Sunday, July 19, 2015

OT: Europe Trip--Day 8--Paris-Normandy. Bayeux, Longues sur Mer, Omaha Beach, American Cemetary, Point du Hoc

(Caution--Heavy in Photos)

Up early this morning to head to a different Train Station to catch our ride down to Bayeux. Bayeux is a wonderful little town with a lot of narrow, one-way streets about 10 miles south of the Normandy Beaches. We got to Bayeux and noon and took a taxi to pick up our rental car, which was 5 miles away from the train station. All the rental cars were 5 miles away from the train station...

Driving the 4.6 miles back into town, we quickly got confused. We could get to the Cathedral, we knew our hotel was nearby. But we couldn't make sense of the roads. Every time we found a road that looked like it was going to take us to the hotel, it was a wrong-way one-way. We had to stop twice to ask directions but we finally made it...ugh.

I dropped Sky off at the hotel and parked the car in a lot three blocks down the street. The Hotel didn't have any parking...  Walked up, checked into this charming hotel that was literally a block away from the Cathedral (yup) and took our bags upstairs. One of the things I found "quaint" was that this hotel and our one in Paris still used keys for the door. The hotel in Paris had us surrender it every time we left and gave it back to us upon return.

We were hungry so we went downstairs to the restaurant and looked over the menu. We booth found something we could live with and just decided to have lunch there. We had burgers, 1/2 lb burgers, this suckers were huge! After that, only one to do...take a nap. I wasn't too concerned about time, it stayed dark very late and the light would only get better for my pictures. The temps were very nice, very comfortable.

We slept for an hour then awoke feeling like a million bucks. Headed down to the car, looked at our maps and headed out. And we actually ended up where we intended to go!

That place was Longues sur Mer which had four German gun batteries left standing as well as a couple bunkers. Longues is located right on the coast, just west of Gold Beach, east of Omaha Beach. The four German gun each had a range of more than 12 miles and exchanged fire with five ships on D-Day before being knocked out by British troops.

Sky at a German gun battery in Longues sur Mer. 

 German Observation Post in Longues sur Mer.

There were quite a lot of people there but everyone was respectful. We walked around all four batteries. I almost had a heart attack when my Olympus camera showed all three of my batteries being dead! I took them out, took off the battery holder and just reassembled it but it frightened me for a minute that it may not work. That reset it and it worked fine after that.

We drove from there westward to our next stop: Omaha Beach. Today, it's a beach with sailboat rentals and sunbathers. We parked in the parking lot and walked along the beach. I picked up a stone and placed it in my bag. (I collect rocks/stones from places I've been.) 

 Sky standing on Omaha Beach.

We went back up the road and since it was early, just kept going west, towards Point du Hoc. At this point, in our minds, we were just going recon for places we wanted to go tomorrow. But I'm glad we did it as it rained and would have been miserable to be out there in the rain.

Rounding a corner, we saw the Normandy American Cemetery. We passed it and came upon the Overlord Museum located right beside it. The Museum has three tanks out on display as well as a truck. Something made me turn around and go back to the Cemetery. It was 5:20 in the afternoon, the cemetery closed at six. We wouldn't have much time but I thought it was worth a look.

The Cemetery had a profound impact upon me. Walking among the white-crossed graves of men who died far too young, many of them on the Beach below, never having had the chance to say good-bye to their loved ones was too much for me. I choked up, quiet tears running down my cheeks. It affected Sky as well. He was quiet, solemn as we walked among the graves. 

Some were decorated with flowers. The Cemetery was extremely well taken care of, their wasn't a weed in the grass. It's located on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and in peacetime, is a very scenic view. 

Looking North from the Normandy American Cemetery towards the Ocean. 

The size of the Cemetery is overwhelming...too many crosses and Stars of David. 

Many French families adopt a grave. This grave was decorated.

 We left the Cemetary at closing and drove over to the Overlord Museum. It had closed at six too but Sky wanted to see the Tanks so I stopped there and we roamed around the fighting vehicles for a little bit. They had a Sherman, a M-18 Tank Destroyer and a truck.

It was still light, we weren't in the slightest bit hungry, so we kept heading west. I knew we'd probably end up in Point du Hoc, located between Omaha and Utah beaches. 

A hedgerow, which made for fierce fighting and concealment of troops. 

We drove down and parked in the Rangers Museum parking lot and walked a couple hundred yards down to Point du Hoc.

 Point du Hoc. The cliff the Rangers scaled against maching gun fire and grenades can be seen.

Overlooking  the beach, this is the cliff the Rangers had to scale.

Shell crater, probably from the USS Texas. Sky stands in it for a size reference.

They've kept the area much the same, adding a Memorial and a path to it.  
Sheep now graze among the craters.

A German bunker with a huge shell crater that just missed it.
The Rangers scaled the cliff, only to find the guns had been moved inland to protect them. 

 Steps down to the Bunker.

We stayed here for a while, looking at the shell craters, marveling at the fortitude of the men who climbed that cliff under heavy fire and looking west towards Utah Beach. It's unbelievable, something I feel everyone should experience, at least every American. 

As it was getting to get dark we headed back to the hotel. I didn't want to even try to find my way back by roaming around the French countryside at night. We headed south where joined right up on the highway into Bayeux. Then to compound our directionally-challenged team, they had some of the streets blocked off for the Solstice Celebrations. We were there on the longest day of the year visiting the sites of the "Longest Day." Somehow, that was fitting.

We parked on the street, on the front side of the Cathedral and walked back to our hotel. We were too pooped to go out to dinner and all the cafes were crowded anyway. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

New airplane at Creve Coeur

Mike Scimone in his Harvard.

Mike Scimone has obtained a Havard trainer. Mike's hard at work fixing all the little bugs and polishing the natural color airplane.

Look for an update on this airplane.

OT: Europe Trip--Day 8---Paris

Saturday morning dawned with us being fully rested and eager to go. Our plan for the day was to take the Metro over to the Arc de Triumphe, then over to Sacre Coeur. We go to Harry's New York Bar, then head home or talk about what else we wanted to see at Harry's.

We got up, had breakfast and headed out to the Metro stop that would take us to the Arc. I noticed there was a street market set up so we decided to take a look. It wasn't long before we found a guy making crepes and such. We had him make us and ham, egg and cheese breakfast er..... something between a crepe and a burrito. We got a hot chocolate and a coffee while we ate our second breakfast of the morning, this one more filling. I gotta have my eggs!

Headed over to the Metro, there was hardly anybody on it. 
Sky waits on the Metro to come to a stop.

 Sky poses in front of the Arc de Triumphe. 
Built in Napoleons time, both his and Hitler's Army's have marched thru it.

We arrived at the Arc and bought our tickets to the top. You have to walk up 284 twisting, curvy, narrow steps to get there. I had to pull over and rest near the top, man that's hard on the knees. 

The top has a great view of Paris, looking straight down the Champs-Elysees as well as six other streets. 

284 stairs to the top...and and back down to street level.

From there, it was just a short hop on the Metro to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Although the church is just a little over 100 years old, its architecture suggests otherwise. It's a popular tourist attraction in Paris as it's the highest point in the city.

View from Sacre Coeur. 

Man making bubbles at the base of Sacre Coeur.

Sky and I trundled up the steps and we both had to stop and rest this time. We took a tour of the church and exited. Then, we were both tired. Neither of us wanted to go see the artists of Montmartre, he really didn't want to have his portrait drawn. We were also getting hungry, so we headed down to Harry's New York.

Harry's was a little bit of a disappointment. Yea, I sat in Hemingways' seat but all they had for food was hot dogs. We left and walked back up the block and a Vegas-styled place and both ordered hamburgers.
They weren't the best...

Sky plays a game on his phone while waiting on laundry to finish.

We dropped our cameras at the hotel, grabbed our dirty clothes and went out in search of a laundromat. 
Despite rumors to the contrary, Parisians are nice, caring folk. Not only did the lady at the hotel give us general directions to the laundromat, but a couple folks on the street helped to pinpoint its location. It was only four or five blocks from the hotel and we came back with clean clothes an hour and a-half later.

We had promised my wife and Boo-daughter some souvenirs, so we headed out to Notre Dame where I had seen a couple t-shirts and souvenirs I'd liked.  Sky picked out a shirt and a power converter for himself while I picked out shirts and necklaces for the girls. I got myself a little notebook with Paris sights on the cover. The book is a copy of the more well-known Moleskins and I like them to carry in my camera bag.

After another successful charge card purchase (giggle), we went back to the hotel. I stopped at an Italian restaurant a block away while Sky took our stuff to the hotel. A cold Coke was waiting on him when he returned. 

Another day in Paris....tomorrow was Normandy.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

OT: Europe Trip--Day 7--Paris

This morning we woke up excited to see Les Invalides (Military Museum) and take our tour to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We'd planned on leaving the Hotel, take the Metro so as to arrive at the Concorde stop with enough time to walk across the bridge and be at the Museum shortly after it opened.

 A young girl waits on her train.

 Place de la Concorde with the Tower in the background.

We walked for a bit, enjoying the mid-morning light and temperature to the Museum. It's a big Museum, but not fairly well lit. 

The North side of the Museum features a row of cannons.

A Parisien taxi used to transport troops to the front at the outbreak of WW I.

 We went straight to the WWI & WWII exhibit. The had a great assortment of uniforms, a section on Paris during the War (it was occupied), a cool exhibit on the Resistance but sadly not much on airplanes. They did mention they were used in Americas' Pacific War.

 A Tour Guide explains a ball turret to French school children.

After that we went to the dome, which is where Napoleans Tomb is located. I had been here in 1980 (without a wide-angle lens) and wanted to get a good shot.

 Napoleans Tomb

Inside of the Dome.

After that it was lunch time so we hiked on over to the Quai D'Orsay to find a restaurant to have lunch. We found this great little spot about halfway between Les Invalides and the Tower. Wow...was it ever expensive! We had compared rates as all Cafes are required to post their Menus and this was the cheapest one. And we were starving...

Sky and I await our lunch at a Paris sidewalk Cafe.

We both had a burger and frites. The burger was good, much better than you get at any of the fast food places in America. I felt like I needed a nap after eating it. To not get sleepy we chose to walk down past the American Church to the Eiffel Tower. 

We found our meeting point for where the Tour was to begin. We were my usual early so we walked across the street to another sidewalk cafe that had seats in the shade and ordered monster-sized Cokes. (I hoped I wouldn't to pee right in the middle of the Tour!). As long as you buy something, you can sit there pretty much as long was you want and we were never bothered.

We finished our Cokes, perused a couple of Souvenir shops next door to the Cafe, then walked across the street to the Fat Tire Bike Tours shop. We were only about 3 blocks from the Tower and I had to pee! Fortunately for me, the had rest rooms and a waiting room. We got our tickets, used the facilities and waited for the tour.

Our guide was a young girl from Chicago who wore a Cubs ballcap. Being from St Louis, I had to give her a little grief but we all laughed at my joke. We went to the "skip the line" line and waited about 15 minutes before we rode the elevator to the second level. A few people not in our Tour got out there and then we went to the top. We were warned about pick-pockets several times but it must have been our lucky day as no one displayed any likeliness to pick ours and we still had our wallets, passports and cameras when we left. 

The view from the top is pretty spectacular, especially on a clear day.

 View from the Top of the Eiffel Tower looking eastwards. 
That's the Jardin du Champ de Mars in the foreground.

 I used my telephote and blew up this shot of 
Sacre Coeur in the distance.

Arc de Triumphe, off to the North.

Paris and the Seine, looking towards the northeast.

Our guide left us and we stayed another 45 minutes walking around the top. It was a great afternoon, unlimited visibility and we enjoyed the view.

Afterwards, we were hungry again, Sky wanted pizza. We traced our steps to Fat Tire, right across the street was a Pizza place. Sky had a pizza, I had a pasta dish. Dinner was made even more pleasant when a Canadian couple with their three grown daughters sat next to us. We chatted happily away for an hour as we ate. 

Saying our goodbyes, we took one last swing by the Tower, down to the Metro stop and boarded the same train we'd used the night before. 

Fantastic day!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

OT: Europe Trip-Day 6--Liege to Paris

We took the 10 o'clock train from Liege down to Paris, arriving at the Gare du Nord. We had a little problem buy Metro (subway) tickets in that none of my credit cards would work. We finally tried a different machine with Skys' credit card (which was new and had a magnetic chip in it) successfully, buying a carnet (book of 10 tickets) and we were on our way on the Blue Line down to the Nation stop.

Our hotel was wonderful. The room was small, yes that's true. But it was in a quiet part of town, near two Metro stops, the folks at the front desk were totally wonderful, they were four restaurants within two blocks of it and I have absolutely zero complaints about it. The two women who worked the desk during business hours helped us plan out our stay, gave us alternate routes to get there and back and genuinely cared for our well-being.

After checking in, we went to have lunch a block down from the hotel. We split the days special, pork and pasta, which was delicious. Sky had a chocolate sundae and a coke and was a happy traveler. 

We then took the Yellow subway line to the Hotel du Ville stop, right across the bridge from Notre Dame and a block away from Pont Neuf. As we walked to the bridge, we stopped and looked at a couple vendor stalls (mostly books) along the River Seine bank. 

A booksellers' stall alongside the Seine.

As we crossed the Seine, a tour boat went under the bridge making for a very scenic picture. All around were places selling souvenirs, so many that Sky and I started a joke that we couldn't find a decent Paris souvenir. I guess you had to be there...

A Tour Boat cruises the Seine.

We walked up to Notre Dame-there were a couple hundred tourists milling about. I saw that the line to go inside was fairly short, we got in it. We waited less than 10 minutes to go inside. They had signs saying it still is an active church, to be quiet and respectful inside. I briefed Sky right before we went inside that if we got separated/lost that we would meet just outside the church at the exit. 

Sky in front of Notre Dame.

I had been to Paris 35 years previously, been to Notre Dame. All I could remember of it was it being dark, there being candles and the stained-glass windows were nice. 

The faithful listen to a sermon inside Notre Dame.

 A young woman picks a candle inside Notre Dame.

We stayed inside for 20 minutes, walking around admiring the architecture, listening to a sermon in a language we couldn't understand. Then walked outside. We say the statue of Charlemagne, man who sells pigeon food to the terrorists, er tourists and decided to walk down towards the Louvre and Eiffel Tower.

It was 6 PM, the Louvre had just closed. We walked past it, to its west side where the pyramid is located and stopped to rest at the reflective pool.

Sky taking a break at the Louvre.

We continued after the break walking westwards towards the Eiffel Tower, thru the Tulerie Gardens to the Place de la Concorde. By now our legs (my knees) were about to give out. We decided to take a (very conveniently located) pedicab down to the Eiffel Tower. It was still early, we had about three more hours of sun left and the light would just get better. Plus I knew that the Tower was something that Sky really wanted to see.
Our chariot to the Eiffel Tower. 

We got to the tower and walked around it. I had forgotten that the tower stands/stantions/pillars are on cardinal directions. Man, were there a lot of people milling around. The line to buy tickets to go up in the tower exceeding an hours wait. No matter, I'd booked a tour the next afternoon, we could wait.

The Eiffel Tower.

We walked around for an hour and then decided to call it a day. We walked four blocks south and caught the Metro back to our hotel. I was very thankful that Pauline, the front desk clerk, had suggested it.

Sky got a couple cokes, I grabbed a couple beers from the nice gentlemen now manning the front desk and we went to our room. I downloaded photos while Sky got caught up with his Facebook friends. 

OT: Europe Trip--Day 5--Liege-Bastogne

An early start for today. We headed down to the Hotel's breakfast room. Their restaurant is attached to the Hotel and is an old Nunnery. Brick arched ceilings sit over our heads as you enjoy your bacon and eggs and cafe au lait.

We headed out at 7:30. The car had GPS and I had the best navigator on the planet helping me find our way to La Gleize. La Gleize is as close to Liege as the Germans got during the Battle of the Bulge. This particular thrust was led by Obersturmbannf├╝hrer Jochaim Peiper. The German attack was fended off by the American 99th Infantry Division and by the Germans running out of gas.

The Germans had many of the new monster King Tiger tanks, which were gas hogs. Peiper complained that the road assigned to his Kampfgrupe was barely suitable for bicycles, but not for panzers. They basically abandoned their equipment there and retreated back toward German lines. The city of La Gleize kept one of the King Tigers and put it on display across the street from their Decembre 44 Museum.

 Sky poses in front of a King Tiger at La Gleize, Belgium.

We had arrived early and the Museum hadn't opened yet. We took a few pictures around the tank, investigated the church courtyard and cemetery across the street, then decided to head down to the Easy Company Memorial, located on the road between the cities of Bizory and Foy. 

The Memorial is easy to find, located just off the main road with a gravel parking lot. They also have a gravel path into the woods, part of the Ardenne Forest, for you to view the actual foxholes dug during the battle by members of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, E Company-the Easy Company made famous by the book and HBO series Band of Brothers.

 Sky poses in an Easy Company foxhole.

 The Ardenne Forest, viewed from below.

Sky stands between two foxholes.

I have a friend who's been there at sunrise and he remarked that it reminded him more as being like a cathedral with all the fog.

We left the foxholes and continued our trip down to the Bastogne Historical Center.  Their museum is very good, having the story told through the eyes of four participants in the Battle voiced by actors.

A Sherman Tank used in the Battle of the Bulge. 

Sky outside the Bastogne Museum.

We finished our visit to the Museum and decided to go get lunch. The city of Bastogne is kinda touristy, so we had to drive a while to find a parking spot. Walking a couple of blocks, Sky chose a pizza place where we had mini-pizzas and cokes for lunch.

Leaving Bastogne, Sky wanted to see the Museum in La Gleize. Retracing our journey, we arrived with an hour to visit before the Museum closed, it's a mom and pop museum. The museum had a great collection of both German and American items from the battle. I remarked that I'd seen one too many helmets with a hole in it. They had bits and pieces of tanks, uniforms, weapons medical equipment and personal gear. It took about 45 minutes to go thru the Museum.

Leaving La Gleize on those windy, twisty roads, we decided to head back to Liege for dinner.

Coming into La Gleize from the west.

This time it was a little easier to find the hotel. We parked on a side street, dumped our stuff and headed back to the city centre to have dinner at a pub I knew, Le Cecil.