The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial may very well be the most visited American military cemetery in the world after Arlington, and with good reason: It is an emotional experience that stays with visitors long after they've returned home from their travels, even if they've never given much thought to World War II battle history. There are four distinct features to the memorial, located in Colleville-sur-Mer, about half an hour from Bayeux and three hours from Paris. There is the cemetery itself, the final resting place of more than 9,000 soldiers. The vast majority of them lost their lives fighting the D-Day battles of Normandy, but there are other World War II heroes buried here as well. The rigid lines of so many thousands of graves are an astonishing sight, and the sense of loss is overwhelming. You'll see small stones placed upon the headstones in the shape of the Star of David for Jewish soldiers; this is a common Jewish custom and they should not be removed.
Omaha Beach was the location of one of the most significant moments of fighting in World War II. On June 6th 1944, American troops were given the task of securing the beach as part of a strategy to land Allied troops along five points on the coast of Normandy, France. Due to unforeseen tidal forces and stronger than expected German defenses, the American soldiers suffered massive losses, 2,400 casualties, in a day of bloody fighting. Eventually however the landing was successful with 34,000 troops securing the area for the Allies, and thus beginning the end of the war.
The landings on Omaha Beach are perhaps best known these days from the film Saving Private Ryan which opens with this battle and shows the impact of the fighting and loss of life on families back home in the USA. The American Cemetery sits above Omaha Beach and is a well-kept memorial to the events.
The slender towers and sky-scraping turrets of the abbey of Mont Saint Michel are one of the classic images of northern France. Rising from flat white sands, the abbey sits atop a small island encircled by stout ramparts and battlements, connected to the mainland by an old causeway. Legend has it that the abbey was founded in the 8th century, when Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, was visited by the Archangel Michael in a dream; to this day the abbey is still crowned by a gilded copper statue of Michael slaying a dragon, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.
The bay around Mont Saint Michel is famous for its extreme tides. Depending on the season and the gravitational pull of the moon, the difference between low and high tides can reach 50 feet (15 m), although the Mont is only completely surrounded by the sea during seasonal equinoxes.