Since we waited until the week before the trip to buy tickets, all non-smoking 2nd Class tickets were sold out. So, we splurged and bought 1st Class for the Germany to Paris part of the trip. It was only $35 more per ticket, and we ended up having a 6-seat private compartment all to ourselves. Forget air travel, trains are the way to go!!
This is the dining car on the train. No waiting for a stewardess to bring you a small bag of peanuts. You can order anything from a snack to a full meal and stretch out and enjoy your meal.
After a long day’s travel, we arrived at the hotel and went for a cool dip in the pool.
The next morning (Tuesday), we met our tour van at 8am in front of the hotel. We had to run back to Bayeux to pick up 3 more people, then it was off to Pointe du Hoc.
Pointe du Hoc is a cliff jutting out into the English Channel about 1 kilometer (6/10 mile). In 1942, the Germans, recognizing the significant importance of this location, built 6 concrete pits for their 155mm long-range artillery. These guns were situated so as to be able to cover Omaha and Utah Beaches. Opposing armies landing on the beaches below would have to scale the high cliffs under heavy fire to reach these guns. In early 1944, the Germans decided to reinforce these positions with stronger concrete enclosed casemates, and moved several of the guns about 200 meters away to protect them from American bombing. This was a great stroke of luck for us. On D-Day, troops from the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions landed on the beach and scaled the cliffs. Overcoming intense fire from the Germans, they secured the area the same day. Of the 225 Rangers (just 2 of several Battalions) who landed on Pointe du Hoc, 77 were killed.
Looking at Pointe du Hoc from the Omaha Beach side. Behind me were several gun emplacements. Today, it is such a strikingly beautiful area.
It is hard to imagine the horrors of D-Day.
Spencer is standing in front of one of the few surviving casemates for
German artillery at Pointe du Hoc.
Spencer is poking his head up from one of the underground bunkers.
This is all that remains of a German ammunition bunker that was destroyed by
a direct hit from American artillery at Pointe du Hoc.
Nearly 50 feet tall, this is the monument at Omaha Beach.
The plaque reads:
The Allied Forces
Landing on This
Shore Which They Call
Omaha Beach Liberate
Europe June 6, 1944
Engraving on the side of the Omaha Beach Memorial
depicting soldiers landing on the beach.
Spencer took this picture of Omaha Beach.
Today, it looks like any tourist beach.
Our next stop was the American Cemetery.
Covering 172 acres, the cemetery is the final resting spot for 9,387 servicemen and women. Of these, 307 are marked as “Unknown”. Also in the cemetery is the Garden of the Missing, with the names of 1,557 additional service members listed as missing.
Some of the many rows of Crosses and Stars of David
at the American Cemetery.
This platform at the American Cemetery overlooks a section of Omaha Beach.
Centered in the open arc of the memorial facing the American Cemetery
is this 22-foot bronze statue –
“The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves”
After a long day of exploring Omaha Beach, we returned to Colleville and walked
along the shoreline of this quaint harbor town.
Walking back from the town of Colleville to our hotel (about ½ mile from the harbor),
we passed this pretty home which would have been right on the front lines of D-Day.
Before leaving the Normandy area on Wednesday, we decided to explore the city of Bayeux. It is a very interesting, medium-sized city with a large market area, many shops, and a large cathedral. We found this waterwheel on the stream that runs through town.
Approaching the Bayuex Notre Dame Cathedral. The buildings along the front are so close, it is impossible to get a good picture from the front. This is not to be confused with the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Inside the sanctuary of the Bayeux Notre Dame Cathedral.
Exploring the market at Bayeux.
The market at Bayeux attracts farmers with their fresh fruits and vegetables.
Bayeux Market. Yes, the combs are still on the chickens, and the birds to the left appear to be smaller game birds. Beth swore one was a pigeon.
OK, I thought this was a neat picture of radishes at the market.
After exploring the market and the large Bayeux tapestry at the local museum, we headed back to the train station to catch the 11:51 to Rouen, about a 2 hour ride.
Beth picked up this little souvenir on the train to Rouen. Actually, the French lady across from us had to go to the restroom, so Beth offered to hold her sleeping baby. I wonder if he went “oui-oui” in his diaper while she was holding him? Get it – French baby -- Oui Oui. Oh, never mind.
Our next stop was Rouen, France, just north of Paris. This town is known as the site where Joan of Arc was captured, imprisoned, then burned at the stake in 1431. Joan of Arc was a peasant girl who claimed to hear Saints telling her to lead the reunification of France. This did not go over well with the English, who controlled much of the area in what is now France. Captured by the Duke of Burgundy, she was handed over to the British, who held a mock trial, finding her guilty of heresy and being a witch. She was tortured and burned at the stake in the town market square. She was mostly forgotten about until the 18th Century, when a statue in her memory was erected. It was not until 1920 that Joan of Arc was beatified and canonized, and this resulted in changes to the square. Allied bombing destroyed the square and all markers in 1944. The new church situated on the square today was built in 1979.
By 2pm, we were in Rouen, just north of Paris. Much of the town looks much like it did then, although one of the old-style buildings nearby houses a McDonalds.
Today, there is a memorial cross and church dedicated to her memory at
the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
The alter and stained glass windows of the church.
The Tour Jeanne d’Arc is the original tower where Joan of
Arc was tortured before her execution.
After our 3 hours in Rouen, it was time to head back to the train station (above) and get on the train for Paris. We lucked out. We arrived at the station a little early, and Beth noticed there was a train leaving in less than 5 minutes (our ticket was good for any train that day). It was a non-stop train to Paris that only took 1 hour. We ran through the station, down the stairs to the train, and literally jumped on the train as the warning bells were sounding for the doors closing. Close one! We arrived in Paris at our hotel over an hour earlier than planned. Wednesday was a busy day!
On Thursday morning, we got an early start and headed to Versailles, on the southern edge of the city of Paris. This huge castle (the entire stretch of building in the picture above is just a small part of the castle) was begun as a hunting lodge by King Louis XIV. He would come to this area to hunt, and often it would be too late afterwards to return to the castle. So, he ordered a hunting lodge built here, and it just kept growing and growing.
Once inside the Versailles castle, we started our tour.
This is the Royal Chapel, complete with pipe organ. The royal family would sit in the balcony directly above where I am standing, while the upper side balconies were for princes and court dignitaries. The rest of the congregation remained on the lower floor.
Once upstairs, the first main room was the Hercules Room.
The paintings and decorations were completed from 1712-1715,
then again from 1729-1736.
This is the ceiling painting in the Diana Room.
Titled: Diana, accompanied by the Night Hours and the fresh Morning Hours,
presides over Hunting and Navigation
The room was used mainly for playing billiards, which Louis XIV was a master of.
The famous Hall of Mirrors. Opposite the 17 arched windows are 17 arched mirrors. Work on this room was begun in 1678 and finished in 1684. The ceiling, painted by Charles Le Brun, recounts the military achievements of the King in his 20 years on the throne. Perhaps the most important event that occurred in this room is the signing of the peace treaty ending World War I. (The Versailles Treaty)
The Queen’s bedchamber. It looks pretty much like what they give
us in military base housing.
Once we finished looking at the inside of the castle, it was time for the tour of the outside garden area. We’re not talking a little square with veggies and a few flowers, but rather half a square mile of fountains, well-manicured flowers and trees, and much more. The castle gardens extend past the end of the long pool in the background, about as far as you can see.
One of the many gardens, the Ballroom. Here, dancers performed on a marble “island” in front of these cascading waterfalls. The musicians were hidden behind the fence at the top of the waterfalls. (Musicians were outcasts even in those days! “Yeah, Louie, just stick ‘em up there behind the trees where no-one will see ‘em.”) Oh well.
The Colonnade, a circular garden at Versailles.
In the center of the Colonnade, “Pluto abducts Proserpine”.
The original has been moved to a museum; this is a copy.
Horses still provide the main means of transportation around Versailles.
Two of the many figures around the pools and fountains at Versailles.
When we were leaving, we noticed the line coming in had grown to about 400-500 people. At 8:30am (when we arrived) the line was about 10 people long. It’s nice to be a morning person. Guess what these people got to do after standing in this line? They got to stand in an identical line to get into the rooms or to get tickets for the garden tours. Advice: Get there early!
OK, here’s a trick question: Where was this picture taken? As you may remember, the Statue of Liberty was given to the United States as a gift from France. It was designed by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, and the frame was built by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). This 1/8 size replica stands along the Seine River just downstream from the Eiffel Tower.
Just to show I’m not kidding, this picture shows both the “Mini” Statue of Liberty
(lower right) and the full-size Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower from the base.
After the Eiffel Tower, we headed over to the Louvre area to eat supper. While going through the lobby, Spencer was checking out the bottom of the glass pyramid that extends above the ceiling into the courtyard above. Here, Spencer is getting ready to take a picture up through the pyramid.
Friday morning, we decided to go to the Petit Palace to look through the art museum there. When we arrived, we discovered the Museum was closed for renovations until 2004. Deciding we couldn’t wait that long, we walked up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.
Family picture in front of the Arc de Triomphe.
Spencer and I climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, where
we enjoyed this magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower and the rest of Paris.