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Saturday, March 12, 2011

France, J'taime - 2001 Trip

Continuing with my recollections of some of my travels, I wanted to reflect on a trip taken a decade ago to France.  In the winter of 2001, my father organized a trip to France.  Traveling with him and my mother would be myself, my girlfriend then and now my wife Aimee, my sister Karen and my Uncle Dan and Aunt Gen.  My sister Karen was able to secure our travel thru Lufthansa, which had a special winter travel airfare rates.

I would like to add that two years prior to this trip, I had gone to Paris with my parents and we stayed at the Neuilly Courtyard at a special rate since I was working for Marriott at the time.  Neuilly is a beautiful suburb just outside of Paris and close to the Paris Metro making it a great location for a week long trip to Paris.  Our stay was a lot of fun and we saw so much so returning two years later was something that I was really looking forward to doing.

Our plans for this trip was to rent two cars in Paris and then begin our trip traveling to three towns in Northern France.  On our first day, we would go to Rouen, then to Bayeux, and then off to Mont St. Michel.  On our fourth day we would travel to Paris and spent the next three days there before returning home.

Day one was interesting, we left NY in the afternoon and traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to catch a connecting flight to Paris.  When we arrived in Paris, we then secured our rental cars.  I then followed my father on the road out and headed for Rouen.  I vaugely remembered our way out of the airport from two years earlier and I recognized that my father was headed into the roadway which travels around Paris.  He realized it and then moved out of the lane with not much room to spare and I followed him while fighing the Paris a.m. rush hour traffic.  I began to think my father was trying to shake me loose, just kidding.

We made our way up to Rouen and after some circling around we found our hotel.  We rested for a while and then met up for dinner.  We walked past the Cathedral Monet painted in some of his impressionistic paintings and also by the space Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and we enjoyed dinner at a small, quaint Italian restaurant.  Our waiter was a good sport named Jean-Michel, my Uncle Dan called him John Michael throughout and that was amusing.  I did my best to order in French and I did a good job throughout speaking to the locals in French.  I was aided in this by referring to a pocket sized translation book which had helpful phrases color coordinated for easy reference. I also channeled the three years of French I took in High School, God Bless you Sister Margaret.

Day two, we traveled to Bayeux.  On the way there we stopped for lunch and took a tour of a World War II Museum in Caen which was pretty cool.  In Bayeux, our accomadations were really nice.  The chateau we stayed at was large and it had decent parking for our cars.  Bayeux,  the town, was a nice walking town and there we went to see the Bayeux tapestry.  The tapestry was a work which was housed in a large room and as you walked around we looked at the tapestry as it depicts the Norman conquest of Great Britain in 1066.

On day three, we left Bayeux and visited the American Cemetery near the D-Day landing beaches in Colleville-sur Mer.  The cemetery, overlooks the Omaha Beach D-Day landing site and there are over 9,000 Americans buried there.  It was a cold, overcast day as we walked the gounds and paid our respects to our valiant lost heroes.  I was struck by the ages of the dead, 19, 20, 22.  These young men helped to liberate France and later the European continent and I was glad to pay my respects to them.  On the way out we stopped at several other D-Day sites, Pont du hoc and St. Mere Eglise, which was the first French town liberated from the Nazi's.  They had a dummy there on display attached to the church steeple.  This comemerates an American soldier whose parachute was caught on the church steeple in the town during the landings.  He pretended to be dead as the Nazi's were fighting the Allied invasion force.

We made our way to Mont St. Michel which was a sight to see.  Mont St. Michel sits on a rock tidal island.  At one time it was a monestary and today it is an architectural wonder and quite a beautiful place to visit.  We had a nice dinner next to our hotel, which was located just down the road from Mont St. Michel and then rested for our journey to Paris the next day.

We made our way to Paris the next day but our rendez-vous at our Paris hotel proved difficult.  The road our hotel was located on was a pedestrian path only, so no cars could ride down the street.  At first, we parked in the garage of a nearby mall but after checking in we moved the car to the street.  Aimee and I explored on our own, finding a nearby restaurant to have dinner and later walking around our hotel's arrondisment. 

On the next day, which I remember was St. Patrick's Day, we drove to Versailles and we walked around the palace enjoying the ornate landscaped grounds.  The Hall of Mirrors was cool and this was the place where the WW I Peace Treaty was signed.  We then returned to Paris and visited the Eiffel Tower and then had a late lunch at a restaurant near the tower.  The next day, I happily returned the rental car back to Hertz, since we didn't need the car anymore and I didn't want to deal with the psycho French drivers.  Aimee and I then walked to the Arch De Triomphe and down the Champs Elysees.  We then made our way to the Louvre and enjoyed all the works of art we saw. 

On our last full day in Paris, on Monday, we went to Montmarte and visited Sacre Coeur.  The view of the city from outside the church was nice.  There were many street mimes, performers, and street artists in Montmarte so be prepared if you go there.  We eventually made our way to Notre Dame Cathedral and I was happy to see the entire front end of the cathedral as it was being repaired in 1999 and was unable to be seen on my first trip.  Outside and above the doors there are some amazing sculpture work and gargoyles.  Inside was impressive with bright stained glass windows.  There was a service going on so we were quiet as we walked through. 

That evening, we had dinner at a very nice restaurant called La Gare which is housed in a former railroad station.  Dinner was delicious.  I had a rack of Lamb and my French beer 1664.  It was a fitting end to a wonderful trip and we were set to return home the next day.  On our return home, we ran into some travel snags and we were routed home through Washington D.C. but it was okay.  It's amazing how much the world has changed in the last ten years since this trip.  This was a full six months before 9-11 and our country was not at war and traveling abroad did not seem so different as I am sure it is now with more intensive security.

I enjoyed France and Paris and I hope to get back there with Aimee again some day.

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