July 29, 2014

A visit to Aix-en-Provence

I spent a few days more than 10 years ago in Aix-en-Provence with my sisters and fell in love with this bustling town. I thought it the perfect introduction to Provence for Sean. Originally, I had wanted to take a day trip from the Riviera to seek out the blooming lavender fields, but after doing some research, I deemed anything further than a 90-minute drive was more than I was willing to do. Alas, that's another trip!

Since nobody else was interested in this journey, it was just the two of us, which was fine by me as it's always good to get in some "alone" time when traveling with a group. Since I wouldn't get to visit any lavender fields this trip, I decided that my ultimate goal in Aix was shopping! I've always loved the bright Provencal fabrics that are made in this region and I was hoping to find a new kitchen tablecloth. So off we went!

It was a blistering hot day, reaching almost 90 degrees, but that didn't stop the hordes of other tourists from enjoying their day. I just adore the overall palette of Provence; the colors are amazing and I can see why so many artists have fallen in love with the area; such inspiration!

After finding a place to park our car, we set off towards the city center and the famous "Cours Mirabeau" for a spot for lunch. Our lunch was very mediocre and it was one of the first times this trip where I felt we were given the "American Tourist" treatment. Oh well, I can't make everyone like me.

It didn't take long before I got my bearings and started remembering some of the cute, windy, little streets where I had walked years ago admiring all the shops. I have become a much more discerning "tourist" with regard to shopping. There was a time that I bought lots of little souvenir tchotchkes, but over the years, I've learned to stop wasting money on such useless treasures and buy things that I will actually use, or have a useful place in my home.

Sean was so patient with me as I drug him around the city looking for exactly what I had come for; the perfect tablecloth. They have such beautiful fabrics that I could see where I could get myself in trouble buying too many lovely things. Focus! Then there's the clothing stores for kids and babies . . . I swear I need an extra carry-on bag just for the stuff I've purchased already for my grandkids.

Within a couple of hours, I'd found almost exactly what I wanted and purchased a beautiful yellow tablecloth, some napkins and some really nice linen kitchen towels; the kind that lasts for years and seem to be such a great workhorse in the kitchen.

We enjoyed just strolling around and admiring the architecture and beautiful trees and flowers. There were many street performers out in the squares and we enjoyed some jazz, some reggae, some hip-hop rappers and even a group of African dancers.

It was the perfect little getaway and as the sun started to get low, we called it a day and drove back to the villa. By this time in our trip, I've learned to drive even better than the locals and there have been quite a few drivers who have flipped me off, honked their horn or lifted their hands in exasperation as I've asserted my place in line, or my turn in the roundabout. Don't be fooled, I'm no regular "stupid Americain"!

When we got back to the villa, it was still scorching hot out, so back into our suits we went and into the pool for a little cool down period. It was another perfect day!


Living it up in the French Riviera

After our very long road trip, none of us had any intention of doing anything other than lounging around the house, enjoying the fantastic sunshine and floating in the pool for at least a day or two. There was a LOT of this going on:

Followed by days of doing nothing but this:

Now this was a vacation! I won't lie, it was HOT. Living in the PNW now for over 13 years, I've become very acclimated to our mild climate. For the week we were in Plan-de-la-Tour, we had temperatures between the low 80's and high 90's. Thank goodness we had a pool; we spent a lot of time in it!
Over the next few days, we all did various things besides just lounging around the villa. Terrey and Laura spent some time together exploring the village of Biot, Monaco and Cannes. Terrey, April and Laura did some wandering in hopes of finding some local wineries. Sean and I drove to Aix en Provence, and we all spent a day at a St. Tropez beach club and exploring the village of Ramatuelle (I will write about this adventure in another post).
Coincidentally, good friends of ours from Seattle were also vacationing nearby in St. Tropez, so Emilie, Louis and their adorable son, Oliver, came over and hung out at our place.

I had a great time (despite the heat), preparing our feast for the evening, which was a delicious ratatouille made with beautiful heirloom tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant from our local produce market, roasted chicken Provencal style, and a homemade berry tart for dessert. For some reason, I hadn't thought to snap a picture of the other dishes, but here's the chicken before I put it in the oven. I swear, everything tastes better in France!

It was nice to just stay put for a week and enjoy our beautiful surroundings. I can say I truly "relaxed"; I tried to not work too much (I was supposed to be on vacation), and I can now admit to being a puzzle addict. I used to give April a hard time about how she was always doing puzzles on her iPad and guess who's addicted now? There's something therapeutic about putting puzzles together and although I brought a knitting project, I was quite content to waste my days doing nothing but puzzles and lounging in the pool. Don't judge.


July 24, 2014

The the long, long, long, drive to the Riviera

Our second day in the Loire Valley was spent right at the Gite. Sean and I had thought we'd go explore the other chateau we had missed the day before, but a relaxing day around the house sounded lovely, as did Dad and Lea. We did wander into the village of Descartes for lunch where we witnessed interesting local behavior.

The village streets are very narrow and only allow for one side of the street to have parked cars so as not to block the road from traffic. In front of the BNP Paribas bank, a very large armored truck was parked half on the sidewalk, and half into the road. Now if you were a small Renault or Peugeot, you could probably get around the armored truck without an issue. But, if you were a rather large motorhome, it would be impossible to get around the truck.

Naturally, the first vehicle behind the armored truck was a rather large motorhome. We sat and enjoyed our lunch at the outdoor café and watched the traffic back up behind the motorhome. Now we are talking a 20 or 25 car backup and there was not a single honk of a horn! Nobody stormed out of their cars and demanded that something be done, or had a loud conversation with a fellow trapped driver. Instead, one guy ordered an espresso from a local café who was kind enough to deliver said espresso to the guy's car. Those silly French.

We were just so amazed at how calm, and unbothered everyone was about this delay that was over 30 minutes. I'm pretty sure I would have lost my mind. But I am wound rather tight, or so I've been told. It was just kind of comical to watch. Now if we had encountered that same incident in Italy, boy there would have been horns and fists and LOTS of yelling.

Given that the sun still refused to show itself, here's how we dried our laundry. When Dad and Lea woke up first on our departure day, they thought we might be opening up a retail shop to pay our travel expenses.

We all did a great job of getting our stuff together, tidying up the Gite and into our cars by our agreed departure time of 9:30 AM. Since the drive to the Riviera would be too far of a drive to do in one day, we had an overnight stay planned near the town of Lyon, which was roughly one-half of the way to the South. According to Google, this stopover would take us 4 hours and 39 minutes. Add in an hour for potty and lunch stop and we figured we'd be to our hotel by 4:30 or so. We couldn't have been more mistaken.

This is what our drive was like . . .

About an hour past the time we should have arrived, we stopped for gas. We were about 60 KM from our hotel at this point (and it was already 6:00 PM) and April was so mad at me she could spit. According to her, I was going the WRONG way and instead of heading directly into Lyon (our hotel was right outside the city), we should have traveled "above" Lyon and into Villefranche-sur-Saône, instead of going around Lyon. Now this sounds logical, but my British GPS lady didn't indicate that I was to take this "shortcut."

In my defense, I did remind April that they had their own British GPS lady and they also had a roadmap. Nobody was forcing their car to follow mine and although April did call me when she thought I was in error, it wasn't like I could just turn around. Do you see the traffic?

So we screamed at each other, filled up our gas tanks and got back into the car. And encountered more of this.

What should have been about 40 minutes more until our destination was another 2 hours. It took us almost 10 hours to arrive at our hotel. We were all REALLY, REALLY hangry.

I found L'Hostellerie La Ferme du Poulet on TripAdvisor. It was really nice. Nothing fancy, but this former chicken farm is now a lovely little hotel with an excellent restaurant. The owners are a husband and wife team and they both manage the hotel and he's the chef at the restaurant. We paid 110 Euros for a double room. Our room was spacious and had a sitting area and a desk. However, apparently my room was the only one with Internet access that worked well, so April had to spend some time after dinner there to get some work caught up.

Dad and Lea were tired from the drive and not overly hungry, so they retired to their room and just snacked out of our "ice chest"  on some cheese and salami. Dad was happy with his very own large bucket of ice.

The rest of us let the stress of the day go while we enjoyed a very, very, good dinner and some excellent wine in the restaurant. We were all very pleasantly surprised how delicious the food was. It was surprisingly delightful. The good news was that now my sisters were talking to me as we all solved what ailed us through wine. It really is the "cure-all" elixir.

After a good night's sleep, we departed the next morning at 9:00 AM. Our GPS said "4 hours 23 minutes" to our villa in the South. The hotel proprietor warned that "it will be very crowded driving today." UGH.

We each decided to navigate ourselves to the villa in the South so as not to repeat the screaming that ensued the day before. It was pretty much a straight shot down the A7 almost to the ocean, but instead of taking the toll road, you could drive the smaller roads, which was a strategy that the "other car" started off using until they discovered that road to be just as crowded as the A7.

This pretty much sums up our drive, which wasn't even close to what Google said it would be. Try 10 hours! Another very, very, long day.

The one thing I can say that I thought was really, really, nice, are the frequent rest stops on the highways. In most cases, there was a rest stop about every 20 KM. Some of the stops just have bathroom and picnic facilities, but most of them have gas, restaurants, picnic areas and even activities for kids, like playgrounds, trampolines and basketball courts. The bathrooms were always really nice and clean as well and we loved the ones that featured "Villery and Boch" commodes. It's kind of nice taking care of your business on "fancy" porcelain.

After about 3-1/2 hours on the road, we decided to stop at one of these nice rest stops to grab some sandwiches and stretch our legs. This was a huge mistake. We should all have just worn depends for the day and NEVER stopped for any reason. What we were thinking?

To give you an example of just how ridiculously overrun this rest stop was with tourists like us traveling to the Riviera, it took us 30 minutes just to PARK. The place was an absolute zoo with people just running amok. There was really not much order happening in the parking lots, which were very large, but I think this particular rest stop had 5,000 people trying to park, picnic, buy food and pee. I have never seen anything like this before. Complete pandemonium.

We chose the shortest food line inside, which was a "Paul" boulangerie. It was interesting to see that the line for "Subway" was about 4 times the line at the French chain. I realize that I am not a fluent French speaker, but I do a pretty good job of pronouncing my numbers in French and it completely irritated me that the young girl who was helping me was acting like she didn't understand my "deux" or "trois" when requesting my food items. I would say "deux jambon et beurre baguette sandwiches  s'il vous plais" and she would say "you mean two?" Then she would giggle to her co-hort. She did it for everything I ordered and I enunciated my "deux", "trois" and "quatre" very clearly. So can imagine how delighted I was with her service. Then she tried to act like I didn't clearly state that I wanted to buy bottles of water. She asked me "you mean a table?" WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS CHICK????

Calgon, take me away. Far, far, away. Sunshine and a pool awaits. It was what I kept going back to in my mind during these dark two days.

So back into our travel prison we went. Dad and Lea were good sports, as was Sean. It's not like we could have really KNOWN it would be this bad. I had heard about August being just awful, but we were in mid-July. When we were about 60 KM from our final destination (finally) we drove through quite a storm; we had very dark clouds, thunder, lightening and I swear hail, but it was much too warm for that. So let's just call it very thick rain. And then, the clouds were behind us and we could see some sunshine on the horizon. And finally, we arrived. I might just add that we beat the "other car" by almost an hour.

We all piled out of the car and just were SO glad to be there. We had finally arrived and nobody was going to kick us out for another 7 days.

We found the rental on VRBO in the village of Le Plan de-la-Tour, which was 8 KM from St. Maxime and it was really nice. We paid 59 Euros per person, per night for this 4 bedroom, 3-1/2 bath villa. The outdoor space was really nice, with an outdoor kitchen, spacious seating and a bocce boule court. We really loved having the pool and spent a LOT of time in it (which was really a must for the hot, hot weather we would encounter over the next week).

À bientôt.

July 21, 2014

A visit to Chambord (How the Royals did "Glamping")

Our first night in our Loire Valley Gite was heaven. There were no screeching seagulls, snails, pigeons or other noisy creatures to be seen or heard (or felt). We did have a resident bat (we named him George), but he was pretty quiet and did not try and scare the beejesus out of us.

Did I mention "quiet"? It was lovely. Being in the middle of nowhere kind of has its advantages. We had silence, but hardly any internet connection. I guess you can't have everything.

Our plan for the day was to visit both Chambord and Chenonceau chateaux. The first visit at Chambord would be to just enjoy the grounds and outside view of the chateau and save the price of the ticket for Chenonceau where the interiors are more worthy of the price of admission (at least this is what we presumed after our research). They also had picnic areas at the chateau so we decided to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy. The weather was still cloudy with a threat of rain, so we didn't forget our umbrellas this time.

We were only about an hours drive to Chambord, so I made quick work of the 427 roundabouts I needed to enter/exit on our way there. I may never get our GPS (with a British accent) voice out of my head . . . in 500 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 400 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 300 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 200 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 100 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. One time, she said to take the "fourth exit" but there were only 3. Luckily, I can read the posted signs . . . those silly British gals.

We all arrived and parked in the lot. The first order of business was a visit to "les toilettes" which charged a .50 Euro entrance fee. This kind of irks me. They have really nice highway rest stops like every 10 KM (they are free), but if you want to pee at this "tourist attraction" it will cost you .50 Euro.

After expressing our morning coffee, it was time to lunch. It was quite busy and crowded in the picnic area and it was interesting to observe what other parties had brought to nosh on. One very large family had a ginormous Tupperware container filled with some kind of white rice dish. Some of those eating this unknown rice dish were liberally squirting ketchup on it. Seems like a strange picnic item.

The royal Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King François I.

Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley; it was built to serve as a hunting lodge for François I, who maintained his royal residences at the châteaux of Blois and Amboise.

Chambord was altered considerably during the twenty-eight years of its construction (1519–1547), during which it was overseen on-site by Pierre Nepveu. With the château nearing completion, François showed off his enormous symbol of wealth and power by hosting his old archrival, Emperor Charles V, at Chambord.

In 1792, in the wake of the French Revolution, some of the furnishings were sold and timber removed. For a time the building was left abandoned, though in the 19th century some attempts were made at restoration. During the Second World War, art works from the collections of the Louvre (including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo) and the Château de Compiègne were moved to the Château de Chambord.

The château features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Four rectangular vaulted hallways on each floor form a cross-shape. The château was never intended to provide any form of defense from enemies; consequently the walls, towers and partial moat are purely decorative.

Work began on the chateau in 1526, at which point 1,800 workers were employed building the château. At the time of the death of King François I in 1547, the work had cost 444,070 lives.
The château was built to act as a hunting lodge for King François I; however, the king spent barely seven weeks there in total, that time consisting of short hunting visits. As the château had been constructed with the purpose of short stays, it was not practical to live in on a longer-term basis. The massive rooms, open windows and high ceilings meant heating was impractical. Similarly, as the château was not surrounded by a village or estate, there was no immediate source of food other than game. This meant that all food had to be brought with the group, typically numbering up to 2,000 people at a time.

As a result of all the above, the château was completely unfurnished during this period. All furniture, wall coverings, eating implements and so forth were brought specifically for each hunting trip, a major logistical exercise. It is for this reason that much furniture from the era was built to be disassembled to facilitate transportation. After François died of a heart attack in 1547, the château was not used for almost a century. It's astounding to see this massive structure and think that this was just a hunting lodge. Mon dieu!

A couple of other interesting tidbits about Chambord; On June 22, 1944, during World War II, an American heavy bomber, a B-24 “Liberator” from the U.S. Army 8th Air Force based in England, crashed here after bombing an airport southwest of Paris and being crippled by antiaircraft fire and German fighter planes. The aircraft’s pilot, Lt. William Kalan, had directed his crew to parachute earlier although he and co-pilot Lt. Kenneth Klemstine remained abord until shortly before the crash. At the time, priceless masterpieces from the Louvre Museum were hidden in the Château Chambord.

The two pilots were hidden separately by residents of the nearby villages of Huisseau-sur-Cosson and Montlivault for several months – during which time Lt. Kalan took part in Allied arms drops and other Resistance engagements – before both pilots crossed the Loire to join approaching U.S. troops.

Additionally, Chambord was the inspiration for the castle in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

After our rather pleasant picnic, we headed towards the chateau with the idea that we would rent the 4-wheel bicycles to cruise around the gardens in. Recognizing that Dad and Lea wouldn't be able to pedal very far on their own, we acquired a bicycle "trailer" to pull them behind us using our "pedal power" (that would be Sean and I). Let me just say that this looked a LOT easier in theory than in practice. We also didn't realize until we had paid for the bicycles just how far the path was "around" the gardens to the front of the chateau.

After 20 minutes pedaling and turning our legs into mush, I was the first one to cry uncle. This was NOT fun. I was starting to sweat like a pig in the muggy, humid weather and let me tell you, it was HARD to tote around our folks in the trailer (no offense to my trailer peeps).

So we decided to turn around and give them those stupid bicycles back. Terrey was kind enough to work together with Sean to pedal the trailer folks back while Laura, April and I took turns pedaling their ride; we may have even just walked and pushed that dumb, stupid, heavy, bicycle back to the rental spot. WHOSE idea was this?

But we did get some gorgeous views of the backside of the chateau (which I think was much more picturesque than the front).

By the time we had messed around with the bikes and walked around for some views of the front, it was 3:00 PM. I could tell that my trailer peeps weren't really that excited about visiting another chateau that day, so I offered to forego the other visit and just head back to the gite. We still needed to shop for some groceries for dinner, so we headed back to the car while the rest of the party (April, Laura and Terrey) visited Chenonceau. I was slightly disappointed that I would not be joining them, but perhaps we could visit tomorrow.

We really only had two days in the Loire Valley and it's not really that much time to see very much considering that you have to drive at least 30 minutes (mostly averaging 60 minutes) to get to most landmarks. I just have to add the Loire Valley to my list of places that I will have to go back and spend a greater amount of time to really explore that region. As always, "that's another trip."

À bientôt.

July 16, 2014

Still no sunshine in the Loire Valley

We left Trouville promptly at 9:00 AM on our way to Le Mans, where my sister Laura and husband Terrey would be joining us. They were arriving into CDG that morning and driving to a pre-determined lunch spot in Le Mans.

Obviously someone outside Trouville has a sense of humor . . .

Our plan for the afternoon was to meeting Terrey and Laura for lunch, then perhaps have a quick visit at the Le Mans car museum, then motor our way to our Gite in the Loire Valley, approximately 2-1/2 hours from Le Mans.

Someone obviously forgot this was supposed to be a SUNNY trip given that we are now well into July. Much to my dismay, the clouds hung around, threatening rain. We found a parking garage to park within a couple of blocks of the restaurant we were meeting the Terrey and Laura at. Terrey and Laura were having some issues with their GPS and couldn't seem to actually FIND the street where we were. So we waited, and waited, and waited.

The heavens opened up and rained, and we waited some more. Eventually, Laura called and we made plans to just go ahead and eat without them and meet them later that afternoon at the Gite (they had the directions). Just when I wandered back up the street to let the others know to go ahead and order lunch, around the corner appeared the weary travelers. I'm quite sure that arriving into CDG after an overnight flight and then hopping into a car and driving for 3 hours isn't a fun thing to do. They both looked exhausted, but happy to have finally found us.

This was a cute street where we ate lunch. After some delicious crepes for lunch, it was time to hit the road again. We agreed to meet up again in Descartes, which was a few km from our Gite in Abilly, where we would do some grocery shopping. It was a nice drive; not too long, with lots of nice scenery along the way.

We passed several fields of sunflowers along the route. Apparently the bulk of these fields are used in the perfume industry.

We arrived into Descartes and apparently Laura and Terrey's GPS had been set to only travel the "D" roads (no toll roads), so we beat them to Descartes by almost 30 minutes. The rest of the crew finally arrived and down the road we went to the Gite. There's always a little apprehension (especially after our horrible experience in Trouville) that your lodging accommodations aren't going to be up to snuff. The gite we reserved was next door to this place, so it was a "nice" neighborhood.

We pulled up to "Le Bouchet" and our hopes were restored that we could put the Trouville disaster behind us.

We rented "Les Ecuries" which was a 3-bedroom, 2 bath Gite that sleeps 7. April was pretty excited that she was actually going to get to sleep in an actual bed! Our rental was for 3 nights, and it was really, really, affordable. We were paying $27 per night, per person for this palace. The rooms were beyond spacious, the kitchen was large and well-equipped and the outdoor spaces were really nice.

There was even a pool. Too bad we never had a chance to use the pool; it remained cloudy and sometimes a little wet during our 3-night stay here.
But that didn't stop us from enjoying the outdoor space for meals and relaxing. My only complaint about Le Bouchet was that the internet was the worst I've encountered in all of Europe. It made working very difficult and at times, absolutely impossible.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of pasta and all of us were looking forward to getting a great nights sleep.
À bientot.

July 11, 2014

Operation Overlord - Normandy Part 2

Just as promised, the weather on Monday was sunny, which is exactly what we had hoped for our day-long tour of the WWII sights in Normandy. "Operation Overload" was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied western Europe during World War II. The operation commenced on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings. A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than three million allied troops were in France by the end of August.

Having read a lot of information about the area and how best to visit the sights of the D-Day invasion, we decided to hire a private guide who was knowledgeable about the history of this monumental event. Whenever I start my travel planning, I always seek out the knowledge of my fellow travelers on Fodor's. Based on Fodor's high recommendations, we hired Colin Mcgarry as our guide. Colin was a wonderful guide, filled with so much knowledge and trivia about the area and the events that took place on June 6, 1944. There's just no way we would have enjoyed the experience as much left on our own to discover all there was to see along this 55-mile stretch of coast.

We met Colin in Caen at 9:00 AM, about an hour drive from Trouville. Our plan of the day was to visit the Germany cemetery, Utah beach, Omaha beach and the American cemetery.  Reflecting back on our day as I write this blog post, I am reminded again what I love so much about travel. I love history and there's nothing more exciting than actually SEEING what you've either read about or perhaps learned in a history class long, long ago. Being able to actually have context around facts and events is just spectacular. It rejuvenates my interest in certain things and now I can't wait to go home and watch certain movies, like "The Longest Day", and "Band of Brothers" to actually put into context the events of D-Day.

I am also reminded just how lucky I have been that in my lifetime, my city hasn't been invaded by enemies and I haven't had to say goodbye to loved ones who have given their life so that I can enjoy all of the freedoms we take for granted. Thousands of young men (average age was 24) lost their lives just during this WWII operation alone. The Russian Army even had soldiers as young as age 14.

We drove through the village of Bayeux on our way to the Germany cemetery. The cathedral is magnificent; I wish I could have stopped and viewed the inside.

Next, we arrived at the Germany cemetery. It was a somber place, with a small indoor exhibit depicting large photos taken during the war. It also featured a kind of strategy map of D-Day depicting all of the German footholds along the 55-stretch of beach and the various attack plans for the Allies.

After viewing the exhibit, we spent a few minutes in the cemetery. Originally, this is where American soldiers were laid to rest, but they were later removed to today's location.

There's interesting symbolism with the single door leading into the cemetery. There are approximately 12,000 German soldiers buried here between the ages of 16 and 72. Apparently the batching of the 5 crosses is because German soldiers were found in temporary graves containing 5 bodies.

Our next stop was the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, where it played a significant part in the war and was one of the earliest villages liberated during the invasion. The early paratrooper landings, at about 0140 directly on the town, resulted in heavy casualties for the paratroopers. Some buildings in town were on fire that night, and they illuminated the sky, making easy targets of the descending men. Some were sucked into the fire. Many hanging from trees and utility poles were shot before they could cut loose. whereby paratroopers landed in advance of the beach landings behind enemy lines.

The town church is participating in the D-Day tourism with a dummy on the roof demonstrating where one paratrooper landed. A well known incident involved paratrooper John Steele of the 505th PIR, whose parachute caught on the spire of the town church, and could only observe the fighting going on below. He hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. Steele later escaped from the Germans and rejoined his division when US troops of the 3rd Battalion, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment attacked the village, capturing thirty Germans and killing another eleven. The incident was portrayed in the movie The Longest Day by actor Red Buttons.

Inside the church, there are two stained glass windows paying tribute to the paratroopers.

From here, we visited Utah beach. There's still bunkers along the beach, along with several memorials. We had lunch at "Le Roosevelt" which was decked out in WWII memorabilia and even used newspaper and magazines from that era as wallpaper.

While we were there, "trotters" were practicing on the beach.

After our respite, we were provided a quick tour of the adjacent bunker behind the restaurant. Once occupied by the Germans as a central communications bunker, it was later overtaken by the Americans who also continued to use it in the same manner. The bunker still contains the equipment.

Our next stop was Omaha beach. Along the way, Colin drove through several small villages that also played various roles during the invasion. This small church was used as an aid station during D-Day and still has blood-stained pews as a testament to its service.

While we were visiting, these two guys were re-roofing the church. We all wondered how they were going to "hold on" once they finished laying down the last of the roofing tiles.

I won't lie, by the time we had reached Omaha beach, I was pretty much on information overload and not much interested in seeing another beach with more bunkers and guns. To Dad's surprise, there was a Healey in the parking lot. I suppose we now have set a high bar that Dad now expects to see vintage cars along the way as he tours various European countries! Apparently these guys were on their way back to the UK after participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which had just ended a couple days prior.

Finally, our visit took us to the American cemetery, which is a very somber place. It's beautifully maintained and the gardens are lovely.

There are more than 9,000 American soldiers buried here (representing only 40% of the Normandy invasion total casualties), with another 1,300+ missing soldiers memorialized on a wall. There are 45 pairs of brothers here, and 4 women.

The cost of the Normandy campaign was high for both sides. From D-Day to 21 August, the Allies landed 2,052,299 men in northern France. The Allies suffered 209,672 casualties from 6 June to the end of August, including 36,976 killed, 153,475 wounded, and 19,221 missing. The British, Canadians, and Poles suffered 16,138 killed, 58,594 wounded, and 9,093 missing, for a total of 83,825 casualties. The Americans suffered 20,838 killed, 94,881 wounded, and 10,128 missing, for a total of 125,847 casualties. The Allies lost 4,101 aircraft and 16,714 airmen killed or missing. Allied tank losses have been estimated at around 4,000, of which approximately half were fighting in American units. Just wow.

What a huge sacrifice and one that I am more greatly aware of and thankful for. It was a very long day and an experience I will never forget. I know that our one day was just a tip of the iceberg and perhaps I will visit again one day in the future to learn more about the rich history in this area.

À bientot!