This post is dedicated to how we almost got stranded in Normandy and “misdropped” just like the American paratroopers on D-Day Minus 1 back in 1944. We were right where we were supposed to be, but nothing else was.
Getting to Normandy
Having researched this part before leaving for France, I knew that trains ran from Paris to Caen from Paris Saint Lazare Station. And with our EURail Pass, we could just board any of these trains freely and go at whatever time we wanted. I had booked a hotel in Saint Lo, and the plan was to visit Caen, and then get to Saint Lo in the evening.
Caen was a city with a rich history, but I only knew it from the Battle of Caen during the larger Battle of Normandy in 1944. While here, I saw a lot of war memorials and architecture leftover from the days of William the Conqueror.
The city itself was very beautiful and really had a French vibe. Unlike Paris, this place isn’t as frequented by tourists. And also the French people here are a lot less snobby and more nice to foreigners. People in Normandy also seem to have immense respect for Americans and the British.
I also got to see the horse statue that always appears in World War II games that feature Caen in it (e.g. The Caen map in Day of Defeat). I’m not sure if it’s the same horse statue, but this one sure reminded me of it.
After staying for a bit in Caen, we decided to go to Saint Lo. In order to do that we had to make a stop in Bayeux and make a transfer.
This is where the shit started to hit the fan. We arrived in Bayeux just to find out that all the buses were closed and there were no more trains going to Saint Lo until 11 at night. By the time we arrived in Bayeux it was around 9:30. We weren’t even sure if that train at 11 was even going to come. The only solution to get to Saint Lo was with a taxi. We looked around the station and saw a bunch of advertisements for D-Day beach tours until we finally found a number for a taxi. When the taxi driver came, he told us that it would cost a lot of money to get to Saint Lo from where we were. So then we tried to look for a place to stay in this city, but since D-Day is a high season for tourism in Normandy, it proved impossible to find a hotel/hostel with room for us. In the end we had to take the taxi anyway. When we called for a taxi the second time, the same taxi driver came back to pick us up too. It was kind of strange. Before actually picking us up, the taxi driver told me he’d come back in five minutes and then ten minutes later he was still not back. I called out in frustration, “five minutes my ass!”, and then a minute later, the taxi driver came back.
While looking for a place to stay, we wandered around time wondering what we were going to do. But even in our crisis, I somehow still kept a really chill attitude on the outside, although I was quite frustrated on the inside. I was still in the mood to take lots of photos though. While walking around, one of my friends broke out in song and started singing a song about how we were “lost in the middle of nowhere.”
As the taxi entered Saint Lo and started driving to the outskirts of the city, we realized that the hotel we booked was in the middle of nowhere. Even though it was 7 km from the city center, the town only had a population of about 20000 people. The man at the hotel greeted us and checked us in. Inside the hotel we found pamphlets for the city bus that we would use to go to the city center the next day. And from there, we’d take a train/bus to a nearby town and go to the D-Day beaches. Looking further into the pamphlets, I discovered that the bus wouldn’t run on Sunday. It just so happened that we arrived on Saturday night. That sucked a lot.
The next morning, I asked the man at the hotel how to get to the city center and to the D-Day beaches and using his heavy French accent (it was kind of cool to hear), he told us that the only way to do it was using a taxi. That was definitely not the answer I wanted to hear. Before coming to France, I was under the misconception that the trains here would be well connected and that transportation to the D-Day beaches would not be a problem so I did not plan my transportation in Normandy in such detail. It was more of a “figure it out when we get there” sort of thing.
Rather than taking a taxi, we tried to walk to the city center and about 15 minutes into our walk, we all kind of got tired of walking and didn’t feel like walking 7 km, so we went back to the hotel to call a taxi. Luckily, the man at the hostel was very helpful (probably the nicest French guy I’ve come across), and he gave us the phone number for the taxi in the city. When we arrived at the Saint Lo train station via taxi, we found that there were no trains running to where we wanted to go. That is when we figured, “okay, maybe it’s time to get outta here.” We looked at the train departures again, and the next train to Caen wasn’t until 3 PM, and it was only 10 AM or so when we arrived at the Saint Lo station. We decided that the best plan of action now was to just cancel our second night at the hotel and go back to Stuttgart.
Instead of taking a taxi back to the hotel, we walked back to the hotel, cancelled our second night’s stay and walked back to the train station. Luckily the nice Frenchman at the hotel did not penalize us for cancelling our second night. I’m sure he realized that we were all having a hard time trying to arrange transportation to the beaches.
Using the time we had before our train, we walked around Saint Lo. The weather that day matched pretty much exactly what the weather was in ’44 and for me it felt kind of cool to see that the weather had stayed so constant over the years. The morning was cold and foggy, just like back then. For most our time in Saint Lo, we walked around with umbrellas. While walking around town, there was literally no one on the street except us. I guess everyone goes to church on Sundays and then goes home in Normandy.
Even though our plans didn’t work out, we did see a few cool things in Normandy like many of the war memorials and war damage that the city chose to leave behind and not repair. A good example is of the Notre-Dame here that kept some of the damage like the missing church tower to show others of the damage that the church suffered. Apparently over 90% of homes in Saint Lo were destroyed during the war.
If our plans had worked out, we would have been able to visit Carentan, and see the live paradrop in the nearby town of Sainte-Mère-Église. Then afterward, we planned to make our way to Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc to be exact. If our plans in Normandy had worked out, we would have even gone to Brussels afterward. Instead, I never got the chance to see any of the beaches and came home a day early. If I ever come back here, I’ll be sure to take a car.