Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An anniversary adventure...

Late last night, we decided to venture out from Paris and see some of the countryside. When we first planned our trip months ago, we thought we'd "day trip" to London and possibly Brussels, but I let time slip up on me and train tickets are ridiculously expensive for "last-minute" travelers. So we stayed "closer to home" and booked tickets to Rouen (24 euros!), rented a car and booked a room at a hotel in Bayeux, Normandy. The plan was to strike out to see some of the D-Day sites (our good friend Wig Hatten stormed the beaches at Omaha 70 years ago and has been telling Jesse amazing stories about the war).

We got up super-early and ran to catch the metro to the train station, realized we were out of metro tickets, crossed that hurdle, switched metro lines and still didn't end up exactly where we were supposed to be to catch the 8:20 a.m. train to Rouen. As we exited the turnstiles, a nice lady noticed our worried expressions and offered to help, but we thanked her and hurried to the map, certain we could figure it out. I guess we must have looked as confused as we felt, because a nice gentleman who had been minding his own business, listening to music and reading the paper looked up and asked if he could help. We told him we needed to get to the train station at Gare Saint Lazare. He started to point out the directions (we were still underground at the metro at this point), then he apparently took pity on us and said, "I'll show you -- I'm headed to work near there anyway." So we followed (both silently hoping that he wasn't a crazy con man or ax murderer -- he wasn't.) He led us up a maze of escalators and stairs, out into a beautiful neighborhood we had yet to see, around a corner and then showed us the train station. We may have been able to make it out on our own, but it would have taken us a long time to do it. 

With time closing in on us, I confidently marched to the kiosk to use the code to print the tickets I purchased online the night before. Except, of course, the kiosk is speaking to me in French. I did what I thought I was supposed to do and didn't get anywhere. We ran into the station, looking for "information" and finally made it to the main office. The nice guy there had trouble getting my code to work also (so apparently it wasn't just me!) but, after calling a second guy over, he was able to get our tickets printed and sent us to train 22.

We got in with a few minutes to spare and collapsed on what we hoped were seats in the right section -- economy. Phew. The train ride was great - super fast, super smooth and we eventually got far enough out to see some countryside! When we pulled in at Rouen, about an hour and a half later, we went off in search of the rental car. The guy was nice, and his French was impeccable, but his English? Not so much. We finally managed to communicate and *kind of* figure out where our car was (a cute sub-compact Fiat 500), and then, when we pulled out onto the road, we realized, once again, that we are in a foreign country! Not only were we unsure about what the signs mean, the car started speaking to us in French. Who do we think we are? Where the heck do we think we're going? 

We pulled over, got some coffee, studied the map, got the ol' map app going on the phone and started heading for Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery. 

Along the way, the scenery was absolutely beautiful. Exactly what we wanted to see of the French countryside -- beautiful farms, ancient towns, beautiful churches…it was perfect! Around lunchtime, we passed a sign for Honfleur -- a place I'd read about, but didn't think we'd be visiting this trip. I talked Jesse into pulling off for lunch -- and we learned it was around 15 kilometers off the road. We went anyway and let me just tell you -- it was worth it…because, y'all...

Isn't this place gorgeous? We saw fishermen who looked like they were from Central Casting on the way in, so naturally, we had seafood! Jesse got the sea bass with local veggies (pictured) and I got the bream with kind of a creamy, buttery pasta...

Anniversary selfie from Honfleur! That's right -- 31 years of wedded (mostly) bliss! Possibly our best anniversary ever!

We wandered around the streets of the town…old, charming, significantly less crowded than Paris!

We stopped in a shop for hot chocolate -- I ordered chocolate chaud viennois (thanks again, Elisabeth) and it was spectacular. The chocolate is so rich and wonderful here -- and the cream just puts it over the top! (Hey, Causey girls -- I've got Paul in my sights and a beignet au pomme is still on my list!)

(minutiae alert (as if this post wasn't minutiae-laden already) -- the cafe had a steep, old, curving staircase to get to the, um, toilette, and when you got there -- it was a room with a view!)

(scary -- but when you've got to go, you've got to go!)

(view from the loo!)

We left Honfleur and took the coast road through so many wonderful towns, through more farms…it was absolutely beautiful!

We got to Colleville-Sur-Mer, and made our way to Omaha beach -- one of the sites of the Normandy landings on D-Day -- over 70 years ago. Wig Hatten, now 94, was there that day and has vivid stories about the experience. It's so peaceful now, it's hard to imagine what it was like for those young men.

Here's the view of the beach from one of the German vantage points. We saw several structures where their large guns were trained on our ships and soldiers.

As the sun was beginning to set, we visited the Normandy American Cemetery near Omaha Beach. It was moving to spend the day after Veteran's Day honoring more than 9,300 American soldiers buried so far from home. 

It is impossible to capture in one photo the rows and rows of simple crosses, inscribed with the names of the fallen, or in some cases with these words: 
"Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms, 
known but to God."

There's a beautiful memorial as well, inscribed with these words:
"This embattled shore, portal of freedom, is forever hallowed by the ideals, the valor and the sacrifice of our fellow countrymen."

We left as the sun went down, driving on to Bayeax, where we're staying tonight. Our hotel is in the shadow of a gorgeous cathedral (built in 1077!) and the town is lovely. We look forward to exploring it in the daylight tomorrow!

Bon Soir, Friends!

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