Normandy has been on my list for years, and it’s thanks to my Dad’s planning that we finally made it out there! My Dad is a WWII history buff, and everyone else in my family had been to Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, the American cemeteries, and numerous memorials to see and learn more about the area where D-Day took place. My Dad fell in love with the town of Sainte-Mère-Église and chose that as the spot where he wanted our family to gather for a big international vacation together.
After spending several days in Coleraine, Northern Ireland where we caught up on sleep, family time, and jetlag, we drove back to Dublin and boarded a flight for Paris.
Driving into the town (3.5 hours from Paris), I could immediately see why he loved it. Old buildings, small town feel, tons of history (the town was where American paratroopers landed in the early morning of D-Day), and the house he found was across the street from an 11th century church that rang out every morning at 7am (and again on the hour, ever hour til 10pm!).
A note on the photography aspect: I really, really missed my Contax on this trip. I’ve photographed every single other Europe trip on film, but for this one I just knew that my digital was going to be more practical with how fast my kids move. But next time… I think I’ll bring a small 35mm film camera with me for the moments when I’m itching for analog.
Below is the view from our home for the week!
We’d had a hellacious time getting to Normandy from Dublin (delayed flight → missed rental car pickup → unexpected night spent at the Paris airport hotel → Hertz cancelled our rental car → and so on. It was a MESS), so my parents were incredibly sweet and greeted us with a glass of wine, a charcuterie board, and dinner while the kids/crawled ran around the yard.
My little brother, his wife, and their son were there too, and it was such a joy to see the kiddos having fun together!
This was what I came for. I didn’t arrive with a big list of things I had to see, I just wanted to have uninterrupted time with loved ones where we could be fully present in family mode.
Dad’s favorite ritual was getting up and walking around the block to the boulangerie every morning for croissants & pain au chocolat. Yes please and thank you.
Felix’s favorite part of vacation was the toy wheelbarrow in the backyard, which he loaded up with weeds from the garden and happily dumped into the compost. 🤣
The farmers’ market took place on Thursdays in the lot next to the church across from our home, and I must have walked through the entire thing a dozen times in the few hours it was open. Finding farmers’ markets in Paris has always brought me SO much joy- I love the produce, the soaps, the textiles, all of it.
We took turns making dinner each night, and Matt made one of my favorites (ratatouille- we use a recipe similar to this one, with chevre instead of mascarpone), and it was so beautiful that OF COURSE I pulled my camera out.
If you saw the Ireland post, you’ll know that Felix befriended “Bessie” in Ireland, and now I can’t stop photographing cows. Dad and I found these friends on one of our morning runs, so we brought Felix (and my camera) back later in the day!
The only REAL item on my agenda was to see Mont Saint-Michel. I’d been wanting to go for years, and with it being an hour and a half away, this was my chance. Dad and I headed out for a day trip and it was so worth the drive!
If I were to go again, I’d definitely aim to arrive MUCH earlier in the day. It was jam packed with tourists, and I’d love the opportunity to take it in without quite so many bodies hustling up and down the steeply sloped streets.
I could have photographed every one of these shop signs!
The abbey at the top of Mont Saint-Michel is home to a handful of monks and nuns, and seeing them discreetly moving through the ground of the church was so peaceful.
Back at the house!
Loved this view so, so much.
That wheelbarrow 😆. Guess I know what to get him for his birthday!
With Sainte-Mère-Église having played a significant role in D-Day, there were a ton of WWII-themed accents throughout the town. It probably helped that we were there like… a week before the 79th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, but these 1940’s-era Jeeps were a frequent site throughout the day.
The church has two large stained glass windows featuring Airborne troops and parachutes- it was fascinating. Dad and I attended Mass here together, and it was such an encouragement to see how many congregants filled the pews.
^ If you’re wondering why there’s a parachutist hanging from the ramparts, look up John Steele and it’ll all make sense.
On our last full day, we visited Pointe du Hoc, a cliff where German troops had set up a series of bunkers and weapons- American Rangers scaled those cliffs with ropes and ladders on D-Day and took the site while sustaining heavy losses. Walking through the pillboxes, and seeing how the ground still bore pockmarks from mortar fire now almost 80 years later, it made history feel so much more real than it ever had when learning about it in the classroom growing up.
And that’s all she wrote! We were gone for just over two weeks, and I’m so, so grateful for the time away as a family. I learned a lot about traveling with littles- both the practical (like how maybe next time, we’ll rent car seats instead of bringing out own) and the more philosophical, like how to be in the moment more fully. But we’ll save those for future blog posts!