Wednesday, June 30, 2010

day 6

After the most dramatic/traumatic early morning flight in history, we arrived in Rome. We really very nearly missed our flight, ran through the airport, got ignored by everyone pretending they don't speak English only to discover they do... it was pretty terrible. Anyway, we made it to Rome. On our first day there, we saw the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It is just incredible to see these things that have stood for 2,000 years. I don't think there's all that much explaining to be done, so here are some pictures:

I kind of had to drag Lance along to the Colosseum because he was so bummed by our morning flight issues... but we both ended up absolutely loving everything about the Colosseum. It was absolutely incredible.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

day 5

Day 5 (and our last full day in France ) was pretty incredible. See, when we were planning this trip, I kept asking Lance what he wanted to do in Paris and in Rome… and the ONLY thing he had his heart set on in Paris was making the trip up to the Normandy coastline to see the D-Day beaches in northern France. We booked a D-Day beaches tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours (mostly because it was all-inclusive, so I didn’t have to arrange a hotel to stay in or a taxi to get us to the beach or whatever). We got up Sunday morning with our picnic lunch packed and boarded the train for Bayeaux , France. Now, I have thank the Lord at this point—I hadn’t really looked at the time on our ticket, and I thought our train left at around 9:30, so I thought we had plenty of time. Well, we pulled into the big station to get on the big train from our little commuter train at like 9:04, and I pulled out our tickets just to check… turns out our train was leaving at 9:10!!! So we were power walking through the station, trying to read the signs in French… Anyway, we made it on our train just fine, and I just kept saying, “Oh, thank you, Lord!” over and over. I have NO idea what we would have done if we’d missed our train! Okay, so we took the train into Bayeaux , France , which has to be one of the – if not THE – most picturesque towns in history. They have a chapel in the center of town (also called Notre Dame, actually) that was built 100 years before the Notre Dame in Paris . Oh, it was beautiful there. I felt like we’d stepped back in time. We ate our picnic lunch there, walked around a bit, and then met our tour group. Our tour guide (her name was Rose) was born and raised in Bayeaux. She was wonderful.

First, we went to Pont du Hoc. Obviously, the full history of this place is pretty long… but the VERY condensed version is that the Germans had set up fortifications atop this cliff overlooking the sea. There were big machine guns and bunkers and such. Well, the American planes bombed the shnikey out of Pont du Hoc… and then a very brave group of American Rangers scaled the cliff and overtook the German soldiers who were still there. (As it turned out, the German guns had been moved a mile away. They were found later.) Anyway, the pictures of the “after” of this place are incredible – it looks like Swiss cheese. For whatever reason, the craters were never filled in, so it’s now just this huge Swiss-cheese-looking field atop a cliff.

Then we went to Omaha Beach itself. Honestly, I don’t even think I’d ever seen pictures of Omaha Beach other than during the D-Day invasions. During those days, it was foggy and rainy… and men were dying and guns were firing… and there was pain and fear and sadness and anger… and in my head, the entire day is gray. The men are gray, the ground is gray, the sky is gray. In real life, though, Omaha Beach is simply beautiful. The colors are so vivid that it looks like they were photoshopped… but they are really just that color. It is so sad to think of how many men gave their lives on that beach… and it seems almost impossible that that gray, gray day happened here.

After that, we went to the American Cemetery . I’m almost at a loss for words in describing it. It’s immaculately manicured, and there is an unparalleled degree of uniformity and perfection… and it’s also much more emotional than I’d thought it would be. The way the cemetery sits at the top of the cliff, overlooking the very beaches where some of those men gave their lives… It’s humbling and sobering and somewhere between ironic and noble. I was blown away by the number of crosses that read “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms, known but to God.” Our guide told us that only 40% of the American soldiers that gave their lives in the D-Day invasions and related operations. For the other 60%, their families elected to have them brought back home and buried here. There is also a huge wall of names of people that were never found after the wars.

We went from there to some German armaments where the guns are still in place (although obviously not functioning). We also drove through a town that was pretty damaged during the war. They’ve since rebuilt, but there were before/after pictures. I kind of wish I could have/would have videoed everything she said. I hate that there are already some things I can’t remember. I need to watch Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day and some of those kinds of movies now… because, strangely enough, I’ve actually visited those places in real life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

j/k... that was day 4.

As it turns out, I can't count to 4 correctly. I kept looking at the pictures thinking, "Did we really do all of those things in only 3 days?" Nope. Four. I'm sure that intelligent internet-using kindergartners everywhere are totally judging me right now for my lack of counting abilities.

And - as an excuse/explanation for why it's taking me so long to finish posting about our trip - I got myself addicted to making a photo book on Shutterfly, so I've been spending all my spare time doing that. Well, that and a million other things.

Anyway, day FIVE coming soon. Hopefully I counted that one right...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

day 3

On our last full day in Paris, we went to Notre Dame first thing in the morning. We climbed up the 400 steps to the top of the cathedral, saw the bell towers, took a million pictures of the gargoyles, etc. It was amazingly beautiful. And the INSIDE of the chapel! Incredible! Oh my word.... it's really a shame that pictures can't capture how breathtaking it all is.

After that, we headed to the Musee d’Orsay for me to look at the Monet and Degas paintings I wanted to see… and then we boarded the train for Versailles from the d’Orsay station.

I guess I should pause here to say that we saw some of my favorite things on this day… but it was also the most dramatic day ev. So, first thing in the morning, I went to the ATM to get some cash (we only had 10 euros total between us)… and my card got rejected. I was in a total panic. We had no cash, and I had no idea what was wrong with my card. We went on to Notre Dame and that was so amazing that I kind of forgot about my cash woes for awhile. Then, at the d’Orsay, I asked if they had an ATM, but they didn’t. So, here it is lunchtime, and we can’t eat at the little shops because they don’t take cards… I was stressing. Ultimately, Lance convinced me we should just head on to Versailles (I had read that there was a McDonald’s across from the train station there, and we were pretty sure they’d take cards). I agreed, and we went ahead and bought our train tickets… and then mine didn’t work, I couldn’t get through the turnstile… and I may have cried. Anyway, we got on the train, made it to the Versailles train stop, and ate at the McDonald’s there without incident (all this time, Lance is trying to convince me that it must have been the ATM and not my card because my card had worked at the train station and at McDonald’s) and continued the search for an ATM since I wanted to go into the gardens, and that cost an additional 8 euros, and I didn’t know if they would accept cards. Lance saw a tourism office as we were walking to Versailles , and they pointed out an ATM just across the street, so we ended up with cash… and doing a-okay.

Okay, so back to Versailles.

Versailles was AMAZING. Oh my word. Everything about it was just incredible and immaculate and perfect. After doing a partial tour (from Rick Steves on my iPod), we went out to the gardens (now that we had cash to pay for the tickets!!!) to see the fountains. I’m so glad we did. That afternoon was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was SO beautiful. We even had a crepe at a little cafĂ© out in the gardens. It was pretty much perfection. It made me wish over and over that I were a princess. I kept telling Lance that I could just see ladies in their fancy gowns strolling through these gardens. Again, pictures cannot do it justice. In person, it's so beautiful that there that these giggles just kept welling up inside me.

When we got back to La Defense (one of the main train stations in Paris), we stopped into the Monop’ (basically a little mini grocery/convenience store) and picked up food for a picnic on Sunday since we were going on our D-Day Beaches tour, and then I had a croissant for dinner… and Lance had McDonald’s again. For shame, I know.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

day 3

Instead, we decided we should go to the Eiffel Tower first thing in the morning and go up then. We still had to wait in a line (about an hour total), but we got to go to the very top of the tower, took about a million pictures, and even ate lunch up there (baguette sandwiches).

After we got done at the Eiffel Tower , we headed toward the Rodin Museum (which we had tried to visit the prior day, but it was closing time already (it closes at 4:45!) to see The Thinker.

The Rodin Museum was really neat overall. I got to see several sculptures I’d been looking forward to (Hand of God, the Kiss, Gates of Hell, etc.), and lots of the sculptures were outside, which was really neat. It was also a much smaller museum… so I think we spent about 30 minutes there… and that included a bathroom break! After that, we headed to the Louvre. Wow. What an impressive place the Louvre is.

We entered through the glass pyramid…

And I had a list of masterpieces I wanted to see (the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory, the Wedding Feast at Cana , the Venus di Milo, etc.), so we worked our way through that list…

And then we had a Starbs break… And then we headed back out to see the Egyptian artifacts that Lance wanted to see. By this time, it was getting close to 6:30 (or whatever time the Louvre closes), and I was trying desperately to get back to the gift shop before it closed. It seemed like every which way we turned, there was more Louvre! We made it to the gift shop and then decided to go into the Carrousel mall attached to the Louvre to eat dinner (and, of course, to take pics by the inverted pyramid). As it turns out, Mary Magdalene’s final resting place (ala Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code) is somewhere between the Virgin Music megastore and the Apple store…

Anyway, we ate dinner in the food court there (quiche and bread)… and then I read that the Louvre is open until 9:30 on Friday nights, so we ventured back in! We spent HOURS there... and still didn't see even half of what there is to see. Just amazing!