Sunday, September 11, 2016

The End of This Particular Road

SUNDAY, 9/11:

I hope we get to Greenland soon.

Greetings from 37,000 feet somewhere over the North Atlantic. We left Paris an hour and a half ago, and we now have a mere seven hours left to kill before we land in Chicago, where once we clear Customs (always a wonderful, fun task) we only have six hours to catch our flight back to Marquette.

I really hope we make it (he says sarcastically).

It's been cloudy most of the flight so far, which I consider quite the bummer. I'm sitting in the window seat, and, given the chance, I could spend the entire eight and a half hours in the air just gazing down upon the land, the water, and whatever else may pop up. I guess that's the geography nerd in me. I've always been fascinated by staring out the plane window. And it's why I can't understand people like the woman in the seat in front of me, who's pulled down her shade and is trying to sleep. You have an airplane window seat, a seat for which you may have paid a premium. Why WOULDN'T you look out that window?

Anyway, that's why I'm waiting to get to Greenland. It's a sign that we've made some actual progress on this seemingly endless flight, and it's also a chance to see desolation at its absolute peak. Unless you fly over the very southern tip of the island—and we usually don't—all you see are rocks & glaciers. You see nothing else. There are no colors, and absolutely no signs of life at all. If you were an alien landing on the planet and happened to choose Greenland as your destination, you'd think there was nothing here and head back to Proxima Centauri (or wherever it was from which you came)

However, for a geography nerd there are patterns to be seen in the ice. You can see where the glaciers ebb and flow, and on the coast you can see where they're calving into the water. It's an interesting thing to see, and if scientists are right it's something you may not be able to enjoy much longer should the island's glaciers all melt.

And that would be sad.

Anyway, enough about the geography. I promised more pictures and more stories, and in no particular order, here they are--

See those two cars? Those are a Renault Twingo (in the back) and a Renault Clio up front. They are the two most popular cars you see in France. Those of you who read my daily blogs know of the “Outback/Silverado” game you can play in Marquette, where it seems like every other vehicle is either a Subaru Outback or a Chevy Silverado. When you see one, you'll soon see the other, and usually in equal numbers. Well, we noticed pretty much the same with Twingos and Clios in France, and instead of walking down the street going “Outback” or “Silverado”, we started walking down the street saying “Twingo” or “Clio”.

Guess it doesn't take much to keep us entertained.

Speaking of cars, we drove a little over 2.100 kilometers during the nine days we had the Cee'd. That's about 1,300 miles, or on average 150 miles a day. Contrast that with the, uhm, zero miles I usually drive in any nine day span at home, and you can see why I had fun on those narrow and winding roads!

While we're driving we have the radio on, and aside from all of the American and British hits they play over here, we get to hear a few songs you'd never get to hear at home. Here's this year's discovery, a song that has pounded itself into our brains, so much so that we listened to it, oh, a dozen times or so while packing last night.

May I present Paradis and “Toi et Moi”--

Listen to it a dozen times for yourself and see if it doesn't get stuck in YOUR head.

You may have noticed reading these that as you're driving through France you may see a lot of unusual things. Want a few more? How about a town that holds an annual accordion festival?

Or this, in someone's yard in Ste. Mere Eglise?

Or this, the very weird name for a model of Nissan that, if you say it fast enough, almost sounds like, say, the very weird name “Koski?

If you know where to look, you can find little things like that everywhere. All you have to do is keep a camera ready and you're all set.

I've been mentioning the greatest bromance in the history of French morning television for a few days now, and I supposed I should explain of what I'm speaking. We don't watch any TV while we're over there—we're just don't seem to have the time—but the one show for which we'll make an exception is “Telematin”. It's France's version of “The Today Show”, and we started watching it because it was hosted by this curmudgeonly older guy named William Leymergie. He'd be surrounded by all of these young correspondents explaining what was hot & new, and William would just sit there and shake his head in wonder and/or disgust. It's habit we picked up over the years, and would always look forward to William being, well, William.

But then Nate came along--

Nate is the young newscaster on the right of your picture, while William's the older guy on the left. Every since Nate's shown up, William's no longer quite as curmudgeonly as he once was. In fact, when Nate gets done with his newscasts and he throws it back to William, they'll chat, and William will often giggle, as will Nate.

Who knew? And that's the bromance I kept mentioning.

Want a few more flower shots? Of course you do--

How about this one?

And how about one more Tour de France picture, just for old times sake?

Or one more cow picture?

This next thing may seem stupid to some people, but I'll keep doing it until the day I stop coming over here. The first time I went to Europe my niece Mallory, who was then five years old, was bummed because she couldn't go. So I brought along a bookmark with her picture on it, took a shot of it, showed it to her, and showed her how she actually did “go” to Europe with me. Every since then I've done it every time we've gone over.

Here's the year's edition, taken in Villedeu-le-Poelles.

Mallory's now almost 19 and probably thinks her Uncle Jim is a dork for continuing to do this. But I am a dork. I've never denied it, and I'll often, in fact, revel in my dork-dom. So I'll keep doing it as long as I come over here.

Finally, I do need to mention the mad scientist who put together this perfect journey, and that would be Loraine. I don't know how she does it, but she keeps coming up with amazing things for us to do and incredible people for us to meet. And this year, she even got the weather to cooperate! I always mention she's an amazing woman, and this is just one of the examples why.

So, as always, thanks again, Loraine. You rock.

Well, that about does it for this excursion. Thanks for reading along, and thanks for all the comments you'd posted, the Facebook notes you stuck up, and the e-mails you sent. I do these blogs because I've been told you guys enjoy following along, and your feedback is proof of that. So once again, thanks. If you're not yet doing so, you may also want to check out the daily blogs I do for work. They usually don't ramble on and on about cows or have pictures of crap from the Tour de France, but you might find them vaguely interesting.

So if you feel like it give them a look.

I hope your digital passport is still in effect this time next year, because my favorite Mad Scientist already has another wing-ding in the works, one that may stick us in four different countries and have me take a crack at driving on Germany's vaunted Autobahn, a road that (gulp) doesn't have a speed limit in some places.

Well, we should be over Greenland soon, and the clouds seem to be breaking up, so until next time...

(p.s.--here's an update after landing in Chicago. I never get to see Greenland; in fact, the clouds didn't break until mid-Ontario. We did, however, get to “see” the house in which Loraine grew up as we flew over her home town of Reese, in the Thumb.

Oh, and in a sign of things to come, remember how I said we're doing our wing-ding next year? Upon arriving at O'Hare, our next destination greeted us!

51 more weeks!)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Soft Place to Fall


The hard part is trying to figure out where everything goes.

Greetings from the Paris suburb of Roissy-en-France, where we're ensconced for our final night. More on Roissy in a bit. First, though, we're trying to repack everything that we've been using and everything we've picked up during the past ten days. Some years, it's kind of easy. This year, while it's not as easy as some, it's still not a challenge. Prior planning on our part, combined with a bunch of stuff we brought with us that we knew we'd throw away after the last night, has left us with enough space and enough of a weight allowance. We just need to figure out what goes where again, like we did before we left.

Think of it as a strange game of Tetris, but with chocolate, cereal, and underwear instead of blocks.

We woke up in Bayeux this morning and went down to the market for one last time...

I had no idea there were that many colors of tomatoes on the planet. I'm glad Loraine pointed the shot out to me! The shivering piglet we saw last week wasn't anywhere insight, but the chickens say “hey”--

Of course, you shouldn't get too attached to them. They're probably on someone's dinner table even as I write this.

Remember how I wrote yesterday about discovering a park we never knew existed in Bayeux? Well, this morning we discovered a restaurant we never knew existed in Bayeux--

Well, I don't know if I'd call it a restaurant so much as I'd call it a pizza vending machine. And that's what it is—you stick your Euros in a slot, you choose what you want on it, and—voila--three minutes later (or so the machine says) you get an “artisinal and fresh” pizza. I almost tried it—after all, I was really curious—but it was only ten in the morning and we had to get going soon for our trip back to Paris. But if it wasn't for that, you would've had a Pizza Ninja review. Really, you would've.

We (sadly) left Bayeux and made the three-hour tour to Roissy, spending five minutes in a traffic slowdown near Caen and 15 or so minutes in a typical Parisian traffic jam. It always seems to happen in the same place, an area where eight lanes of different freeways converge into two or three lanes of a single freeway. Add into that the people always trying to cut through the line or gain a few seconds of an advantage (like a guy in a Lamborghini trying to switch lanes who almost ran into a guy with a rusty Renault) and you can always be assured that you'll spend some time getting to intimately know the license plate of the car ahead of you.

That's always a joy.

We made it to Roissy, a small town right on the outskirts of Charles de Gaulle airport, 

Roissy's the home of 5,000 hotels rooms and one really cool town park--

Every year Roissy puts up some kind of huge public art display in the park, so that people who are stuck here until their flight the next day (like us) have something to look at. This year, it's on “The Secrets of the D'Oise Valley”, the area in which Roissy is located. In fact, the picture on this sign is of a running path in Roissy, covered in cherry blossoms--

Roissy's a really neat place, one in which we always wander around before leaving for home. Loraine, in fact, calls it “Our soft place to fall”. We never seem to get to spend enough time here, which is a shame. But as a goodbye from Roissy, here's a flower--

I'm gonna cut this a little short today, as we have to get up at 4:35 tomorrow to start our journey home. That means we wake up at 10:35 Saturday night Marquette time, and (hopefully) arrive at Sawyer 22 hours later. However, the Acer Notebook on which I've been writing all of these is fully charged, which means that I can use it the entire flight back to Chicago tomorrow, and post another one of these from O'Hare. And that's a good thing, because I have a ton of pictures left to post, and several stories to share, including (but not limited to) the Bayeux version of “Outback vs. Silverado”, more flowers, more weird signs, the continuation of a long-standing tradition, the shocking fact that Mr. Attard is no longer around, and the tale I promised several days ago about the greatest bromance in French morning television history.

So until somewhere tomorrow over the Atlantic...

Friday, September 9, 2016

Savoring the Perfect Moments

FRIDAY, 9/9:

It hit me as we were walking back to the hotel.

There comes a moment in the final days of every trip when you start thinking about all the adventures you've had, and you realize that they'll soon be coming to an end. That moment happened for me a few hours ago as we were nearing our hotel after one last walk in and around Bayeux. It was a perfect late summer day—the sun was out and the temperatures were above 80—and Loraine and I had just strolled around the city, taking pictures of kids at a skateboard park and buying a few last items of chocolate. Heck, we had even discovered a park we never knew existed. It was one of those perfect moments for which you can never plan but you're always grateful to have experienced.

And it was probably the final one we'll have on this little journey.

However, I consider myself to be lucky as far as that goes. This has been an almost flawless and amazing trip, from the moment our luggage actually arrived on the same plane as we did to the moment the sun perfectly hit Loraine's smiling face as we walked into the hotel. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. And while it's soon coming to an end, we'll always these perfect little memories.

So what exactly did we do today, aside from becoming way too reflective? Well, we hit the road to see two things. The first was the town of Villedieu-les-Poeles, a town that actually reminded us a little of Marquette. It has a history of mining—in VlP's case, copper--and it now seems to have an influx of artists to go along with its tourism related activities. In fact, signs of the town's history with copper are everywhere--

Perhaps not surprisingly, they have several shops that sell nothing but cookware made out of the town's copper. Like Marquette, it's also built on a series of hills, which means that almost everywhere you walked, you would run into views that caught your eye--

And see colorful flowers everywhere--

Unlike Marquette, though, their farmer's market has some rather unconventional looking seafood for sale--

I'm curious. Just what exactly did that fish do with those teeth?

Oh, and you remember how I apologized yesterday for lying because I said you wouldn't have to look at Tour de France stuff any more because we were out of the area in which the race went, and then I went and posted more stuff before promising not to do it again? Well, here's yet another apology for yet another lie, because guess what went through Villedieu-les-Poeles?

Okay, I can now say with certainty that you won't have to see ANY more stuff related to the Tour de France. Unless, of course, I'm wrong. Because, as we all know, THAT could never happen.

After Villedieu, we took a drive along the Vire River. There are actually whole driving and walking circuits you can take along the Vire River Valley, and some of the descriptions sounded nice. But instead of taking one of the suggested circuits, we made up our own, which led us to a park in the little town of St. Suzanne sur Vire--

We ate lunch on the banks of the actual Vire River, instead of just driving around it. The bridge you see in the picture is an old railroad line that's been converted into a bike and walking path between towns. Before leaving, we did two more things. This picture is for Loraine's Aunt Suzanne--

Who may be happy to know we now call the town Aunt Suzanne sur Vire. I don't think we'll be able to get the French government to officially change the name, but we haven't given up hope yet.

Secondly, as we were walking back to the car, we saw a sign that said (in French) “beware of dog”. Once we saw the dog, though, we had to laugh--

Maybe the sign should've said “Beware of hamster”, or something just a little more appropriate.

After we left Aunt Suzanne, we stopped at a place called “Roches de Ham”, which is a rock where you can stand and see a view of much of the Vire Valley. We just thought it would be one of those tacky tourist-trap places, but lo & behold, the view wasn't too bad--

On the way back from the Roches we saw this and we (okay, I) had to stop to take a picture--

There must've been three dozen cows in a field eating, and after my stepping out of the car and squealing like a 2-year old in delight one of the cows looked up like I was insane. And who knows. It may have been right.

Then it was back to Bayeux and that walk I was talking about. Here are the kids at the skate park. Take a close look, and you'll see one of them, on a Razor scooter of all things, had some serious air--

And the park we didn't know existed, a park that is part of the city's river walk. We had strolled down the walk before, but apparently never went down this far--

See? There are parts of Bayeux we didn't even know existed, and today marks the 30th day we've spent here over the years. I guess that means we'll just have to start soon on the second 30 days!

Tomorrow, we have a few final hours in Bayeux before we leave, so we'll head down to the market, buy some berries, and see if that shivering little piglet the farmer was trying to sell last week is still available. Afterwards we'll head to Paris (trying to figure out some of the songs we've been hearing all week so I can share them on the air), return the rental car, play for a little bit in the Roissy town park, and then see if we need to throw everything in our suitcase away in order to to make room for our chocolate.

So until tomorrow from Roissy...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Qui Que Ou Quand Pourquoi


When you don't drive very much in your normal life, hitting the road in France can be a sweet, sweet treat.

Greetings again from Bayeux, where we've returned after some time spent in our second favorite place in France, Avranches. Today was another one of those days where we started driving in the morning and pretty much kept going until we got back here seven or eight hours later. We knew we wanted to get to Avranches, but in keeping with the credo I espoused a few days ago we just took the unbeaten path. And it was sweet. Like I said, I don't drive much when I'm home. My feet and/or my bike are my main methods of transport. But for the nine or ten days we're on the road here it's an entirely different way of life. And unlike back the the U.S., the roads (especially on the unbeaten path) can be twisty, turn-y, occasionally narrow, and and in all just a blast to drive. Of course, that could change if a farmer decides to pull his tractor out in front of you, or if you forget that on some country roads the old French law of “Priorite a droite” (which means that someone approaching from the right, even if you're on a main road and they're on a dirt lane, has the right of way) still exists. And even though both of those did happen today, it was still a whole lot of fun.

Especially because I don't get to do it that often.

If you're curious as to what we're driving over here, take a look at the last car in the long line of cars--

That's our Kia Cee'd (yup; that's how it's spelled), a nifty little 6-speed sedan with (inexplicably) Dutch license plates on it. Even though we picked it up from Avis at the airport in Paris, we still have a car with Dutch registration, which was kind of funny a few days ago when we were cruising along the French shore, stopped to take one of those scenic shots I posted on Tuesday, and had a couple in another Dutch car say “hello” to us in Dutch because they thought we were fellow residents of the Netherlands.

Thankfully, the Dutch word for “hello” is “hallo”, so we were able to get out of that with a minimum of effort.

Anyway, back to the road. Our journey to Avranches included several unexpected stops, including at this bridge--

It's not often you see a bridge blown in two, and according to the memorial placed nearby it was caused when Canadian pilots bombed it in a attempt to stop Germans from leaving the area in the summer of 1944. Unfortunately, there was another bridge nearby the Germans could use, so the bombing was kind of in vain, but it sure made for a good photo op. It also served as a reminder, as Loraine often comments, that there was more to the Normandy campaign than just the beach landings. Many things we've seen this week have proven that point.

Oh, and the donkey in the field across the road says “hey”.

We made another beach stop, too, this one near Regnesville-sur-Mer. From the town we saw a point of land sticking out in the ocean, noticed there was a road leading to it, followed that road, and saw another empty beach!

There were actually people camping nearby, and several people flying kites on this very windy day, so it wasn't as bad as the totally empty beach on Saturday. But at least the view was amazing!

We eventually made it into Avranches (and as an aside, Loraine took a great picture of the town sitting atop the hill with her camera as we drove in, but some idiot forgot to bring the cable for the camera, so we'll have to share it at a later date) and immediately headed to one of our favorite places there, the Jardin Publique--

This one, aside from the usual flowers and trees, also has an amazing view of the number one tourist attraction in France, le Mont-St-Michel--

There were so many flowers and so many different colors that I didn't know where to point my camera, so I just started snapping--

And even had a butterfly photobomb one of the pictures--

I know I've been asking you guys to identify a lot of flowers I've been shooting, and thanks to those of you who've shared your thought. I actually ended up buying a book today on the flowers of France, so from now on I'll try & figure them out myself.

And to Loraine's Aunt Suzanne, who says she'd been enjoying the flower pictures, you should see the ones we haven't put up!

We ate lunch in the garden. On the way there, we had stopped at a market to see what kind of chocolate they had when we also noticed these--

That is a dark chocolate hazelnut tartlette, a tartlette that may just redefine the words “delicious” and “amazing”. And the neat thing about that? That wasn't the best food we ate today.

More on that later. First, let me introduce you to the view from Caumont-l'Evente--

This is actually looking toward Utah Beach, which accounts for the American flag in the picture. For several trips now, Loraine and I have visited this outlook to try & see the landing beaches, only to be waylaid by fog or rain or both. So when we were making our way back to Bayeux and found ourselves approaching the town, we remembered the outlook, thought things might turn out better on a sunny day, and viola...

They did.

Upon returning to Bayeux, we decided to return to last night's restaurant, Le Marsala, to try several of the pasta dishes (as opposed to the pizza of last night). And for as good as the dark chocolate hazelnut tarlettes were (and you know how good they were) these dishes may have been even better. Loraine tried asparagus ravioli in an asparagus cream sauce--

While I had capaletti with smoked ham in a nutmeg cream sauce--

A dish that was so amazing that I honestly wished it would never end. Thankfully for my waistline it did, but I really do think it would've been worth gaining a few extras pounds just so the pasta would never be finished.

It was heaven in a bowl.

Okay, I notice this is getting little long, so I'll wrap it up with two things. First of all, I lied yesterday when said you wouldn't see any more Tour de France related pictures--

Well, maybe not lied so much as forgot that we'd be returning to an area where the race passed through on the opening day. So my mistake.

Secondly, have you ever been lucky enough to see a coin operated washing machine outside of a grocery store? Well, now you have--

This was actually outside of the Casino store where we bought the tartlettes. I'm really not sure why they have an open-air laundromat outside of the store. Maybe it's so you can wash while you shop, or maybe if you have really long arms you can use it as a drive-through laundromat. Either way, there you have it.

Tomorrow, sadly, is our last full day here, and we'll be hitting those long & windy roads once again in search of amazing views, this time courtesy of the Vire River Valley. So until then, save your change.

After all, I know a washing machine where you can use it!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Around The World in Five Minutes


Tonight I had a date at an Italian restaurant with a German girl while the French staff sang along to an Abba song.

Sometimes, the world is an amazing place.

Greetings from our home away from home, Bayeux, where we returned after our little two-day jaunt over to St. Mere Eglise. We had never spent more than a couple of hours over in that specific part of Normandy, and while we missed staying here, we're very glad that we spent the time that we did hanging out with friends old and new, exploring places we knew before and places we know now, and generally just having a whale of a good time.

So Ste. Mere Eglise and the western half of the Cotentin Peninsula, we thank you kindly. And one day, we hope to return.

Before we left Ste. Mere Eglise today we met up again with our friends Henri-Jean and Yvette Renaud. You may recall that we had dinner with them Monday night, and Mr. Renaud offered to take us on a tour of Ste. Mere Eglise's Airborne Museum this morning. This was an offer we couldn't refuse; after all, Mr. Renaud lived through what the museum depicts, and spent several decades heading the organization that runs the museum. To put it in local terms, it would be like going through the Marquette Regional History Center with someone like Peter White or John Longyear. It was a fascinating experience, and it was actually kind of fun seeing Henri-Jean point out pictures of himself as a child or a young adult. He's obviously very proud of what he and his group accomplished, as he should be.

And since we didn't take a picture of our gracious hosts Monday night, here's one of the Renauds and the most amazing woman I know outside on the museum grounds.

Loraine actually got to pose for several pictures today, because after we left the Renauds we met up with and had a nice visit with our friend (and avid trip blog reader) Thierry Ferey, who lives in nearby Auvers--

Thierry, like many people around here, has a strong interest in several little known aspects of the invasion—his mother was a young girl in a home which switched hands four times (German, American, German , and finally American) in the first 48 hours of the invasion. And then he also researches the aid station that was set up in the church in the town where his father grew up. Like I said, many people around here research battles or other events that affected members of their family or their home town, and Thierry is one of the best.

And, despite what he thinks, his English is amazing!

On our way back to Bayeux we stopped in several places, one of which was a country lane down which a paratrooper from Marquette spent his last day--

Because of that, the lane has special significance for Loraine. And for me, it has special significance because it runs between two cow pastures. Unfortunately, the cows were too far away for us to play with; this is as close as we got--

We arrived back in Bayeux--

And before carrying on a long-standing tradition, we paid a visit to the city's Public Garden--

It's a beautiful place with flowers and trees and grass, and seeing as how it was sunny and 86 here today, it was also filled with people walking and families playing--

And, of course, it was also filled with beauty shots of flowers everywhere you look--

That then led to the multi-culti experience I described in the first line of today's blog. The first time we came to Europe Loraine ( a woman of German descent) asked me out on a date in a small German town where the only restaurant that happened to be open was an Italian one. Ever since then, at least once a trip, we repeat that experience. When we were here a few days ago we noticed an interesting looking place on the Rue de Cuisiners (which roughly translates to “Restaurant Street”, as establishments selling food have been there for several centuries). So tonight we ate at Le Marsala--

The menu was so jam-packed with interesting items that we're talking about going back again before we leave. Tonight, through, we decided on pizza--

Mine's in the foreground; it's a 4 Fromages (4 cheese) pizza where the fromages were mozzarella, goat, bleu, and Camembaert (a cheese actually made here in Normandy). Loraine's (in the background) had two different cheeses, chicken, mushrooms, and potatoes. They were both amazing, as was the service, so if you're ever in Bayeux (and you know that some day you will be, right?) we highly recommend Le Marsala!

Finally (and you won't have to put up with this much longer, seeing as how we've left the area where the race occurred) here's today's Tour de France objet d'art--

Well, I only had that one picture of cows. I had to share SOMETHING dorky, right?

Tomorrow, we drive south for an hour and a half to visit our second favorite place in France. And if I can get a picture, maybe I'll also talk about the greatest bromance in the history of French morning television. We'll see.