The Last of the Great Adventure: Normandy and Paris

This is it – the last “trip of a lifetime” post! Congratulations on making it this far with me; you’re a true pal. With just four days left, this is how we saw France:

After leaving England at 10:45 pm via the English Channel, we arrived in France at 6:30 a.m. Our spirits could only be lifted with a chocolate croissant, which the French do very well. We disembarked The Brittany and embarked on a 30-minute bus ride to Caen. (This took tons of planning and rearranging; trying to figure out how to get to Normandy. Did we do it correctly?)IMG_0947Here we are waiting for our train to Bayoux. As you can see, we look stunningly beautiful after an all-nighter across the English Channel. Yes, definitely one of my better shots.

IMG_0592We boarded the train and headed to Bayoux, a most beautiful part of France. We had a breakfast of ham and cheese quiche; very different than our usual fare.

Stopping at Normandy was definitely a highlight of the whole trip. We debated whether or not to pay for a tour guide, but are very glad we did. Charlie was excellent.

DSC_0996This is Omaha Beach. What a gorgeous part of the world!

DSC_0990Much of this Omaha Beach memorial is just as it was in WWII, with underground and overground bunkers built by the Germans. Just this week we watched Unbroken. Seeing these pictures again reminds me think of all the young men killed, fighting against Hitler and his evil regime.DSC_1007Hitler was building a great wall down the coast. What humanity does to this world is often heartbreaking. “Unfortunately,” Charlie said, “It’s what the human race does.”DSC_1068The American memorial in Normandy is incredibly moving. It was established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 and was the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The cemetery site is 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.

“On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.”

IMG_0565The dead were buried as they arrived. Charlie told us the story of the Bedford brothers from Virginia, both of whom died within days of each other at Omaha Beach. The story of their parents receiving the telegrams made us teary. I kept thinking of my grandpa. He and his six brothers all served in WWII. His brother Keith was on this very beach.

The last time I saw my grandpa, I mentioned how remarkable it was that all seven brothers came back alive. He looked off into the Utah sky and said, “Yep, that was really something.” Seeing this place was very emotional for us.

DSC_1045DSC_1049“Some must die so others might live.” – Winston Churchill, prime minister of the UKDSC_1017A lookout for the Germans. The whole story of the D-Day invasion is incredible as the U.S. was the underdog for this particular invasion. The Germans had a huge advantage as you can see from the above picture; the coastline is completely exposed, making a sneak-attack near impossible. How we were successful is miraculous. The sacrifice was high.

Our 9:15-1:15 tour flew by. I definitely recommend it; it’s unforgettable.

DSC_0008While in Bayeux, Cope HAD to see the Bayeux Tapestry, IMG_0943 The tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings.

According to Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry, “The Bayeux tapestry is one of the supreme achievements of the Norman Romanesque … Its survival almost intact over nine centuries is little short of miraculous … Its exceptional length, the harmony and freshness of its colors, its exquisite workmanship, and the genius of its guiding spirit combine to make it endlessly fascinating.”

By this time it was late afternoon. We were hot, tired, and exhausted. We caught a 6:30 p.m. train to Paris (a 2-hour journey which was heavenly; we love the train!) From the train station we have to get on the subway. The Paris subway system will prove to be the most difficult. It’s complicated and yes, all the announcements and people speak in French!

This is also the first time we use the airbnb, a site where people list their rentals. We arrive at our apartment at 10p.m. It’s dark and the neighborhood is sketchy. We don’t speak the language. A heat wave is just about to hit the city.

I wearily say, “This is such an adventure.”

“I’m ready for this adventure to be over,” Cope says.

IMG_0672Our apartment, rented to us by Armelle, turns out to be a great place to rest. We sleep until 9 a.m., pose by our French apartment window, make a plan for the day (PSG soccer stadium, the Louvre, and boat tour off the Pont Neuf). We are off to Paris by 11 a.m. DSC_0219_2There were three keys to get into our apartment; this one was our favorite.

IMG_0600Making a plan the night before proved to be very smart. Luckily, we had the internet.DSC_0112_2A boat tour off Pont Neuf (thank you, Dave Flemming!) was a great way to travel down the Seine River. Like the Taimes, you can get off and see the sites you want.

Here’s something I learned while traveling: Play to your strengths, but challenge your weaknesses. For me, this meant not being afraid to try new things, like getting around on the subway in a foreign country, or using euros, or asking questions when I thought it was a stupid question. Being afraid will hold you back; you really have to make an effort to learn. To get the most out of an experience like this, it’s easy to coast and do what sounds easiest, like letting others do all the navigating. We tried to ask our kids a lot of questions like, “How would you get back to the apartment from here?” and “Here are some euros. Go buy us breakfast.”

This was scary! But our richest experiences were often harder ones.

DSC_0103_2DSC_0091_2DSC_0087_2DSC_0153_2Our Paris experience was hard. Our enthusiasm waned as we were tired from days and days of travel and the 104 heat wave that decided to hit the city.DSC_0152_2IMG_0691This was cool. Cope informed us that the Seine was the same river in which Javert jumped to his death. Yes, these are the facts that keep our life interesting.DSC_0083_2The famous “love locks” were removed from the Pont de l’Archeveche because of the great weight they were adding to the bridge. The locks moved to a different bridge. You write your name on the lock and throw the key into the river, locking your love in Paris.

DSC_0077_2We walked and walked the city, admiring the century-old architecture.DSC_0030_2Notre DameDSC_0026_2Never in our life were we so grateful for water. It was SO hot.DSC_0040_2Outside Notre Dame, the flowers bloomed gorgeousDSC_0044_2DSC_0038_2We were particularly fascinated by the gargoyles atop Notre Dame, remembering the story of Quasimoto.DSC_0035_2More Notre Dame. The details!DSC_0058_2When in Paris, may I suggest a crepe?DSC_0206_2With little time remaining, we arrived at the Louvre. I had NO IDEA how gigantic it was. Unfortunately, we had to catch the last subway back to our apartment and did not get a tour of the famed museum. I hope there will someday be another trip to Paris and Mona Lisa.IMG_0649IMG_0655The sun sets above The Seine RiverDSC_0222_2The next day was a tour of the Victor Hugo museum, where Hugo began writing Les Miserables.DSC_0223_2IMG_0683DSC_0224_2IMG_0572Now let us turn our attention to the pastries.DSC_1080DSC_1081DSC_1079IMG_0605IMG_0611PSG stadium. What I most remember is eating the best olive pie pastry of my life. Priorities 🙂IMG_0603On the subway, an accordion player played his tunes – and asked for money, of course.

IMG_0675The Arc de Triomphe de l’ÉtoileIMG_0645During a 30-minute subway delay, we did wall sits for entertainment.IMG_0705By the end, I was holding on to Paige’s backpackIMG_0688Nellie carries his sister home.

Our Paris adventure was short, but memorable. Someday, I’d love to go back. There is so much history, so much of the world; it will take a lifetime to see just a portion of it!

IMG_0723Passports in hand, we headed to the airport.IMG_0717An 8-hour flight brought us back to the United States, where we landed in Phoenix, Arizona for a family reunion!

I’m hitting publish before editing. Please forgive the mistakes…

How great it was to have this adventure. How empowering it is to find your way in a foreign land. How bonding it is for a family to travel together, get lost, consult, and find their way back. Onward to the next life adventure…!

 

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5 thoughts on “The Last of the Great Adventure: Normandy and Paris

  1. Dianne Salerni

    Beautiful, beautiful pictures!
    Coincidentally, we just this week said good-bye to our French teen house guest who comes from the Normandy region of France.

    I like that shot of your daughter with her passport and ticket in hand. I recognize those escalator tubes from the Paris airport, where — despite common stereotypes about the French — every employee we encountered was pleasant, cheerful, and polite.

    Unlike the personnel in our home airport of Philadelphia. Ugh. I hope you got a better welcome home than we did!

    Reply
  2. Gramma Heather

    I have been more than entertained by your Europe blogs; I have been moved. And nothing moved me more than the photo of Paige at the airport, passport in hand. One day we will all need a “passport”, and a joyous and innocent spirit. On that day, as I approach the gate, I hope I look as pure and sweet as this confident young girl.

    Reply
  3. Alana Eaton

    I’m finally getting around to reading your posts, Amy. Loved the pictures from France–brought back fun memories as we stayed a week in Bayeux and I adored the village and the 2 day tour of the D-Day beaches. It made my mouth water to see the French pastries! They are indescribable. What an incredible trip you had–you guys are adventurous and courageous. Sometime I hope we can talk in person about our European travels.

    Reply

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