Monday, April 17, 2006

Remembering Normandy

We feel like Em really told us a lot about how she was feeling last night through our little like/dislike grid. We realize that she is very observant and doesn't miss a thing. Unlike us, she keeps her thoughts to herself. Whether that is her personality or being in a totally foreign experience we don't know. Time may tell.

Monday, April 17, 2006 Hotel International Paris, FR

Partly SUNNY today! It's 8:00 and we are all awake thanks to an Australian woman calling our room 15 minutes ago. She wanted room 55 not 65, our own little Hotel International wake up call. We were concerned last night that we would sleep through til 10:00 like we have been doing. Problem solved.

Destination: Omaha Beach, Normandy. We start the second phase of our trip today – see the countryside. It’s been fun here in the city but it’s about time to go.

You would think I would have learned to follow my instincts after so many years; nope. I believed the US National Car rental people who told me that the office in this part of Paris would be open on Monday. Yes they knew it was EASTER Monday.

Leaving the luggage at the hotel, the three of us had a nice mile long walk down holiday-deserted streets to a firmly ferme rental car office.

With no France Telecom card and no local businesses open, we had to call the US on our Sam’s club AT&T card and then make an international call to National car rental at Charles de Gaulle. Thankfully, the guy I got was good and found us a car at Gare Lyon.
(Note: I recall the conversation with the US office who insisted that the location was open (because their computer told them so) and my telling them that since I was standing right outside it, I had better "eyes on the target." Idiots.)

We walked the mile back to the hotel to retrieve the luggage we thought we would pick up with the car. Before leaving we had a nice chat with Messr. at the hotel. He and Houda bought and opened the hotel about 8 months earlier. They fixed up the security and cleaned it well and will start renovating soon. We told him we would comment on our stay on the Venere web site when we returned to the US.
We did as soon as we got back. Unusual for us.

We dragged our suitcases on the metro (which was not as big a deal as I’m making it out to be for dramatic purposes, I was just really upset with National) and went to Gare Lyon via Hotel de Ville (the city hall stop is normally very busy). The holiday metro was not crowded. All of Paris is not crowded. It's a blooming holiday for Pete's sake.

Our first time in Gare Lyon and we noted the lack of directional signs. Particularly to the car rental office, stand, or counter. I left Kat and Em on the sidewalk with our suitcases while I explored the nearby buildings. The young ladies behind the counter were friendly and apologetic. They didn't understand why the American office couldn't get it right. Neither could I.

Heading out of the city I missed the turn and ended up going east toward Euro Disney instead of west toward Normandy. We did a U-ee and headed back toward CDG and the A13. We were now relatively happy heading west with the glorious sun just behind us.

Hungry (as usual) we stopped on the autoroute at Autogrille and had a mediocre lunch. Em was surprised at the variety of things you could buy in the attached store, unlike our McDonald's stops. Em was also happy because they had Sprite. (A mood change seems to have occurred, and we are not sure if it is a result of the discussion the previous night or that we were now in a car, just driving along, a more familiar environment. All I know is she seemed more relaxed than we've seen her since we left the US.)

In no time we were back on the road making our way to one of the prettiest areas in France. Famous for it's dairy products the food is as rich as the soil and the soil is fecund.

Normandy. The name itself evokes so many thoughts.

Our first stop was the Hotel du Casino, on Omaha beach and it is right ON Omaha beach. Nice place with clean big rooms (they even had a special purple room, perfect for Emily). It is easy to get to on beautiful bocage lined roads. We checked in and headed to Ste. Mere-Eglise via the American cemetery.

The cemetery is located in Colleville-sur-Mer and borders on the unbelievable. The perfectly maintained grounds and white crosses in a sea of green on a bluff that overlooks the blue Atlantic. It was cloudy and dark.

On the way into the parking lot, Emily told us that she didn't like cemeteries (at all) and we feared she wouldn't go in. We felt strongly that she shouldn’t miss this opportunity. We explained that she was back in the USA as France gave the United States this piece of land and it is US soil. Like going to our 51st state. She was very reluctant but pretty stoic as we quickly walked through the cemetery to the cliff where a pedestal marker describes the story of what happened below.

At 5:30 everyone stopped and turned to the sound of taps being played as the US flag was lowered. It was terrifically moving as people saluted or placed a hand over their heart, careless of the tears. It was a moment I will never forget.
(Note if you interested the best web site I have found is at: Normandy Invasion. All the arrows are pointing toward the site of our hotel.)

At Ste. Mere-Eglise we regaled Emily with the story of Red Buttons (really John Steele) still hanging by his parachute from the roof of the church. What seemed to interest her more than the history was the horse jumping competition on the fairgrounds behind the church. It was just concluding when we arrived. In a place like this it's easy to forget that there is normal life going on. We walked around, bought some post cards and had pizza and a hamburger at the Normandy Bar & Grill. We also bought some pastries for me & Em to have on the beach walk later.

We really enjoy the architecture in this part of France (our home here in Virginia is a Norman countryside design) so we dawdled our way back to the hotel. The pastries on the deserted and peaceful beach were excellent. In this setting the kid side of Emily came out for the first time on our trip. Running and jumping and drawing in the sand, she seemed at peace, as were we. Even though it was cool and late, I got the sense she could have stayed there all night.

In one of the tourist circulars, Kat found an ad for a caramel factory tour in Isigny sur Mer, so we may stop there tomorrow on our way to our next excitement - trumpet flourish please - your majesty, Mount St. Michel.

Note: Coincidentally, I'm editing this on June 6, 2008, 64 years to the day after the invasion and have found no acknowledgement of the anniversary in any media.

No comments: