Each night after the day's activities were done and we had settled into our room I wrote an email to describe what we experienced that day. These real-time journal entries were sent via email to about 50 family members and friends back home. I've collected them here in this Part I blog and the Part II blog along with the pictures that accompanied each email. Judy and I find that daily journaling is the only hope we have of remembering what happened during our trip. Composed late at night by a typist who always misses a key (or rule of grammar) or two, you'll have to forgive the occasional error. Also, I try to be factual but don't use this to study for your French History 101 final exam; check the names and dates before relying on what you read here!
I've had to divide the blog into two parts. Part I includes the pre-trip that Reagan, Judy and I made to Versailles and the D-Day beaches of Normandy plus the first two days in Paris. You can skip over these if you wish and focus on the days in Paris. Part II covers the last five days in Paris.
The pictures I made during the trip may be found at http://gallery.jonrickphoto.com/france_2015 Click on Slideshow to see all pictures in sequence. The slideshow takes about 22 minutes for the entire Paris trip. Judy composed videos for the trip. These may be found at http://judyrick.zenfolio.com/p1008332183/h4f83f735#h4f83f735. Click on Slideshow to see them full screen. There is at present one video available covering the first three days in Paris. A second video for the remainder of Paris will be available in September when we return from the north woods of Maine.
If you have questions or comments I'd love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Travel always presents challenges. Today was no exception:
- Jet lag
Today presented all of these. Tomorrow will bring more. Let me explain.
First, this trip is one of four planned Grandkid Adventures. Reagan, 12, is the first. Carter (7), Esme (4 and 3/4) and Griffin (1 and a bunch) will follow. No one is talking about more; Judy and I hope we can hold out, especially for Griffin when he’s 12 and we’re, gulp, 77.
My folks started the tradition with our kids and Doug’s: Jeff to Great Britain, Rebecca to France and Matt to Scandinavia. Now it’s our turn.
I’m always anxious, I suppose we all are, when we lock the door and head for the airport. In my case:
- Can we find overhead space for our carryons (no checked luggage)?
- Will we be able to navigate French highways in our rental car?
- Will we find the hotel in Versailles? Will it be OK?
Short answer: no sweat. Everything went without a hitch.
First the car: I had optimistically printed out google maps for the route from Charles DeGaul to the hotel but, surprise, surprise, greater metro Paris is a big place with lots of route numbers for each stretch of pavement. We lucked out: because of a taxi union strike protesting Uber our rental car wasn’t available. They downgraded us to a smaller car but one with GPS. Thank goodness. I only missed two or three turns, the hotel is great and all anxiety is in the rear view mirror.
The hotel is a block from the Palace of Versailles’s front gate but when we got there about 1 PM the line for the Palace made three loops. Instead we went to the no-line Versailles Garden entrance and “did” the outside portions of the estate. We’ll go back for the inside job in the morning.
What an amazing place. First, it’s huge. We logged over seven miles walking and then only covered about half the real estate. Second, it’s beautiful. Garden after garden; trimmed hedge and decorative tree after another; mini palaces here and there (the Grand and Petite Trianons and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet; and beautifully planted and maintained gardens to feed the Seventeenth Century nobility.
And third, it’s scale and opulence. Built in a time when war, plague and starvation dropped economic and societal conditions in France to abysmal levels, it makes twenty-first century economic inequality look pretty tame. No wonder Louis XIV’s grandson (Louis XVI) and his bride Marie Antoinette found their way to the guillotine. No wonder Napoleon Bonaparte rose from the revolutionary excesses of Les Mis. And what a miracle that modern-day France is the place it has become.
About the illness thing. We were all jet lagged with three to four hours of sleep on an otherwise comfortable flight. But poor Reagan, an hour after lunch and an hour’s hike into the gardens, developed a stomach pain. A bathroom trip left her still uncomfortable. We sat for a while, then decided to walk back to Nana who was waiting under the shade of a tree some half mile away. Reagan made it, I went searching for maps and rescue possibilities and when I returned she was ready to move on.
What a trooper! It takes something like that to prove whether someone has what it takes to be a traveler. Reagan’s got “it.”
Oh yes, I almost forgot: forgetfulness. Jon the big game photo shooter found himself with a dead battery and no spare half way through the afternoon. Even my iPhone was back at the hotel. I had to borrow Nana’s iPhone to survive the afternoon.
We had a great time talking history. I’ve been doing some historical reading to get ready to the trip so I fed Reagan all that I had learned. Hopefully the educational system back home will be able to correct all the misinformation that I fed her but it’s clear she has a real interest in history. Not just names and dates but the big picture of how historical events play into the society and culture of the time in which the events occurred. Smart kid.
We had a great dinner: pizza and a basted salmon dish, taken outside just across the street from our hotel and with views of the palace. We topped it off with three French crepes. Good thing we put on the miles today. A perfect Paris evening: great food, perfect weather and perfect companions.
Tomorrow: the Big House at Versailles and then on in the afternoon to Bayeux to begin the Normandy leg of the journey.
Reagan is carrying Great Grandma Rick’s purse on this trip. It makes my eyes well up to think how proud and pleased they would be to see what a great traveler and great young lady she is.
Love to all,
Jon and Judy
Here are some pictures from the day:
Picture, picture on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all? Marie Antoinette or Reagan?
And here’s one Reagan took. Wonder what caught her eye in this menu posting from the American Cafe
Friday June 26, 20 15
On to Bayeux
If someone had told me that the highlight of our visit to Versailles would be a row boat ride, I wouldn't have believed it. Our mission of the day was to see the inside of the palace after all.
We broke our fasts in the hotel restaurant. Cold cereal, yogurt, bread and jam, juice and coffee, serve yourself. Price: €14, about $17, per person. And that's not bad for France, so far. It's best not to convert Euro prices to dollars (€1=$1.25 or so). It's too depressing. Just get a whole bunch of Euros, hold them in your cupped hands, spread your fingers and watch the Euros slip through and disappear. It should get better when we're with the group tour where most things are included.
We were in line for the Palace by 8:45 for the 9:00 opening,which was about right. Reagan estimates we were in the first fifty or so to get in. Nonetheless, it was a global zoo. Half the population of China was there and yes, I know that the population of China is 1.3 billion. Most other countries were well represented too.
The Palace is actually a dangerous place. First, beware little old ladies punching their way to the front to grab a head-free snapshot of each and every artifact on display. They throw a sharp, mean elbow. And watch out for out-of-control selfie sticks. They could polk an eye out. And people listening to their audio guide broadcasts stop suddenly without warning.
.Reagan came up with a really good strategy for our visits. "Don't get the audio guide," she said. "Let's just wander around". Don't sweat the details, in other words. Just absorb the flavor and feeling. Good advise.
But despite all that the Palace is still awe inspiring. One book I read said that kings didn't build palaces like Versailles just to stoke their egos or so they could have a place to take the fam for summer vacation. The real reason was to remind everyone, especially the nobility that "I'm the man, God selected me and you'd better not mess with me." And courtiers and others wishing to gain the king's favor would live at the palace(s) pretty much full time. That kept them off the streets where they might stir up trouble such as a revolt or an alliance with another King. From that perspective Versailles starts to make a little sense.
After the three-hour tour we walked out to a section of the garden and bought sandwiches for lunch, which we ate in the shadow of a naked man, a statue of a naked man, that is. And Lisa and Jeff, I'm sorry to report that many of statues are of that sort and while there are a few, many such statues lack the strategically place fig leaf, if you get my drift.
After lunch I played my usual "one more turn in the road" trick. This time we ended up walking from the Palace to the Grand Canal, maybe a half mile away, down hill. Eventually we made it and before I could pay the bribe I used to get the girls to the lake (ice cream cones) they found the row boat concession.
The reflecting pool is a man made basin formed in the shape of a cross. It took us (actually Reagan did most of the rowing) about 45 minutes to traverse one leg of the cross and return. Gorgeous weather, smooth water and a great time had by all.
As I said earlier, this was the highlight of the day. After the hassle and crowds of the Palace this was so calming and relaxing. And it reminded us of the scope and beauty of Versailles.
We retrieved our rental car and headed out of town but not until we cruised downtown until Reagan got the Bayeux hotel address pumped into the GPS. The GPS worked flawlessly, except that the previous user had set the "no toll road" option. Suddenly we found ourselves on back roads that passed through one small town after another. "Oh how quaint and lovely", we said at first. But, hey. We've got places to be and battlefields to see. So we hopped onto the expressway (€15 before we were done). We got to Bayeux about 5:30. Walked around town a bit, went for dinner (local cider and a potato-and-beef concoction wrapped in a buckwheat pancake, just like the Rick family raised buckwheat pancakes recipe).
I've prattled on too long. Tomorrow it's off to the Normandy beaches.
Love to all,
Judy, Jon and Reagan
Versailles Palace front door:
Hall of Mirrors . . . Hall of Tourists
Reagan at the Oar:
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Got a bucket list? Put the D-Day beaches of Normandy on it. Top of the list. It’s a must-see, no two ways about it.
We spent the day with Vanessa, our tour guide, visiting the beaches, starting at 9 AM and getting back to Bayeux a little after 5. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of the military events of that day, but I’ll try to give an idea of what we experienced as we learned about D Day and WWII.
It’s a history lesson to be sure, but what makes it real is to experience things that close relatives and friends went through. People like Judy’s Uncle O.B., Andrea Longo’s father and Judy’s Aunt Eleanor, all of whom saw service in or over France during WWII. And it brings to life movies we’ve seen and books we’ve read.
We toured the WWII museum near Omaha Beach in the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglisa. Remember the paratrooper who landed on the church in the pre-dawn hours of D-Day? That’s the place and they have a very fine museum focusing on the 1st Airborne Division who landed in the church courtyard and surrounding territory. They have a real DC-3 and one cut in half set up so you can experience what it must have been like to make a jump over Normandy. And they have a display of am Waco troop transport glider. The gliders were towed by DC-3s, cut loose and piloted to land behind enemy lines. Troops, materiel and even jeeps were delivered in this way. Unfortunately, few of the gliders landed safely. Many were lost to enemy fire or landings that resulted in fatal crashes. A fine museum.
This is Uncle O.B.’s story. He was a WWII DC-3 pilot who in fact towed gliders to France. He lost many friends in gliders and the experience weighed heavily on him for his entire life.
Nearby, Utah beach had displays of German gun emplacements, replicas of Allied landing craft and stories of how Americans had relatively little trouble landing here due to successful bombing before the amphibious troops landed.
There was even a tie-in for me. As a kid I had an army surplus Ham Radio receiver, a BC-348, that I used to talk to people all around the world. Sure enough, there were several BC-348s on display in the restaurant where we had lunch, standard equipment in DC-3s. I wonder if mine still works? I haven’t turned it on in 50 years, I’ll bet.
Next, Pointe du Hoc, the spot near Utah Beach, with cliffs that Army Rangers scaled 100 foot cliffs to take out German 155 mm guns capable of reaching 13 miles. I had recently listened to the book Dog Company, an account based on interviews with veterans from Dog Company - recommended if you’re interested. The story, and what we saw and learned from our guide, brings home the fact that this battle, while involving tens of thousands of troops, was really the result of many individual decisions and actions. Generals may set the strategy but it’s individual soldiers who determine the outcome.
This is where President Reagan gave his famous “Tear down that wall, Mr. Gorbachov” speech at the 40th anniversary event in 1984.
Omaha Beach is a beautiful, orange-colored sand beach that stretches for several miles. Today there were many people sunning on the beach and even some in swimming. That was the case before the German invasion: this beach was a favorite resort with several hotels for summer guests. More gun emplacements and war stories here.
But the real story behind Omaha Beach was Andrea’s father, an Army soldier who actually landed here on D-Day and lived to tell the story. Over 1,000 soldiers were lost on the beach - killed, wounded or taken prisoner here on D-Day.
Finally, the U.S. Cemetery. Some 10,000 U.S. personnel were killed in the Normandy region during the war and were buried in temporary cemeteries in the Bayeux area. A new, consolidated cemetery was established in 1959. Families had the option to bring their loved ones' remains home or to have them interred here. Roughly 4,000 elected burial in France. It’s a beautiful and inspiring place.
That was our D-Day day.
But wait, there’s more! Vanessa dropped us at the museum where the Bayeux Tapestry is displayed. We had audio guides that led us through the 57 scenes depicted on a continuous roll of fabric that stretches for at least 200 feet (someone google it and tell me the exact length). It tells the story of William the Conquerer’s victory over the Anglo Saxons at Hastings in 1066. So a home town boy from Bayeux knocks off the ruling family of England and then 900 years later England invades at Bayeux to save France’s bacon.
And one final stop: the Bayeux cathedral. It’s huge and it’s beautiful and it’s old. We didn’t study the history of the place, just wandered, took pictures and took it all in. To tell you the truth, we were pretty tired and hungry by then (it was after 7 PM) so don’t ask me for details. Reagan, however, found the perfect thing to do. She was quite taken by the candles burning on several stands around the church. Before she left, she dropped some Euros in the box and lit a candle.
Reagan volunteered to pick the restaurant for dinner, mostly so we wouldn’t have to wait at each eatery while Nana read the menu on display out front. She found one not far from the cathedral which turned out to be perfect. And it was also not far from an ice cream stand that we’ve had our eye on since last night.
Tomorrow we’re up at the crack of dawn (7 AM departure) for Mont Saint-Michel. We’ll tour the abby and the island for a few hours and then hit the road for Paris, hoping to arrive by 4 PM. We’re meeting up with the Road Scholar group for dinner. We’re beginning to wonder what our fellow travelers will be like and what’s in store for us this coming week.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Utah Beach (Reagan’s photo)
U.S. Cemetery (Reagan’s photo)
Paris Day 1 - Sunday, June 28, 2015
So here I am driving around the Arch de Triumph, heading down the Champs d’Elyse, pretty much on time to be at our hotel by 4:30 PM. Most of my anxiety was behind me. Then traffic: mostly stop, a little go. OK, that gets us there shortly after 5. No big deal. But then I realize that the GPS was sending us in the wrong direction. The problem: I had entered the hotel as the first waypoint where I would drop Nana and Reagan and then Gare de Lyon, the rail station where I was to return the rental car as the second. But the GPS in its infinite wisdom swapped the waypoints. So here we were, all three of us on the way to the station. We ditched the car, found a taxi and traveled a circuitous route at breakneck speeds that finally, about 6:30, delivered us at the hotel. The tour director had called the States and was ready to issue an all points bulletin.
The hotel is very nice - in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank just down the hill from the Pantheon and up the hill three or four blocks from the Seine and Notre Dame.
But all’s well that ends well. The group wasn’t seriously delayed and we had a great dinner across the street from the Seine with a view of Notre Dame in front of us. We got to meet some of the people - 9 kids (8 girls and 1 boy ages 10 to 14 as advertised) and 10 adults (ages old to ancient). The tour guides, Caroline and Luis (a former French Foreign Legion paratrooper a la the Green Berets) seem nice.
Sightseeing wise, we left the hotel at 7 AM (someday I’ll tell you about the snotty hotel staff that was inconvenienced to take my considerable stack of Euros at such an early hour when he had so much work to do preparing breakfast, which consists of coffee, baguettes, croissants, jam and coffee. Big effort. We ate our own provisions from the Carrefour grocery store in the car.
At any rate the GPS led us on a 1:30 drive to the parking lot for the Mont Saint-Michel abby where shuttle buses takes tourists across the bridge to the island.
Mont Saint-Michel is a pile of rock in a bay that is almost completely flat. The beach, from high tide to low tide, must extend for a mile or more. Little by little beginning in 600 AD the abby was constructed to its present form, raising majestically over the flats (see the picture). The abby is one stone cavern after another, suitable for an order of Benedictine monks working and praying under a vow of silence. Small slits gave what little light there was. It was impenetrable by raiding armies and during the Hundred Years War it was one of the few facilities that the British were unable to conquer. So it was both a sacred place (Jerusalem on Earth) and a symbol of France’s strength for the French people.
That all came to a screeching halt with the French Revolution which, among many other things, threw out the Benedictines and most other aspects of the Church in France. The “People” turned Mont Saint-Michel into a prison. Finally in 1850 or so the park service turned it into a tourist destination, with shops on the lower levels and mostly empty chambers in the abby. A fun visit for sure.
So after a quick lunch in one of the shops we hit the road a little after noon for the aforementioned journey to the City of Traffic, I mean Lights.
We don’t have to be to work until 8:45 AM and then it’s a French lesson and a tour of Montmartre, which is just up the hill from our hotel.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Mont Saint-Michel (Judy's Photo)
The main chapel
Paris Day 2 - Monday, June29, 2015
Today we are officially on tour. No more worries about cars, roads and GPS. We’re under the guidance of Louis and Caroline, or mother hen guides. We had 15 minutes of instruction on using the Metro today, and were led on two trips, including a change of trains, without losing a single member of our 19-person team.
The first order of business was the French lesson, including words and phrases to use in restaurants, please-and-thank you, I would like . . . , where is the bathroom, etc. The kids picked it up faster than the adults as you would expect. Caroline is an expert teacher. Her professional expertise is in leading youth groups in Europe and she is good at it.
Next, the Metro trip (30 minutes) to Montmartre on the northern side of the city (we’re located just south of the Seine). There we were free to pick our own restaurant but under strict instructions to order in French. Actually, we all went to the restaurant recommended by Louis, one that is tourist friendly and where Louis and Caroline know the staff. Reagan had her (French) onion soup (cleaned her bowl), Nana ordered escargot and I had the foie gras. Good stuff.
Montmartre is famous for artists - most of the Impressionists, including Manet, Monet and Cezzan and of course Pablo Picasso lived and worked there. Reagan selected an artist to do her portrait. It came out well, although not an exact likeness. But it was fun and the result will be a good memento of today.
The Sacre-Coeur Basilica was the next stop. It’s a huge white-domed church built beginning in 1875 and completed in 1914. Caroline gave a blow-by-blow account of Saint Denis whose head was chopped off and who picked up his head and walked down the hill for several miles carrying it under his arm to what is now to today’s suburb of Saint Denis. The site, at the top of Montmartre, gives a great view to the south, including the Eiffel Tower.
We walked back down the hill, stopping at several spots where Caroline told stories centered on the artistic nature of the area. That brought us back to the Metro, our ride home, and rest time until 6:30 dinner time.
We walked about half an hour, across the Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame is located, to a Moroccan restaurant. "Moroccan?" you ask. Why not - France messed around in Northern Africa during its Empire years and today there is a large North African population in Paris. Really good food. Unfortunately the desert, Moroccan pastries, was a bit dry for the kids’ taste so Louis treated them to ice cream on the way home.
It’s a great group of kids and by this evening they all seemed to be bonding well. They sat at one end of the table and the oldsters at the other.
So, in all, a great day. Tomorrow we take a boat ride on the Seine, visit Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte (a new one for me) and then have dinner with a Parisian family in the evening. We meet at 8:30 AM and get back around 10 PM tomorrow so it will be a full day.
Reagan is watching youtube, Judy is checking up on you all on Facebook and I’m, well typing, and hoping the Internet connection stays up long enough to send this message.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Moroccan Dinner Time