepped outside and snapped this image before walking among the resting places of fallen heroes...

    The land was given by France to America in perpetuity. An Administrative office of the Executive Branch maintains and looks after this site, as well as other cemeteries and memorials around the world where Americans shed blood for the freedom of many. 9300 are buried here. Some markers note the identity is only known by God. There's also a memorial to 1300 who landed and fought, and were never found. Looking at one of the sections, to the north, The Channel below...

    I then made the walk many were not doing... going down to the beach and imagining what the landing armies saw and faced. I stood on sand where many lost their lives. I was here at low tide. This is a wide beach. Starting thinking if the strategy would be to come in at high or low tide. This would be one long gauntlet of withering gunfire to face.

    Looking to the left, was told these were remains of German defensive bunkers...

    The views looking towards Omaha Beach...

    A map at the overlook where I took the preceding pics...

    Many organized tours going on at the same time. The woman here is speaking in French to a group...

    A unit of French soldiers came to the memorial...

    Before departing I found a section of the cemetery to take a picture with nothing but the markers of the fallen heroes...

    On the ride out I paused at the small town of Colleville sur Mer, about a half mile from the cemetery. Note the before and after pics. One close to the church too, with G.I.'s in front. What a place, June 6-8 1944...
    Last edited by sfarson; 06-10-2005 at 09:05 PM.

  3. #3
    Day #3

    I left Bayeux for Le Mont Saint Michel under gray and drizzling skies. It was only 90 minutes away and I've seen pictures of this stunning place. A good site with images, background and history is here:

    It was one of those tag and take-a-pic kind of visits. Dreary weather and other journey plans had this be a quick stop. Until the elevated road was built, the only access was during low tide. The tides are huge here with the water rushing in and out at times. The approach...

    And zooming in a little. Very impressive when looking close at its immense proportions...

    Didn't stop often with the rain falling to take a pic, but did so here at St. Hilaire-du-Harcouet, east of Mont St. Michel on the N 176 road. Delightful riding through these towns. This one is typical. Would sometimes see signs pointing to an American Cemetery maintained by local residents. After the D-Day invasion Allied forces fought through towns like these to reclaim them. By December they had retaken Paris and pushed German troops back to Belgium and close to the German border (See Day #5 below).

    St. Hilaire-du-Harcouet...

    Stayed in Orleans for the night.
    Last edited by sfarson; 06-10-2005 at 09:06 PM.

  4. #4
    Day #4

    I left Orleans knowing I needed to back to Brugge by the next afternoon. Opened the hotel curtains to a steady rain. I just laughed. Really wasn't bothered by this since I was on a confident bike and dry and warm, but again, my excuse for few pics.

    I thought this one might be the only one of the day...

    But after passing through a beautiful agricultural area SE of Paris (Plains du Champagne) I had a nice ride going north on a lonely D 982 and D 977 south of Sedan on the Belgian border. Small town after small town. Every one seemingly with a beautiful and old church in the center. Could always see the church steeple first or most easily when approaching. For you, the Ride Report audience , I paused in the rain to take two pics.

    Tiny Cernay-en-Dormois on D 982 north of the A 4...

    And pausing at the 15th century church in the town (and the clock was right!)...

    Stayed in Sedan, FR for the night.

  5. #5
    Day #5

    I awoke, looked outside. Sunshine! Connected the helmetcam stuff and left for Belgium and the scenic Ardennes.. the forested region in the southern part of the country.

    If you have a chance, take a look at this site and read about the largest land battle of WWII... Fascinating reading if you like history. The dense Ardennes are where Hitler thought he could spring a surprising offensive after being on the defensive following the D-Day invasion. OK, I'll stop. The link does a much better job than I presenting this.

    All I have for this day is a streaming video as I ride a nice road (N 40) through small towns and the forest, location of much momentous history...

    Southern Belgium, N 40 Through the Ardnennes Region - Streaming Video

    Made it to Brugge by 2:00p. It was a great, memory-filled ride and trip.

  6. #6
    Luckiest Man Alive Timba's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004
    The Hill Country, Texas
    Very timely report, and nicely done!
    "You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it."
    ~ Charles Buxton
    TnA's travels

  7. #7
    leave my monkey alone LORAZEPAM's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    West Salem, OH
    Thanks for a wonderful report. I understand your emotions, it is something you cant describe when in one of those places. What those brave men must have gone through to take that beach is almost beyone comprehension, knowing the odds were they wouldnt make it through the first moments off the landing craft.
    Thanks again for sharing, and I think every French citizen should be required to visit those hallowed grounds and learn just what sacrifices were made for them.
    Gale Smith
    2009 Versys
    1999 R1100RT

  8. #8
    Focused kbasa's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Marin By God County, California
    Steve, as always, that's wonderful. This one, in the wake of Memorial Day, has particular poignance.

    Thanks for taking us along. I haven't ridden in Europe, but the video makes me want to do so. It really reminds me of riding in New England.
    Dave Swider
    Marin County, CA

    Some bikes. Some with motors, some without.

  9. #9
    Rally Rat Jim Shaw's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2003
    Hinckley, OH and Ann Arbor, MI USA


    You've done it again, Steve. I think you may have pushed me over the edge to do some riding in Europe. Expect others feel the same way. I'm already planning to spend 10 days riding CO in August, and that's your doing with the previous videos and stills.


  10. #10
    great report, those are some super high-quality pics, its nice to see some towns in belgium have a bit of color to them, Brussles and Leige are two of the greyest places i've ever been to (outside Aberdeen Scotland, of course)

  11. #11
    Registered User Bob_M's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Portland Oregon

    Very Special

    Great trip, story well told. Thanks for sharing

  12. #12

    Thumbs up

    Thanks for sharing those pics. There are so many places to visit in Normandy, that you have to make choices if you have only a few days.
    About 20 years ago I went to, among other places, Point-Du-Hoc were the rangers had to climb those cliffs. Standing on that beach looking up gave me the chills. The bravery and daring are mindboggling. Even now climbing up would be tough, let alone in wartime conditions. What the Americans and other Allied forces did there is beyond believe and to this day those who were there deserve our respect and admiration.

  13. #13
    Thanks for the wonderful pictures and the wonderful post. I had the great opportunity to see much of that country in 1960, a mere 15 years after the war. Although I was only 8 at the time, many things are etched in my memory. One was sitting in the ruins of a German pill box on the coast and having my father tell me the story of D-Day for the first time. (Both my parents were Vets. Met and married in the Navy Air Corps) Another was staying on the third floor of a five story hotel in Orlean or somewhere. The top two floors were still bombed out ruins.
    Lastly and most poignant, was hearing the story of the memorial in Rotterdam to the Destroyed City .

    Thanks again, especially to those who fought and died for our freedom.

  14. #14
    Thanks for a wonderful report. I understand your emotions, it is something you cant describe when in one of those places. What those brave men must have gone through to take that beach is almost beyone comprehension, knowing the odds were they wouldnt make it through the first moments off the landing craft.
    I had the same thoughts. It was a sobering place, a quiet place... despite the presence of many others. I think many knew this, in a way, was hallowed ground.

  15. #15
    Thanks for taking us along and for the reminder of the price of freedom.


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