It’s hard to resist taking photos of the little French towns and villages we drive through, especially when the buildings are all painted in varying colors and the streets are lined with cobblestones.
We found ourselves camping at a free aire again. An aire in France is a simple place to camp. Some have amenities, some cost a small fee. They are all over France which makes camping in France easy and affordable. It’s especially great for people like us who travel full-time with kids. Since we are not on vacation, paying for a typical campground every day would be really expensive for us, especially in countries that charge per kid (and per pet). This spot was not only free to park at but also offered free electricity and hot showers. Showers are exactly what we needed! If you are wondering how we shower while on the road with no permanent shower in our van, click here.
Our moving days are also our errand days. Since we are planning to stay put for at least a couple of nights, we stocked on lots of food. We lost some storage space with the new kitten additions so some food needs to sit out in baskets. It’s usually fruits, veggies, and breakfast foods. It’s not ideal but it actually makes it easier for the kids to help themselves to food. Which is awesome in the mornings when they can make their own breakfast without my help and I can snooze for a bit longer. We could add upper cabinets to help with storage but I would hate to make the van feel smaller. Everything is a trade-off.
While we are overseas in Europe, we mainly use the Park4Night app to help us find camp spots. And then we use the satellite option in Google Maps to help us decide if the spot would be safe for the cats. This place in Saint-Pierre-Bénouville looked quiet from our research and luckily it was in person, as well.
Every day we have to decide whether the cats would be safe to roam on their own or if they have to be leashed up. Our preference (and theirs) is to be free. It’s a bit more work to find these types of places but the trade-off is worth it. Walking cats is not the most exciting thing to do. Ha. It’s unlike walking a dog. There’s lots of standing around staring at grass for creatures to hunt.
And when it rains, they come running back and nap away. We added these carpets to the dash of the van to protect our van and give them a cozy spot to relax. And it’s easy to shake out the rugs daily to keep fur inside to a minimum.
The TV station France 24 reached out to us and asked if we would be interested in filming our family for their France In Focus segment. We agreed that it would be fun and met them in an aire of a little town called Merville-Franceville-Plage.
Nothing like a film crew to get us to deep clean the van. Ha.
We spent the day with them answering questions, giving a van tour, making tuna melts, and a quick excursion to the beach for a cold dip.
If you’d like to watch the France 24 segment, feel free to click here. Thanks Ellen and Emerald for reaching out!
Oh and when I said we dipped into the cold ocean, I meant the kids, not us. Summers in Europe don’t always equal warm.
And here is a quick van tour we recorded since our van was all cleaned up!
We have been learning a lot about World War Two for school while in Europe. As a family, we recently watched the mini-series Band of Brothers. It was tough to watch and much of it was watched with the kids’ hands over their faces but we felt it necessary to truly feel the impact of D-Day.
This is Omaha Beach. 77 years ago, men from the Greatest Generation risked their own lives for the future of others as they stormed up this beach. Here in Omaha Beach on the shores of occupied France in 1944, they were thousands of miles from home but in the company of their closest friends. What they did here starting on the morning of June 6th will never be forgotten. Thank you to all of those wearing the uniform and especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedom we have today.
One of 15 German defensive positions on Omaha Beach. This one, in particular, inflicted some of the highest casualties against the US 1st Infantry Division storming up the beachhead. Of all 5 beaches invade by the Allied forces on D-Day, Omaha suffered the most casualties.
A glimpse inside one of the defensive positions.
We camped just above the beach, near a field, where the cats were safe to roam. When we returned to the van from our beach walk, the cats came out from their hiding spot under the van and jumped right into the van.
Just down the road is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Since the weather is cool, we are able to leave the cats in the van in the parking lot while we continue visiting the sites. These are their normal expressions. Toby is wide-eyed and Twin always looks pissed.
We haven’t been taking the kids indoors anywhere. Luckily for us, the museum here was not busy and we felt comfortable taking them for a short visit indoors with the usual precautions. Side note: The museum and cemetery are free of charge.
“Why do you continue traveling?” some ask. This is one reason why. To learn about people and history and culture in person. For the kids to be able to recall their visit here when someone talks about D-Day. To remember the somber feeling as they learn about those who lost their lives. By experiencing these things in person rather than just via textbook will impact in a way that they just won’t get in a typical school.
Of the more than 20,000 American soldiers originally buried here at the end of World War II, 9,388 of them remain interred here on the edge of Omaha Beach. Their families were given the choice to repatriate their remains. There were a lot of reasons why some families chose to leave them here. We heard the story of such a family from Bedford, Virginia who lost one of their twin sons. Roy Stevens, the surviving brother, spoke of the beautiful setting and kindness of the French people who took care of the graves of fallen soldiers in a letter to his grieving mother. Ray was one of 19 boys from Bedford, a town in Virginia of just 3,000 people, who lost their lives in the first minutes of the landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
After Omaha Beach, we chose to spend a couple of nights at a working farm. Look at that beautiful old farmhouse! A lot of homes here in the Normandy area have an American flag on display, including this spot.
After a day of the cats being locked up while we explored the museum and cemetery, this spot was perfect for some freedom.
And a good spot to celebrate Dan’s birthday 🙂
We tried to visit a castle next door that now brews cider and has a tasting room but it was closed. At least we got a little walk.
We continued our way south and continued visiting important sites. This is Brecourt Manor/101st Airborne Memorial.
This is Utah Beach.
It started to rain during our visit but felt the need to walk on the sand and touch the waters here.
For the final stop on our D-Day tour, we found ourselves at Sainte-Mère-Églis. It was time for showers again so we opted to spend a night at a campground for the night.
In the early morning of June 6th, 1944, men from the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions parachuted out of a massive fleet of C-47s over Normandy behind Utah Beach. Here at Sainte-Mère-Église, one Private John Steele found himself dangling from his canopy below the pinnacle of the church tower.
A mannequin dressed as a paratrooper hangs today. He tried cutting himself loose but frantically dropped his trench knife. After pretending to be dead for 3 hours, he was captured by German soldiers. He escaped 4 hours later, rejoined his unit who attacked Sainte-Mère-Église making it the first village liberated by the US Army during Operation Overlord.
Today this village holds annual gatherings of appreciation on the anniversaries of D-Day. One of the church’s stained-glass windows vividly depicts the events of that day. Right up until Private John Steele passed away in his civilian life in 1969, he continued to visit this village and was made an honorary citizen.
Our time on the coast of Normandy will always be with us. Now it’s time for us to find a wild camping spot to decompress and figure out if we can cross into Ireland this summer with all the border restrictions at the moment. (Spoiler alert: We went to Ireland!)
Watch all the videos that Dan created during this part of our European adventure here.
Thanks again for following along on our family’s adventures. If you ever have questions, feel free to message us.