Tuesday, May 17, 2011

France Trip: Photo Album

Here are some of our best pictures from our France trip.

France Trip Day 10: April in Paris

Woke to another beautiful morning in France. Celebrated Easter with some candy for the kids - we have had them collecting it everywhere we have gone and saving it for today. They were on a bit of a sugar rush when we left for Paris They were on a sugar low while we took the train into the city.

Got off the metro (what they called their subway/elevated train in town) a scant 3 blocks from the Eiffel Tower. Lexi just HAD to touch it- she has some kind of new obsession with touching everything to verify the way it feels (or something). Unfortunately for her, it was a national monument so there were security fences around the legs of it (and I wasn't waiting in a 3 hour line just to go up an elevator). Grandma can take her up that if she wants. Got some really cool pics and caught a hop on hop off tour bus.
For many weeks Angie and I have been kicking around the idea of using the river boat tours instead of the bus, but after having seen how crowded every single one of the boat was (all day) we were glad we just grabbed a bus. As a note to anyone going to Paris and planning on using tour buses or boats - they are incredibly expensive! 
We stopped at the back door of the Louvre and realized with growling stomachs that it was lunchtime. So we ate at the first bistro we came to (a scant block away). I now need to retract one of my earlier statements and add to another. That meal was the best we had the entire time in France! And waitstaff in Paris was even nicer than anywhere else. I honestly don't know where some people come up with all these rumors about rude waiters. The food was so wonderfully delicious too! The wait staff all spoke English, but they were patient enough to allow me to try to butcher their language the entire meal by ordering in French.
Another note (this one on food): the French like their vanilla intense (thus the term french vanilla) and their chocolate rich. They however prefer their milkshakes without ice cream. Something someone should know prior to ordering a milkshake in Paris. Even without glaces (ice cream) it was a fab tasting caramel and vanilla flavor.
Went through the Louvre after lunch. I had two complains: (1) what in the heck is a multi million euro establishment like the Louvre doing not using air conditioning?! Really, I don't recommend going there unless its the dead of winter. How can they house such priceless works of art and leave it hot and muggy inside? I should think the humidity alone would ruin all those priceless oil paintings. (2) strollers are free to rent from the information desk but a real pain to either drag up all the stairs or wait up to 20 minutes for an elevator.
The Mona Lisa was cool, but we all enjoyed the wooden Christ exhibits and Egyptian artifacts the most. They were building a medieval exhibit which got Neil really psyched, but it wasn't ready yet. Grandma, again hint hint...
After the Louvre we got back on the bus and rode around to the cathedral of Notre Dame. It being Easter Sunday and this being a city of devout Catholics we couldn't exactly get inside, but I got some awesome pics of the gargoyles and we all got to hear the bells ring. They really do sound nice, though from directly underneath them like we were they sounded very quiet.
Back on the tour bus and around the city. There is a lot of architecture, statues, and gold in this city. There are some wonderful shots to be had from the top of a two story open decked tour bus. We saw the assembly building, 3 or 4 museums, the house of Charles de Gaul, the National Library, the Military Academy, which must have been at least three quarters of the cathedrals in Paris, and of course the Triumph Arch.
Funny thing the Arch I always thought it was just another piece of weird French architecture meant to make the city more interesting to tourists. Turns out it was built for a very nice morale booster to the troops by a pompous general who wanted to congratulate his men. Napoleon commissioned the arch and old his men they would march back into Paris as champions under arches of victory. It wasn't completed before Waterloo, but it now hosts an even more auspicious title. It is the French version of the American Arlington Cemetery Unknown Solider. Under the Triumph Arch is buried one of the unknown dead French soliders from World War One. Every night, the city of Paris hosts a parade into the Arch for the somber task of relighting the Eternal Flame (which burns in perpetuity there) as a way to never forget the Dead of the Great War. We just happened to time our bus trip so that we got front row seats to the event. Our bus driver was trying to beat the traffic, but the police stopped us in the roundabout of the Arch exactly where we could see the events. What must have been a garrison of current soliders and about the same number of old veterans showed up with a flag/color guard and a large band. All of France's military marching music was played as everyone marched in. It made me proud to know that France also honors its war dead in the same way we do. 
Today was definitely the culmination of a decent vacation. Unfortunately, we leave to go back tomorrow. But what a trip!!

Neil's idea to kabob Misty
Never in my life did I think I would actually get to go to Paris. I set out to accomplish 3 things that day, but only got to do one of them which was go to the Louvre. I wanted to take a river boat cruise, which we decided was too crowded for comfort so we passed. I also wanted to get fabric from Paris...how cool would that be, but on Easter Sunday everything was closed. The coolest part of the day was the kids were just as excited to see everything as we were. The Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) was the first thing we got to see. Lexi thought that was amazingly awesome. She was jumping up and down she was so excited. Then we went to the Louvre, which was awesome to see such great works of art. I have never been so moved by art like this before. The Mona Lisa was a little anti-climatic though, but it was still cool to say we've seen it. I guess in my mind I pictured it grand and huge, but in reality it wasn't larger than what you could find in the average home. 
One of my favorite sculptures in the Louvre
The funny thing about Paris is that you could not tell who the Parisans were from the tourists. I guess I had a picture in my head of what French people looked like, but they looked like everyone else. The only way we could tell was when they spoke, the locals spoke French while the tourist spoke English. We did have lunch at a cafe and I must say the food was devine! It restored my faith that the French actually do know how to cook gourmet food. I couldn't help but laughing at Ray though because he got a hamburger and a vanilla milkshake. The kids enjoyed their meals too, so we were finally enjoying the French cuisine.
After all of that we rode a tour bus all around the city. I would highly recommend doing a tour bus of some sort because we saw some pretty amazing things I don't think we would have found on our own. I saw the high end fashion shopping district, but again it was Easter Sunday so there was nobody around. I really enjoyed the French architecture which has its own distint look; however, there was a large variety of influences from Egyptian to Roman features throughout the city. We saw the Arch of Triumph which Napoleon had made for his troops. We were lucky enough to get to see their nightly ceremony to commemorate the unknown solider buried there. 
After we finally did the tour bus loop around the city everyone was tired and ready to go back to the cabin. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and took the train home. I still can't believe I got to see Paris!

France Trip: Day 9 The Palace of Versailles


Today we transitioned from the gite to a cabin at a Glamping campgrounds. Glamping is a European term for a campground that doesn't require you to pack anything but your clothes as if it were a hotel. The tents are all set up for you, with bathrooms, a kitchen, and real bed. We selected to stay in a cabin at this campsite, which was nice. The kids wanted to stay a day at the campsite, but we didn't have time. They had a small lake where you could rent canoes, and a hiking trail nearby. It was also down the street from the Loreal factory, but luckily it wasn't running that weekend. Before we got to the cabin, we went to the Palace of Versailles. It was very grand and nice, and we all had a lot of fun walking around. Thankfully, Misty saved us a bit of waiting in line because the manager thought it was too hot for a baby to be waiting in such a long line outside. Everyone was very appreciative. The parts I liked about the palace was the statues of each of the kings of France, the Hall of Mirrors which huge windows shining light onto huge mirrors. It gave the room a nice glow. The tour of the palace worked out well because it ended in perfect time to check in and get settled in the cabin with extra time to go to the store and get supplies. 
At the store I found a new purse that is perfect for me. It is a fabric purse that has snaps on it to make it expand as it gets too full. Then it has a fabric top with draw strings in case I really over fill it. Of course like any giant purse its hard to find things in it, but there are pockets for my keys, phone, and some Misty stuff.


Saturday we cleaned and packed and left the gite early in the morning. Since check in for the next place (a cabin at a campgrounds) wasn't available until late in the afternoon, we drove to the Palace of Versailles. It is suppose to be the most grandiose palace in all of Europe. I would have a hard time arguing that (and most people who know me will tell you I can argue that 2+2=5 and win). This place was very regal and I can tell that in its day was THE social place of the world! Anyone who gets the chance to go here should take it, but there are a few things to know. 1. The French don't consider it a palace - its the King's Chateau (country house used for hunting).2. If you have a baby, the management does not want you to wait in the hot and crowded line. If they see you at the ticket booth and its muggy in line, they will come out of their seats and grab you. They will take you to the front of the line and explain you are now next and you will not wait in any further lines. Yes, at this point I DID actually feel like someone very important. Misty has earned the title "Coolest Family Member of the Day" aware.3. Parking is BAD. THe only spaces they have in Paris is ONLY for cars that two squirrels won't fit in. The parking garages were not designed for big ol' American sedans. Even a smart car might have trouble parking in France.
4. Lastly, if you are a more than common shutter bug, your family will get bored and want to killy ou in this place. There must have been 300 to 400 photos I wanted to take, but couldn't because of either the tour groups or my family getting hot and tired of waiting for me. Yes, the gift shop sold batteries so my camera worked.
That evening we checked into the cabin. This place is on the outskirts of Paris, so I wasn't expecting much. What I got was a decent look at the Loreal Paris factory - only here they just called it Loreal. Then we saw the campsite and our cabin. We were what the Europeans call "Glamping." This is where you are in a campsite doing what should be camping, but you are at a near luxury hotel suite. There are few buildings which are referred to as cabins, which are in fact individual wooden apartments (which after close inspection seem to be built and furnished by IKEA). Then there are the tents. These are wooden sided domiciles with a safari styled giant tent in them. A casual visitor may see some of the tent sticking out of the top, otherwise would think it a cabin. There is a decent playground, a pool, a restaurant, a bar, and a gift shop. But wow, is it cool! So the Goodwins are now Glamping.
We needed some food for breakfast and a night out so we drove into the nearby suburbia. They had what appeared to be a supermarket so we stopped for supplies. In my mind, the term supermarket calls up the image of a very large grocery store with just about everything a suburban family may want in the way of day to day food stocks. In France, it would appear, this is just a facade to keep away unwary visitors. I found the French equivalent of a Walmart mixed with a strip mall and a decent restaurant. We ate dinner at what may related to a Morrisons cafeteria. The food was the second best of all the meals we had in France. The shopping was interesting as the strip mall proved that once again the Parisian fashion sense is great in a store, but that the people aren't buying their clothes at these cool and fashionable places. The people here dressed as if this was a Target, but the clothes we name brand Paris designers! I find it interesting and a bit scary that the Navy can take me out of the redneck woods and put me in a place with the heigh of the fashion world, and I find a Walmart.

France Trip: Day 8 Small Fishing Village

We headed off to Brittany to see a French fishing village. It was very picturesque. The whole town was nothing but seafood restaurants. My kids don't eat fish, so for lunch we found the only place that did not serve fish ha ha ha. The meal was decent though, so I can't complain. We had hoped to find a nature walk after the fishing villages, but turned up empty handed. So we took the kids to a playground instead. We had a nice long multi-course dinner back at the gite while everyone packed. We were leaving the Gite for a cabin the next day which put us closer to Paris!
Friday we tried letting Angie get to see some of the France she always wanted to see - the quaint sea side villages. What we got was an absolutely gorgeous view of some wonderful bays and inlets full of myriad of small craft with a couple of what used to be quaint fishing villages but are now tourist traps by the bay. Such is the sad commentary of economic times and capitalism. One of the other sad facts about the economic times is that France is now the second most expensive place to drive (on their highways). The first being Delaware. Delaware charges tolls on its highways that average out to over 50 cents per mile. France does the same but averages out to only 34 cents per mile (kilometers to euro conversion already accomplished). Delaware also has more toll booths. So if you get the chance (i.e. aren't in too much of a hurry) you should get off the highways of France and see the gorgeous country side.
We did notice one more thing about France which seems to be untrue - their fashion. Yes, its true that Paris still sets the hearts and minds of fashion designers on fire the world over, and what the boutique owners sell in the store fronts stands up to that, but what the common everyday Frenchman (or woman) wears is every bit as tacky and uncultured as the Americans or British. We are not sure where the French buy their clothes, but it is obviously not in the cute little boutiques that line their village high streets. After a heartbreaking tour of the tourist fishing villages in Brittany, we thought we would settle in and have a nice dinner back at the gite. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

France Trip: Day 7 Ray's Day of History

Thursday morning broke with nary a cloud in the sky and a wonderfully warm temperature. A perfect day for exploring the Normandy area. Angie had planned on having me explore the history of the war at all the local museums (and drag the rest of the family along). We got a late start to the day because I didn't know her plan so I was working on vacation time. When we finally got going we saw a lot of mom and pop museums. They had a lot of memorabilia but no logical way to organize it or display it properly. So I spent a long time at each museum just picking through what seemed interesting or of importance to my grandfather's time here. As expected the kids seemed utterly bored. They acted like their normal selves though, which is to say politely interested in everything even though you can tell they weren't. Then we got to the final museum of the day - Point Du Hoc, the legendary cliff face scaled by the 29th ranger battalion. This had nothing to do with my Grandfather's unit, but a friend's grandfather was there and I thought it would be neat regardless. Within minutes of arriving the kids sparked on everything! It was like all they had been dragged through all of a sudden made sense. They loved the old beat up gun batteries and the huge holes in the ground made by Allied naval bombardment! They ran around, in and out of bunkers and seemed to genuinely understand what had happened here and how the Nazi's would have operated the gun posts (Neil even knew that the guns where faked by the Nazi's due to not having enough big guns for the rest of the Atlantic wall). We were enjoying ourselves so much that the camera batteries died (I had just charged them if that tells you how many photos I took).
We finished all the history tour I wanted and decided to call it a day. We once again tried to have a wonderful Anniversary dinner my wife deserved. I took her to one fo the fanciest restaurants in Normandy. The food was awful. Both min and Neil's steak was almost entirely grizzle and wasn't cook to order. Angie ordered large stuff scallops. What she got was 12 very small scallops drenched in a badly made garlic pesto. Everyone' food tasted freezer burnt.
After all of our trails and gained knowledge of this trip I would have to say that what everyone thinks of the French is entirely wrong. They are not rude but in fact very polite and social. They may want us to think they are all master chefs, but I haven't eaten at a restaurant yet that serves food half as good as the Boy Scouts earning their cooking merit badge (let this be a warning to all about both French cuisine and Boy Scout cooking....).


Today was Ray's day to see all the WWII stuff. To say it was awesome would be a lie. I didn't really care for the boring museums, but Ray had us end the day at Point du Hoc which was pretty cool. There was bomb craters everywhere. We could see the ramins of old bunkers. The kids had a lot of fun exploring everything. We finally go to go out to eat at the restaurant we wanted to for our anniversary. We were all less than impressed. My meal was alright, but there wan't much of it. I ordered stuff scallops, and I was expecting large scallops stuffed with something. Instead I got small 1/2 inch scallops in their shell with a basil sauce. The desserts where disappointing as well. 

France Trip: Day 6 Foodies Day

Today is our anniversary! We planned to spend it doing farm tours and eating a lot of yummy food. France is known for their food after all. We had a bit of problems with our SatNav (GPS System), and we ended up only seeing some of the places on our list. The few tours we hoped to get ended up not working out, so the day was a bit of a wash. The caramel factory we went to only did tours in French, but the gift soft was wonderful. The cheese factory only did tours in the summer, but the chocolate factory worked out wonderfully. I got to play around with cocoa beans, and they even had some at the gift shop which I bought as a souvenir. The lady behind the counter was trying to tell me in her best English that I am not to eat them. I knew that I couldn't eat them, but Ray kept saying "what if we .... or how about???" I felt bad for the lady because she couldn't get her point across to Ray lol. I have the same problem and I speak English lol, just kidding huh :) 

The pics for the day came from the city of Bayeaux. They had a candy store in town that was really awesome. The guy took his candy and made sculptures that were just awesome. I wanted to take a picture, but he didn't speak good enough English for me to ask and I didn't want him to think I was stealing his idea. The kids had a great day and got a lot of candy for their Easter baskets. It was so good to see how good spirited the kids were even though the day was a complete wash to me and Ray. The kids kept saying, I don't see the problem because at the end of the day they got to try all the food they wanted despite the fact the tours didn't work out. Of course dinner didn't work out either because for whatever reason the nice restaurant the owner of the Gite recommended to us was closed every other day of the week.

We tried to go to some of the world renowned apple orchards. None of the addresses worked in our GPS. So we tried a few chocolatiers, and only found one. The tours were entirely in French (and of only a small time operation - the speech/tour was given entirely in a meeting room by the gift shop). We opted to go through the gift shop and buy some Easter candy for the kids' Easter baskets. Then we tried some of the famous confectioners' factories and artisan shops. Same results of having only found one with a lame tour. Again we simply opted for the gift shop and some more Easter basket candy. After all this driving around and not finding much of anything we tried to go to a local restaurant which had been recommended by the owner of the Gite. It was closed, and because of the lateness of the hour we had to high tail it to the local grocers to buy some dinner stuff before they closed. About the only part of the day that wasn't a wash was Angie's wonderful cooking. The fact that she had to cook on our Anniversary kind of bummed us all out though.

Friday, May 6, 2011

France Trip: Day 5 Mont Saint-Michel

Tuesday we woke late as we were all tired. We did laundry in the washer and then figured out how to hang clothes outside on a line in order to get them dry. Angie has had some experience with this and explained how to conserve space on the line and use less clothes pins. As if that didn't make me feel sheepish, she then explained that in order to not air dirty laundry we would NOT be hanging our dainties on that line. Apparently all enlightened and culturally we raised people know that delicates go inside the house. After that we left to go to the Abbey at Mont Saint-Michel. This island getaway is in the baise (bay of) du Mont Saint Michael and is noticeable from almost 20 kilometers away. Saying that this place is quite impressive would be a huge understatement! We will include pics on the blog just so you can get a gander at it. It is incredibly tall and thickly walled and just plain massive. Wow! It is amazing to walk through! If you ever get the chance to come here, please take the time to go and see it all. Just remember that if you park on the causeway, it is completely submerged by the high tide daily. Park accordingly. Don't worry if you forget, there are signs at the entrance that warn you in 3 different languages that the parking lot will be an ocean by the specified time of that day. Now if that isn't a great way to get your heart beating for an exciting self guided tour, then maybe you should stay home.

This abbey was built in the early 1500s when a priest saw the Arch Angel Michael land and do battle with a serpent. Michael landed on this tiny island and defeated the wily beast, so the priest decided this was holy ground and built a monastery to study His teaching. Later a small sect of Godly knights moved in to defend that Abbey from invaders. The architecture and sheer size of this abbey are incredible. Oh yeah, there are a lot of stairs! Did I say a lot? I meant a whole lot of stairs! But the trip and the sights are well worth the steps. And to end they day we had gelato before driving the short distance home. Mmmmmmmm.....gelato..........

We went to see Mont St Michel today. Wow! It was awesome. We were all excited as we drove there. About a half hour before we got there we could see it in the distance. We pulled up and had a laugh at the sign that warned us the parking lot floods at 7:30pm that day. Once inside it was a bit crowded, but it was pretty cool. The way leading up to the abbey was an old medieval town. The shops have been turned into restaurants and tourist shops, but I could see it filled with merchants in its day. We actually hiked up ALL the stairs to get as high as we could. THe views were amazing. I think we were all tired by the time we were done. I felt bad for Ray who carried Misty all day. I made some throw in the oven pizzas and we called it a night.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

France Trip: Day 4 William the Conquerer's Castle

The day started off by going to the local Market Day and bought some groceries, mostly snacks. The market was fun because it sold everything we wanted and it was our first real exchange with the locals. They were all very nice and while they didn't speak English, we were able to get by just fine on the little bit of French I knew and the universal market hand language (point at something and hold up your fingers to indicate the number you want).
We got to drive around the beautiful French country side. After we went shopping the kids played at the playground near the shops. After we unloaded the groceries, we went to Caen and saw William the Conquerer's Chateau (i.e. castle). It was pretty neat. The kids really enjoyed it. They had fun climbing up all the stairs and see the city of Caen from high up. There was a playground in the castle grounds that Misty enjoyed. When we were doing at the castle we went to a town called Vire, which is only a half hour from our gite, and found a pastry shop and chocolatier. We went back to the gite to have a snack before dinner. I made a cheese platter that Ray and Lexi loved. We ended up going back to Vire for dinner. We found an American restaurant. The waitress was very nice and patient with us since our French was something to be desired. Perhaps I picked up more on the Rosetta Stone than I had though. Anyways, we enjoyed our dinner. I got a "Kentucky Chicken...the sheriff's secret recipe". Much to my disappointment it wasn't fried chicken like I had hoped. Instead I would call it more like a Memphis chicken, as it had been marinated for awhile and was grilled. Overall the meal and the whole day was very enjoyable.

Monday morning we headed into town for some food. There was an open air market going on in the local town. It had livestock being sold, butchers having barbeques, and vendors selling their wears. We picked up some food in the form of cheese, breads, and fruits. Angie tried her hand at speaking the French she has been trying to self teach herself for the past 2 months. It was a good thing too, as no one there spoke any English. The rumors of the French being notoriously nasty and rude did not seem to hold true for any of these people. They were all friendly and full of smiles and appreciative nods of the heads.Monday afternoon we drove to the Chateau of William the Conqueror. This was actually his boyhood home which his father had built before William was even born. But the castle was impressive. William had made some improvements to it after meeting his wife and then going slightly paranoid she would be in danger while he was away. From the battlements we were able to see both the Abbeys he had constructed to appease the Pope over his wedding to his wife (apparently the Pope did not approve but they married anyway). There was also a very [architecturally] overly ornate church just outside the grounds of the Chateau. Inside the Chateau were two churches, two museums, and a playground. Misty liked the playground, naturally. But I think Neil kind of did too. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

France Trip: Day 3 Check into Gite

Our Gite

Today was a transition day. We spent the morning with the Scouts at the American Cemetery in Normandy. The scouts had a big ceremony, but I mostly chased after Misty the whole time so she wouldn't scream during the very solemn ceremony. We broke camp much later than we wanted, but it wasn't a big deal. We checked into our gite and settled in. The kids went through the brochures and we decided what we wanted to do for the week. We were all pretty exhausted from the campout, so we went to bed early.

The next morning we brok camp and got dressed up in our best uniforms for a wreath laying ceremony at the Cemetary. It was touching and uplifting. There was an F-15 flyover as the ceremony started. Turns out the plan was from the local (to us) US Air base in London. It had been flying the no fly zone in Libya and was returning home when it was tasked with helping out. One of the scouts from the troop at that base was near us and they were surprised to learn the jet was from their base. I'm sure that added to the emotions of the day for them.
My wife has been doing a lot of research to make this a memorable vacation for the family. As such she has found us a Gite (pronounced Jeet) less than an hour away from everything we wanted to see or do while in France. Better, she did it for less than the price of a hotel room. This is a country house (complete with cows and fields and lots of middle of nowhere space) with plenty of room to stretch out and relax. It is here that we went Sunday afternoon. We spent the night Sunday "veggin" out at the Gite, as nothing in France is open on a Sunday.

Lexi and Neil have dropped out of writing a journal entry from here out. Neil did make a general food review, but I'll post that later.

France Trip: Day 2 Omaha Beach

Mulberry Bridge

Memorial on Omaha Beach
After a sleepless night with Misy, we woke up (a relative term) to start the day of history learning. The campsite was located a scant 2 km from the actual beachhead the Americans (my grandfather included) had founded. A short walk across a street and a farmer's field brought us to the cliff which separated Omaha from Juno beach. Looking at the topography led me to realize that there was only a few ways off the beach. Unlike a normal beach where you can drive right up to it and go straight to the water, Omaha is a bunch of cliffs that can only access the beach by way of a very winding roads downward - much akin to a mountain pass. A little studying of old history books and the monuments in the area brought me to realize that the Germans knew about the ways off the beach. On the other beaches, the Germans had to build walls of defences and a lot of artillery; on Omaha they only had to defend the 5 exits from the beach. So they spent the same amount of men and materials on Omaha as the others, but it was much better guarded. The Allied command recognized what the Germans would do and chose not to put a veteran unit on Omaha as a veteran unit would have recognized the danger and refused to fight there. So the Blues and Greys of the 29th Infantry division, a rookie unit, was selected to assault this beach. In the first 30 minutes of fighting on Omaha over 3000 Americans had lost their lives. In a strange twist of fate, we had almost exactly the same number of Scouts and their relatives on this beach (during the 67th anniversary of D-Day). The fighting on Omaha was allegedly the most brutal and bloddy of the whole war.
German Pillbox on hill top

Every five or six years my Grandfather would let slip the occassional single fact of something he was part of during the invasion. Between my Uncle, brother, and myself we have come up with the facts that my Grandfather was a Beachmaster on Omaha beach on June 6. That's not a lot to go on for nearly 20 years of trying to find any facts. This trip and my Grandfather's trip to the same place for the 50th anniversary shet a lot of light on what he did. He was in the 185th Port Company, 487th Batallion which I believe was attached to the 6th NBB of the 5th Special Engineering Brigade. (Angie's notes: I found a book that discusses this Batallion A Moment in History: The Story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944 and a website of an interview with a man in the 185th Port Company Assault on Normandy coast was brutal, unforgettable and here is another site that explains what the Beachmasters did during D-Day WWII Naval Beach Battalion & Beachmaster Unit One). 

The Boy Scouts spent the weekend learning almost as much about the history of Normandy as I did. As part of the typical Boy Scout exercises, the Trans Atlantic Council was asked by the people of Normandy to assist in making Beaches of the Normandy landing a UNESCO's World Heritage site. This is not to say that the landings and sufferings of those many Americans did not make it a place that will be recorded in history forever, by making the beaches a UNESCO's World Heritage site the world can recognize and perserve its significance. We spelled out the words "Normandie Land of Liberty 2012" so a helicopter could take some pictures. Organizing 3000 boys aged 5 to 18 and all their relatives had to have been a daunting task, but the pictures show the proof that it was done. 

Messages in the sand from other
scouts saying things such as
"You will never be forgotten"
When we were done with the fun on the beach our troop took a stroll to the American Cemetery in Normandy. This is the only cemetery in the world where American soliders lay interned on foreign soil. It is an awe inspiring place of respect, solitude, and sadness. There was 9,238 alabaster white crosses, Star of David, and Buddhist symbols all lined up in neat and orderly military rows. Each a stark reminder of what the ultimate sacrifice for Freedom really means. Not a single boy in our scout unit played war or discussed the latest strategy for beating [insert name of latest XBOX or PS3 game]. This was a first in my memory for Boy Scouts. I have never seen so many boys actually focused on the same non-electronic thing before. They were reverent and solemn the entire time. It made the cemetery even more eerie, but I was so proud of them.

Thatched Roof house w/American Flag
Misty did not sleep much during the night, but she woke up with a new tooth. While the days events went off pretty good for a Boy Scout functions, overall the day was exhausting. I could go on about what the scouts did, but Ray clearly gave a full report. My day pretty much was spent chasing Misty. I did enjoy and appreciate the whole Normandy D-Day invasion. It is amazing our troops where abile to take control of this area. The beach and landscape being so challenging, and the Germans shooting at them from every direction.Ray enjoyed seeing what his grandfather went through. He ha a better appreciation for him and a better understanding of what he did on D-Day.

Warning: This page contains so much awesome you may explode or implode. 

Lexi and her friends having fun
Burr! Last night was cold. We just had scrambled eggs but no the way you would normally cook them. We cooked them by: putting eggs (not cooked) in a plastic bag, adding milk to the plastic bag, and boiling it in a pot. Now we get to go on a hike on the beach, awesome right. I am going with Maddy (we have to have a buddy and I thought Maddy would be a good buddy). Maddy saw one of her friends Sara and I saw Abi. We all went on the beach after lunch and played on the beach. We built an awesome memorial out of sand. We built it on Omaha beach although it got distoryed by one of the boys. Then me and Abi had to go and make letters in the sand. Then when I left I was on TV, French TV! Then Abi and I found Sara and Maddy. They said they built a bridge you could walk over and they hit water so it was like a real bridge. Then they said they really dug deep in our sand castle and hit water so it had a moat. Then we had to leave for a memorial service (we just went to the museum, same with everyone else). Then we went back to camp after dinner we had marshmallows and smores. Since my dad went to a camp fir thing (most people did) so we got to stay up till 10-ish. That day was fun, even though that night was cold.
We stood in some letters spelling: Normandie Land of Liberty. Also we did a ceremony in the letters. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

France Trip: Day 1 Dover to Calais

White Cliffs of Dover

We begin our holiday with a ferry ride to Calais, France. We stayed at a bed and breakfast by the ferry terminal the night before. The plan is to camp out with the Boy Scouts for the weekend in Normandy, and then we have reserved a gite for the week. We also have reservations for a cabin near Versailles for the following weekend so we can see Paris.

Ferry leaving Dover to Calais, France
Angie: We had a great breakfast at the B&B. It was a great place to stay for the night before heading off on the ferry. It was much easier to go through customs and get on the ferry than I thought. The ferry ride went quickly. We ate lunch, went to the ship stores, and let Misty play in the toddler area. We arrived in camp with plenty of time to setup, get comfy, and enjoy the company of our friends before we crashed for the night. It was very cold that night, so I was glad we have arctic sleeping bags.

Warning: Do not talk to anyone in France unless you speak French!
We just got off the ferry. My parents say it will take at least 3 hours to get there (I think it will be 4 because of traffic). OMG, something so funny just happened. Ok I had to go to the bathroom and I forgot we were in France and I asked the lady in front of me if this was the line for the bathroom. She was like HUH?!? It was so funny. Though I feel so bad for the lady. Now after (7 hours) we got to the camp. Now I get to help my dad set-up our tent. 

This trip was AWESOME!! On Day 1 we set up camp and played.


This trip was made possible by the Boy Scouts of America. Neil’s new troop has been planning a spring camporee on Omaha Beach for 3 years. We were able to get in on it, but because this was also Angie and Mine Anniversary weekend we decided to make a family vacation out of the trip.

As a warning to the casual or unwary reader, my Grandfather was on Omaha beach on June 6, 1944 but has always been incredibly tight lipped of his entire time in, so I was particularly interested in the historic side of the D-Day landings as seen through the eyes of the locals and the historical markers; this may possibly come out in my writings and ramblings.

Dover Castle
We started this trip a day earlier than the troop as we wanted to avoid driving through rush hour London traffic. We spent Thursday night in a bed and breakfast in Dover. Before sunrise Friday I went up the hill to get pictures of the castle at Dover as the sun rose and shone upon it. The typical British weather kept that form happening the way I wanted, but I still managed to get a few shots. Friday morning we left on a ferry TO FRANCE! Pulling away we saw the white cliffs of Dover. Up close these looked like just any other hill or rock pile, but as we pulled away we realized that from a distance the rock look all white. That is one of the many world renowned landmarks I want to see in my life. It was taller and stretched further than I thought it would, but there was more port facilities in the way than I would have liked to have been there.

Once in France we drove to the campsite without any of the hassles we thought we would experience. It goes without saying then, that we used our SatNav Sally. Neil setup his own tent and someone else’s in the time it took me to erect my tent and setup the sleeping arrangements. He has done a lot of growing up and learning since he joined Scouts.