As we traveled into France, I couldn’t help but be wary of what my experience was going to be in the country. I think that France is spoken of so highly that I almost expected to be underwhelmed by the country. Truthfully, I found France to be absolutely breathtaking and worthy of all the positive reviews it receives. We began our time in France in the northern coastal city of Bayeux. The area that we stayed in looked very much like the older part of the city with narrow one way roads and buildings that looked at least a century old. The city was characterized most distinctly by a large cathedral that was built in the 11th century.

Main street of Bayeux

Bayeux is in close proximity to both Utah and Omaha beach where the beach landings occurred for the D-Day invasions. We visited both beaches as well as Pointe du Hoc. Going to the beaches and actually standing where these events took place allowed me to gain a better understanding of the she

Utah Beach

er undertaking that was needed for those landings. I was actually surprised by the ways in which people used the beaches in present day.I thought that there wouldn’t really be any people on these beaches accept for tourists or school groups. There were actually very nice, what I assumed to be, beach front vacation homes on and around some of the cliffs of Omaha beach and there were people having picnics on the sand with their families and playing games. Omaha was the more lively of the two beaches and I think that how active the beach was, took away from seeing and experiencing that specific beach to its full capacity. Within the museums at the varying museums in the Normandy area, I got the continued message that the allied invasion was welcomed by the French but it was also a source of tension because of the destruction of the pre-invasion bombings.

Remains of ship from landings on Omaha Beach


While in Normandy we also visited the German, American, and British cemeteries. I was truly amazed by how different the locations and the set-up of the cemeteries were. The German cemetery was located next to a highway away from the beaches. It had sets of 5 crosses placed sporadically throughout with a large monument in the middle. This site did not seem to be well traveled and had a very somber feel to it. Aside from the lack of people, the small brown graves that were embedded in the ground made the area seem much more open and empty. These graves were also generally honoring two soldiers which added to the magnitude of death that could be felt there. Walking into the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, I was struck by how large it was. There was row after row of white crosses that I think accurately depicted the destruction that the soldiers were faced with during the beach landings. The memorial at the beginning of the museum depicted a muscular man with his arms outstretched. The memorial at the beginning of the museum depicted a muscular man with his arms outstretched. I feel that this monument helped to depict the youth of many of the soldiers memorialized at the cemetery and worked to actively celebrate their service.  This gave the cemetery a more commemorative feel and there was a great sense of honor and pride that could be felt from those within the site. The British cemetery was the last cemetery and was not the largest or most extravagant but its layout memorialized its occupants in the most fulfilling way. The headstones were all engraved with different sayings and pictures unlike the headstones from the other sites which were all for the most part incredibly uniform. The diversity of those who were memorialized here was unexpected. There were Muslims, Jews, and Germans represented outside of the British soldiers which highlighted how far reaching the conflict was and how many different types of people were affected. I really got the sense that this was a place of peace and rest for those buried there. I think these aspects made me more appreciative of this site.

In France, for me, was the first real time culture shock was felt on this trip. It was when I heard people speaking a language I was hardly familiar with and there was just a different way in which people did things. In Bayeux, everything seemed to close very early. By 7pm, the main street had many of its stores closed and on Sunday, it was almost impossible to find anywhere to eat because so many places didn’t open on that day. The sun also set very late, around 10:30 pm, in all of France which is something I was not used to and it really influenced the way that I perceived time while there. Paris was more similar to what had been seen previously in London but there was a noticeable uptick in the amounts of PDA shown which is definitely outside of the norm elsewhere. I did feel like England and France were similar in the arrangement of living spaces. In both countries, within urban areas, houses were very close together, it seemed like houses had barely any yard space on the sides and had minimal amounts of space in the backyard area. I assume the closeness in living areas is due to the age of the cities and the need for space as the cities expanded. Still, I feel like in the suburbs there would be more room to spread out which I didn’t notice in either country. I look forward to our travel to Poland where I expect there will be much more stark cultural differences from America and even Western Europe.



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