Traveling: Normandy, Day 1

The next morning was an early morning and when we landed in Normandy, we landed at Sword Beach, where the British 101st Airborne launched their invasion on D-Day. Our first stop was to Pegasus Bridge, where, right after midnight on 6 June 1944, the British 6th Airborne Division, pulled in by gliders that basically crash-landed on specific targets, captured two important bridges. The bridge over the Caen Canal was renamed Pegasus Bridge in their honor (it was their insignia). The campaign, led by John Howard, was imperative in cutting off the Germans from supplies and for not letting them get more troops across the Orne River and it’s sister canal. The plan was successful, the bridges remained intact, and the Allies gained a strong foothold in Normandy.

Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal, Café Gondrée

The reconstructed Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal, with Café Gondrée in the background.

Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal

Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal

Not only did we get to see Pegasus Bridge, but we also saw Café Gondrée, where the Gondrée family acted as spies in the resistance against the Nazis. It’s still run by their daughter, a feisty lady still very proud of her family’s legacy, as she rightly should be.

At Pegasus Bridge, we picked up Martin Morgan, a D-Day aficionado. The knowledge he possesses is unreal, and I was somewhat dumbstruck just listening to the history he espoused. I yearn to be that knowledgeable on some subject. He was a real asset and treat for the remainder of the Normandy leg of the trip.

We then went to a small museum, where they housed the original Pegasus Bridge and sign (the bridge was replaced in 1994, the sign in 2002), in addition to the remains of an actual glider used on D-Day. Well worth it to see such an exciting piece of history. I’m so happy our professor assigned us the Pegasus Bridge book by Stephen Ambrose as one of our required readings, because after learning the history of Pegasus Bridge, it made the trip there even more exciting and poignant.

Pegasus Bridge

The original Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

The original Pegasus Bridge: You can see the bullet marks on the wall.

HORSA Glider

Part of a HORSA Glider used on D-Day. They were completely made of wood, with no engine of their own. Scary.

After a drive through Juno Beach, which is where the Canadians landed and was the second deadliest beach (Omaha was the first), we saw a circular cinema experience of D-Day called the Arromanches 360. It tells the story of the Battle for Normandy on 9 screens, without any narration. Thus, you become immersed in the experience, listening to Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and even Hitler, and the story is told through images, video, and radio recordings. I thought it was a powerful experience and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bring a tear to my eye. The only thing, having it on 9 screens that encircle you, is you feel like you’re missing something on a screen opposite from where you’re looking (though they did pair similar images on all the screens). Definitely something new and different to see each time you view it, and if I ever go back, I will be viewing it again.

Arromanches 360 view of Gold Beach

Arromanches 360: view of Gold Beach from across the theater

Arromanches 360 view of Gold Beach and Mulberry harbor

Arromanches 360: view of Gold Beach and Mulberry harbor

Out in the water at Gold Beach, you could still see the remnants of the artificial, makeshift ports/piers/harbors called Mulberry Harbors. Basically, the Allies sunk heavy cement and then built a pier out to the ships, since the beaches were not conducive as ports for unloading ships.

Mulberry harbor at Gold Beach

Mulberry harbor at Gold Beach

Gold Beach

Gold Beach

After lunch, we found a shop selling dug up D-Day paraphernalia and bought an unopened Allied first aid kit and a Nazi playing card. We then went to explore old German bunkers and gun stations. Made almost entirely of cement, these fortifications still stand today, as do some of the big guns.

German guns in Normandy

German guns in Normandy

German Bunker in Normandy

German Bunker in Normandy

Just looking at the beautiful landscape, completely surrounded by gorgeous wildflowers, with the picturesque beach in the background, it was so hard to imagine that such atrocities and bloodshed occurred not even 70 years ago. My grandparents are older than 70…this occurred in their lifetime. My head sometimes has trouble wrapping around this fact…how different the world was. I cannot imagine a war breaking out in Europe today, with a maniacal dictator at the helm, hell bent on domination. I think that is why it is important for us to never forget…history is doomed to repeat itself if people become too complacent, too relaxed. They start to glorify war, romanticizing it, without truly understanding what war entails. It scares me to think, especially in this day and age with nuclear weapons, that another world war could occur, and that some people today clamor for it.

Picking me a wildflower

Picking me a wildflower

German outposts against a beautiful Norman field

German outposts against a beautiful Norman field

German outposts against a beautiful Norman field

How can such ugliness exist in such a beautiful world?

Sorry for the tangent, but seeing and experiencing Normandy, the beaches, the graveyards…it changes it you. It affects you profoundly. It makes you see things in different ways. I’m just so grateful for the opportunity to witness this in person. I’m tearing up just writing this…

Okay, back to the trip. After checking out the German remnants, we visited the German Military Cemetery for the Germans that died from 1939-1945, located in La Cambe. It was very enlightening to see the other side of the war. These young men that died, some of them had no choice but to join the Nazi regime. Above all else, they were people, and the decent thing to do is to bury them properly and respect the sanctity of a life lost, even if it was for the “wrong” side. In death, everyone is equal.

German War Cemetery at La Cambe

German War Cemetery at La Cambe

German War Cemetery at La Cambe

German War Cemetery at La Cambe

German War Cemetery at La Cambe

German War Cemetery at La Cambe

One famous Nazi, Michael Wittmann, is buried there (famous for his tank tactics).

Michael Wittmann buried at the German War Cemetery at La Cambe

Michael Wittmann buried at the German War Cemetery at La Cambe

I think I’ll split our Normandy days in two. It was emotionally taxing to write today, and tomorrow is another day full of raw emotion, pride, and awe.

 

Traveling: The Power, the Beauty, and the Glory, or Three Churches and How Their Architecture and Design Tells a Story

During our 2010 trip to Europe, we visited a few churches. Being raised Catholic is one reason why we made sure we visited them; being history majors was another reason. Churches of the Middle Ages are more than just places of worship. They were landmarks most of the cities were built around. They were the meeting places of the masses. Since most of those masses were uneducated during this time, the Churches served another purpose. They told the story of Christ through their windows and their art. They also told a story through their architecture.

We are not experts in architecture. Yet, when we visited Notre Dame in Paris, The Duomo in Florence, and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City we came away with different feelings about the Church.

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Traveling: The smell of lavender surrounds us…

Today our port is Marseilles, France. Having gone to bed at 8:30pm last night and having some jet lag, I wake up at 3am wide awake this morning. Finally, after some serious Angry Birds, I take a shower around 5:30am, then Kurt and I go get breakfast. Our excursion to Avignon meets at 6:45am, so we have plenty of time for cereal, pancakes, bagels, and egg sandwiches. At around 7:30am, we are on the bus, on our way to Châteauneuf-du-Pape & Avignon to see the Palais des Papes.

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Traveling: Europe Cruise 2012

Being teachers, Kurt and I get the pleasure of having almost two months off during the summer. Because I run a tight budget and we live frugally during the year, we’re able to take a trip each summer. Kurt and I were discussing the possibilities for this coming summer, from a week in Disney World to a cruise out of New Orleans. As I’m checking out cruises, I curiously start looking at cruises in Europe. While scrolling through the many wonderful ports and attractions, one catches my eye – a 12 day cruise out of Barcelona. The more I explore it, the more intrigued I am. Half jokingly, I start looking up airfare. $1300? Ha ha…no. I push the thought out of my mind…or, try to at least. That night, all I could think about was this cruise. I had mentioned it to Kurt, and though he was interested, he was very doubtful about the cost.

The next day, I made a decision. I was going to call the annoying cruise guy that calls me EVERY time I log onto their website and see what kind of deal he could get me. Right off the bat, he gave me an airfare/cruise deal…of $6200, more than what I could do separately. No thanks! I bemoan to him that it’s way too expensive and he asks if their are any other cities I could fly from, since certain cities have deals. I mention Orlando…cha-Ching!!! They do have a deal…one I couldn’t pass up.

So, I booked the cruise! It sails out of Barcelona, with it’s first stop in Marseilles, France, a place neither of us has been. We’re thinking of doing an excursion to Avignon and seeing the Papal Palace. We then head to Livorno, Italy, where we’ll take an excursion to Pisa (having done Florence in 2010). The next day, we have an overnight stay in Civitavecchia, Italy, where it’s only a 90 minute ride to Rome. Though I’ve been there three times and Kurt’s been there once on our 2010 trip, he only got to do Vatican City and the Coliseum, since we were only there for half a day. This time, we’ll get to do all the things he missed. We’re thinking about even getting a hotel room to get the full experience and not have to travel back to the ship.

Our next stop is Dubrovnik, Croatia, another new place. I’m probably most excited to visit this place, not only because it’s in Eastern Europe, a gorgeous seaside city, and extremely old, but it’s also the filming location of my favorite television show, Game of Thrones.

We then head to Venice for another overnight stay, a place which I visited ten years ago, but Kurt has yet to see. We finish the trip in Messina, Sicily. We plan on doing an excursion to Mt. Etna, an active volcano. Kurt is terrified of heights, but how many opportunities do you get to go up into a volcano? I’ve never been to one, so this is truly exciting. I’m already looking forward to the photos I can add to my power points for World Geography.

We opted to spend an extra day in Barcelona since neither of us has been there either. Kurt has a cousin that lives there, so we will hopefully get to spend some time with her.

The best part is that through careful planning, this trip will not set us back monetarily at all. We are very fortunate to have such great jobs that allow us to save and have the time to travel. Though if all goes according to plan, this might be our last big trip for a few years…we’d want to wait until our kids are old enough to appreciate the places we’d take them. And maybe by next summer, we’ll have one. And I think he or she will be worth the wait.

Traveling: The Lost Days of Disney and Zurich

Entrance to Disneyland Paris

The entrance to Disneyland Paris

Wow, did we plan poorly when we decided to go to Disneyland Paris. We should have gone to Disneyland, then to Paris. To travel to our next destination, Zurich, we needed to leave from Paris. We set up to where we had to travel to Disneyland, a forty-minute excursion from Paris, go to the parks, sleep, then ride the train back to the train station to go to Zurich. Not a wise move on our part.

Getting to Disneyland was easy though. The train, while slow-moving, was comfortable and not crowded. We had a little trouble finding the hotel, mainly because I decided to ask where the hotel was in French. Apparently, my accent was pretty good because the woman didn’t hesitate to answer me in French. Very fast French. Luckily, she was an expressive talker and I could discern some directions from her hand motions.

After we placed our backpacks in the hotel rooms, we headed out to the park. By the way, my backpack was getting lighter from the throwing away of socks and underwear. Cristina’s was getting heavier from the buying of souvenirs.

Now, why did we go to Disneyland instead of spending another day in Paris? Well, we both really like the Disney Parks. Cristina has been to both Disneyland and Disneyworld. I have only been to the one in Florida. We are both the sort of people who leave our disbelief at the turnstile. We buy into the Disney manufactured magic and we don’t care. Call us corporate sell outs, if you must, but we always have a good time at a Disney park.

Until this day.

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Traveling: Free People in Paris Feeling Unfettered and Alive

We exited the Louvre with no plans. Our last afternoon in Paris and we didn’t have anything to do. Now, this was probably the best planning we had done. Paris wants you to walk aimlessly around.

But first, we had to eat. We were famished. We stopped at an outdoor café in the Jardin des Tuileries. We ordered steaks. They were very good. Looking back on this meal, I realize that I do have one regret about our Europe trip. While the restaurant was very good, we really didn’t research restaurants. We basically ate when we were hungry at the nearest restaurant to us. This often turned out to make for very good and in some cases, though not this one, adventurous eating, I feel we did miss out on something. Maybe on our next trip we will do more restaurant research.

Now, what to do? We had plenty of time on our hands and lots of Paris to explore. We started walking away from the Louvre and the answer was stretched out right in front of us: the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

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Traveling: I Prefer to Pronounce Louvre with the R

On our last day in Paris, I realized I planned poorly. I didn’t think things through. I should have made a chart or a spreadsheet. This day was to be a museum day: The Louvre then the Orsay. Every morning while Cristina was making herself even more beautiful, I would read our Rick Steves book. Skipping over to the Paris section, I read that the Orsay is closed on Monday. Damn it. Well, sort of. I mean we were going to Louvre and that more than makes for a great day.

Outside the Louvre

Outside the Louvre

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