Normandy (Le Havre), France

Thursday, 7:00 am – 8:00 pm

May weather: Average temps of 59°/48°F. Average precip of 2″.

Currency: Euro (€).

Our day

Our morning started out with me heading down to the medical center to see if I was cleared to go ashore. There were already a bunch of people waiting when I got down there several minutes before it opened. The woman who opened the door at a bit before 8 joked that they weren’t opening today, but then we all filed in. Everyone in front of me was given paperwork to complete. I was brought to a room for my follow-up–I didn’t have to wait at all. My temperature was normal; Leo asked a few questions and agreed (reluctantly, I thought) that I could go ashore, but I was to take it easy. I could have skipped out of there–I’d been bracing myself to spend another day in the cabin.

Starting out

As we left the ship, my card was scanned–and set off alarms. The medical hold hadn’t been released. I was properly confused and was able to honestly say I’d been down to the medical center and that Leo had cleared me. I was awfully glad I’d remembered his name–not only did it make me more believable, it made it easier for them to call down and find out I had indeed been cleared.

Our guide was waiting for us–I saw the others before I saw the driver. I had to ask him twice to keep holding up the sign since the other two joining us wouldn’t recognize us and needed to see the name. That should have clued me in.
We all piled into the VW van (8 passengers and the driver) and we were off.
He didn’t seem to be clear on the itinerary, which should have been a clue, too. I pulled out the printout of my email and he said he had that as well. If he had that as well, why didn’t he know our itinerary?

We drove for quite a while and he told us nothing–he didn’t talk at all. He didn’t make pleasant conversation, really, and he certainly didn’t tell us anything about the area, the history, or what we’d be seeing today. I asked him if he could tell us about the museum we were going to–but he couldn’t. I was feeling pretty distressed. We’d already had one instance of a driver/guide who turned out to be just a driver and it seemed we were in that situation again. But this time, we’d paid an extra 150euro to have a driver who was a guide as well–and he wasn’t being even as guidelike as your average taxi driver can be.

After he made a wrong turn and came around again, we stopped at the 360 degree cinema and all got out. He told us a few things (using the movie The longest Day as a referent). When I told him that was the sort of narration we were looking for and expecting, he said he didn’t know any more of the history or stories. He also said that there was a driver and a tour guide and he was in the middle. Unfortunately, “in the middle” in this case turned out to be a driver who heavily relied on GPS and couldn’t give us any background information to speak of.

He judged the line at the cinema to be about an hours wait (don’t know if it would have been) and suggested we go on to Pont du Hoc and come back there later. He said we’d be in the same area, but it was either quite a ways to Pont du Hoc or he got lost, because it took more than 30 minutes to get there. In the van, I called the woman I’d talked with at Albion Voyages and she quickly agreed to return the 150euro add-on for a driver-guide and then she spoke briefly with our driver. She did try to tell me that a “real” guide would have been 350euro additional–I was feeling pretty taken advantage of. I hope I don’t have to press too hard to make that return happen. (It was taken care of within a day)

Later, in conversation, I asked our driver how long he’d been doing this and he said that the company had hired 3 Brits as drivers the previous month. No wonder he wasn’t able to share the history of the region or the war, or the sites, or anecdotes about what we saw. It’s hard not to feel cheated because if Adrienne had told me originally that she couldn’t provide a tour guide I’d have looked harder for an alternative. When we’d talked, she’d made it sound as if her British guides were excellent and knew the historical information we’d be interested in.

We were all working to make the best of it–we all did want to see the D-Day sites of Normandy and since we didn’t have a guide found that we were all reading every sign in detail–it was the best way to get the history. A good guide goes beyond that, of course, but we didn’t have a guide.

Omaha Beach

Pont du Hoc

American Cemetery

Karl and Karen decided (wisely) to see the cemetery first and the visitor’s center exhibits second. Rain and weather wise, I wish we’d done the same!

The visitor’s center was very moving–there was a lot of detail and narrative. (Interestingly enough, whoever created it flunked readability school, as the reflected lettering was difficult to read.) The center did a wonderful job of telling the stories of individuals as we as of the war.

After we finished at the visitor center, we walked outside, ready for the sight we’d seen in so many pictures–row upon row of white crosses. We came to the memorial display first, and then when we turned around, saw the crosses–with occasional Stars of David interspersed. It was very sobering to see such a visualization of how many Americans lost their lives during the WWII fighting

We were hoping to see the flag lowering. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain by when we thought it was scheduled and the flag lowering was 75 minutes after Adrienne said it was going to be. We knew we didn’t have time to wait for it, and even though we hadn’t agreed on a time to re-gather, we all managed to meet back up, our driver found us, and we headed back.

He had underestimated our return driving time, but we got back in plenty of time to check our email using the port terminal wireless before heading back to the ship and finding dinner on the Lido deck. We would have liked to have eaten our final meal in the main dining room (and in fact, I had most of a bottle of wine left) but the timing didn’t work.

I found 5:45 to be way too early for dinner. We’ve had 6:00 and 6:15 in the past, and those were both better–that 15 minutes makes a big difference. If Stan and I were traveling just the two of us, I think we’d go for anytime dining, just to be able to eat at 7:00 or so, which seems like it’d leave more afternoon available (especially for port days) and still have time for after dinner activities.

Of course, with so many early morning port days, and so many sick people in our group, not all of us were up to much by the way of after dinner activity!

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