Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Trip to Paris & Normandy - 2012

Here are some pictures of our trip to France. I'll do my best to give a description and some context. You may click on any image to see a larger one. If you do click an image to view the larger version, use the Escape button to return to this blog page (using the browser's Back button will have a different effect).

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Day 1 - Paris

Having landed around 11 AM, we decided to do as much as we could so a) we would be tired and b) we would quickly adjust to the local time zone. After a crap flight with idiots in front of and behind us, we were already pretty tired. I think we got our second wind in the early afternoon. I felt pretty good until after dinner. Then, I was pooped.

Here we are on the RER train from Charles De Gaulle airport going into Paris (Denfert - Rochereau station).

Here I am, in front of our hotel on the Boulevard Respail.

This plaque is in memory of the French resistance fighter Jean Montvallier-Boulogne who fell here on 25 August 1944, during the Battle of Paris (19-25 August 1944). The shell/bullet holes are from both WWI and WWII. We're right outside of the Sorbonne.

Part of the Sorbonne campus.

Shopping along the Seine near Notre Dame.

These are "Love" or "Sweetheart" locks on the Pont des Arts. Some are decades old.

Pont de la Concorde looking across at Place de la Concorde

Pont Alexandre III and the Grand Palais

Having Chocolat Chaud at Chez Francais in the Place de L'Alma

Here's the view from our table. Nothing like watching (crazy) Paris rush hour traffic with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop.

We're fans of the Bourne Trilogy and there are quite a few scenes, from the first movie - The Bourne Identity, that were filmed in Paris. The palatial mansion of dictator Wombosi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), in which he's assassinated by The Professor (Clive Owen), is the former townhouse of Marie-Laure de Noailles, now made over by designer Philippe Starck as HQ of Baccarat (opened in 1764, one of Europe's leading purveyors of full-lead crystal.) at 11, Place des États Unis. We arrived just before closing but were able to browse a bit, take some pictures, and buy a small crystal Christmas tree ornament.

This piece has a face that is projected onto it. It was speaking (what, I am unsure) but it reminded me of the talking crystal ball, in the Haunted Mansion, at Disney World. Kind of creepy.

The boutique had all sort of really cool things. I liked the black crystal chess set. I didn't dare touch it or even look at the price......

Next stop was the Arc de Triomphe. We climbed the inside circular stairs to the top, interior viewing room and then went outside. We just missed the nightly honor guard. Rush hour traffic was still buzzing even though it was approaching 7 PM.

Next up was the Eiffel Tower. I had not been to the Arc de Triomphe and Kasey hadn't been to the Eiffel Tower. So, we knocked off a couple of world-famous monuments within eight hours of landing! Troopers, we are. First up, the Esplanade de Trocadero.

Now, closer to the Tower, in the Gardens below.

The Eiffel Tower itself. If you had restaurant reservations, the trip to the top was free. If not, it was pretty expensive. Like back in 1985, we opted for the mezzanine.

Looking north, towards the Arc de Triomphe.

The Champ de Mars.

Looking southwest, down the Seine with Stadium Emile Anthoine in the foreground.

Looking northwest, with the Seine in the foreground and the Trocadero in the distance.

Even though the clouds were pretty low that evening, it made for a nice, illuminating glow for the city.

Waiting for the elevator to take us back to the ground, an American woman announced her friend was having a medical emergency. She asked if anyone minded if they (all five of them) cut in line so they could get her to the hospital. No one said anything (I don't think many understood what she was saying). The entire line of people ended up in the elevator anyway (yeah, they were big and double-decker). We ended up chatting with them and helped them get a cab. They were from Detroit and none of them spoke any French. The woman having trouble had forgotten to take her medication but had been in the same situation previously (not on purpose). She knew she would be OK if they could get her to the hospital. She and two others made it into a cab while the last two opted for the Metro. They thanked us for our help. Kasey and I ended up chatting with a couple of cops because we were unsure of the location of the Metro stop we needed to find to get back to our hotel. The cops were very nice and complemented us on our French. One asked a mind-blowing question; looking at me, he asked what country we were from. After checking my temples to make sure my cranium was in one piece (I figured I pretty much had "USA" emblazoned on my forehead), I replied, in English; "You have got to be kidding". He smiled and shook his head. I replied, in French, "from the United States". He reiterated that our French was "tres belle" and wished us a good evening. Head fully asploded, any reservations from my 1985 trip were swept away.

After taking the Metro back to our hotel, we had a late dinner just down the street at Le Bar à Huîtres. Here, we met Antoine who had just completed a work assignment in Chicago. When we told him we were from Chicago, he replied "Great!!!!" just like a Midwesterner.  I believe he is a consulting engineer and was working on a bridge project on the Ohio River (Louisville area). Even he thought people from southern Indiana spoke funny...... He is supposed to be back in Chicago in the near future. We hope he contacts us as we promised to show him some better restaurants, in Chicago, than the ones he's already found.

Our hotel room, in Paris, wasn't much bigger than our guest bedroom (at home). And, that included the bathroom. It was, however, very comfortable, clean and functional. The staff was very friendly and (mostly) spoke English (although, we did our best to speak French as much as we could). With full tummies, we headed back to the hotel to crash. End of Day 1, Thursday.

Next up; Euro-Disney!

Day 2 - Euro-Disney & Walt Disney Studios

We took the Metro to the RER (the Metro would be like the "L" in Chicago while the RER would be like Metra) to Euro-Disney. Here's the Cast Member entrance. Apparently, things have changed quite a bit since Kasey was here last.

"Have you seen the tickets?"
"I don't have the tickets, I thought you had the tickets."
"I don't have the tickets, damn it, Bumpuses!!!"

Breakfast; chocolat chaud and pain chocolat. Nom.

"You have been chosen....." From the Buzz Lightyear ride.

E.v.a. and Wall-E

Star Wars X-Wing fighter

It's still a Small World after all. Thankfully, the tune was modified to be Christmas-y so it wasn't an ear-worm all day....

We encountered Disney Princess Belle outside of her (horrendously over decorated) abode. Here she trades secrets with one of her fans and then whisks off because we showed up. I kept looking for The Grinch (or Jim Carrey) but found neither......

We stopped in to check out Alice in Wonderland's Labyrinth.


Kasey takes on the Queen of Hearts in a frontal assault. Show us your WAR face!

Dave attacks from the flank.

The Winner (and her minions). "Off with Their Heads!!"

Next up; the Phantom Manor as the Haunted Mansion is known at Euro-Disney. But, first, Jack Skellington stopped by to greet us.

As you can see in the background, the Manor is a Victorian style mansion. I like that you actually walk up onto the porch and thru the front door to enter. The ride is almost exactly the same as the Disney World ride but actually has more stuff at the end (as you cruise thru graveyards and the like). Very cool.

We then headed for Main Street where we located a "familiar" shop.

We had some of the cast members take some pictures of us. They made a good team; one fumbled with the camera while the other exhorted us to make crazy faces. They were fun (and typical Disney).

Off to MGM Studios!

Rather Walt Disney Studios in France.

This is from some movie where Bruce Willis saves the World (and leaves his daughter, Liv Tyler, to be molested by Ben Affleck). Poor choice Bruce.


For real!

For goodness sake, DON'T FALL OUT!!

Next up, Kasey took a class to learn to draw Mickey (Monsieur Mickey in France) while Dave captured the moment.

Well done!

Dave and Mike wait for Sully to appear.

"When you wish upon a star......."

"Your dreams come true."

After the train ride back, Kasey had a little wine and we had a "picnic" courtesy of the Monoprix (grocery chain).

From left to right: baguette, cornichons, pate, terrine, grapes, chocolate tart and tapenade. Nom! And then, crash.......

End of Day 2, Friday.

Tomorrow, Reims!

Day 3 - Champagne

After observing, first hand, Paris traffic, we opted to take the train to Reims. I had planned to drive but it was about a 90 minute ride and we had an 11 AM champagne house tour reservation. That meant either a very early departure, by car, or just an early departure, by train. In retrospect, the train (which was the TGV - Train a Grand Vitesse) was the superior choice. Despite the great speed (grand vitesse), we hit a delay and were twenty minutes late into Reims. This was no issue for us because we had planned to walk around and see some of Reims before heading to Martell. However, a couple we encountered outside the Tourism office (while getting a map of Reims) had missed their guided tour. The woman in the tourism office was kind enough to call the guide to let him know his clients had arrived. It turns out they were from New Orleans (spoke no French) and were relying on this guide to show them around. We would encounter them later in the afternoon and again, waiting for the train back to Paris. We don't pretend to be geniuses but it sure didn't take much to make up our own "tours" and see things on foot. Most French towns aren't that big and, if you get a map, are easy to navigate. You certainly get a better feel for French life by doing a "walking tour" instead of sticking to designated routes. This approach would benefit us greatly when we were in Normandy.

Breakfast you ask? Cappucino and pain chocolat, mais bein sur (but, of course)!

I can't believe I haven't seem one of these in Chicago (yet). It's basically an ATM for pharmacy basics; aspirin, Band-Aids, antacids, etc. Need something from the pharmacy at 3 AM? No problem!

There is no escaping George Lucas and his (Disney owned) Empire. Does your kid need to look like Darth Vader or a Storm Trooper? They have you covered in Reims.

In an effort to avoid the Storm Troopers and that Vader dude, we ducked into a patisserie. How could you resist?

"These aren't the pastries you're looking for........"

Here's the cathedral in Reims. I believe it was used as a model for Notre Dame in Paris. Most French towns had a cathedral similar to this and most are named Notre Dame (not to be confused with THAT institution of higher learning in northwestern Indiana......)

And here I am, spoiling the view.

We lit a candle for Jackie (top tier, in the back) and Kasey covertly left some of her ashes. We'll be back to visit, some day.

The stained glass windows were spectacular.

Here, Kasey provides some perspective on the size of the interior of the cathedral. They were setting up to have a Christmas Choir performance which left more than one of the other visitors unhappy, as the set-up was spoiling photo opportunities. We had no such issues and were off to Martell which turned out to be a good 20 minute walk.

While waiting for our tour to begin, at Martell, I spotted this VW GTi just up the road. I don't know if this is a special Oettinger GTi model or if someone spent a boat-load of dough on after-market parts. Still, it was pretty sweet. And, one of the very few gas-powered cars I saw. Most vehicles, based on smell and sound, were diesel powered.

Here are a couple of shots of the display case in the Waiting Room at Martell. We were initially ushered into the Tasting Room to wait for the previous tour to end. We took advantage of the bathroom facilities and then were asked to return to the Waiting Room so the previous tour could taste champagne. During our wait, our "private" tour became public as another couple entered. As is the custom with most public venues in France, the office manager inquired as to the couples' home. "Chicago", they replied. "No shit! Is there no escape from you fucking people!" I screamed (in my head). Kasey and I laughed and then asked "Where in Chicago?" They were from the Lake View area which is downtown. A good laugh was had by all (not really). This little episode hearkened back to when we would drive, from Poughkeepsie, to Florida for Spring Break. At that time it seemed as if the entire state of New York was in Florida. Now, whenever we're someplace far from home, we always seem to encounter a license plate frame with a car dealer's name from Naperville, Barrington or the North Shore. There IS no escape.......

Back to Martell. Some bottles of this stuff would accompany us home.

An early grape press. Martell produces between 1 and 1.5 million bottles of champagne annually. Needless to say, the grape presses are substantially larger now.

Our tour guide (far left) in front of some original barrels with a hand pump (in the foreground). Our guide spoke French, English and Russian (we would later discover). Tipping is not common in France, nor is it expected. We usually left a little something when the service was really good. After the tour, we tipped her 5 Euro (which was about $6.50). She seemed thrilled and a little embarrassed. She was worth it though.

This is a filling bin. Juice, in the bin, would flow into eight bottles at once.

These bottles have just been filled and capped (with a bottle cap, like a beer bottle). When sediment starts to form on the bottle sides (the fermenting process has ended), they will be moved to a riddling rack.

This is a room full of riddling racks. The racks have cone shaped openings in them that allow the bottles to be oriented from near horizontal to near vertical. The reason for this is to move the sediment (which can make you ill), from the dead yeast, from the side of the bottle up and into the neck (so it can be removed). The job of a riddler was to turn the bottles a quarter turn and increase the inclination so that over the course of a few months, the bottles would go from near horizontal to near vertical. A good riddler could turn 4000 bottles an hour.

These bottles are ready to have the sediment removed.

The neck of the bottle would then be dipped into a solution that would freeze the top one inch (or so) of wine, thus entrapping the sediment. Pop off the bottle cap and the pressure inside would eject the frozen sediment plug. The void would be filled with a distilled spirit and some additional sugar which will provide the "bubbles". The bottle would be corked and the wire cage added. Champagne must be aged at least 18 months (by law). Vintage years are usually aged (much) longer. How long is up to the Cellar Master.

This is a machine used to fill the sediment plug void with the distilled spirit/sugar mixture. The bottles would then be corked, by hand.

As you know, underground temperatures are constant year-round and happen to be perfect for champagne making. We were about 30 to 40 feet underground. Just above the light, in this shaft, there were plants growing. They were probably several hundred years old.

If I had wanted, I could have climbed this shaft up to the surface. It had hand and foot holds carved into the stone. This was the access point before they built the stairs (which were super-steep and certainly not OHSA approved).

Behind me, and to my left, an opening was bricked up. The cave system runs for miles under Reims and by bricking up various openings, you could prevent other (nefarious?) champagne makers from accessing your turf. It's a moot point now as the family that owns Martell also owns most of the champagne houses in Reims and Epernay.

Apparently, Monsieur Pierre Cardin used this room to entertain clients. I think our guide indicated that a wedding was held in this room recently. Of course Kasey's ears pricked right up upon hearing that!

Jackie was kind enough to join us for some champagne tasting. I found the white demi-sec to be almost palatable......

We decided to take a cab back to the cathedral. We wanted to get some lunch, at a spot where Kasey and Jackie ate previously. And, to have time to walk up to the Cazanove champagne house.

Here we are outside of the Cafe du Palais. This is the story of how the Cafe came to be. It sits across the street from the Palais de Justice, hence the name.

Kasey had pate and morel mushrooms over pasta. I tried, several times, to get a sample but was rebuffed at each attempt. Eventually I was threatened with having my arm ripped from its socket and thrown onto the tram tracks in the street. Chastised, I settled back into my chair and minded my own business (Kasey did share some, it was awesome).

I selected the smoked salmon over pasta. Two Thumbs Up (even though one thumb is conspicuously absent in this image.....).

Chocolat chaud for dessert. See a pattern emerging yet?

At the Cazanove Champagne House, we discovered that they have become specialized as part of the Martell empire. Initially, the facility was used to make lemonade. Now, they barrel champagne, and riddle bottles.

If you ever wondered what the various champagne bottle sizes were, here's your guide.

Fresh barrels of champagne. The oak barrels most likely came from the Czech Republic. They are charred on the inside, just like whiskey barrels. When they are no longer useful, they are sold to distillers in Scotland for Scotch Whiskey.

These tanks are full of grape juice.

Kasey got to taste the juice from this tank. For some reason, no one was was very enthusiastic to try the juice. Once Kasey did (and apparently didn't die from it), everyone wanted some.

These cages full of champagne bottles are going through the automated riddling process. The rack rotates and inclines the bottles to move the sediment to the neck.

These bottles are ready to have the sediment removed. The entire rack will be sent to another facility, in Epernay, to have the sediment removed and the bottles corked.

The life of a champagne cork (left to right).

The Museum of the Surrender (of the Germans in WWII) is just on the other side of the TGV tracks. This building complex was initially an elementary school when it was taken over by Eisenhower's staff. The Map Room remains unchanged from the day that the German delegation signed the surrender papers - May 8, 1945.

Kasey used the panorama feature here. Works good!

The Map Room itself.

It was getting late in the afternoon and we were pretty tired. We headed back to the train station to catch the 5:15 train to Paris. As we walked out of the Museum, we encountered the couple from New Orleans. Unfortunately, there wasn't much time to see the entire Museum as it was closing soon. They decided to go in anyways. We walked to the station, stopping at a convenience store for something to drink.

The return trip to Paris was non-eventful (no delays this time). Upon returning to our hotel, we asked the desk clerk for a reasonably priced restaurant. He pointed us in the direction of the RER station at Defert-Rochereau. We had a hard time finding the place and then they decided to squeeze us next to a couple of Scandinavian girls (who were nice). I wasn't super-hungry and the waiter proved to be difficult (Kasey called him out on several inconsistencies). We left a little bummed and informed the desk clerk that while the food was good, the service wasn't. He was very apologetic and we assured him that we did not hold him accountable.

End of Day 3, Saturday.

Next up; Let's Drive to Caen in Normandy!

Day 4 - Rouen & Caen

The day started off in the traditional French way; croissants.

We proceeded to the Gare Montparnasse, via the Metro because it was raining and we had all of our luggage. Fortunately, the desk clerk offered to hold our champagne. After all, we would be returning to the Hotel de la Paix, for one night, before flying home. After going up three flights of elevators and locating the Hall Pasteur, in the Gare Montparnasse, we located the EuropCar counter.

 We ended up with an Opel Corsa four door, manual transmission with a diesel engine (on purpose, well the manual tranny and diesel engine). It's a little smaller than a VW Golf but was perfect for what we needed. They look something like this (since Opel is no longer imported into the US).

Kasey managed to wedge most of the suit cases into the back and we put "immediate access" stuff into the back seat. I promptly whipped out the GPS and afixed the suction base to the windshield.

A little background info; back in the Spring, I had come across a Mio Spirit GPS which had a base map of western Europe (which means it does not work in the US). The seller was asking $40 for it and I figured it would make a good back-up for the Michelin Maps that I had planned to purchase. Let me tell you, that was the best $40 I have spent in a long, long time. While the Michelin Maps are very, very good, their scale to too great to be useful getting out of Paris. An added bonus was that the GPS knew the local speed limits. In France, if you get caught speeding, it's an instant fine and is usually substantial. If you were exceeding the speed limit, the GPS would chime, alerting you to the fact.

We proceeded to climb the four levels, out of the garage, to reach street level  Kasey was navigating while reading the map and her phone. We made a left out of the garage, entered a traffic circle, took the first right and immediately determined, thanks to the GPS, that we were not on the street we wanted. Thankfully, it was early on a Sunday morning and traffic was extremely light. I made a quick u-turn, back into the traffic circle, did a 360 around the circle and pulled over to the curb. It was obvious that we needed to figure out how to have the GPS route us out of Paris. After poking several buttons, we discovered the "Find" feature. We entered the address of the hotel in Caen and clicked the navigate button. A few moments later, it told us to take the second street, not the first, out of the traffic circle. We were on our way.

For the most part, the Paris streets we navigated looked like this, bereft of traffic until we reached the perimeter roads that encircle Paris. Then, traffic got heavier as did the rain. Kasey quickly determined that I was driving almost as fast as the GPS could keep track. So, she started telling me what to expect so I could keep my eyes on the road. In the coming days, on more than one occasion, I would miss a turn because the GPS was only a second or so ahead of our actual location on the road. Most of the time we were in a traffic circle and it was pretty simple to just keep going around until you identified the right exit.

We didn't get any pictures of the ride out of Paris. Kasey took the opportunity to read and/or nap. At times, the route (A13) reminded me of the Taconic State Parkway (and sometimes even the narrower Saw Mill River Parkway). Other times, it looked very similar to central Pennsylvania. Traffic was relatively light and there were hardly any big trucks. It was a toll road and even though we were told that you could get a ticket and then pay at the end, we never figured out how that worked. So, we paid, in coins, at each toll plaza. I want to say that there were 4-5 tolls and we paid 12-15 Euro in total. The road was very nicely maintained, as you can imagine.

Our first stop was Rouen, mostly to see the cathedral. The GPS navigated us to a nice little square where we found a parking spot. Kasey took a picture in case we could not find our way back to the car.

We walked up to the church square only to realize that it was Sunday and services would be on-going. It seemed a little rude to pop in and sight see while Mass was in session, so we walked around some. It was early afternoon and the croissants were long past their effective range. Lunch was required. This place looked very interesting (in retrospect, it was a mistake but not because of the food or the service).

I ordered a chicken sandwich. Kasey chose the chicken sate sandwich. We both visited the restroom while the staff brought us our food. My sandwich tasted kind of strange while Kasey was disappointed. I chalked it up to "French fast food". Upon further review, I had Kasey's sandwich and she had mine (thus explaining the "strange" taste and her disappointment). By this time, I had eaten most of her sandwich. We traded and she prompted identified the sate sauce while I finished the bland chicken. After being thoroughly entertained by a little girl (who wanted badly to leave  - "Mama, Mama, allez, allez!!"), headed out with the intent of exploring more of Rouen. We must have found the older section because the streets became narrower and there were more and more shops and cafes. More and more people were milling around and we discovered a farmer's market that was in the process of closing down. The smell of roasted chicken wafted thru the air as we navigated the various stalls. We found one stall and purchased a selection of olives, some sunflower seeds, a few figs and some dates.

Next, we encountered a stall with dried meat (charcuterie). We chatted with the owner and his friend. For the second time, our French was complemented and I was actually asked if I was from Corsica! What!? This guy was from Corsica and you would think he would know a Corsican native. When we told them we were American, I think they were as surprised as we were. After that exchange, he HAD to give us some samples. Delicious. But, with the amount of salt that he undoubtedly used to cure the meat, I couldn't have much, if any, more. =(

At this point, I was really regretting having eaten at the Holy Cow. Just look at the choices we had! A baguette and some of this and some of that and we would have been in heaven. We learned our lesson though.

We had killed a couple of hours in Rouen and it was time to be on our way (to Caen). The weather had begun to clear and it was turning into a really nice Fall afternoon. We located the car, without issue, fired up the GPS and were back on the road.

Once in Caen, we were approaching our hotel's location and Kasey spied a patisserie. I managed to locate a parking spot in the street and Kasey high-tailed back to get some goodies. While I was waiting, in the car, a 427 Cobra (or what appeared to be a 427 Cobra) rumbled by. I will have to send an email to the Shelby Club to see if they know the car/owner and if it's real (or a kit/aftermarket/continuation car). I was not expecting that!

Once we located Ivan Vautier's hotel in Caen. We checked in and were astonished to find that our "room" actually had a separate bathing area from the toilet. You could consider it a suite and it cost less, per day, than the place in Paris (and was easily twice the size).

I needed to catch up on the Michigan vs. Iowa game form the previous day. Thank goodness for WiFi and my Kindle and MGoBlog.

After a rest, we asked the desk clerk for a good restaurant. He provided us with an address, and we let the GPS do its thing. I cannot imagine how lost we would have been had we tried to get to the place by directions only. Sheesh!

When we arrived, we were told they weren't open yet (the same was true of most of the surrounding eateries). So, we wandered a bit. Upon our return, we thought the place next door looked better. So, we ate there. Given the proximity to the D-Day Landing Beaches, most places offered menus in French and English. However, this French to English translation had us giggling a bit.

Like most of the places we ate, the decor was unique.

Kasey had escargot, I think, as an appetizer. As before, I could not approach the plate for fear of losing an arm or leg.....

I did have cidre (what we would refer to as "hard cider"). It was a little more dry than I would have liked but had a really clean finish. We drank the whole bottle. =)

I had the sesame encrusted salmon over rice. Awesome.

With full bellies and heads slightly abuzz, we headed back to the hotel for some sack time.

End of Day 4, Sunday

Tomorrow we explore Bayeaux and have crepes!

Day 5 - Bayeaux

The town of Bayeaux is very close to the D-Day Beaches of Normandy. It was the first town captured by the Allies, after the landings, and it sustained little to no damage. William the Conqueror (or William the Bastard - depending) based his assault on the English Isles from the area surrounding Bayeaux. The Bayeaux Tapestry relates the tale with embroidered  scenes (on linen). The tapestry is about two feet high by seventy (70) meters long. Let that sink in for a moment. Seventy meters is two hundred and thirty feet (230)! Needless to say there was A LOT of work involved (by who or whom, they are not really sure). We chose the audio tour. Each "scene" is identified by a number at the top of the linen. You basically walk along and the narrator tells the story. The amount of information gleaned from minute details is fascinating. As you enter the darkened viewing room, the tapestry disappears into the darkness. What we didn't know was that the tapestry does a "u" turn and doubles back on itself. So, the room is about 40 meters long with the length of the tapestry taking up about 90% of that length. Incredible.

Before we had gone to see the tapestry, we tried to get a little something to eat, close by. Even though the local eateries offered breakfast, none were open. We wandered into the courtyard of one place only to be told they had yet to open. Stomachs growling, we viewed the tapestry and then tried again. I'm actually glad we waited because we found a really nice crepery at the end of a narrow passageway. It turned out that the building was an old Mill with the waterway rushing past, just outside the windows. The other couple, a few tables over, was from Minnesota (again, No Escape) and they were doing something similar; wandering semi-aimlessly and seeing the sights. We both chose savory crepes; Kasey had ham, cheese and mushroom while I went with chicken and red pepper.

The owner was kind enough to chat with us, in English, after we had finished. I was curious about the proliferation of pizza joints throughout France. I think we passed two or three pizza places on the walk to see the tapestry. It seems that the French have fallen in love with pizza, for the same reasons Americans have, it's cheap, plentiful and tastes good. The problem seems to be that most shops don't bother with quality (cheap ingredients) and many fail. However, if you do choose good ingredients, your margins are lower and you struggle to make ends meet. Most places have delivery service which entails a small fleet of scooters with "hot boxes" on the rear rack. It's easy to pick them out from a distance.

Stuffed, we wandered back to the car to feed the parking meter and then ambled around Bayeaux. As I said, the town suffered no damage on June 6, 1944 (unlike a lot of the surrounding towns and villages - Caen was pretty much bombed/shelled to pieces). We found several structures that were over one thousand years old. That's mind boggling.

We came across the Grain Hall which was actually a grain co-op. The area's farmers would deposit their grain here, for safe keeping, and then were compensated based on grain sales. Of course, they could remove any grain as long as they had some "on account".

The waterway, that powered the mill (where we had crepes) wound thru Bayeaux. Obviously, the town was built around it. I believe it was deeded to the local Bishop who, in turn, made a pretty penny by charging rights to use the water (to spin waterwheels).

Like most towns in the region, Bayeaux has a D-Day Museum. Kasey had to remind me, several times, that if I didn't quicken my pace, the museum would close and they would kick us out. =( So much to see and read!

With darkness approaching, we returned to the hotel for one of our "picnic-on-the-bed" snack sessions to tide us over until dinner.

Just before we encountered the Hall of Grain, we ducked into a Monoprix for some drinks. I had begun to suspect that the local cidres would also be available (and, I was right). Kasey got a big kick out of the sign below the bottles; "abuse of alcohol is dangerous to your sanity". LOL, ya think?

End of Day 5, Monday

Tomorrow we head to Mont Saint-Michel and never make it!

Day 6 - Avranches & a Copper Master

OK, so we set off for Mont Saint Michel, heading west on the A84 motorway. As I drove, Kasey read through the Michelin Guide (green book). The more she read, the more it sounded like a tourist trap which we were keen to avoid. Avranches, which happened to be along the way, sounded much more interesting. When the time came, we exited the A84 and immediately climbed a pretty steep hillock. Arvanches overlooks the dunes and coastal marshes in which Mont Saint Michel is situated. The town traces its history to Roman times. In 933, the town, and surrounding region, was ceded to the Normans.

We proceeded to the Botanical Gardens which are situated on the west side of Avranches. From here you can view the marshes and see Mont Saint Michel in the distance.

Here’s an internet picture of what the Gardens look like in warmer months.

Mont Saint Michel in the distance

Kasey also made excellent use of the panorama picture feature on her cell phone.

Kasey really liked this arch and my first attempt, while acceptable, wasn't quite the perfection for which she was looking.

Ah, much better.

The Avranches breakthrough in World War II began on 31 July 1944, and was led by General George S. Patton. Patton was used as a decoy during the D-Day preparations. The Germans considered him one of the Allies best generals (they may have been right). Propaganda and disinformation lead the Germans to believe that Patton would lead the invasion of Europe at the Pas-de-Calais in northern France. They considered the Normandy landings to be a feint. By the time they realized what was going on, it was too late. Obviously, there’s more to it than that but that story has already been told. The Place Patton provided a convenient place to park the car (and leave it for the day) while we toured Avranches.

The area within the raised ring, just above ground level, is US soil. The obelisk reads; “From 31 July to 10 August 1944, breaking through at Avranches in his armored push on the road to victory and the liberation of France, the glorious American army of General Patton passed these crossroads”

A time capsule, of Battle of Normandy Memorabilia, was either opened or placed here on the 50th anniversary of the Avranches Breakthrough (July 31, 1994).

In tribute to John Brunea, last American veteran of the D-Day Landings 6 June 1944 at Omaha Beach., died at Avranches 11 January 2010.

With those sobering thoughts in mind, we walked northwest on the Rue de la Constitution towards the heart of town. We didn’t get far before something lightened the mood; yes, you too can get rid of your “waste” gold in Arvanches. Cash for Gold lives and breathes in France.

We really enjoyed the stroll down the Rue de la Constitution and made several stops along the way (mostly window shopping). However, Kasey managed to find a coat, that she liked better than the one she found in Paris. I wiled away the time, outside, while people watching and being amazed at the amount of traffic in this little town. The parade of cars never ceased while Kasey spent the better part of 45 minutes shopping. We eventually made it to Place Littre where we stopped for some Chocolat Chaud at Le Royal (much more affordable here), scoped out a place for lunch (Le Littre Restaurant) and purchased some sweets for the afternoon (Salon de The).

The Scriptorial houses the collection of manuscripts of Mont Saint-Michel, deposited in the municipal archives during the French Revolution. It is one of the largest collections of medieval illuminated manuscripts in France, outside national and university libraries.


Here I am describing the intricacies of an archer’s slit. This wall was very well preserved and provided an idea of what a medieval fortress would look like, from the inside as well as the outside. Imposing, to say the least (which is exactly what the builders were going for).

The view from the top is commanding.

More cidre with lunch!

We walked back up to Place Patton to collect the car and head back out of town. Next up was the Atelier de Cuivre in Villedieu-les-Poêles.

Web site: http://www.thecopperworkshop.com/

Master Craftsman Jean-Pierre Couget (right) has been deemed “one of the best craftsmen in France” from the 2001/2004 national competition in copper/brass. It is a very prestigious honor and Jean-Pierre will carry the title until his death. To say this shop turns out awesome copper and brass objects is a gross understatement.

Here, Jean-Luc re-tins copper cookware. A tin-lined copper vessel will handle temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. After years of use, it may be necessary to re-tin the vessel. We watched Jen-Luc restore several vessels during our tour. The pot, in his left hand, has been re-tinned. The vessel on the table has yet to be done. Each worker, in the shop, specializes in two or three processes.

This craftsman has just graduated from being an apprentice. He was making brass fittings for chandeliers. It seems that France is also suffering from a lack of skilled laborers.

Here we are with our tour guide, Sarah. Sarah and her husband moved to France from England. She greeted us in perfect French and asked which language we preferred for the tour. When Kasey replied “English”, she immediately switched to the Queen’s English which caused me to stop short. Thank Goodness for that because the tour would have been much less impressive had she not been fluent.

Here we are with Anisa (or Anissa). She was local to the shop and was working in a co-op program for university students. She was perplexed by the task of wrapping the copper pan that Kasey bought (since we were taking it with us). We assured her that she did a marvelous job.

Contrary to what I have been told, Sarah informed us that not all French students are taught English in school. They may get about an hour a week of instruction. That’s hardly enough to become fluent or even proficient. Anisa spoke very basic English. Sarah told us that if she planned to work in a big city (Paris, Nice, etc.) she would be at a disadvantage because of this. It’s really on the student to be proactive in learning English. The previous day, in Bayeaux, we encountered a couple of boys asking for change for the bus (a common request, it seems, no matter what the country). I told them I spoke a little French and asked if they spoke English. One replied “a little”. So, what Sarah told us had previously been proven true.

Thanks ladies, we had a great time visiting.

We returned to the hotel where reservations at the two Michelin star restaurant awaited us. This is capriccio of langostino.


Lime squeezer  (very cool)

Turbot over chanterelle mushrooms


Moar Dessert!

End of Day 6, Tuesday

Tomorrow we visit the D-Day beaches and pay our respects to those that didn’t get to return home.

Day 7 - Utah/Omaha Beaches & Coleville-sur-Mer

For those of you that know me well, this will come as no surprise, I’m a huge history buff and my college degree is actually in History with a concentration in modern military history. So, to be so close to the D-Day Beaches was an opportunity I could not pass up. To be honest, you could easily spend two weeks to a month in this area and perhaps not see everything. I had to at least spend a day and hit the high points. Kasey knew this going in and enjoyed herself as much as I did.

We started out in a little village just south of Utah Beach, Saint Mere Eglise. Utah is the western most of the D-Day beaches. We started here and worked our way east. The day started out somber and grey with light rain. We stopped for some breakfast and afterward the wind picked up, the clouds began to dissipate and the rain stopped.

Private John Steele was famously suspended from the Saint Mere Eglise church steeple when two C-47s deposited the paratroopers, from the 82nd Airborne, right over the village. An incendiary bomb, dropped a few hours earlier, had set a house on fire (now the location of the Airborne Museum) just east of the church square. A bucket brigade, supervised by the occupying German garrison, was called out to suppress the fire. By the time the paratroopers dropped, the church square was well lit and filled with German soldiers. Pvt. Steele was one of the few non-casualties, hanging limply from the church steeple for two hours. He was eventually taken prisoner only to escape when the village was attacked by the 3rd battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was able to rejoin his unit after the attack. Pvt. Steele was awarded the Bronze Star, for valor, and the Purple Heart, for wounds received. He survived the war only to succumb to throat cancer in 1969.

The church spire boasts a monument to John Steele. The parachute, white, is easy to pick out while the ‘body’ is hard to discern against the bullet-pocked steeple stone. It’s located just to the left of the left steeple window, towards the top. John Steele, born in Metropolis, IL, is an honorary citizen of St. Mere Eglise and there is a local tavern dedicated to him. 

The Airborne Museum has two parachute-shaped buildings in addition to many outdoor displays. In the smaller building is this D-Day glider, small artillery piece (foreground, right) and Jeep with combat trailer (hidden by the far glider wing). The perimeter of the building had display cases showing hundreds of artifacts from the battle action. I had a hard time with one display; three friends, from Seattle, had ripped a dollar bill into thirds. They had planned to meet after the war and re-assemble the bill. The middle third of the bill was missing because that soldier had not returned.

The other, bigger, building contains a C-47 which actually flew, on D-Day, over Normandy. It was used by the French Air Force until it was donated to the museum.

We took a back road out of town, headed northwest, to Utah Beach. When we arrived, the wind was howling, off-shore, but the clouds were breaking up and the sun was shining in places. Just on the other side of the monument (and dune-line) is the beach itself.

Utah Beach, at low tide

These “liberty” markers were all over Normandy. They’re signified by a lit torch (visible just over my right shoulder) and indicate the route (D913) and the distance from the “zero point” which is in St. Mere Eglise.

You really get a sense of the wind conditions, look at those flags.

The museum actually sits on the exact location of a German redoubt designated as WN-5. As you can imagine, there are LOTS of left-over items from the June 1944 battle action. We really enjoyed the box in the lower center of the picture; “Packed by Jewel Tea Company Barrington, Illinois”. That has to be the precursor of the Jewel Grocery chain now prevalent in Chicago-land (again, No Escape). The museum also housed a B-25 bomber.

Ubiquitous Coke bottles

I have one of these, it’s a German bayonet. I have no idea how I came to acquire it.

One of the things I like to do, when I’m in a historically significant location, is to stand in one spot and imagine being there hundreds of years ago. In this case, 68 years and 5 months ago. When we got out of the car, I looked north to see a house with a red tile roof. I wondered if that house was there on D-Day and what it would have been like to be standing on the roof, invisible, to watch the assault roll in. It turns out that, yes, the house was there and the soldiers used it as a position fix, referring to it as “the house with the red tile roof”. It seems as if my imagination was spot on. After touring the museum, I had Kasey take this picture.

After Utah Beach, we drove through Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. We needed a little something to eat but the village isn’t really big enough to support a restaurant. We did the next best thing; we stopped at the boucherie (butcher) and bought some pate. Then, we walked to the patisserie for a baguette. Awesome snack to tide us over until dinner. For those of you that watched Band of Brothers, the HBO mini-series about Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Brecourt Manor is just outside of town. This is where Lt. Dick Winters lead an assault on a German gun battery aimed at Utah Beach. His tactics are still taught at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Next up was Pointe du Hoc, which was the location of a German artillery emplacement. Pointe du Hoc is at the western end of Omaha Beach but with a (captured French) 155 mm gun battery, it could target both Utah and Omaha Beaches. The 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lt, Colonel James Rudder, was charged with scaling the cliffs and taking the gun emplacement. Arriving forty minutes late and losing the element of surprise, the Rangers scaled the cliffs with the help of rocket-launched grappling hooks. Two Allied destroyers, just off shore, provided fire support preventing the German defenders from firing down the cliffs. It turned out that the main guns had been moved, about a mile away, on June 4, 1944. The new location was discovered and the guns destroyed by thermite grenades. The guns had solely targeted Utah Beach.  The Rangers were eventually relieved by the 116th US Army Infantry Regiment from the 29th US Army Infantry Division.

Pointe du Hoc was bombarded, repeatedly, in an effort to wipe out the gun emplacement. Chances are, this caused Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to order the guns be moved. It still looks like the moon with bomb craters all over the Pointe.

A gun turret would have been situated above the circular hole. Access is provided via a below-ground level door on the far side.

The site is quite large and we wandered for a good 30 to 45 minutes in the chilly wind. The main emplacement, that housed the 155 mm guns, is still there and as imposing as ever. You can still walk into the bunkers; however, some have been blasted into jumbles of super-thick concrete chunks.

We headed down off the Pointe to Omaha Beach where some of the worst fighting took place. Some of the Rangers, that were supposed to provide additional support for the Pointe du Hoc attack group, landed here. It is said that their impetus enabled the American forces to carry the assault beyond the beach, onto the overlooking bluffs eventually outflanking the German defenses.

The “Les Braves” monument was placed on the beach in honor of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.

The American Cemetery and Memorial is in Colleville-sur-Mer a little further east. The infinity pool shows the orientation of the landing beaches, etched in marble, in the foreground.

While it is generally thought that Omaha Beach was an American only operation, solders of many countries contributed.

Our next stop was Arromanches. This is the location of the British Mulberry Harbor. Mulberry was the code word for a portable harbor, towed in sections, so that shallow water beaches could support deep water ocean-going vessels. The Americans had a Mulberry harbor at Omaha Beach but it was destroyed by a “once-in-a-lifetime” storm between June 19 and June 22, 1944. The main pilings form a semi-circle in the Arromanches harbor. We got an even better view of the remaining Mulberry sections on a cliff top overlooking Arromanches. By this time, though, the sun had set and darkness was rapidly approaching. We had spent a lot of time out in the wind and sun and we were pretty hungry. We headed east to Ouistreham for dinner.


 While waiting for the Airborne Museum, in St. Mare Elglise, to open, we stopped in the office of tourism. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to suggest a few places, in Ouistreham, for dinner. She was spot on.

Curried mussels

Fresh bay scallops

We got a huge kick out of this; The Pizza Bus with Spider Man on the top. Our hotel was just across the street, just behind the stop light pole, in the picture.

Kasey spies on the kitchen staff at our hotel (Ivan Vautier)

End of Day 7 – Tomorrow we return to Paris and take one picture!

Day 8 - Return to Paris

Well, one picture on the trip back. And, pretty much after we were already in Paris. Yeah, we're lazy that way.

We actually got a pretty good start on the ride back. We were early enough to get caught in morning rush hour traffic, in Caen. Once back on the A13 motorway, traffic moved briskly. I commented that “at this rate, we’ll be back in Paris by noon” which doomed me to a fate worse than death (being stuck in traffic – my personal purgatory). Traffic slowed to a crawl as we got into the outskirts of Paris. It started moving again once we got onto the inner ring expressway but still. I think we arrived, at our hotel, around 1:30 PM. Again, the GPS proved its worth by getting me onto Paris’ peripheral expressways and then into the city itself, without issue. We stopped in front of the hotel and dropped off our luggage. While Kasey herded everything into the lobby, I found a convenient spot to park the car (on a side street less than 100 yards away).

We checked in, took everything upstairs and then girded our loins for the ride to Gare Montparnasse (to return the car). First up was a trip to the closest fuel station (as with every rental, the car needs to be returned full of fuel – see picture above). Actually, the trip was pretty easy. I recognized the Place de Catalogne (the traffic circle that befuddled us as we left Paris) as we approached it. I turned right on the Rue du Mouchotte and then searched for the rental car return signs. They are barely visible from the street and Kasey actually spotted them on the parking garage. Down four levels and we saw the counter. Moments later we were back at street level, headed into the Gare to find the Metro. We got off at an earlier stop so we could get some snackies at the Monoprix and then walked back to the hotel, having shopped there and walked back previously (so we knew the route). There were still a few more things we wanted to see before we left but we filled up our tummies first.

Back on the Metro, we got off at the Bir-Hakeim station. We then walked southwest, along the Seine, to the Pont de Grenelle. Halfway across, is access (down the stairs) to the Allee des Cygnes, a sliver of an island in the Seine. At the southern point is a smaller version of the Stature of Liberty.

Kasey and the Eiffel Tower along the Pont de Grenelle

The Statue of Liberty on the Allee des Cygnes

Hello Kasey's Hand!

Ah, the whole Kasey!

We had some fun with panoramic shots

With clouds gathering and the sun setting, we walked north on the Allee des Cygnes to the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, jumped on the Metro and got off at the Odeon stop in the Art district. Kasey and her mom had eaten dinner, ten years previously, at a restaurant on the Seine near Notre Dame. We had the address but, sadly,  the restaurant had changed.

We opted to wander around some more, not terribly hungry just yet. We came across this place which may have contributed to our growing hunger pains. Those are croque madame in the foreground – with the fried eggs on top. The quiches looked very good, too.

This woman was exceptionally good at what she did (and fun to watch). What was she doing? Cutting exceptionally thin slices of pork form the various smoked pork legs.  Look closely, it was almost like a dissection from 6th grade science class.

We found a place to have some dinner and then headed back to the hotel. We had to be up and out very early the next morning. Since it was Friday, we figured it wouldn’t be too much fun to have to fight morning rush hour crowds on the trains with three bags each. We ended up leaving a full hour earlier than we had planned. I’m glad we did because the trains were quite full. But, we made it without issue and had time to sit, relax and eat something before the long flight home.

Thanks for coming along with us while we toured France. Kasey was disappointed that I didn’t allow comments. So, I’ve enabled that feature. If you have a Google account (gmail), please log in before you comment. That way I’ll know who you are. If you don’t, you can comment anonymously and leave your name in the comments section. Au Revior!

By the way, we did make it home with some liquid booty! And, yes, we declared it all and had the necessary paperwork. =P