Thursday, April 11, 2013


With Paris in our rear view mirror, our road trip across the continent had officially begun, Normandy programmed in our GPS. Words can hardly express the heavy emotions felt along the coast of Normandy where thousands of American and British soldiers once fought on June 6, 1944. Naturally, I hate visiting anything American related while in a foreign country, as I feel that I should experience the country that I'm currently in; however, the beaches of Normandy are a different story. There was a great national pride visiting the sites where my country's men fought and died to liberate the people of Normandy. 

We stayed in Normandy for just a day and a night in a little town called Bayeux (Bay-you) where the streets were narrow and quiet. Our hotela tiny, rustic style building right in the middle of townwas an authentic French cottage with a tiny water closet, a lever that pulled up to flush, and real wooden shutters . Dad had to lean his whole body out the window to pull them shut at night. Though different from some of the luxurious hotels we stayed at in Paris and London, the hotel was a true French experience with a charming local atmosphere. Just down the narrow, cobbled street was a massive cathedral, towering high above the tiny French buildingsit was almost too big for the village, but that made it all the more magnificent.

By car, we drove along the skinny, winding back-streets, through small towns with high stone walls and past courtyard villas. Every building, every farmhouse, every curve in the road was picturesque and it was driving Mom crazy that she couldn't capture the experience on camera. We had to stow away our cameras most of the time, but occasionally one of us would scream "stop the car!" and we'd come to a squealing stop. 

Along the drive, we stopped at Omaha Beach, Point Du Hoc, and the Normandy American cemeterya tour through June 6 where the soldiers marched through the raging waves, scaled steep cliffs, and took over the German forces. Standing on the beaches where one of the most influential attacks in our world's history took place, was incredibly movingwithout the sacrifices of these young men, our world could have been a very different place. Even more emotional was standing in the cemetery where thousands of little marble crosses and David stars dot the green grass, marking each individual life lost in the battle, forever remembering them as young, brave soldiers. Several times, shivers crept down my spinepartly from the emotion, and partly because of the wicked winds that nearly knocked me off my feet. 

The following day, we hopped in the car again, now programming Brussels, Belgium in our GPS, the city where waffle stands are on every corner. Again, we only stayed a day and a night, exploring the old town of Brussels. Though a quick visit, we saw a good portion of the city, including the Grand Plaza where the ornate buildings surrounded us on every side of the stone courtyard, towering tall with their fancy gold trimming and pointy spires. Mom was so excited, she got real serious saying, "Okay guys. Okay. Everyone in the picture!" We made the view last for a few hours longer by eating in a restaurant with a brilliant view of the plaza; our waiter was terrible, though, as he made a mistake with every order: drinks, more drinks, and food. Dad even started predicting the mistakes. As the sun set, the lights came out, giving life to the magnificent buildings, and everyone oohed and aahed like we were watching fireworks. It was the grand finale to our stay in Belgium. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Oui Oui, Par-eeeeeee

Bonjour, Bonjour from the city of love! On Monday of last week, we landed among the hustling Parisians after flying over hundreds of miles of suburbsParis is 10 times larger than I could have possibly expected, though I had little experience prior to Paris. We were a bit surprised to land on our scheduled timenot to mention aliveas terminals 2 and 3 in the Manchester airport had shut down due to a bomb threat. When we heard the news, we found a corner and pulled out cards ready for the long haul, but the police moved quick and we were on our way within half an hour, landing in Paris just in time to visit the Tour de Eiffel. 

A blue sky greeted us, clear as any city can get, with 50 degree weathermy coat gladly came offso naturally, we bee-lined our way towards the tower, as we couldn't expect any better day to see the city. We waited, and waited, and waited in line, and with only 50 people in front of us before the ticket booth, the top floor temporarily closed. Though commonit happens up to 7 times a day when too many people reach the top and not enough come down—we were still disappointed. However, we had not waited in line for an hour to walk away, so we bought our tickets and rode the 5 minute elevator up to the second floor where we could see for miles into the horizon, and on every side the city buildings were endless. But the wind blew hard, sending shivers through my bones.

We never made it to the top, but even if we were dressed appropriately and were willing to stand in line for an hour in the brutal winds, we weren't given the chance. 20 minutes after we made it to the second floor, an alarm sounded, saying in both French and English, "ATTENTION! This building is now closed. Please make your way to the bottom immediately." Unlike many, we followed the instructions to find police rushing by and fire trucks blaring towards us. We thought maybe there was another threat2 in one daybut we never found out for sure! France, we're off to a good start.

The language barrier came as a bit of a shock, though I anticipated itit was the first European country I've visited that speaks a foreign language. Fortunately, Donna had prepped us with a short French lesson learning 'un', 'deux', 'trois' (un, du, twa) meaning 1,2,3, and au revoir (aw-vua) meaning bye. My favorite is 's'il vous plaît' meaning pleaseI remembered the phrase by thinking of 'sea food plate'! The problem with French is that they swallow the ends of the their words, making it impossible to sound out words. Ordering at restaurants was pathetic, as I butchered every word, but I was surprised to find that most Parisians speak English. 

However, I felt a bit awkward expecting the French to speak my language as I was visiting their country. Americans often say, "we're in America, speak English!" The Parisians could have easily treated us the same, but they were always willing to help. English may be taught in many schools as a second language, but I would have felt better if I was the one trying harder to communicate. 


Overall, Paris is a beautiful citya bit dirty and dusty, but full of beautiful marble architecture with rod iron railings, rich history, amazing side streets, and peaceful river walks. Though I enjoyed the tourist attractions such as the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower, I truly appreciated Paris in its less crowded areassmall parks full of flowers and locals, and skinny, cobblestone streets with tiny flower shops and cars parked 1 inch apart (motorbikes are really the best way to travel in this chaotic city). These were the moments I truly felt like I was in Paris.