France Day 22 - St. Malo, Mont St. Michel, D-Day

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
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Trip End Sep 01, 2008


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Flag of France  , Normandy,
Sunday, August 17, 2008

We wake to another feast. Francois was up at 6am with his little girl, Juliette ... so we come downstairs to table full of home made crepes, fresh baguettes and croissants, fruit, coffee and tea. I feel like a celebrity! At breakfast, Francois teaches me how to eat breakfast like a true Frenchman. Fresh baguette with butter and jam dipped in hot tea or coffee! I was skeptical at first, but ... it was great! (I had tea...)

With a whole house full of friends coming in to town today, we decide its best if we eat and run to allow Francois and Zelia to get ready for their friends. As we leave, we get last minute instructions from Francois on which road to take out of town, and we are treated with a view of an amazing cove featuring a large chateau isolated on a small island. Its pretty dang cool. We've been told it is unusually cold and windy for this time of year, ... we can only imagine how great a place St. Briac would be to enjoy the beach with good weather.

Out of St. Briac, and on to St. Malo ... only twenty minutes away, and a beautiful drive along the coast. St. Malo is a well-preserved old city, very popular with British tourists. The highlight of the city is the fact that it was built at the end of a peninsula so it has breathtaking views of the ocean, AND its surrounded 100% by an ancient wall. Really, an amazing city. Not like anything we've seen thus far in France. We pull up to the city and find that the route that the GPS tells us to travel on won't work. It seems that the busy August traffic is too much for the city, only locals are allowed in by car. So getting inside the walls will mean we will have to park outside and walk in. That works for us! ... We park and head inside, tour the streets, window shop, listen to musicians, pose for pictures, and enjoy some hot chocolate and treats from la boulangerie. We'd been warned ahead of time not to eat here because of the outrageous prices, so Janice packed a picnic basket with stuff for PB&J and various snacks for the kids. (BTW, neither Francois nor Zelia had ever even tried PB&J! Can you imagine?!) ... Our walk inside the walls takes us straight through the city to the ocean, where we decide to meander around the rest of the city and back to our car via the walls. Its an amazing place full of history. Hopefully our photos give a small taste of the experience. One thing we saw that was really cool was on a beach .... swimming pool built right in to the ocean. It was just ocean water in there, but it provided a calm place for kids to swim without having to worry about the waves. Also has a big two story diving board ... Great idea! Another great sight were the two apparent burial grounds on smaller islands. With the tide up, only accessible by boat, but when the tide is down, a small pathway emerges. I've decided that when I die, thats all I want. A small service, and a small island. Thats not too much to ask, is it?

And then, ... back to the car ... and on to Mt. Saint-Michel, one hour away. What a place!!! Even the kids were impressed with the sight of it (which at this point in the trip is saying something. They are sight and experience OVERLOAD!). But Mt. Saint-Michel is truly majestic. We pulled in to the parking lot, and I snagged the first spot I saw. Bad idea, turned out it was also the farthest from the entrance. DOH! After we walked a good ten minutes to the drawbridge of the island castle, I was SURE the kids were going to break out into complaint mode. But they were so excited about how beautiful and amazing the island looked that they were determined to scale it in its entirety (which they would have if it wasn't for the fact that the final 25% of the climb costs money and had a good thirty minute line). As we scaled Mt. St-Michel from the inside up, we passed an old drawbridge, ultra narrow cobblestone streets, and mobs of tourists. Definitely crowded. ... Up atop the ramparts, we have a great view of the masses of people entering at the gates, and I take a moment to try to get the kids to imagine what it would have been like to be on guard duty. I draw back my imaginary bow and launch arrow after arrow on our attackers. The kids smile widely and each take their turn ... Samuel crouches down between volleys, ... Ella adds a "Kaboosh!" sound each time she fires. Great memories ... and Sam is full of questions. "How does the drawbridge work again, Dad?" ... "Where are the bad guys now?" ... "Does anybody live here?" ....

Before we came to France, we watched several documentaries on popular tourist sights, Mt. Saint-Michel being one of them. One of our favorite featured restaurants was a old fashioned omelettarrie, where the chefs whisk the eggs together in a very peculiar rhythmic pattern. We wanted to try it, but at 35 euros per omelette, we decided not to. Instead, we stop at a little overpriced restaurant outside of Mont Saint-Michel called Auberge de la Baie (www.aubergedelabaie.fr). There were two highlights from the menu ... my duck confit (first time trying the dish ... and WOW. SOOOO good!) and the dessert (a huge bowl of ice cream with a deliciously unique, rich dark chocolate sauce).

Back in the car, and off to our final destination of the day ... Arromanches, in the heart of the historic Gold Beach of the Normandy invasion. The drive is just over an hour, and before checking in to our hotel, we drive up the nearby bluffs in Arromanches to take in the view, see a memorial, and watch a thirty minute 360 degree movie to get us in the proper mind set for the next two days of WW2 sight exploration.

After parking and unloading the kids ... I take no more than a couple of steps ... and a wave of emotions hit me. Totally out of nowhere. I see no monuments. No grave sights. No American Flag. It is something else. Something about just being here. The way the wind blows. The peaceful sound of the ocean. The surge of emotions takes me off guard and I choke back my tears ... but its to no avail. My eyes fill with tears. I wipe them away and head on, taking in the sites and sounds. Sam asks, "Dad, what is this place? What are we doing here?" ... and I start to tell a simplified version to him about the evil man Hitler, and the horrible things he did, and how all the good guys came together to fight him ... and as I do, my voice cracks, and I have to pause or the tears will stream again. My friend Bruce asked me to tell him my experience here. The way he put it, he wanted to know if there was something different about the way the air smelled. ... It sure is something. Something is sacred about this place.

After wiping my eyes several times, and calming my nerves a bit (the hair on my arms kept standing on end as my body surged with adrenaline!) ... we headed to the 360 degree Arromanches theater where we watched a twenty minute movie that featured modern day video mixed with flashbacks to original footage from the war. Inspiring. Outside, the kids play in a crater left from an Allied bomb on the coast.

We walk back to the car, and I feel a redoubling of determination in my soul to fight the valiant fight in life. To live and walk the high road ... to love, to give, to take courage, to be brave ... I remind myself of my commitment to Goodness. I can't fix the world, ... but damnit, if I see evil ... in my world ... I am ready to take action. I don't know what this means precisely. I'm not a hothead out looking for a fight. And I'm no Superman out lookin' for the bad guys. I just pitty the foo' ... you know what I mean?

Below the cliffs of Arromanches is our hotel. Its AWESOME. Just amazing. Here, I'm going to link to this other dude's travelpod so you can see the layout of the city and where we are staying. Sooooo amazing. http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/bdorroh/1/1209934800/tpod.html#pbrowser/bdorroh/1/1209934800/filename=1-arromanches.jpg hit the 'next picture' buttons to see more. Just crazy cool.

We get settled in and find that the hotel offers beach toys for the kids to play with for free. And as fate would have it, the skies are blue around us. ... Its really been absolutely amazing on this trip how the good weather has seemed to follow our every move. Really neat. ... So, Janice and the kids head down to the beach while I check my emails and such. About an hour later, I join them and we explore the leftover wreckage from the port that was constructed at Arromanches. We end the night with a really disgusting, overpriced meal. Seriously. To give you an idea, my second to last course was a cheese tray and after she brought the food, she looked around for bread and literally walked over to the dirty table next to me (the people had left ten minutes earlier), snagged the leftover bread, and brought it over to me. If she'd do this in front of me, makes me scared to think what goes on the kitchen. Ekh.

Our room has a little separate area for the kids' beds and we get them all set with a view of the carrousel outside their window ... and as the night wears on and the town shuts down ... a great view of a full moon. Breathtaking. The cool air from the bay. The sound of the waves. The kids gazing out the window at the full moon. Janice gets a backrub to end the long day.

This is the type of thing worth fighting for, ... worth dying for even ...
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