Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Paris - City of Lights

This past Friday we packed up our VW Sharon minivan and Jack and Julie (Kathleen's Mom and Dad), Kathleen, Payton and me headed northwest to Paris, France. The drive mapped out to be about 5½ hours, but we made a few stops so it took us about 7 hours to get to our hotel.

Our trip was 5 days total with Friday and today being travel days. We arrived late afternoon on Friday and since our hotel was near the Eiffel Tower we headed there for a look-see.

This tower is huge! For being over one hundred years old it looks like new. Sure it's design looks like something really old, but it is kept in great condition. It is a nice bronze color. I didn't see any rust or decay. It is wonderful. There were many, many people there to see the tower. The lines to go up the tower were very long. We sat and partook in some ice cream and then wondered about craning our necks skywards just taking this masterpiece in.

It was early evening so we decided to go have dinner. We would check the tower out again later in our trip. Dinner and some rest was called for because Saturday was going to be filled with a tour of the Normandy beach area seeing and learning a little about D-Day first hand.

We scheduled a tour for Normandy and let someone else drive us around. Good thing too. Traffic in Paris is terrible and very challenging. The circle around the Arc de Triomphe is just total chaos! The drive to the beach was 2½ hours so it was nice to have someone else drive. It was oh seven hundred hours and off we were to Hitler's Atlantic Wall...

German Longues-Sur-Mer coastal battery.

Our guide was Jean-Paul who we just called John. John was from Paris and spoke pretty good English. Normandy and the battle for it is much bigger than one day's visit. Our guide gave us a good overview starting with Bénouville. The battle here started the night before the D-Day landings and involved British troops taking and holding the Pegasus Bridge. From there we went to GOLD beach - the center of the five beach landings on D-Day. The British secured GOLD and the town of Arromanches. It was here that the Mulberry Harbour was created facilitating the logistical supply of the D-Day invasion and the drive eastward into Germany.

Kathleen and Payton on GOLD beach.
Behind them (on the right) are remnants of Mulberry Harbour.

We also walked around Longues-Sur-Mer battery. This was a German bunker complex consisting of four 155mm guns. In the picture above you can see two of the bunkers. This is the only coastal battery to have kept its guns.

Kathleen's Mom and Dad in front of a bunker
at the German Longues-Sur-Mer coastal battery.

From GOLD beach we headed west to OMAHA beach. We were fortunate to be at the beaches during low tide - same as when the invasion started. There is a lot of beach to cross at low tide - as much and probably more than at Hilton Head. The American cemetery for those killed in the Normandy campaign is found here overlooking the beach. Over 9,000 American soldiers are buried here.

We walked around reading the plaques and monuments. I only snapped two pictures of the graves. I took the one above and randomly picked out a single grave. I got quite a surprise when I zoomed in and looked in my viewfinder. Kathleen's Dad's name is John Dolan. Look at the name on the grave. Wierd, freaky and everything else. Jack is alive and well.

Click on the picture to see an enlargement.

From the cemetery we headed back to Paris. It had been a long day and our walking bones ached. Well not Payton's. He rode around in his stroller. He was a real trooper and good boy all day. The rest of us needed a rest.

Later Saturday night around 10:30 I headed out by my self to check out a couple of sights at night. I wanted to go see the Arc de Triomphe and it was only just up the street from our hotel. This monument is really pretty cool. It is massive. At night the traffic around the circle was tame, but during the day it was chaos. There are eight multi-lane boulevards converging here. A huge traffice circle surrounds the Arc. The circle has no marked traffic lanes. I guess that this circle is wide enough for 8 - 10 lanes of traffic. Cars are entering and exiting like bees buzzing around your head. When we left town on Tuesday I drove around this circle in the day. I managed, but I had nervous car load of people.

Naturally the Eiffel Tower is lit up at night. I am not sure what time the lights are shut off, but they're not left on all night (so I was told). The French wisely figured they better conserve a little energy. At the top of the hour for ten minutes strobe lights go off making the tower sparkle. This was done for the millennium and was meant to be temporary - 2 years. The strobes are still there due to the popularity from the locals and tourists alike. The Tower itself was meant to be temporary and she's still there too.

Traffic was light at this time of night. I walked down to the river and set up our little Sony pocket camera at the foot of a bridge. I am not by any means a great photographer, but I'm really surprized at the different shots you can get from this little camera just by using settings other than auto. I snapped away. Hey, it's a digital camera with a big memory card. Pictures are free so take a bunch of them and maybe one or two will look okay.

The next day, Sunday morning, Kathleen and her Mom and Dad went to a nearby church for their Sunday services. I stayed in the room with Payton. Payton had a fever that had been coming and going. He needed rest and I drew the short straw. Imagine that. Our journey for the day was going the be the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

The cathedral was more than a good walk away so we ventured underground to the subway. Kathleen figured out its intricacies and we were soon whisked away. Kathleen and I have seen a few old European churches, but this one has been the best by far. It is a popular tourist spot. People were touring the church while services were being held.

After leaving the cathedral we walked south to a park. The picture below was taken of us by Payton. With a little help from straightening and cropping, he took a pretty good picture of us. The cool thing about the pool we are sitting at is the little sail boats. Kids put sail boats in the water and run around the pool edges with long sticks. Using the sticks they push to boats out into the pool and the wind sails them wherever. When they make their way back to the edge the kids just push them off again.

Well that about all we did. Oh wait, Sunday night Kathleen, Payton and me went down to the Eiffel Tower.
The wait wasn't too long so we went up to the second floor. We didn't go to the top (the third floor). The wait from the 2nd floor to the top was over 45 minutes. You had to stand in the open air and it was windy and nippy up there! You're plenty high enough on the 2nd floor and can see everything in the city. We couldn't go to Paris without going up the Eiffel Tower.

I can't possible describe the city to you. I hope that you can one day see it for yourself. The next morning we packed up and drove home. It was a very nice trip.

My my, I forgot to tell y'all about how Kathleen and I were targeted by a scam. We were out walking, just the two of us, on Monday morning. We were walking across a foot bridge over the Seine River when a guy came up to us from behind. He had picked something up at Kathleen's feet - a thick gold ring like a man's wedding band. With a friendly smile on his face he 'tried returning the ring' that we had lost.

"Not ours" we said. "You keep" he said and put the ring in Kathleen's hand and walked on. He only walked on for about three steps and turned around and asked for money. Kathleen put the ring back in his hand and we stepped around him and walked on. He tried scamming us into buying a gold ring that we probably could have unwrapped and ate the chocolate inside.

We got across the bridge, turned right and a guy bent down in front us an popped up with a big smile and a big fat gold ring in his hand. I doubt that we even walked 50 yards.

Kathleen cut him off and said "Sorry, your buddy just tried that scam on us". He just walked on past us like we weren't even there. We were warned to keep a hold of your purse and wallet deep in your pocket. Guess you have to watch out for the hustlers too.

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