Sunday, November 13, 2016

Boston, Leominster & Boston

[November 11, 2016 - Friday]
On Friday Thomas and I left Santa Fe and traveled to Boston, Massachusetts. Our flight was early in the morning and we had a layover in Denver before arriving in Boston around 4:00pm. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel (Westin Waterfront Hotel) and got checked in & settled in our room. Around 6:00pm we decided to go out and find something to eat. We walked from the hotel to Seaport Blvd. and strolled up and down this street to find a meal.
We had looked on Yelp before we left the hotel and found an Italian restaurant on the list so that is what we were looking for. But I guess that the restaurant had closed because we couldn't find it. So Thomas used his phone to see if there was another Italian restaurant in the area. We found one on Seaport Blvd. but in the opposite direction from the way we were walking. So we turned around and made our way to Salvatore's. We had a great meal and some wine and relaxed from a long day of traveling. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel to get some rest for tomorrow.

[November 12, 2016 - Saturday]
Saturday morning we woke up early and got things ready because we were taking the train to Leominster to visit our friends Dave & Deanne. I had misread the train schedule and was glad I rechecked it because we would have missed the train if we had used the time I originally noted. When I noticed this mistake we only had forty-five minutes to get to the train station.
North Station - Boston
I didn't think we could make it by walking or taking the subway so we grabbed a cab. We arrived with 15 minutes to spare. They were working on the tracks going toward Leominster so we had to take a bus from North Station to Lincoln and then transfer to the train there for the rest of the trip to Leominster. Dave & Deanne met us at the station in Leominster. We went to their house and got settled and visited for a bit and then headed out to their church fair. They were manning a booth selling raffle tickets for cash prizes. The fair is an annual event to raise money for maintaining the building. Thomas and I walked around the fair while they worked and then I took Deanne's place so she could have a break. Around 3:30pm we left the fair and went back to their house and relax. Then at 5:00pm we went to their friend's house for drinks. We spent a little over an hour visiting and then we headed out to dinner. We ate at one of their favorite places - The Columbia Tavern. After dinner, we returned to their house and just talked for a couple of hours. Then Thomas and I headed up to our room to get some sleep.

[November 13, 2016 - Sunday]
On Sunday morning Dave cooked breakfast for us and we had a nice visit. About 11:00am Dave & Deanne took us back to the train station so we could get back to Boston.
USS Constitution
So we took the train to Lincoln and then the bus into Boston. Once we arrived in Boston we headed over to Charlestown. We wanted to see the USS Constitution (at this time of year it is only open Thursday - Sunday). So we checked in at the Visitor Center and the I got my National Park Passport Stamps. Then we had a fifteen minute wait until we got a guided tour of the ship. I wasn't impressed with the tour. It lasted only about 15 minutes and we didn't really see much of the ship. I also felt the tour guide was a little full of himself. Once we finished the tour then we walked over to Bunker Hill.
Bunker Hill Monument
Our goal was to climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument. We arrived at the monument and talked to a Ranger and then headed to the stairs. We had to take our time to climb the 294 steps to the top. At first, I was feeling really old and out of shape but then we noticed that everyone was having trouble. The views from the top were amazing. You could see all around and I was able to get a few good pictures. Going down the steps was much easier and faster. We went back to the Ranger and I got my National Park Passport Stamps. Once I finished stamping we went outside and found a bench so we could sit and rest for a while. Both of us felt like our legs were made of jello. Finally, after about a half hour we were ready to start our walk back to the hotel. While walking we kept our eye open for a good place to eat dinner as both of us were hungry. We had been walking along Atlantic Ave. following the harbor and we turned on Seaport Blvd. to head toward the hotel. When we got to the other side of the bridge we saw a restaurant that we decided to try for dinner. We stopped at The Barking Crab and I was really wanting a lobster roll. And that is exactly what I had for dinner and it was delicious. After eating we decided to look for a letterbox. You can read about that part of our day at A Tiny Stamp. After the letterboxing, we continued our walk back to the hotel. Once there we relaxed and read and planned for the day tomorrow.

[November 14, 2016 - Monday]
This morning Thomas needed to attend a meeting at the conference so I was on my own. I had made some plans that included letterboxing, National Parks and the Freedom Trail.
So I left the hotel and started walking. I did some letterboxing throughout the day and you can read about that at Letterboxing Along the Freedom Trail Somewhere along the line I took a wrong turn and ended up heading in the wrong direction but I realized what I had done and corrected it quickly. I arrived at Boston Common on the side near the Capitol Building and entered Dunkin Donuts to get something to eat and some coffee. I took my breakfast sandwich and coffee to the Visitor Center in Boston Common and found a bench where I could sit and eat. When I was done I went into the Visitor Center and got a map and some information about the Freedom Trail. But before I started the trail I wanted to do something else first. I headed out of Boston Common and walked along Joy St. to the Boston African American National Historic Site. I first got my National Park Passport Stamp and then I took a guided tour of the site. While doing all this I was also working on the Junior Ranger Booklet for the site. When I finished the tour and walking through the exhibits I met Thomas out in front of the building.
Make Way for Ducklings
We walked back to Boston Common and ended up walking all around Boston Common and then we headed over to Boston Public Garden. During our walk, we saw the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Central Burying Ground, Make Way for Ducklings, the beautiful bridge over the lake, George Washington Statue, and the Ether Monument. After our walk, we decided we needed something to eat. Since we were in the area we decided to eat at Cheers (previously known as Bull & Finch Pub). After we ate we looked for a letterbox and then started The Freedom Trail. I had already Been to the Visitor Center which is the beginning of the Trail so we just headed to the next stop - the Massachusetts State House. Then we continued along the trail visiting Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King's Chapel, King's Chapel Burying Ground, Benjamin Franklin Statue and the Boston Latin School, Old Corner Bookstore, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Site of the Boston Massacre and Faneuil Hall. Along the way,
King's Chapel
I collected National Park Passport Stamps at some of the locations. And I worked on the Boston Historical Park Junior Ranger Booklet. The sites that are part of the Trail as well as part of the National Park System, are Old State House, Old South Meeting House, Paul Revere House, Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument and USS Constitution. We arrived at Faneuil Hall around 3:30pm and we debated about continuing on or calling it a day. We decided to take a break and get something to eat. Since Faneuil Hall is full of different places to eat we walked around and until we found something we wanted. Then we found a spot to sit and we ate and talked about what to do next. After eating we walked to the Paul Revere House but they were closing up so we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a day. As we were walking we came across an Italian grocery store (Salumeria Italiana). We decided to stop in and get some nduja. This is a spreadable salami and is delicious. We had it in Calabria, Italy back in May (you can read about that trip at Southern Italy & Sicily). Thankfully the store had some so we bought it and then headed back to the hotel. We relaxed and read and talked about our interesting day in Boston.  Tomorrow I am on my own, not sure what I will do.

[November 15, 2016 - Tuesday]
Thomas is busy all day today with his conference so I am on my own to do whatever. We woke up to lots of clouds and a good chance of rain for the day. But I was determined to finish the Freedom Trail. So I left the hotel and walked to Seaport Blvd. and then to Atlantic Ave. as I made my way to the Paul Revere House.
Copp's Burying Ground
There was a light mist by this time and I was glad to have a break by going inside for a bit. I got my National Park Passport Stamp and then took a self-guided tour of the house. Then I continued on the trail going to the Old North Church, Copp's Burying Ground and then on to Charlestown. It was drizzling on and off during my walk and by the time I got to the USS Constitution Museum it was raining much harder. At this point, I was going to look for a couple of letterboxes but it was way too wet to do that. So I decided to have a look around the museum and I could also work on completing my Boston African American NHS and Boston NHP Junior Ranger Booklets.
USS Constitution Museum
By the time I left the museum it was raining harder. Thankfully I had a raincoat and an umbrella so I was covered. I still had a couple of things to complete in the Junior Ranger booklets and then I needed to turn it in at Faneuil Hall. After leaving the museum I walked to Faneuil Hall and found a bench to sit on and finish the booklets. Then I went to one of the Rangers and turned in the booklets and got my Junior Ranger badges. Now it was time to head back to the hotel and I debated about getting a cab or just walking. And since I was already damp I decided to walk. I had talked with Thomas and he was done with his meetings and was in the room waiting for me. When I got back to the hotel I decided to shower and change into some dry clothes and then get some things packed for the drive home. Since it was still raining (and I believe it had gotten worse) we decided to eat at one of the restaurants in the hotel. After dinner, we returned to the room and packed as much as we could before calling it a day. We read and relaxed and then went to sleep. Tomorrow we head to the airport for our flight home. We had an incredible trip but we could have used a few more days to see some things we missed. Oh well, I guess we need to plan another trip.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Article from the Huffington Post

White, Conservative, Christian Friends — I Wish You Really Were Pro-Life 

John Pavlovitz
Pastor and Writer

You tell me that you’re voting for Donald Trump for one reason: because you’re pro-life.

Despite everything you’ve seen and know about this man (much of which you openly lament), you say that you just can’t support someone who doesn’t share your burden, and that you’re voting solely this issue.

Life, you say is the ultimate deal breaker for you.

I wish that were true.

I actually don’t believe you’re pro-life, I believe you’re anti-abortion, which is a far more selective and convenient defense of Humanity. From where I’m standing it seems as though “Life” for you, comprises a very narrow demographic — one that bears a striking resemblance to you. The unborn are easy to advocate for because you can idealize them into something palatable to you, something benign and comfortable, something in your own image.

You see, it’s not that you’re really pro-life, you’re pro-straight, white, Christian fetuses.

I can tell by how often your heavy burden for the sanctity of life evaporates upon delivery. In so many cases this compassion really has a nine-month expiration date, as if life begins at conception but ends upon leaving the birth canal. The completion of that third trimester is actually the shelf life of your passionate regard for much of the living.

From where I’m standing it seems as though ‘Life,’ for you, comprises a very narrow demographic — one that bears a striking resemblance to you.

Because if that life you say you so treasure, one day converts to Islam, you label it dangerous, you see it as a threat, you applaud suggestions of its expulsion, you deny it open worship.

If that life eventually comes out as LGBTQ, you condemn its soul, harass it in your workplace and church, try to prevent its marriage, tell it where and when it can use a public bathroom. You bully it and drive it to suicide.

If that life has brown skin and wears baggy pants and gets gunned down during a traffic stop, you not only have little grief over its loss, but readily blame it for its own execution.

If that life is strapped to a prison gurney and pumped full of drugs that will cease its lungs from expanding while its terrified mind comprehends it all, you celebrate the occasion as justice being served — after a last meal you resent having to pay for.

If that life has to endure its formative years in overcrowded, grossly underfunded public schools, you tell it to “pull itself up by its own bootstraps,” while nestled in the cloistered, privileged gated community of a Suburbia where bootstraps come with a birth certificate.

If that life has working parents who can’t make a living wage, you label it a lazy, unproductive drain on society always looking for handouts and trying to work the system to its advantage.

Because if that life, you say you so treasure, one day converts to Islam, you label it dangerous, you see it as a threat, you applaud suggestions of its expulsion, you deny it open worship.

If that life needs health care because its undeveloped heart can barely beat on its own, you’re suddenly empty of empathy and low on generosity — unless it can pull its own weight and pay the premiums.

If that life doesn’t eat enough fruits and vegetables because it lives in urban areas where such things are scarce and financially prohibitive, you ridicule its obesity and sickness as signs of cultural overindulgence and gluttony.

If that life is sexually assaulted you want to blame it for its promiscuity and immodesty, and wonder why it didn’t just keep its legs closed and why it can’t just move on and why it is so easily offended by “locker room banter.”

If that life is one day sent overseas to defend liberties here — separated from spouses, children, and parents and placed directly in harm’s way, you’re far more cavalier exposing its vulnerability and far less concerned about whether or not it is sacred.

If that life doesn’t reside in the continental U.S. or speak English and comes here fleeing oppression, poverty, and war you’ll never understand, you ask it to go back and “go through the proper channels”, instead of the barely sea-worthy makeshift raft or the stinking, stifling storage container it nearly died in trying to get here.

I wish you were pro-life, my friend — I really do.

I wish all human beings mattered as much to you as caucasian embryos do. I wish that once these diverse babies are thrust out into a violent, difficult, painful world; many enduring disadvantages, obstacles, and trials you will likely never experience — that you actually gave more of a damn about them.

I wish that once diverse babies are thrust out into a violent, difficult, painful world you actually gave more of a damn about them.

Because if you did, Life would be far bigger to you.

You would want to do more than prevent abortions.

You’d want to prevent hunger and poverty. You’d want to prevent illiteracy and child mortality and forced prostitution. You’d want to prevent racism and bigotry and homophobia. You’d want kids in the “bad neighborhood” to have great schools and teachers just like your kids have there in the “good neighborhood.” You’d want to support single parents and the terminally ill and the mentally ill by helping them carry their oversized burden.

You’d want religious freedom even for people who aren’t Christian. You’d want LGBTQ people to live and work and worship and love as they desire. You’d want people of color not to have to fear law enforcement and not to be disproportionately incarcerated. You’d want fewer guns in the hands of kids and criminals and those with mental illness. You’d want to prevent violence and workplace termination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. You’d want a living wage for all people who work hard, and healthcare for their children that won’t have to replace their daily meals.

I am a person of Life. That is what my faith calls me to be.

I don’t celebrate when a woman terminates a pregnancy (I honestly don’t know anyone who does), but my advocacy for life also goes well beyond the womb, and includes a far more diverse swath of Humanity than only those who look, speak, or worship the way I do. It includes immigrants and Muslims and Atheists and my enemies.

I wish we were partners in that wider affirmation of the living, because that would be cause of celebration and reason for hope and a visible sign of America’s greatness.

I wish we were partners in that wider affirmation of the living, because that would because of celebration and reason for hope and a visible sign of America’s greatness.

I am pro-all life because it is all sacred; not only when its heart begins beating, but as it beats and when it struggles to beat and up until it ceases to beat. I defend all life equally.

I celebrate it all fully. I protect it all passionately.

I really wish you did too.

Originally published on

Friday, October 7, 2016

It Comes to an End - We Are Home

This morning we left Le Pecq, Paris and France to make our way home to Santa Fe. It all started very early. We got a wake up call at 5:00am and we got showered, dressed and finished packing. We put our bags in the hallway at 5:30am and then headed to the restaurant for breakfast. We met Deanne and Dave for a last breakfast on the ship and then went back to the room to get our carry-on bags.
Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport
At 6:30am we headed to the bus for the trip to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport. Before we got on the bus we had to identify our bags and then they loaded them onto the bus and then we were able to climb aboard. The bus left the dock in Le Pecq at 6:45am  and dropped us off at the airport where we met a representative from Viking River Cruises. She walked us to the terminal and then checked us in at a kiosk. We got our boarding passes and luggage markers. Then she directed us to the counter where we needed to turn in our bags and then head to security. At this point, we said our goodbyes to Deanne and Dave and a few other people we had met on the cruise and then headed off to begin our day in airports and airplanes. We checked in at the counter and then walked toward the gates. We turned a corner and went through an archway and encountered a snaking line to customs. We zig-zagged our way through the line and 40 minutes later we were at the customs window. This part was quick and then onto security. Security went faster, it only took us 20 minutes to get through. After getting our shoes back on and computers put away we headed for our gate. We had a few euros left so we stopped and got snacks and water for the trip. We arrived at our gate approximately two hours after arriving at the airport. So glad the Viking shuttled us early from the ship. At the gate, we only had to wait about a half hour before we started boarding. Thirty minutes later we were settled in our seats and the plane was heading down the runway.

The flight from Paris to Salt Lake City was to be about nine and a half hours.
So we relaxed and started reading. I finished reading The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel. We watched movies and TV shows, read some more, ate, tried to sleep, journaled, ate, filled out the declaration form, read and ate some more. They fed us a snack, lunch, another snack and then dinner. By the time we reached Salt Lake City we were both restless and ready to get out of the plane. In Salt Lake City we got in line and scanned our passports and got our receipts. Then went to the customs window and turned the receipts in and got through with ease. Then we picked up our luggage and then turned it back in just twenty feet away. I have to say that coming back to the States has never been easier. Usually, the TSA and Customs Agents are rude and grumpy. Today, though we had very friendly and helpful agents. The whole process took only 20 minutes and before we knew it we were at our gate for our flight to Albuquerque. I was glad about that because we only had an hour and fifteen minutes between flights and we made it to our gate with about 15 minutes to spare. On the flight from Salt Lake City, I read a little but mostly leaned my head back, closed my eyes and rested. We landed in Albuquerque about 30 minutes earlier than expected and thankfully our bags were one of the firsts ones out.

Once we had our bags we went out to the shuttle area for the bus to Airport Parking to get the car. We loaded the car, paid our tab and then headed home. It was 5:30pm when we got to the house. We unloaded the car, unpacked, took showers, ate a small meal and now we are headed to bed. It has been a long day and a great trip but we are tired and happy to be home. I really enjoyed Viking River Cruises. The cruise we took was Paris and the Heart of Normandy. Everything about the company was excellent. From the informational calls I made to the company to signing up and scheduling to them arranging the flights to the comfort and beauty of the ship to the excursions to the friendly and helpful staff, everything was perfection. We definitely will be using them again.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Château de Malmaison and Paris - Our Final Day in France

Our ship is still docked in Mantes-la-Jolie but today is our last day in France so at some point, the ship will leave here and return to Le Pecq. Tomorrow we start the day early to get to the airport for our flight back to the States. This morning our alarm went off at 7:00am. We got up, showered, dressed and got things ready for the day. We still had a little time before breakfast so we took out our luggage and started to pack some things. At 8:00am we met with Deanne and Dave in the dining room for breakfast. After a relaxing breakfast, we returned to the cabin and continued with the packing. We received some luggage tags last night so we went ahead and attached those. Then we took a little time to fill out surveys.
At 9:30am we stopped at the reception desk and turned in our surveys and got our cards.
Château de Malmaison
Then we headed out to the dock for an excursion to Château de Malmaison. This was the home of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte. I am not sure how long it took us to get there but time seemed to go by quickly. Our tour guide took us around the Château and gave us history and obscure facts.
Napoleon's Library
The Château is not a castle or anything like that, it is more of a large mansion. And I thought it was extraordinary and beautiful. The place was filled with beautiful furniture (most of which was not the Bonaparte's but was of the time period) and paintings. I was hoping we would have time to walk around in the gardens but by the time our tour guide finished we had to get back to the bus for our ride back to the ship.

It was close to 1:00pm when we arrived back at the ship. We went to the cabin and reorganized for an afternoon in Paris. Once we were ready we all met in the Aquavit Terrace for a quick lunch buffet. Dave decided to stay on the ship and just relax while Deanne, Thomas and I took the shuttle into Paris. The shuttle left at 2:00pm for Paris and the ship left Mantes-la-Jolie for Le Pecq as our bus pulled out of the parking lot.

The shuttle dropped us off in front of Petit Palais and this is where we needed to return at 5:00pm for our ride back to the ship.
Walking the Champs Elysees
We had two things to do in Paris and then the rest of the time we could do whatever. Deanne needed a shirt for her god daughter and I needed some safety pins (my suitcase was ripped at one of the seams on the flight over). So we walked from Petit Palais up Avenue Winston Churchill to the Avenue des Champs Elysees. We turned left and headed toward the Arc de Triomphe. Near the Arc we were able to find stores that had what we needed.
Petit Palais
Once we had purchased our items we headed back toward Petit Palais. We ended up going into the building and walking around a bit and had some coffee and relaxed. Then we headed out and walked along the Alexander III Bridge. All of this took up our time and we returned to the bus at 5:50pm. As we got back to the dock in Le Pecq and exited the bus we watched as our ship pulled up and docked. We had to wait about 15 minutes until we could get on the ship. Thomas and I went to the cabin and got cleaned up for dinner. At 7:30 we headed to the dining room for dinner. We sat with a couple from San Antonio (Jim and Patty) and head a great time.

Tonight we had an excursion back into Paris - Paris by Night Tour. So at 9:15pm we got on the bus and headed into Paris.
Eiffel Tower
For most of the tour we were just on the bus as we drove around to see all the major sites. It was beautiful and magical - the city is perfection at night. Glittery and romantic, peaceful and shining. I took quite a few pictures but I don't think they came out all that well (we will see when I upload them to the computer) since I was shooting through glass. I did learn on this trip that my camera does have a setting for taking pictures through glass and I did use it, so we will see what happens. When we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, the driver parked the bus and we were able to get out and get some good pictures. We also were at the Tower at 11:00pm, which the tour guide had arranged so that we could see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. The Tower flashes for a few minutes at certain times and I am glad we got to experience it. It was amazing. After about a 20 minute stop we were all back on the bus headed back to the ship.

Once we arrived at the ship Thomas and I took showers and then finished packing. Tomorrow we have to have our luggage in the hall at 5:45am. So we have a wake up call for 5:00am. It is now 1:00am and I think I need the four hours of sleep before our long day of flying home.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Les Andyles and Château Gaillard

The ship left Rouen at around 2:00am and headed for Les Andelys. At 6:00am Thomas and I woke up and got ready for the day. Then at 7:00am we met Deanne and Dave in the dining room for breakfast. While we were eating we arrived and docked in Les Andelys (sometime around 8:00am). Once we finished eating we went back to the cabin grabbed our things, picked up our cards at the desk and then left the ship to meet our guide for a tour of Château Gaillard.
Our tour started at 9:00am. The guide explained we had to walk uphill to the Château but that we would take it slow. As we headed up the road our guide gave us some history of both Les Andelys and Château Gaillard. It really didn't take us very long to reach the top of the hill. The views from the top of the hill were incredible. I ended up taking quite a few pictures. The tour guide gave us some incredible history of the Château and of Richard the Lionheart. This was incredibly fascinating and a highlight of our cruise. The Château is in ruins but is still enchanting and beautiful. We only toured the outside of the building but we did have an opportunity to go inside for 3.20€, which I didn't feel like paying. So once the tour guide was done we took a little time and enjoyed the views some more. I think we spent about an hour and a half up on the hill and then we headed back to town.

Now let me explain something, Les Andelys is actually two different towns - Le Petit Andely and Le Grand Andely. Le Petit Andely is situated at the base of the hill from Château Gaillard. And Le Grand Andely is about two kilometers down Avenue de la République.
Entrance to Le Petit Andely Église Saint-Sauveur
We decided to spend some time in Le Petit Andely and not walk up to Le Grand Andely. We visited Église Saint-Sauveur du Petit-Andely and did some window shopping. Thomas and Dave decided to head back to the ship after we left the church and Deanne and I stayed in town for about an hour more. As we approached the ship Dave and Thomas waved at us from the Sun Deck. Deanne and I headed to our cabins to put our stuff away and then we went and met Thomas and Dave. We talked for about 40 minutes and then the four of us headed down to the dining room for lunch. After lunch Thomas and I went to our cabin to relax for a bit. We read, I edited photos and we just enjoyed the view as we sailed along the Seine toward Mantes-la-Jolie. [As a note - the ship left Les Andelys and headed for Mantes-la-Jolie at around 1:00pm.] At 2:00pm I went to the lounge to hear about the disembarkation details. After this talk they had a French teatime. Thomas, Deanne and Dave joined me for the tea. Around 4:30pm we all returned to our cabins and rested for a while. Then at 6:15pm we went back to the lounge for the Captain's Cocktail Party. So we had champagne and visited with each other and some of the people we met while on the cruise. While at the cocktail party the ship docked in Mantes-la-Jolie. At 6:45pm we had the daily briefing and then at 7:00pm we headed to the dining room for dinner. After dinner we returned to the cabin very tired and happy - it was a great day. It is now midnight and it is time to get to sleep. We have one more day in France and it will be a long one.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

D-Day: June 6, 1944 [A Visit to the Beaches of Normandy]

Today we are taking a bus from the ship docked in Rouen to the Normandy D-Day Invasion area. It was about a two hour drive. When we signed up for our cruise we learned that Viking River Cruises has a recommended reading list which also includes a list of films. This list is related to the area that you will be cruising. So I ended up reading D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose before we left for our cruise. After reading the book I was really excited about this part of our trip and I was really looking forward to our trip today.
We were up at 5:45am and met Deanne and Dave in the dining room for breakfast at 6:30am. After breakfast we stopped by the cabin got our things and then stopped by the reception desk for our cards before heading out to the dock and our buses for the drive to the beaches of Normandy.
Looking toward Juno Beach
At 7:45am the buses left Rouen and we started our journey. During the drive I read a little, journaled and took pictures. I thought we were stopping Caen and at Juno Beach but all we did was drive through Caen and then past Juno Beach. I was a little disappointed about not stopping but it turned out to be okay. Our tour guide gave us a little history about the area and the bus driver drove slowly so we could take a few pictures.
Gold Beach Breakers
Eventually we made our way to Arromanches and Gold Beach. Juno Beach was invaded by Canada and Gold Beach was invaded by the British. In Arromanches we visited a D-Day Museum and watched a short film. After that we had a short period of time to walk around the town and visit the beach.
German Bunker
Then we walked a short distance to a restaurant for lunch. We didn't have a choice in what we ate, they just brought us a meal. It was a quick lunch and then we had a little more time to shop and tour the town. Then we met back at the bus and continued on to the American Cemetery. Before getting to the cemetery we made a quick stop at some German bunkers. These are located west of Arromanches at Longues-sur-Mer. Here there are four 150mm navy guns. From the batteries the soldiers couldn't see the beach but there was a lookout where someone would related coordinates of the enemy to the battery. These were impressive structures and it was obvious why these survived the bombings.

The American Cemetery is located Colleville-sur-Mer, France and sits overlooking Omaha Beach.We arrived at the cemetery and our guide gave us some history and then we had some time to walk amidst the immaculate and orderly grave markers.
Entrance to the American Cemetery
At 2:30pm they asked us to meet at the Spirit of American Youth. They held a small ceremony for us - they first asked any Veterans in the group to step forward, then they played the National Anthem, then they played Taps and finally we had a moment of silence. Being in the cemetery was emotional enough but with the ceremony I don't think there was a dry eye in the area. Once the ceremony was complete we had some free time. Deanne and I went in search of a letterbox. You can read about the letterboxing part of our visit at D-Day Letterboxing. After a little letterboxing we did some more walking around and looking at the markers.

The American Cemetery is a perfect memorial to our Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It is in a beautiful location and is tended with respect and dignity.
Wall of the Missing
There are two buildings at the edge of the parking area. One is the visitor center and the other is restrooms. From the parking area and buildings there are three walkways that lead into the cemetery. There are two outer walkways that lead to the edges of the cemetery. One of which leads to an overlook for Omaha Beach. The center walkway leads into the Memorial. You first enter into The Garden of the Missing. It has a arced wall with a list of soldiers that were missing. They updated the wall at some point and added some bronze rosettes next to names whose remains were later recovered. From the garden you ascend either stairs or a ramp into the the Memorial. There is another arced wall with columns at the front where you enter and on either side are covered areas with maps of the D-Day invasions. In the center of the Memorial is a statue called The Spirit of American Youth. It is positioned to overlook the graves of the soldiers. In front of the Memorial is a reflecting pool and gardens and then the graves are set out in ten sections. There is a center aisle containing a chapel and some statues. What I can't describe here is the emotion and pride that is present all around. I felt that the choice of markers was especially well done. The crosses have softer curves and flares and aren't so rigid. Then there is the diversity where soldiers were honored with stars of David. I was also moved to see markes for unknown soldiers. They had the most wonderful sentiment on them . . .

When we left the cemetery we traveled to Omaha Beach. Here we got to walk on the beach and see a couple of memorials and the flags of the Allies.
D-Day Memorial on Omaha Beach
After reading the D-Day book and seeing images from the invasion it was odd walking along such a beautiful beach and enjoying the most incredible view. It made the information and images I had in my mind all that more emotional. I think we had about a half hour to contemplate things before we had to return to the bus.

I think the day tired us all and the bus ride back to the ship was very quiet. I did get a little journaling done during the drive. Once back at the ship we showered and got ready for dinner. We skipped the happy hour and daily briefing today. Dinner was fantastic and relaxing. After dinner I spent some time in the library editing pictures. I did this because I felt Thomas deserved to have the cabin dark and quiet to get some sleep. But now it is time to get to bed, it has been an emotional and busy day.
The Ally Flags (From Left to Right) - United States, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Great Britain, Canada, Norway and France

Monday, October 3, 2016

Cruising the Seine and Walking in Rouen

We woke up this morning to an eerily foggy view. The fog was thick which only allowed us these ghostly outlines of the banks of the Seine. At 7:00am we met Dave and Deanne in the dining room for breakfast. After a nice meal Thomas and I returned to the room and I took some pictures of our foggy cruising. Then around 10:00am I met Deanne in the lobby and we played dominoes for about an hour. After that, I walked around and took some pictures of the ship and then ended up on the sun deck. By this time the fog had cleared and we got some beautiful views of the banks. I took pictures and then sat and just enjoyed the rest of the morning. I returned to the cabin about twenty minutes to noon and then at noon we went to the dining room for lunch. While at lunch we docked at Rouen. After finishing lunch we returned to the cabin and gathered our things. Then we stopped by the reception desk and got our cards and then met our group on the dock for our walking tour of Rouen.
We started our walk at 1:45pm at the southern end of Rouen and made our way north. We saw lots of half-timbered houses and a couple of gothic churches. We learned about the city during the war - what was bombed and what survived. Then we visited Cathédrale Notre Dame, such a beautiful and historic building. Our guide did a thorough tour of the inside of the Cathedral. Just on the right as we entered was a breathtaking staircase and the stain glass windows were phenomenal. We spent about 40 minutes in the church and then went out the front door so that we could get a look at the monumental facade. The Cathédrale Notre Dame is a stunning piece of architecture - I enjoyed the time we spent here.

From the Cathedral we walked along Rue de Gros Horloge to the Gros Horloge.
We turned onto Rue Thouret and walked to the Palais de Justice. This put us on Rue aux Juifs right in front of the courts. We continued along Rue aux Juifs which changed to Place du Maréchal Foch and then to Rue Rollon. At the end of Rue Rollon we reached Eglise Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc. This is where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Before going into the church our guide pointed out Restaurant La Couronne. This is the oldest restaurant in France and it is where Julia Childs ate her first french meal in France. This dining experience changed her life - it gave her the inspiration to go into cooking. Eglise Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc is a bit different in architecture than most churches and is dramatically different than the Cathedral. It has an asymmetrical shape and some strong angles. Inside it is open and cavernous. The pews are arranged in groups of three or four arcs. They have very low backs and no arms. They face the altar which is on a low raised stage and is simple in design. The ceiling curves upwards towards the middle and is made of wood - it looks like ribs holding the boards in place. Not sure if I liked it but it was different.

[NOTE: When we got home I searched the internet about the church and found that the sweeping lines of the church represent the flames that consumed Joan of Arc on the same square in 1431.]

Our guided tour ended here and we had the rest of the afternoon to walk around on our own. We did some window shopping, got some postcards and just explored. We spent our time in the older section of Rouen which was fine by me. It was a beautiful area and I loved it. My favorite part of the tour was the Cathedral.
At 4:30pm we headed back to the ship for a little rest before dinner. After taking a shower I spent some time editing pictures and then Thomas and I met Deanne and Dave in the lounge for a drink. During our drink, the program director talked about Viking and other cruises they offer and we got the daily briefing. At 7:00pm we headed to the dining room for dinner. We ended up eating dinner with a nice couple (Mike & Anne) from Seattle. It was another great meal. At 9:00pm we came back to the cabin and I continued editing pictures and wrote his post. Now it is time to get some rest - tomorrow we visit the area of the D-Day invasion.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Giverny, Claude Monet and Vernon

Sometime between 6:30pm and 7:00pm last night our ship left the dock at Le Pecq to begin our journey along the Seine River. We cruised the Seine through the night. Sometime around 2:30am I woke up when the ship entered a lock and there was a loud noise and the ship shook a bit. So I got up and opened the door and watched as the lock filled and then we passed through. After being awakened I had some trouble getting back to sleep. So I spent some time editing pictures and reading a bit. I finally got to sleep at 4:00am and then was up again at 7:00am. I woke up excited since today we are going to Giverny to visit Monet's House and Garden. He is in the top five of my favorite artist (in no particular order my five favorite artists are Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Claude MonetGian Lorenzo Bernini and Giuseppe Sanmartino). We met Deanne and Dave for breakfast at 7:30am and then returned to the room to get our things for the morning. At 8:45am we boarded the bus and took the short 10 minute drive to Giverny. The bus parked in a large lot on the outside of the grounds and we all gathered off to the side of the parking area and broke into smaller groups for our tours.
Our group started in the water garden area. Our guide really gave us some good information and stories about Monet's life as she guided us through the gardens. We were happy and surprised to see so many of the flowers in bloom.
One thing I didn't realize was that there are two bridges in the water garden. From Monet's paintings I guess I only thought that there was one bridge that he used in his paintings. It was amazing to feel like I was walking in one of his paintings. The Foundation that runs the house and gardens has done a great job in keeping the place as authentic as possible and when you walk through the gardens you can see Monet's paintings.
From the water garden, we made our way to the flower garden. I was astonished to see the quantity and quality of the flowers and plants in the garden. I was also grateful that we were visiting at a time when the flowers were still in bloom. I could have spent the entire day just walking around the garden, admiring the flowers and sitting on benches and reading. Once we got through the gardens we had time to do a self-guided tour of the house. The outside of the house is beautiful, decorated with flowers & vines and just aesthetically wonderful.
The inside of the house was surprisingly plain but still lovely. The rooms, halls and stairways were small and narrow but remained functional. The exception to all of this was the kitchen. It was larger and more decorated than the rest of the house. I remember seeing pictures of the kitchen painted in bright blue and yellow and that is what we saw. But I guess I have never seen pictures of the rest of the house because nothing looked familiar. At this point we had some free time. We did a little shopping in the gift shop - I only ended up getting some postcards although I found a book I liked but didn't feel like spending €49,75 (which is almost $55.00) for it. We left the gift shop and decided to walk the town and try and found some letterboxes.

From Monet's house we walked down Rue Claude Monet and headed for the church and cemetery.
When we arrived at the church we first looked for Monet's grave and once we found it we took a few pictures and then we went in search of a couple of letterboxes. You can read about it at Giverny Letterboxing. After our letterboxing exploit, we went into the church to look around.
The church is called Église Sainte Radegonde and is simply designed and I thought beautiful. After about 15 minutes we needed to head back to Claude's so that we could meet our group and walk back to the bus. We arrived at the meeting spot and found that we were early so we found a bench to sit on and relax and enjoy the area. I made some notes about the day in my journal and then took a few pictures. Then we saw people from our group gathering so we walked over and joined them. A few minutes later our guide walked us to the bus and we headed back to the ship.

We arrived back at the ship and we had about 20 minutes until lunch was served. So we went to our cabin, washed up and relaxed until 12:30pm, at which time we headed to the restaurant. The lunch today was themed 'The Taste of Normandy'. This included foods from the region and was served buffet style. It was a good lunch - not great but enjoyable. Once lunch was done Thomas and I headed back to the cabin and I worked on some pictures (I took an obscene amount of pictures on this trip).
At 2:30pm we met out on the dock with our tour guides for a walking tour of Vernon. We started with a little talk in a tiny memorial garden next to the docks. There is a memorial to the 43rd (Wessex) Division British Troops for their part in the liberation of Vernon in World War II. From there we walked along Rue Bourbon Pentthievre to Collegiale Notre Dame de Vernon. This put us at the back side of the church. Our guide talked about the construction and history of the church and pointed out different aspects of the building as we moved around to the right side and on to the front. This took us along Rue du Chapitre to Rue Carnot. Here the guide continued to talk about the church. Facing the church is the Vernon Town Hall and to the right were some half-timber homes. We then continued along Rue Carnot to Rue d'Albufera and then to Rue Clemenceau. We were now standing facing the Seine and our guide pointed out an historical mill on the opposite bank.
Then we turned up Rue du Pont and continued on Rue de l'Ange. This put us at a walled and fenced area looking at The Archives Tower. After a brief introduction and history of the tower, we continued our tour walking along Rue Potard and turning onto Rue d'Albufera. Just a short distance down the road we turned into a paved area between two buildings. At the back of the area was a large wrought iron fence and gate. This gave us a different view of the Archives Tower. Then we continued up Rue d'Albufera to Rue Saint Genevieve and then to Place Adolphe Barette. This brought us back to the Cathedral and the Town Hall. This was a great tour and I loved Vernon. Such an amazing town with tons of history and charm. After our tour ended we did some walking around by ourselves. The town of Vernon was having a Fall market or something like that. There were tables set out all over the area surrounding the cathedral. After exploring the town we stopped and went into the church to have a look around. Fifteen minutes later we headed back to the ship. 

We rested for a while, did some reading and I worked on editing pictures. Around 6:15pm Thomas and I met Deanne & Dave in the lounge for a drink and for the daily briefing. At 7:00pm we all headed to the dining room for dinner. The four of us were joined by a couple from Kentucky - nice but a little weird. The gentleman worked as a missionary for years and at first, I was a little leery (a gay couple sitting with a religious missionary) but it turned out to good. The couple was liberal and open and supportive of Thomas and I and our 27 year relationship. The food was also delicious. The evening turned out to be great fun.

After dinner we returned to our cabin extremely tired and happy - today we checked off a bucket list item (Giverny and Monet's Home) and visited a beautiful town. I just finished a blog post and now it is time to get some rest. Tomorrow we visit the town of Rouen.