Monday, May 26, 2014

Friends for a Reason, Friends for a Season and the best, Friends for a Lifetime.

In Brownies and Girl Scouts we sang a little song "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold".  I would say our recent trip to France had both.  Rick and Diane are lifelong friends - the four of us actually went on our first dates together in high school, 50 years ago!    Our new friends, Jim and Judy enriched our trip with their wonderful spirit of adventure and their ability to laugh at any situation.  There is a lot of down time in travel - that "hurry up, and wait" mode and Jim was always ready with a story, or an observation that added meaning, and levity to the moment.  We look forward to having them in our lives as new friends.

Memorial Day, 2014 - Remembering the Normandy Invasion

" Think not only upon their passing
   Remember the glory of their spirit"

There were many inspirational moments on our Normandy tour but none remain as clear in my mind as the words above which are inscribed on the chapel wall at the Normandy American Cemetery.  The cemetery is situated on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel and holds the remains of 9387 American military dead most of whom were killed during the Normandy invasion. The  mosaic
ceiling depicts America blessing her sons as they depart by sea and air, and a grateful France bestowing a laurel wreath upon the American dead.

Also at this site  - A 22 foot statue "The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves" facing west, toward the headstones.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A 70th Anniversary Tour of Normandy

CDB Tours  and the owner/operators are serious about their business. When we settled into the van the first morning  we were supplied with  manuals that detailed what we would see that day and listened to audio tapes as we rode along as well.  Add to this Eddie's vast military knowledge and interesting personal stories and you have a recipe for a most successful tour.   Among the sites:  St. Mere Eglise (US 82nd and 101st Airborne Division) Utah Beach, Point du Hoc, Omaha Beach and the American Military Cemetery.   Another day we visited the Pegasus Bridge, Sword, Juno and Gold Beaches, Longues (the German Coastal Battery) and on the final day, Bayeux and the historic tapestry.
Bunker at Point du Hoc held a powerful German gun
Point du Hoc

German Bunker - Point du Hoc
Jim, Rick and Jim at St Mere Eglese
St Mere Eglese - model of trapped paratrooper

19th Century French Country Living

We had been in transit almost 24 hours when we entered the tree lined drive of our first destination, Chateau De Beaulieu.  After spending a long afternoon at Gare St. Lazare in Paris waiting for our train to Valognes we were happy to see  Eddie and Sharon from the Chateau  waiting for us at the station.  We will stay here for 3 nights and Eddie, a retired British Royal Marine Lieutenant Colonel will guide us through the historic WWII Normandy sites.  We settled in quickly, had a hearty dinner and after a  glass of wine were fighting to keep our eyes open and our sleeepy heads from bobbing as we watched the pre-tour video.  Fortunately this is a familiar routine to our hosts and they understood our need for an early bedtime.

                                           Our hosts and tour guides, Sharon and Eddie

                                               Our blue room had a seaside theme

Sharon had given us a little bit of the Chateau's history during dinner including the fact that Nazi officers had lived there during the WWII occupation of France.  I couldn't help but wonder what the walls might say if they could speak now!  I did my best to look past this sad fact and  appreciate the beauty of this gracious home, built in the early 1800s, and the gorgeous landscape that greeted me out the window that first morning.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Paris, why did we wait so long to meet?

David Sedaris has never set a foot inside the Louvre, and neither have I. After spending a week in Paris I was feeling slightly chagrined that I didn't make it to the Louvre. Then on the flight home from Paris  I was listening to an interview Rick Steves did with Sedaris in which he said that even though he has lived in France for years, he has never been in the Louvre.   Missing it wasn't intentional.  We rode the #69 bus which provides a drive-by view (from west to east) of most of the major Paris landmarks and we saw the iconic pyramid entrance to the museum.  Since churches and art museums weren't high on my list for this trip, driving by was just enough. The Louvre did make my "to do" list for Paris but it just wasn't very high on the list.   I am sure inquiring minds want to know what beat it out?  

This being my first trip to Paris I think I was more interested in Paris itself.  I wanted to see where it all began on Ile de la Cite and that's where I headed first.  (Well after a very brief visit to the Eiffel Tower)  I was awed as I walked slowly in the rain around Notre-Dame Cathedral and stared up at the 200 foot tall bell towers and tried to imagine how medieval workers could accomplish such construction.  Jim was especially excited to see the work of French architect Viollet le Duc who built a second spire during a mid 1800s restoration of the Cathedral. +The spire dominates the copper statues of the twelve apostles with the symbols of the four evangelists. Viollet-le-Duc represented himself as Saint Thomas holding a square. His back is turned and he seems to be contemplating the top of his “Great Work”  Now the pictures that Claire and Lindsey took in 2007 from the top of the facade, between the two towers make more sense to me - and seem even scarier!  It's a 400 stair climb to the top (which I didn't do) but it truly allows you to share the famous  gargoyle's view of Paris.

The Paris Archaeological Crypt  is located only 100 yards in front of the Cathedral. Discovered during excavations from 1965-1972 it contains the remains of many of the structures that existed in the center of Paris since early Roman times. It is a fascinating underground look at the earliest history of the Gallo- Roman town  of Lutetia, later to become Paris. 

Also high on my list were neighborhood walks.  We took the historic Paris walk of Ile de la Cite and the Latin Quarter, the Marais walk, Montmartre walk and of course Champs-Elysee from the Arc de Triomphe. 
A bookstore for bookstore lovers

What is a trip to  Paris without a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower?
                                                      Lunch at Moulin de la Galette

Pickpocket - 1 Carol - 0

My notion that I am a savvy traveler was shattered on our first morning in Paris when I was "pick pocketed" in the metro. Fortunately I lost only the cosmetic bag I was carrying in my small Rick Steves purse - think I may have left it unzipped when I took out a pen to note something about our metro route.  Or maybe he unzipped it as it was dragged around to my back when I went through the turnstile.  In any case it was a good lesson with minor consequences since I lost nothing of value. It all happened so fast and I didn't notice it missing until we were on the platform. When I ran back up to the area I saw the same guy following another woman through the turnstile and realized what had just happened to me.  We made eye contact and I so wanted to tell him my lipstick color was all wrong for him  - but I don't speak that much French!  And I was uncertain about the wisdom of being too confrontational with an obvious pickpocket/thief so I let  it go.  The incident provided a perfect excuse for browsing the tacky souvenir shops for replacement items.  I now have a charming bag, mirror and pill box all tastefully decorated with iconic Parisian graphics.  I am even more convinced that a "waist safe" is the way to go as all things of value were hidden in it under my clothes. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

1808 8th St. NE

It's been a tough week emptying and dismantling my childhood home, made sadder by knowing that the company that bought the land will turn it into a parking lot. The bright spot has been Habitat for Humanity which will reuse so much of the house - they took a lot of furniture and all the appliances, the doors and windows, light fixtures and fans, cupboards, plumbing etc. It's like organ donation for houses and I am happy to know another family might grow up surrounded by what was once around us.  I have clear memories of moving from Sullivan Street in 1952, to this house at 1808 8th St. when Interstate 90 was routed through our yard.   I remember being awed by having my own room and by the plush carpeting - a deep burgundy color - a definite upgrade from our previous home. It was such a small house by today's standards but we were happy there and I grew up believing I had more than enough.  I left that house for college in 1964, and later in 1968 for marriage and my own home.  Mom and dad lived there until 2011 when they moved to Sacred Heart Care Center where she died in September, 2011.  Dad moved back to "his" house that year and lived there off and on until November, 2013 when he moved permanently to the Cedars in Austin.  You can make a lot of memories in 61 years.