Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tidbits: Ver sur Mer

  • Weather changes- rainy-sunny-windy-cloudy-start over...
  • Baaa, nehhhh, mooooo
  • Fields and fields of crops
  • Near the Atlantic and remote
  • Gold Beach-D-day British invasion
  • Apple and pear ciders and frommage (cheese)
  • BREAD (surprising?)
  • Small sleepy villages
  • French roads and cars: small and quick
  • WW2 remnants everywhere
  • US, British, Canadian, German and French flags
  • White stone buildings
  • Different French accent from the South
  • UFO looking cement H2O towers
  • No ice cream shops?!
  • 2 kisses on the cheek
  • 2 hours from Paris
  • Abundant water, hence abundant greenery

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 10

We started this morning by grocery shopping at Hyper Champion for our burritos and cookies that Luke and I are making for dinner. Then Luke and I met Jean Noel at the Peace Museum in Caen. This has a thorough history of WW2. We toured thorough the sometimes cryptic production and the sea of school children. We finished the tour with a quick film showing the Allied side of D-day and the Nazi side on a split screen. It was interesting to see the map of France in the months following D-day and how the allies liberated town by town. Pictures of the towns before and after the war explains quite a bit about the sometimes awkward concrete architecture all over the country. The entire place had to be rebuilt!

Then we headed to pick up the kids from school and took a quick look around. The school looked very similar to schools in the US with a big chalk board up from and students art on all the walls. We then went to play 18 holes of mini golf, which took awhile, but was entirely entertaining. The kids personalities came out. Nicholas is quite an athlete and his hockey player golf stroke won him the game.

Dinner was next and we made burritos with chocolate chip cookies. Luke did an excellent job baking and we used chopped up chocolate bars, as chocolate chips weren't easy to find. France has brought out the baker in Luke, I'm very impressed. Once again the burritos were a hit. The hardest part was wrapping them up. The kids really liked getting choose what went into theirs (less veggies) and they each had 2. I left both recipes in their guest cookbook and then chatted over the Internet with a friend for a bit, technology is so cool. Tomorrow we head back to Paris, so tonight we must pack. I'm ready for the big city and then our journey home.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 9

Today was a long day. It is Wednesday, and every Wednesday all French children have the day off from school. They go to school until July and then take the required 6-8 week vacation with their parents. This in conjunction with the 2 week breaks they get for All Saints (October), Christmas, Winter, and Easter. As a teacher I think these breaks make sense and keep anyone from getting too stale on school. As in the US, private schools are getting popular, much to the distaste of many French folks.

Back to our day's journey. We are visiting Mont Sainte Michel. The monastery to which many people make pilgrimages, and it also becomes an island during high tide. It is 1.5 hours drive to the western most part of Normandy. This took us past rolling hills, more small villages and scenery that can be compared to HWY 280, south of San Francisco.

From a distance, Mont Sainte Michel is quite a sight to behold. There appears an ornate spire and church, that looks like a castle from fairy tales. We arrived during low tide and it was surrounded by a vast area of wet sand and small rivers. The tide was so far out that we couldn't even see the waves breaking. This is a sight where pilgrims cross the long wet beach on foot during low tide. One must be careful of quicksand and the tide rushing in as quickly as a galloping horse. Many have been caught off guard and been swept away to sea. All to pay homage to Sainte Michel. He who fought the devil, who took the form of a dragon. There are pictures and statues inside of the Sainte slaying the dragon. See, I told you it was a fairytale place.

Now for the reality of modern day. There were about 20 tour buses and parking lots full of cars on the side that said, "The sea does not cover this side today." The one main road inside the ramparts is narrow, steep and cobble stoned. It is packed with people and flanked on either side by tourist shops all the way up. This was a mellow day. On a busy day the crowd sweeps you off your feet and up the narrow alley. It is much more calm off the beaten path, on the walk on the outside of the island and through the gardens. Those monk must have had the strongest legs from walking up and down so many hills and stairs.

We had lunch at a fancy restaurant Le Mere Poulard. Here they specialize in omelets made of eggs that are beaten to a foamy froth to a distinct beat. We sat upstairs in a quiet corner of the restaurant. Luke ordered the deep fried cheese and I ordered the mussels as an appetizer. His was better than mine. As the main course he order a bacon and potato omelet and I got the lamb. My lamb was tasty and the fat had been cooked to a golden crunchy goodness. Luke's omelet was light and fluffy with a side of egg foam. For dessert we shared a sabayon; raspberries and strawberries in a custardy sauce, tasty. It was a nice stop in the middle of a busy and crowded day.

We finished the tour with a trek up hundreds of stairs, through crowds to the church at the top of the hill. Luke and I decided not to visit inside the church since they charged for viewing it. We meandered down the crowded ally, through some shops and down an ally no more than 18 inches wide (this was funny), and back to the miniest mini van.

On our way back to Ver sur Mer we dozed in the car and made a quick stop in the town of Bayeaux. Here we visited the cathedral (for free). It was huge and there were saints painted on the ceiling. We were able to go under the pulpit to the original Roman church. Very cool, small and dark. The town was preserved well and not bombed from the last war. There was a small river running through it, renaissance flags up and down the corridors, and we could have spent half a day shopping and people watching there.

We went to a shop that specialized in alcoholic beverages and foods. Jean Noel and Luke tried many kinds of ciders from sweet to very strong, like brandy. Luke bought one that would be hard to find in the states and then we headed home. For dinner we had white beans and duck, a specialty of the area. It was quite tasty and a good hardy meal at the end of a long day.

Day 8

Woke this morning and had cereal for breakfast. Jean Noel is kind enough to lend us his car, which is a manual and will from now on be known as "the mini beast". Luke and I set off on our own to visit Omaha Beach, the Cemetery, and Pointe du Hoc, about an hours drive away. Jean Noel hooked us up with his GPS which we have named Jac. Unfortunately Jac was a little difficult to understand at the first round about and we went the wrong direction ending up down a dirt road in a grocery parking lot. We changed to the GPS du Luke, continuing through the countryside and tiny villages that were mostly closed up. Later learned that these houses are often second homes for those who live in Paris.

We parked at the US cemetery and walked in. The ocean on one side, a sea of white crosses on the other, and a huge statue flanked by huge maps of the invasion tactics. Each cross had someones name, date of death and their home state. We were able to walk down to the beach where the action took place and I was surprised at how much uphill climbing the soldiers had to do before reaching any Nazi soldiers. From there we went to the museum, found an Alton burial plot from Wisconsin, and watched a brief documentary about letters written home by fallen soldiers. It made the human aspect of war very real and brought tears to our eyes. Afterward we toured the rest of the museum and found the Alton headstone.

From the cemetery we headed to Pointe du Hoc, another war memorial. We stopped for lunch at a small country restaurant. Either our ability to order food is getting better or awkward is becoming normal. Probably both.

Pointe du Hoc was right around the corner. It is a bluff in between Utah and Omaha beaches (the beaches that the US forces attacked). From here the Nazis could bomb both beaches simultaneously. There were 225 Army Rangers that climbed the cliffs on D-day and battled for 2 days without much reinforcement. When they were finally relieved there were only 90 men remaining. Here the French have left the bomb craters in the ground. It is astonishing how many craters there are and how much earth was moved by 1 bomb, let alone thousands of them up and down the coast. It's strange to be in a place where war destroyed EVERYTHING, but to be surrounded by ocean, grass, flowers and chirping birds.

Luke and I found our way back home and didn't even have to get out of 2nd gear in the mini beast, thankfully. We had to pass a group of cyclists up a hill on a narrow winding road, Tour de France style. If I wasn't in an old stick shift I probably would have been more patient, but for now I was mumbling obscenities under my breath. Luckily we passed them and found our way to Jean Noel's.

When we got there it was time to pick Alice up from her gymnastics class. All 4 of us went to the beach. While Alice played in the sand the 3 adults had a champagne aperitif and discussed politics. For dinner we had pasta and grilled sausage. Everyone was in good spirits after dinner, even though the French will not be advancing in the Euro soccer finals. It was a beautiful and meaningful day in Normandy.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day 7

Today is a travel day. We are going from Avignon in the south to Caen (Normandy) all the way in the north. We had a breakfast, got some lunch for the train, filled the car with the most expensive gas ever, bid farewell to David and are on our way to visit Jean Noel, Anne Marie, Nicholas, and Alice.

As you may remember there was a discrepancy about whether the metro would be running or not, luckily I was wrong and it was running just fine. We were able to connect from one train station to another. Our inbound train was 10 minutes late which gave us 45 minutes to catch our next train. We were off like crazy through the metro, hauling all sorts of luggage, stopping to buy metro tickets, and running up stairs. I'm really glad we had done this before. At the train station the departing trains were not listed by number as they have been before. Luckily the attendant we asked spoke English. We found the train and climbed aboard with 11 minutes to spare, although we were sweating. Off we went for the 2 hour ride to Caen from Paris. We prepared our sandwiches and gazed our into the country. The north is very green and has stone houses with slate tiled roofs.

Jean Noel was at the platform and took us to his home in Ver sur Mer about 20 minutes away. He was thrilled at the sunnyweather and we had aperitifs outside. The kids, Alice and Nicholas were quiet and doing homework. For dinner we had some meat bread with a tomato sauce and veal with root vegetables, finished with the best chocolate mousse I've ever had in my life.

All of us piled into the miniest mini van and headed to the shore for a walk. We could see the remaining parts of WW2 man made piers in the ocean and leftover cement gun bunkers. Alice skipped along the sea wall (she'll skip on any wall if she can). While travelling sucks all of my energy I do enjoy seeing new places, especially like this coast which reminds me of Northern California so much.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 7

Woke up and hung out with David and Yael in the house. We had 4 computers going at once. There was French Canadian TV on and David informed me that Canadian French is sometimes so different that the French can't understand it. Maybe like Scottish is to English? Canadians claim to speak the more pure French language.

After a long lazy morning, Luke and I headed to the Pont du Gard. The second tallest Roman structure still standing in France. It was 45 minutes aways and we found it without a map and some directions from David. Driving in France is pretty easy. The day was cloudy as we made our way through the countryside. We arrived around the same time as tour buses with Germans and Americans. We picked up some glace and followed the masses to the aqua duct.

The park was free and appeared to be a popular place to walk dogs. It was also the only river we have seen people swimming in. The Pont du Gard was quite large and impressive. Especially since there is no mortar holding the stones together, just the sheer force of perfectly cut rock on rock.

We found our way back to the house, although we took a different route home. As soon as we arrived Luke and I started making diner. We were making burritos with chocolate chip cookies. Luckily, Anne had plenty of spices and goodies, so when I forgot rice at the store we used some of hers and spiced it up. We served it all French style except we had chips and salsa as an appetizer, salad, then the burritos and finally milk and cookies. I was under a bit of pressure as no one had ever had burritos before. They were excited to assemble their own and it was all a great hit. Everyone had 2.

We sat for awhile around the table and talked of nothing in particular. It is so nice and I don't want to leave tomorrow. The French country lifestyle suits me. It's mellow, full of good food, great people, and a beautiful climate. Sadly we folded our clean laundry and packed our backs in preparation for our travel day.

Day 6

Hung out this morning with David's family. Luke and I played Taki (Uno) with Vincent and he won practically every round. We are now learning our French numbers and colors, takes me back to preschool. Anne made a very tasty lunch of salad, lamb, and potatoes. We learned that the Southern French serve veggies before the main course so you can fill up on the good for you stuff before the meats and carbs. There is always some sort of alcoholic beverage, although surprisingly little wine, and always ALWAYS bread. Yummy crusty on the outside doughy in the middle bread. We finished the meal with cheese, and dessert and some had cigarettes. Luke and I then headed for a small town called Les Baux. It was a short winding trip through the Alpilles.

This small town was built into a stone hill and the king was known to make non-ransomed prisoners jump off the walls to their death, for fun. Now it is a small tourist town with local flavors in the boutiques. We also happened upon a wedding in the church. There were people running around in tuxes with tails and clopping through the cobblestone streets in high heels. We sat and watched the bride enter the church with her father. Pretty perfect for Luke's and my one week anniversary. We got glace and enjoyed the day. How can you not love a region that has ice cream everywhere?

After Les Baux we toured our fuel efficient mini car throughout the country, over the Alpilles and back to the house. We had enough time before Vincent's school show to snack on sandwiches and cokes. I took a quick catnap in the sun and we were ready for the next adventure.

We went with Anne to Vincent's school and met up with David there. I was very excited to see the children's performances since we had recently done ours at Challenger. Student's ages range from 3-10 years old. All the children danced, mostly to pop music, but I think I could move here and do choreography for them. There were fond of jumping in place, and then in circles. My favorite was the Wild West montage including a bar fight and line dancing and cowhide chaps. Vincent's class, the oldest, did a club scene with a new French music/dance called Techtonik (Google it). It involves waving and twisting your arms all over the place while simply bouncing your legs up and down. There was a lot of room for interpretation. Vincent was the best attired with the highest mohawk and black star painted on his right eye.

Following the exhibition we went to a bar with David to watch some aspiring French rock bands. We learned that because Rock and Roll is American, just about every band sings in English, although many don't understand the lyrics. One band came on and played very hard rock. Luke loved it. In his tucked in button up shirt he moshed with he rest of the crazies. All the French folks were dressed in black and Luke was a head taller than everyone. It was pretty funny for everyone to watch and Luke had a great time. David and his sisters were so surprised to see Luke come out of his shell in that way.

The day ended with a shower in David's tiny astronaut training facility shower. Tomorrow David informed us is Sunday and we will find nothing in town but faith. It's a good thing we already went to the store to pick up everything we will need to make dinner tomorrow.