Thursday, July 9, 2009

Itty Bitty Kitties!

I still have so much to tell you about my Europe trip! It's just a matter of finding the time and the energy. I drank some caffeine yesterday, which I never do, and it wreaked absolute havoc with my sleeping last night. In other words, I may have gotten about 3 or 4 hours in. Le sigh, so sleepy at work today! Sweet tea, I'll remember you for this...

In other news, please go over and donate to the Itty Bitty Kitties' Fundraiser for the Tacoma/Pierce County Humane Society! Think of all the good your donation will do for the homeless kitties there! To read more about this wonderful cause, check out the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee's blog. So cute!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

France: Day 2

Have I ever mentioned to y'all my love for all things Band of Brothers? I know that loving a WWII miniseries is a little incongruous with my other hobbies...knitting, reading, shopping for shoes (and lots and lots of clothes), getting pedicures, etc. I just can't help myself though! It's a riveting and engaging looking at the 101st Airborne's Easy Company from the start of their training to D-Day to the end of WWII. The acting is fantastic and the cast is even better...David Schwimmer as the tyrannical Sobel, Damien Lewis as the stalwart and courageous Dick Winters, Ron Livingston and his classic sarcasm as Lewis Nixon. Even Donnie Wahlberg gets in on the Band of Brothers action! Anyway, since Becky was the one who turned me onto Band of Brothers, it was only fitting that she and I make our way to the Normandy coast and the site of one of the most critical military battles of all time...Omaha Beach.

We started off the day early, leaving our hotel in Paris and walking to Montparnasse Gare (curses for still not figuring out how to use the Metro until later this afternoon! We turned a 3 minute Metro ride into a 45 minute walk). After renting the Fiat from National Car Rental, we hit the Paris morning rush hour. Let me warn you, this is not for the faint of heart. As the designated driver, given that I am the only one of us two that could drive a 5-speed, I almost broke down into tears. This is the worst traffic I have EVER encountered, worse than LA, worse than New York, and the first time I've ever been the driver in such conditions. It's not like the traffic wasn't moving, but there were so many lanes (but yet, no lanes on the actual road) it was chaos. Motorcycles weaving in and out, aggressive drivers, we couldn't find the street signs...getting onto the Peripherique, four directions of cars converged into one little 20 foot ramp. I ate my Bueno Bar and tried not to think about the cost of denting the rental Euros. Once we were on the highway though, it was just like driving back home. Only better. I do so love roundabouts and France is full of these. So much safer and quicker!

So, we only got lost (or confused, as Becky put it) a couple of times and eventually made our way to Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where the Airborne troops landed early in the morning on June 6, 1944. This was at the time occupied by the German army, but it quickly fell to the Americans. The Normandy coast is actually one of the most American-friendly areas of France because of the D-Day liberation. Not that we encountered any unfriendly people though. Here we visited the Airborne Museum, saw tanks, gliders, large mortar guns, and the weirdest mannequin soldiers ever. I think they were female mannequins dressed up as men. Strange. But still, a very moving exhibit and an interesting movie that told the story of Sainte Mere Eglise and D-Day that lasted about 15 minutes.

Next up, Omaha Beach! It was a beautiful sunny day with a bit of a breeze, definitely jacket weather. It surprised me that there were a few people out in bathing suits. Whooo, chilly! The English Channel was a bright, lovely blue and the memorial at Omaha was very sobering. Think about it. 65 years ago, hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers died on this very beach fighting for freedom and trying to overthrow Nazi oppression. It was hard not to feel very moved. Plus, we got to see the amazing Les Braves sculpture on the beach. I wonder if they'll have something like that for the World Trade Center when it's completed?

Just down the road from Saint Laurent sur Mer and Omaha Beach, is the American Military Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer. We hopped in the Fiat (can I take it home with me??) and made our last stop of the day here. This was truly the most breathtaking part of our entire trip today, and maybe of our whole European experience. Here, overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel (La Manche), are the graves of all the American soldiers killed on D-Day. I'm sure this must be what Arlington Cemetery looks like, but this was incredibly powerful. There's just this peaceful silence and serenity in the air and all you can see are white crosses and Stars of David for what seems like miles. There were a bunch of visitors there the day we went, but still, everyone was respectful and appropriate. I'm sure I took about 100 pictures there and would've taken more if my batteries hadn't died. As an aside, battery death was an ongoing saga until I finally, finally found lithium batteries in the airport in Milan. I love plain old Duracell nickel cadmium batteries, but lithium is the way to go in digital cameras.

Our trip to Normandy was one I think every American should make at some point to learn more about our history and how powerful a group of individuals can be who believe in doing the right thing. It was definitely the trip of a lifetime and even though we had many adventures in the Fiat (finding gas stations, finding lunch, getting lost in Paris, eating sandwiches from gas stations), it was still a wonderful, amazing, unforgettable experience!

Next up, our weekend in Rome!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Paris: Day 1

So after leaving home on Tuesday, June 16 and meeting Becky in Charlotte, she and I had a flight across the pond to Paris! Let me say, it's always better to travel with a friend on long trips, especially one of my best friends! After a diet of whole grain Goldfish and Fiber One bars (note: these are full of fiber, as promised), it was nice to set down in Paris and have a real meal. But first, we had to take the RER and the Metro from Charles de Gaulle Airport into the 14th Arrondissement to our hotel. This would have been easy-peasy, minus the 200 lbs of luggage we brought. Did you know there are very few escalators in the Metro? Only stairs? I still have bruises on my legs from the suitcase. Next time, pack lighter!

After that harrowing adventure, we made it to our lovely hotel and in order to avert the jet lag, we changed clothes, grabbed the Metro map and our lovely Steve Franks guidebook and headed out to Versailles! Not a bad little trip, although I didn't realize there was graffiti EVERYWHERE in Paris, some of which was very artistic. Our first stop upon arriving was lunch at the only place we could easily identify...McDonalds. Not my first choice for a French meal, but when you're starving and in a touristy area, it worked. I still wanted a nice, leisurely French dinner, but that came later.

Versailles...what can I say? It was so much larger than I could ever have imagined. The scope was just incredibly vast. The golden gates definitely create an imposing sight. Although we didn't feel up to braving the lines and going inside (by this point, we were hitting our "up for over 24 hours" phase), we did decide to tour the gardens. I love gardens. I just find them so peaceful and serene. Even when they are filled with hundreds of tourists. They were manicured to a tee and just so intricate. It was like a huge park, really, more so than a garden. Foutains and statuary dotted every corner of the landscape and the weather was just perfect. Coolish, but not cold, and thankfully, not too hot for two tired and footweary travelers.

After our tour of the gardens, we decided to head back to our hotel in Paris and find a nice little place to eat dinner. We found this adorable restaurant packed with people on the sidewalk, although we had no trouble getting a table inside near the window. I ordered steak and mashed potatoes, which tasted lovely, but not quite like I expected. All in all, it was a pretty good day, but by this point, we were beat and wanted to get a little bit of sleep before our next adventure: Normandy!