Normandy: A site of remembrance and solemnity. Here we remember the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died to free Europe from fascist oppression. It's ironic then that here we also experienced our highest moment of the trip yet.
We left Dunkirk in our bus at 9 AM and traveled across the coast of northern France. We enjoyed some classical and French music during our drive, setting the scene for the gorgeous countryside, while also leaving room for some recent hits (Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" made an appearance). We arrived in the beautiful resort town of Deauville in Normandy around noon, where we went to lunch at a delicious outdoor pizza restaurant. Deauville was a surreal town for all of us; the quintessential European town on the coast. Our 4-star hotel, La Closerie, was a nice touch as well!
After some free time in the afternoon, we all reconvened for a late afternoon picnic in a nearby park, and then we headed into the restaurant, Le Cyrano, where Hannah and I had reserved us front-row seats for the semi-final World Cup game between France and Belgium. For those who don't follow the World Cup closely, this was a huge deal, and we were in France for it! The game was tense, filled with thrills that get the heart racing, as any true football fan knows. The entire restaurant was following the game: We waited anxiously whenever Belgium had the ball, cheered when their goalie made a couple incredible saves, and shouted "Allez!" ("Go!") when France approached the goal. And after 90 nail-biting minutes, France was victorious! The entire restaurant erupted into cheers and celebration. On the way back to the hotel, cars drove by waving French flags and beeping their horns. We headed down to downtown Deauville, where the entire town had come out to celebrate. It was surreal experience: France had won, and we were in France to see it! One of our students, Allison, described it as "one of the best nights of my life."
Following the highs of the previous night, today was much more solemn. We boarded our bus first thing in the morning, all a bit tired from our celebrations of the previous night, and proceeded to have a day in Normandy. Our first stop was the famous Memorial of Caen museum, built during the Presidency of Francois Mitterrand on June 6, 1988 (the 44th anniversary of D-Day). The museum showed us the causes for World War II, as well as its bloody course, sending the clear message of the brutality and the horrors of war and genocide. Our students left the museum discussing how lucky we were that the Allies had been victorious, and how close we had come to a world in fascist darkness.
Next we went to Arromanches, where we had a short lunch with some hamburgers and ice cream overlooking the rusting ramps still remaining in the sea from the landing of the Allied forces all those years ago. After viewing the powerful 20-minute film of the Normandy landing at the famous Arromanches 360 Cinema, we traveled to the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-mer. The rows and rows of crosses and Stars-of-David really hit home with our students how many had sacrificed their lives for the preservation of freedom. Our final stop was Omaha Beach, where the American forces had made their toughest landing, and where the fighting had been the thickest.
All-in-all, the past two days have been filled with our highest highs and our most solemn moments. While we reflected on the horrors of World War II and the brave sacrifices of the Allied soldiers of the beaches of Normandy, we also basked in the victory of France in the World Cup in the present day, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we were able to live first-hand. Viva la France!