DAY 1: Cabourg, Sword Beach, Battery Merville

The flight from Sofia to Paris was uneventful.

Once we landed, we took the RER Blue train to the city center and headed to pick up our rental car. Struggling through the rubble of the Luxembourg Gardens with our suitcases, our mini gypsy camp finally arrived at the Europcar office. A two and a half hour drive to Normandy awaited.

D-Day 75th madness had consumed the region and visitors from the whole wide world had descended on Normandy, managing to book up nearly any and all accommodation available. As a result, we had quartered ourselves in a humble AirBnB apartment in the city of Cabourg, inconveniently located an hour away from the main attraction of the D-Day landing beaches.

However, given the overpopulated situation and the last-minute arrangements we had made, Cabourg seemed like a decent compromise. After some hours on the road, our pockets lighter from the vicious assault the multiple Peage stations had exerted upon them (a mere inkling of things to come…), we arrived at our apartment.

Self-exiled far away from the American beaches of Omaha and Utah, where all the crowds always seem to congregate, we were still happy to find that the eastern end of Sword Beach, where the British Army and Royal Navy, along with elements of Norwegian, Polish and other Allied navies began their assault on Fortress Europe on D-Day, was quite nearby. We retrieved our Peugeot from the parking lot outside our domicile and drove a short distance to downtown Cabourg, to see what the local beach had to offer, before eventually heading to see Sword.

We soon reached the esplanade, the expansive view touching just upon the corner of Sword Beach at the upper left corner of our sightsDirectly behind us, the marvelous architecture of Cabourg lined the long walkWe soon realized that any attempt to reach nearby, yet far away, Sword Beach were going to be doomed by the quickly approaching sunset. Bathed in darkness, the historic beach would be of no use to us for photographs. We decided to hang around the Cabourg beach instead, which, we figured was basically on the same strip of land as where the landings in this sector had occurred. We focused on feeling the energy of the place, instead of scrambling to arrive at the exact point of landing, at least for this day, which had already ran later than we expected.

The views on offer were quite surreal Vehicle marks upon these beaches, where war once raged, made the experience slightly more poignantMy companion, as is usually the case, was once again pleasantly burdened by a film camera, in addition to digital. Fitting, he saw (and I couldn’t disagree) to capture the Normandy battlegrounds on film, to further get into the spirit of the bygone age, the reminders of which we were in pursuit of.Sunset was nearly upon us and we decided to head back to the car and there, decide if we could somehow fit in another site before darkness descended completelyOn the way back, we were once again struck by how beautiful the small town of Cabourg was. Everything in this region of France seemed pristine, surrounded by stylish buildings and stunning nature Once inside the surprisingly spacious and comfortable confines of our Peugeot 208 (latest model!), we examined our maps with some level of tired scrutiny. Soon, a decision was reached – a nearby site of interest, dubbed the Battery Merville, was perhaps just within reach, before our race with the setting sun was lost for the day.

A short drive later and we were at the gates of the site, now a memorial and a museum, where in the early hours of June 1944, the 9th Parachute Battalion of the British Army, bravely commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway, took the German battery, at the cost of 50% casualties. Sadly, the site was now closed, as it was late in the day. Our hope was to catch a brief glimpse from the outside before being forced by the gathering darkness to turn back and prepare our dinner in our apartment.

We were at least rewarded with a majestic sunset, which was beautifully framed by one of the C-47 Dakota aircraft on displayA memorial plate to Lieutenant Colonel Otway was placed nearbyAnd a lush Norman field kept us company, as we bid adieu to the sun and the first, dynamic, tiring, yet still quite eventful day of our just-beginning War Stories trip

See where our adventures take us on Day 2

| Text by Manol Z. Manolov
| Images by Manol Z. Manolov and Nikolay Bratovanov © 2019