Monday, September 3, 2012

Why Yes, That WAS a Viking Ship We Saw Today!

MONDAY, 9/3:

My streak of good fortune is still alive.

Back before we came to Europe in 2008 I bought a little umbrella to stick in my backpack, just in case it ever needed to get used.  Luckily, I’ve never had to use it, and it’s been sitting quietly all these years in the plastic case in which I purchased it.  This morning, though, we woke up to clouds and a fine mist raining down on everything, and by the time we got to our first stop, I was worried that I’d actually have to use the umbrella.  Luckily, though, Mother Nature remembered we had pre-ordered nice weather and got rid of the clouds and the mist, giving us breaks of sun throughout the rest of the day.

Thanks, Mother Nature!

Our journeys in the mist brought us this morning to several beaches of which you may have heard, where we saw some strange things, including this—

Harness racing is huge around here, and the drivers of the sulkies like to train their horses on local beaches, which is what they were doing here.  The beach, if you’re curious, is Omaha Beach.  In fact, they’re riding their sulkies on the beach at Vierville-sur-Mer, which is the same beach on which the fictional characters in “Saving Private Ryan” were landing.  Near there is a place called Pointe du Hoc, where another famous D-Day battle took place.  The thing about Pointe du Hoc is that the French government has left it in the exact same shape the Allies did after doing battle—

Those holes you see everywhere?  Those are bomb craters from U.S. Navy bombardment of the German gun emplacements that you now see as those big chunks of concrete everywhere.  I don’t know about you, but war seems like a mighty fine waste of natural resources to me.

We also headed up the road to Utah Beach, the other American landing beach, where we saw something else that was kinda curious—

In case you can’t quite make it out, that’s a replica Viking ship that sails out of the nearby city of Cherbourg, bringing tourists around to the area where Vikings actually landed and marauded back in the 800s.  It was weird; while driving up the coast I saw what I thought was a Viking boat, and stopped to take a picture.  Then at the tourist information office in another town, we happened across a pamphlet that told about the tours.  I guess you never know what you’re gonna see in France!

You know how we’ve been stopping at a lot of cemeteries around here?  Well, today we stopped at a German war cemetery in Orglandes, where over 10,000 people are buried.  You see a lot of graves there like this—

That translates to “three unknown German soldiers”, all buried in one mass grave.  While we were walking around the cemetery, I was struck by a couple of things.  The first was that most of the people buried in the cemetery weren’t your hard-core, evil, genocidal and maniacal Nazis.  They were just ordinary German citizens who had either been drafted or coerced (or both) into fighting for their country.  What shocked me walking around the cemetery was the number of kids buried there who hadn’t even reached their 18th birthday.  I don’t know if this is true, but someone once told me that half of all German men between the ages or 15 and 40 were killed in World War II, that HALF of an entire generation died for nothing, died for an insane madman with warped dreams of conquering a planet.

When we were in the Normandy American Cemetery yesterday, we overheard a kid no older than eight ask a very perceptive question of one of his parents.  He simply said, “Dad, why did the Germans want everything?”  I hope his dad explained that it wasn’t all Germans who wanted everything, especially those Germans buried in a place like Orglandes.

Okay, enough with the depressing stuff.  Here’s today’s flower to cleanse your palette—

This was on a bush in the pretty little town of Isigny-sur-Mer, a place that makes butter and cream known around France.  And that leads us into today’s edition of “Food From France”!

(And Jamie LaFreniere, you may want to look away now).

We often tell people about the breakfasts you get here in Europe.  For Europeans, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and hotels always have a great buffet-type spread out ready & waiting for you.  Here’s mine from today—

The butter I put on the crepes, by the way?  From Isigny!

One of the reasons we stopped at Vierville-sur-Mer was because today was their market day, but as we quickly found out, their market day is nothing like Bayeux’s.  Where Bayeux’s market consists of over 100 people selling everything from fresh produce to live rabbits to “Ahh Bras”, Vierville’s consisted of, uhm, one lady selling peaches and apples. 

Not quite the same, if you know what I mean.

We did pick up a lot of produce today, though.  That’s another of the cool things about France:  because farming is so big, and because the government encourages healthy eating, fresh fruits and vegetables are incredibly cheap.  Loraine bought two big, red, juicy tomatoes for 50 cents, while I picked up a huge honkin’ carrot for 15 cents.  And that’s not even mentioning the white peaches and white nectarines we also inhaled!

Finally (and Jame, this is where you need to look away), we found another one of our Holy Grails today.  Back in 2009 we happened across the best chocolate tarts we’ve ever tried (and trust me, we’ve tried a few).  They’re rich, creamy, dark chocolate (made with cream from Isigny!) in a buttery shell with just a hint of anise in it.  In all our subsequent trips, we’ve never come across them again.  But guess what we found at a Super U?

The ironic thing, of course, is that we also saw them at the next Super U we came across an hour later.  Three years without seeing them, and we come across them twice in one day.  I guess that means we’ll be trying them again before we leave!

Tomorrow, we have to go see a guy about a thing.  Details on that then.

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