Thursday, May 29, 2014

Normandy and D-Day beaches, American Cemetery - 5/28/2014

I took a day long bus trip to Normandy to see Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, the American cemetery and a cider farm. I think it was a good trip, since I'm only in France two weeks, but I would like to come back and spend more time in Normandy to do it all at my own pace. We were on a strict schedule and the tour guide kept reminding us what time to meet to go to the next stop. For a one day tour, it was fine, though.

   Utah beach monument dedicated to the units that landed here June 6, 1944

70 years ago, began the final allied assault against the German forces in Europe. I am glad to have had the opportunity to visit this most historic region of France. I never took the opportunity when I was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany and have always wanted to go to Normandy.

    Utah Beach looks so peaceful now, like a California beach

As you can see from the photos I took, it was a beautiful day on the Normandy coast. It was raining June 6, 1944, and the landing had already been delayed a day or two because of the foul weather. On my visit, I noticed there were signs indicating that no lifeguards were present and to swim at your own risk. Today, though, the only people on the beach were here specifically for historical reasons.

The evening before I left for Normandy I was chatting with an eighteen year old American here in Paris. I said I was going to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches. He asked me, "What was D-Day?"

How do I answer that question in a casual conversation? At least he was inquisitive enough to want to learn. That is a good start.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
—Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner's, 1905, p. 284

           George Santayana

I explained to him the historical significance of what occurred at D-Day and left it at that.

    French and U.S. flags fly side-by-side at Utah Beach

As many of you know, one of my favorite websites is, where people send in photos of urinals from around the world. Ever wondered what the urinals at the Cincinatti Reds stadium, or the Taj Majal look like? Of course you have! Well, here is a photo of the urinals at the Utah Beach museum.

    Urinals at Utah Beach museum - Freshly used, I might add!

We headed to a cider farm where the owner gave us a tour of the orchard and keg room before providing a tasting of cider and apple liquor. In the photo below, that's the owner of the 16th century old cider farm on the left. I thought the cider tasted a bit like champagne, and the aperitif was delicious. I did not taste the Calvados, the apple cider white lightning, but from the reaction of fellow travelers, it leaned more toward the 80 proof than 40 proof of the reported range. 

   At the cider farm tasting cider

Our next stop was Pointe du Hoc that received a torrent of bombings leaving the landscape filled with craters from the bombs that were dropped. The germans had moved the large guns back to the woods, so the allies had to destroy them after the air assault. 

    Landscape at Pointe du Hoc where the bombs tore up the landscape

    Hard to get a perspective in these photos of how deep these craters really are

The german guns were pointed out to sea toward Omaha beach to the north and Utah beach to the south. We needed to take them out to help the GIs who landed on the beaches.

    Looking toward Omaha Beach and the sea where the assault was launched

We were able to walk through a couple german pill boxes and gun emplacements. These were so reinforced, they could almost take a direct hit.

    German gun emplacement and pill box at Pointe du Hoc

Before heading to the American Cemetery above Omaha beach, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the sea. I did have the fish, even though I'm a vegetarian. When in Rome ... 

    We had a surprisingly good meal, dessert and coffee here before going to the American Cemetery

This being the week of Memorial Day, and June 6 being the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing, I was happy to come to the American Cemetery above Omaha beach. Platforms and stages were being erected for Barack Obama and other dignitaries from around the world for the celebration next Friday. There will be no tours to Normandy next week due to the high security.

    16 sets of brothers are buried in the American cemetery

    Crosses and Stars of David are side-by-side here

If you are in Paris on Vacation, and cannot go to Normandy on your own time, a one-day tour may be sufficient. I am glad I went and will always remember.

More photos from my trip to Normandy, France are posted at the link below:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Museum day for me - Tuesday 5-27-2014

NOTE:  Upcoming blogs - Wednesday I am gone from 7 AM to 9 PM visiting Normandy beaches and the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach (D-Day beaches). Thursday, I will be going on a Sewer tour (I ask myself why also), and I think I'll go to the Catacombs. Dinner with friends in Montmartre Thursday evening. No plans as yet for Friday. Back to California Saturday.

I slept in a little Tuesday morning because of the late night at the Eiffel Tower Monday night. And, the Rodin museum and gardens does not open until 10:00 AM. But it's just a 10 minute walk from me. And I have to pass through or by the Military museum at Les Envalides to get there, which I planned to go to on the way back from Rodin.

    Auguste Rodin self-sculpture

Clean, organized and peacful in the gardens. As I walked through the gardens, I thought that with all the shade trees, it might be a great place to come on a very hot summer day in Paris. It was at least 10 degrees cooler under the trees. And there are benches throughout to sit on. Some benches in the grass, some on the pathways like these.

    Benches are plentiful to sit and ponder the collection of sculptures in the garden

After you buy your ticket (9 euro) and enter the garden area, the path leads right to likely the most recognizable sculpture in the world. Le Penseur, or The Thinker. I like it when Rock bands begin a concert with one of their greatest hits, just to get you going. Well, beginning a tour with The Thinker is much like that. And nobody wanted to miss this opening.

    Le Penseur - The Thinker gets his own special place in the garden, and rightly so

I walked around most of the sculptures looking at the details. Front and back, Head to toe, the details and artistry are apparent. I think they are getting better sitting out in the elements (both natural elements and pigeon-made elements). Pigeons are so rude. I heard one pigeon say, "I have no time for you, Monsieur Rodin. I poop on your statues!"

    Damn Pigeons!! No rest for the weary Saint John the Baptist

Pigeons aside, I saw groups of school children coming in today. I snapped a picture of a group of children attentatively listening while a woman explained the tools and techniques Rodin used to create his masterpieces.

    Groups of school kids listen attentively (except the girl on the far left)

(Many more photos from the Rodin museum are in the link at the bottom of this page)

After leaving the Rodin museum I went right up the street to the Military museum and tomb of Napoleon at les Invalides. I've been passing by this all week to go to the metro station. 

    Tickets 9.5 euro, museum behind and Napoleon's tomb inside here in Eglise du Dome

For the military museum part, you really have to be into military history to fully enjoy this. I walked through the WW1 and WW2 exhibits. Didn't take any photos in there. Everything was behind glass and I was not happy with the quality of images. Lots of cannons and arms on display.

    Altar in Eglise du Dome

Napoleon takes center stage in the church. An entire rotunda is his for eternity.

    Napoleon's tomb inside Eglise du Dome

Walking back through the 7th district, I did a little shopping on rue Amilie and walked up rue Cler to take a couple pictures of my wine shop and fruit market.

I bought some gift bottles of wine here. 

The gentleman in the shop was very familiar with the selections and helped me pick out a couple good wines in my price range. They have reasonable prices for everyday wines too. A good one can be found for less than 10 euro.

    Looking up rue Cler from my favorite fresh fruit market

I liked to walk here in the evening and get some fruit for breakfast. Apricots, bananas and pears are my favorite to have on hand. 

Dinner again with friends tonight and meeting a guest of theirs at the RER C station at Pont de l'Alma in just a little while. 

Tomorrow will be a long day for me, and the blog may have to wait until Thursday. But, it will be a good one. I'm going to Normandy and the D-Day beaches. I'll take lots of pictures and notes for the blog.

Here's a link to the photos from today.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monday, 5-26-2014

Monday morning looked like rain, and I did have to pull out my umbrella occasionally during the day. I know from friends attending the French Open, that many matches were postponed due to weather.

In the photo below, I had just started my walk and started down the ramp from pont des Invalides (Invalides Bridge). I looked back and snapped this shot. The second building protruding above the trees with the tower in the background, is where the apartment is that I rented.

    Starting my walk along the Seine from quai d'Orsay

I then turned around and snapped the next shot of the pont Alexandre III bridge below. Runners, walkers, bikers, bike commuters all use this paved trail along the Seine.

    Looking toward pont Alexandre III, the most ornate bridge in Paris

I continued under that bridge to the next one, pont de la Place de la Concorde. I was just passing through Place de la Concorde this morning on my was to do a little shopping at Decathlon, a french sporting goods store. It has almost everything for camping, tennis, golf, biking, running, and the clothing for each sport. 

Decathlon did not open until 9:30 AM, so I walked the streets north of place de la Concorde for an hour or so. The rain forced me to pull out the umbrella, but it was not much more than sprinkles for the most part.

    Wet streets of Paris and light traffic early morning

After shopping, I continued walking north and ended up here at about 11:30 AM. 'Here' is the Academie Nationale de Musique. It seemed to be closed, and that could be a Monday thing. (The Rodin museum is on my places to visit Tuesday because it is closed Mondays also.)

The photo below is taken from the Opera Metro line entrance, which conveniently will take me back to near my apartment for lunch.

    Academie National de Musique, near the Opera Metro station

After lunch, I decided to take the metro to Gare de l'Est and walk some more in that area. Gare du Nord is there also, and it's around the area that Zach (my son) stayed in a youth hostel when he visited Europe. 

Now the crowds were out in force. Around the train stations is what can only be described as controlled mayhem. Taxis, buses, people everywhere (many not knowing exactly where they need to go, or how to get there), motorcycles and cars. It is fun to watch, and I did just that, because I did not have to be anywhere. 

    Cars, motorcycles, people and buses at the Gare du Nord train station.

    Gare de l'Est train station entrance - not as chaotic as Gare du Nord

    Train stations are like shopping malls - Clothing stores and places to eat or get coffee abound

I continued walking away from the train stations into the 10th district just to see the everyday street scenes. I remembered from my reading that bus 69 and 42 were good buses to take to see sights and main streets of Paris. I had taken the 69 bus last week from near the Eiffel Tower out to Pere Lachaise cemetery, following the Seine river, crossing it and coming back through the Louvre.

Bus 42 leaves Gare du Nord, goes through place de la Concorde, and eventually down Champs Elysee, across pont de l'Alma bridge back to the Eiffel Tower. About 5:00 PM I decided to head back to Gare du Nord to try and catch bus 42 for some sightseeing from it before heading back to the apartment. The metro is faster, but if you have the time, the buses offer a different perspective.

    Approaching Gare du Nord to catch the 42 bus back to the 7th district & Eiffel Tower

I'm going to have to watch the first Bourn Identity movie again, because I think the 1st scene of the big Paris car chase starts just down this street on the right. Marie just left to get something to drink while Jason went into the train station to stash his bag. He does a U-turn coming toward where I'm standing and the chase is on. I like movies with scenes of places I've been.

Anyway, I got on the 42 bus and sat next to an older man who spoke no English. But, with my very limited French we were able to communicate. He was telling me everywhere I should visit and pointing out the $10,000 rolexes in the windows along Champs Elysee and the $3 - $4 million dollar apartments above the shops. I asked him if he lived on Champs Elysee (Habitez vous, ici, en Champs Elysee, Monsier?). I learned a couple new, choice french words, which I gather meant 'No, sir, I do not live on this street.'

The gentleman showed me where he thought I should get off to get back to my apartment, and it was the perfect location. A walk from the Eiffel Tower, down Saint Dominique, and I was home to take a shower, clean up the apartment a bit, and do dishes before heading to my friends' apartment nearby for dinner.

Here's where we ended the evening.

    About 10:00 PM - we went to the second level (top was closed)

    Looking west to the Trocadero at night

After leaving about 11:45 PM, we looked for, and found, a nice crepery to get a lemon and sugar crepe, but it had already closed. We said our goodbyes and now I'm getting ready for another day here.

Here is the link to these and more photos from today. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Montmartre walk, 5/25/2014

After walking to the boulangerie in Rue Cler and having breakfast in my room, I decided to go to Montmarte for a walking tour. It started at 10:30 AM at Metro stop Abbesses in Montmartre. The instructions said to get off the metro and take the elevator to the street because it is deep. I walked the circular stairs up to the street. Yes, my knees can attest, it is deep. The street and metro location is the meeting point for many tours in many languages. I heard German, French, Japanese and English groups all waiting to begin the walking tours.

    Abbesses Metro station in Montmartre, Paris

I had some time to kill so I walked around the general area. There is a large church right across from the metro station, Eglise Saint-Jean de Montmartre that was attracting parishioners as well as tourists this Sunday morning. The most interesting thing to me was the 10:00 AM bells. It started with one bell ringing once for each hour. Then, there must have been 5 or 6 hymns played by the bells, lasting 10 minutes or so. I remember thinking that the neighbors all must never sleep-in on Sundays, or even try to have a conversation until after 10:15 AM. There is no way you could talk with a group of people, hence, the tour began at 10:30.

NOTE TO SELF:  Use the word 'Hence' more often

    Eglise Saint-Jean de Montmartre 

Leading the tour was Oriel Caine, of Paris Walks. I would recommend them again. She seemed very knowledgable and had stories about the area and buildings we saw along the way. Below are just some, not all, of the sights we saw. I don't want to bore you with details, but rather, let you know a bit about what to expect when you take a walking tour of Montmartre. 

Our first stop was "The wall of I Love Yous". A wall of tiles containing the words 'I love you' in 300 languages. The intent of the artist was to build a wall, not to separate people from each other, but to bring them together.

    The Wall of I Love Yous

          Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
          What I was walling in or walling out,
          And to whom I was likely to give offence.
          Something there is that doesn't love a wall ...
                                 - Robert Frost, Mending Wall

    54 Rue Lepic, Vincent and Theo Van Gogh home and studio

Van Gogh and many other artists took inspiration from their time in Montmartre. Paintings of street scenes and views above Paris hang in the museums I visit. We walked down Rue Lepic past Van Gogh's residence wherehe lived while in Montmartre.

    Wallace fountains in Montmartre

Wallace fountains can be found in Montmartre. They are working fountains with very good drinking water that runs all the time. Fill your water bottle up here anytime. Dedicated to Richard Wallace who financed their contruction. These fountains fit right in in Montmartre.

    I just happened to turn to walk up the street and liked this photo opportunity

Every cobblestone street has a story, it seems. On one corner is the oldest cabaret in Paris, dating from the 16th century, and just down the road, right in the middle of everything, a vineyard.

    Montmarte Vineyard

A small, but producing vineyard in Montmartre is an unexpected pleasure. There is a big celebration every year where officials pontificate on the wonderfulness of the wine. Our guide, Oriel, noted that the French are very much into pontificating on their wine and food. This vineyard only produces 900 bottles a year, and not so good wine. But, it is celebrated vigorously with pageantry and much ado. Bottles are rare and sell for 40 - 50 euro, according to Oriel.

    A dad teaching the kids to play boule in the park

We walked through a park\playground to get to the next sight. I want to learn to play boule ... or is it bocce ball? Oh well, just teach me to play them both!

    Dutilleul - The Man Who Walked through Walls scupture

"The Man Who Walked through Walls" is a short story by Marcel Ayme, and this sculpture is in Place Marcel Ayme. It is an artistic representation of the short story. 

    La Basilique du Sacre Coeur

A high point of the Montmartre tour is ending at Sacre Coeur. Yes, that was an attempt at double entendre, because it is also the highest point in Paris, and can be seen from almost anywhere in Paris. Built by the romans, many residents of Montmartre refuse to attend services in Sacre Coeur, going instead to a smaller church nearby that we passed just down the street from here.

Below is a link to all the photos I took today. Thanks for reading.