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Jim's Trip to France 2009 01/09/2014 09:14:35 AM

AN INTRODUCTION:

When Loraine and I went to Europe in 2008, we brought a laptop along with us, and I used it to write blogs and post pictures every day, talking about who we met, what we saw, and all the things we experienced while traveling through 7 different countries.  We heard all kinds of nice comments from people who said reading the blogs was like joining us on a “trip of a lifetime”.

When we went back across the Atlantic in 2009, we knew things were going to be different.  Instead of 7 different countries, we stayed in one place for the trip.  And instead of having a tour guide show us around, we rented a car and drove ourselves.  But the one thing we KNEW we wanted to do the same was to bring our laptop along, and write blogs and post pictures, just like we did in 2008.

So what follows are the blogs I wrote before, during, and after the trip, with all of the pictures as originally posted.  I’ve also thrown in a few extra pictures to better illustrate what I’m talking about, and have also added a few extra comments to clarify what happened or to update things I mentioned in the original postings.

As with the blogs we put together in 2008, we hope you enjoy the tale of our 11 days in France in September, 2009.  If you have any questions or comments, just drop me a note--

(jim@wmqt.com)

*****


MONDAY, 8/3:

And one month from today, I leave for France.

!!!!!

That means I’ve entered a very strange phase in my life, one that we’ll call “The Safe Zone”.  According to Loraine, I can not do anything that would cause an injury that would not heal in the next month.  Get a paper cut on my finger?  That’s okay.  Go riding no-handed on my bike, not see a rock on the bike path, fall over, and break my arm?

Not okay.

I mean, I always try to be careful, no matter what I do.  I’ve not been in any serious accidents in my life, I’ve never broken a bone; heck, I’ve never even spent a night in the hospital.  So it’s not like I go out and court danger.  But I do do physical things that could, under the right circumstances, turn dangerous--I ride my bike (yes, sometimes, no-handed), I hop over rocks on a breakwater, and I try to walk across streets in downtown Marquette, a place where drivers don’t seem to pay attention to pedestrians.

All it would take is one bad move from any of those activities, and I’d end up in traction when I should be driving around Normandy.

Now, I’m not gonna stop doing what I do.  I mean, it’s summer (or, at least, what passes for summer in 2009).  I’m not gonna not ride my bike, and I’m certainly not gonna not walk across the street (especially when I have the light AND the right-of-way).  I’ll just take extra care with what I do.  I may not ride my bike no-handed (even if you get more of a workout when you do).  I’ll look both ways--two or three extra times--when I’m crossing the street.

And, who knows, maybe I’ll avoid sharp knives and scissors entirely.

In the next 31 days, I’m sure I’ll be writing more about what we’re doing to get ready for this trip.  After all, it’ll be a little different than the other trips we’ve taken over there, seeing as how we’re spending the entire time in one place, as opposed to being in 7 different countries in 10 days.  So the fact that we’ll have a “home” for the entire time means that you pack a little differently and you plan a little differently.

Oh, and you only have to brush up on one language, as opposed to three or four.

So wish me luck, and keep reminding me--pay attention to everything I do, everywhere I  go, and every breath I take.


****


THURSDAY, 8/20:

And just two weeks to go before I leave for France!

One of the things that I’ve been doing to get ready for this trip is going through everything I have left over from last year’s trip.  I still have unopened sunscreen that hasn’t expired, a toothbrush that’s never been used, and a book I bought but never read, all ready to make the return voyage across the Atlantic.

I also have over 18 Euros in coins.

Like most people on vacation, I don’t always use all of my change.  You know what it’s like; anywhere you go someplace out of the ordinary, you’re always buying stuff, and getting change back in return.  A lot of that change gets stuck in pockets or in backpacks, and it’s not until you get home that you realize that you’ve accumulated quite the collection.  In my case, it’s 18 Euros worth of a collection.

Now, that’s not chump change; my collection’s worth over 25 dollars US.  And a vast majority of that change is either in 1 or 2 Euro coins (they don’t have a paper equivalent to our dollar bill) and, for some strange reason, a TON of 20 cent pieces.

I have NO idea why I have so many of those 20 cent pieces.  I really don’t.

Never fear, though.  I do have a use for the 18 Euros in coins I found in my backpack,  As you may remember, we’re flying into Paris and renting a car to drive to Bayeux, where we’ll be staying for our trip.  To get from Paris to Bayeux is a 3 hour drive, a 3 hour drive on one of the best maintained roads in the world.  And why is it one of the best maintained roads in the world?

Because you have to pay tolls every 40 or 50 kilometers.

The French road system is actually two-tiered; all major routes are actually two sets of roads, running roughly parallel to each other.  One of the routes is highway that runs through towns and makes a lot of stops.  The other is a pristine freeway with few exits.  It costs nothing to drive along the highway that runs through towns and makes a lot of stops.  You do, however, have to pay to drive along the pristine freeway with few exits.

In fact, to get from Paris to Caen on the freeway (Caen being where the freeway actually ends; you then take a pretty nice 4-lane highway to Bayeux) will run you around 20 Euros.  And how much did I say I found in change from my last trip?

18 Euros.  So it seems, at least to me, that I have a use for all that change!

The Via Michelin website actually tells you how much each toll is at each toll station along the road; that way, I can have the exact change ready when we go through the stations, and not have to worry about accumulating even more change.  I’m just hoping I don’t get a lot of strange looks when I hand over 4 or 5 Euros in 20 cent pieces.  I mean, that must happen all the time, right?

RIGHT?

And no, I’m not worrying about how I’m gonna pay the tolls on the way back.  After all, I’ll have 8 days during which to accumulate even more change.  Heck, I might even accumulate another 20 Euros or so, and then I’ll be all set.

See?  When you go to Europe, it pays to think ahead, doesn’t it?

8-)




*****


THURSDAY 8/27:

One week from today I’m going to France, and there are two questions that, I’m sure are burning a whole in your brain--

Have I learned enough French, and will I ever get my box of cereal?

First things first--no, I probably have not learned enough French yet.  I mean, I’m pretty sure I have enough words stuck in my brain so that I can read road signs and newspapers.  I’m confident of my abilities in that regard.  But what I’m not confident in is my ability to carry on a conversation with someone who speaks French above, say, the level of a 5-year old.

But I’m not surprised about that.

There are good things and bad things about trying to teach yourself French out of books and computer programs.  You get to learn at your own pace and when you have the time (which, with a schedule like mine, is a great thing), and you can always go back and go over things again and again until you think you know that.  It’s a great way to learn how to read French, which, like I said, I think I can do pretty well.

The bad thing about teaching yourself French out of books and computer programs is that you get little to no experience actually speaking French to someone else who speaks French, someone like a tutor or a French 4-year old.  You don’t get the experience of having someone say something to you, you having to process it, and you then having to figure out what to say back.  And that is something entirely different than reading French.

So it seems I’m good at one thing, and bad at another.  Will it be enough to get us through France?  We’ll see, but I’m hopeful.  If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in my travels through Europe it’s that if you at least make an effort to speak in someone’s native tongue, they’ll make the effort to meet you halfway in your native tongue.  

After all, many Europeans seem to enjoy showing off the fact that they know English!

The answer to the second question?  Yes, I’m going to get my cereal.

Now, for those of you who don’t remember what happened last year, here’s the story--there’s a cereal that you can get in a French grocery store that’s an amazing piece of work.  It’s a chocolate cereal with chocolate cream in the middle, a cereal that not only melts chocolate all over your mouth but turns the milk in your cereal bowl into chocolate nirvana.

By the way, did I mention the cereal’s chocolate?

Anyway, I was supposed to get a box of it last year during our 4-hour stop in France.  In fact, it was one of the two reasons we were making a 4-hour stop in France.  Unfortunately, at least for the purposes of the chocolate cereal, that whole “Loraine & Jim Get Honored By A French Village” thing popped up, and the search for the cereal went by the wayside.

Oh well.  It was a sacrifice I was happy to make.

This time around, though, I won’t have to sacrifice at all.  Not only are we spending 8 days in a city with a grocery store that sells the cereal, but we’re also going to be visiting SEVEN other towns that have grocery stores that also sell the cereal.

I’m now thinking that my only problem might be buying too MUCH of the cereal to bring home with me.

Oh, the problems you face when traveling, huh?

8-)

Anyway, we’ll deal with that problem when it pops up.  And if that’s the only problem we run into while we’re over there, it’ll be a great vacation.  Actually, I’m sure it’ll be a great vacation no matter what, no matter how much I mangle my French or how many boxes of cereal I find myself buying.

And it all starts a week from today!!


*****


MONDAY, 8/31:

Do you guys recall last year, when Loraine & I went to a small French village and had this ceremony where the whole town turned out to honor us just because, apparently, we were American and we wanted to visit their town memorial?  If you remember, it all started because Loraine got in touch with someone, who got in touch with someone else, and it grew from there.

Well, don’t look now, but it might be happening again this upcoming Sunday.

One of the first official things we’re doing when we get to France at the end of the week is meeting a very nice guy by the name of Jean-Paul in the little French village of St. Georges-de-Bohon.  It was there that a guy from Marquette named Ludvic Steinberger was killed in the days following the invasion of Normandy.  Jean-Paul has helped Loraine find out information about the area, and we thought it would be nice to say “hey” to him in person.

That was a couple of months ago.  Since then, Jean-Paul has graciously offered to spend an entire day showing us around the area, including the town memorial honoring people like Marquette’s Ludvic Steinberger.  And even though we’re anxious to explore the area on our own, we figured a day like that would be something we couldn’t turn down.  So we said sure to that, as well.

Then Jean-Paul got in touch with the mayor of  St. Georges-de-Bohon, to whom, it turns out, he wants to introduce us.  Having had that certain little experience with a small French town last year, I then can’t say we were surprised when the mayor sent this e-mail to Jean-Paul--

“Nous sommes prêt à vous recevoir le Dimanche 06 SEPTEMBRE à 10h30 à la Mairie de St
GEORGES de BOHON.
Une cérémonie toute simple; j'ai invité le conseil et les représentants des anciens combattants ; les Présidents d'association communale;et la presse”

Loosely translated, the note from the mayor of St. Georges-de-Bohon says that he’ll be glad to meet us at the town’s church on Sunday at 1030.  And afterwards, the ceremony will be simple; he’s invited the town council, all the town’s old veterans, the President of the town’s memorial association, and the press.

The ceremony?  The town council?  The press?  For us?

It’s happening all over again!!!!!

I keep joking to Loraine that I have no idea how she gets us into this stuff; she doesn’t know either, if that’s any consolation.  So we fly to France Thursday, sleep Friday, drive to Bayeux Saturday, and then go to St. Georges-de-Bohon--for whatever--on Sunday.

And that’s just the first few days of the trip.  I can just imagine what it’ll be like when it’s all over.


******

TUESDAY, 9/1:

Just three days until we go to France!

Over the past week or so, both Loraine and I have had scads of people come up to us and ask if we’re gonna blog again about whatever mischief we get into over there.  It seems like a ton of people followed along with us last year, and are curious as to if we’re doing it again this year.

Well, of course we are!

I’m hoping to send stuff back here every day, and when I say “stuff” I mean both blogs and pictures.  We’re also thinking of posting little updates on Twitter and Facebook  because, unlike the blogs & pictures, I can do that from my phone, providing, if we want, real-time updates.

And yes, we DO realize we’re going on “vacation”, but what’s the point of going a quarter of the way around the planet if we can’t share it with you guys, right?

8-)

Yesterday, I mentioned about the little “ceremony” in St. Georges de Bohon that seems to be growing by the minute.  What else do we have planned?  Well, that’s one of the interesting things about this trip. . .because we’re staying in one place this time, and not traveling day by day from city to city, we have a lot of things we want to do, but don’t necessarily know WHEN we’re gonna do them.  A couple of things we hope to do depend upon the weather; a couple of other things depend upon us doing other things first.  So we don’t necessarily have a “set-set” itinerary; we just know what we need to do before we leave.

I think I’ve shared this picture with you before—



It’s a picture I took 5 years ago (5 years ago?) during our first stop in the French town of Bayeux, which will be our home base this time around.  It has about half the people of Marquette (making it, I guess, about the size of Escanaba) and was one of the few towns in Normandy spared any major warfare (in fact, the British liberated it on June 7th, 1944).  Because it was spared major action in World War II, the entire town kinda looks the way it’s looked for centuries, up to and including a MASSIVE cathedral that they started building in the 1040s.

That, by the way, was NOT a typo.  They started building the cathedral in Bayeux almost 1,000 years ago.  Oh, and they finished it 600 years ago.

Digging around my laptop, I found a picture I took of the cathedral in 2006.  This picture, by the way, was taken from almost a mile away.  Did I mention that the 1,000 year old cathedral is also HUGE?



Just think—we’ll have 10 days of looking at architecture like all around France.  Kind of almost makes Loraine’s war research and my choco-holisism seem secondary, doesn’t it?

Notice, by the way, I said “almost”.


****

WEDNESDAY, 9/2:

And in just 48 hours, I’ll be driving in a foreign country.

When we first decided to do this trip on our own, with no tour guide/driver, I have to admit that I was a little. . .nervous about the whole thing.  After all, I barely drive here in the U.S., and the thought of having to maneuver through a country where I barely read the language was, well, daunting.

But I think I’m okay with it now.  In fact, I have a feeling that by the time we’re done with the whole thing, I may consider chauffeuring people around France as a new, lucrative career!

As with many things in life, it’s the uncertainty of the unknown that probably led to the “daunting” feeling I had a while back.  After all, like I said, I’ve never driven in a foreign country before.  But I’m sure that once I’m behind the wheel, and can navigate out of Charles de Gaulle Airport to our hotel in a nearby village (probably the most troublesome drive of our whole vacation) I’ll be fine.

Heck, I’ll be more than fine.  Like I said, I’ll be ready to consider it as a second career!

I’m actually quite looking forward to cruising around Normandy for the week that we’re there.  Driving around that section of France is much like driving around some of the roads of Marquette County; you have a main thoroughfare heading through the region, and all kinds of little back roads here and there that wind through small towns & villages.  In many ways, many of the roads we’ll be driving on remind me of driving from Marquette to Big Bay on 550, or from Negaunee to Gwinn on M-35.

Minus the iron mines, of course.

And, to be honest, driving on those little French roads will be actually be easier (and nicer) than driving on some of the same types of routes here.  Like I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the French pay almost 8 bucks for a gallon of gas, but that 8 bucks buys them some of the nicest roads in the world, even between little towns in the middle of nowhere.  They know how to build roads over there, and they know how to take care of them, as well.

Not only that, but the roads over in France are incredibly well marked.  Every time you go through a roundabout or an intersection, you have signs telling you not only which towns are coming up next, but also pointing you in the direction you need to drive to get there.

It’s almost like having GPS, but without the little box.  Or the satellites.

So we won’t need to worry about getting lost.  Aside from the detailed road signs, I was given a very detailed map book of the region last Christmas (thanks, Mom & Dad!) and we’ll also have a compass with us so that, when we’re out in the middle of nowhere, and Loraine’s trying to find the exact road we need to be on, we’re set.  Besides, there are so many little towns set so close to each other there that all anyone needs to do is drive a kilometer or two, and you’re in the next village.

So by the time we have to turn the rental car back in a week from Saturday, I’m sure I’ll be an expert at driving in France.  In fact, I’m sure that after we return, I’ll have a moment of complete disorientation the next time I jump into my car to drive somewhere here, if only because the road signs won’t be in French, the speedometer won’t be in kilometers, and I’ll be back to dodging potholes and cracked pavement again.


****


THURSDAY, 9/3:

And as you read this, I am probably in Chicago, en route to France.

That’s right; unless something horrid and/or earth-shattering happened, we left Marquette right before 10 this morning, arriving in the Windy City also right before 10 this morning (ah, the magic of crossing a time zone).  Since our flight to Paris doesn’t leave until 5 or so this afternoon, we get to do one of our favorite things in the world—

We get to play in downtown Chicago!

After flying into O’Hare, we grab our carry-ons (backpacks and my laptop case) and jump on the Blue Line train into downtown, where we kill several hours eating pizza at Le Appetito, grabbing cornbread and cookies at Whole Foods, and paying one last visit to the giant Borders bookstore on Michigan Avenue before it closes for good in a month or so.  We then hop BACK on the Blue Line in mid-afternoon, go back out to O’Hare, go through security again (oh, what a joy) and then board American flight 42 to Paris, which leaves at 530 and arrives just outside of the City of Lights at 840 tomorrow morning (ah, the magic of crossing SIX time zones!).

After we get to Paris, we grab our rental car, where I hope I don’t hit anything, and we drive a whole 3 kilometers into the small town of Roissy, where a hotel awaits for a short nap.  When we wake up, we walk into the town, marvel at the “French-ness” of things, buy some food, eat a picnic in a very nice park they have there, and then grab some more shuteye before waking up Saturday morning and driving to our home for the next week, Bayeux.

The reason I’m telling you all this now is that, based on past experience, there won’t be a blog posting tomorrow.  After all, it’ll just be us flying over, and trust me, NO ONE wants to read a posting about what it’s like flying for 8 hours overnight, when half the people in the plane are trying to sleep, the other half is trying to carry on a conversation, and the third half keeps jostling you around by either kicking your seat or kicking you as they move down the aisle toward the bathroom.

See?  I’ve spared you tomorrow’s blog entry.

I will, however, be doing an on-air report tomorrow afternoon, probably around 3:35 (and 5:35) or so, thanks to the fine folks at AT&T Wireless.  Like last year, they set up my phone so that it works in Europe, allowing me to call in each day with live reports.  If anything else exciting happens, things may be posted on my Twitter or Facebook pages.  You’ll probably have to sign up to be my friend to see the stuff on Facebook, but we can all use more friends these days, right?

Wish us luck on the flight over tonight, remember to keep checking here, on air, and on Facebook & Twitter, and have yourself a great holiday weekend while you’re at it!


*****

FRIDAY, 9/4:

Here's a quick note from Jim's phone in France, saying that we made it okay, except for one, uhm, interesting adventure.  And to no one’s surprise, I'm sure, it involved driving.

I've written a whole blog about it, which I'll send as soon as I can find some way to get my laptop online.  Or to get my laptop and phone talking to each other.

Technology.  You gotta love it.

Tonight we sleep.  Tomorrow, we drive to Bayeux.

Au revoir from Roissy, France!


*****
Listen to Jim’s phone call from France on Friday

*****


SATURDAY, 9/5:

You know, I did not see THAT coming.

We arrived in France Friday morning an hour or so late, thanks to a delay in taking off from Chicago and a delay in landing in Paris.  That’s not that big of a deal; after all, we had a GREAT time playing in downtown Chicago Thursday (bemoaning the fact that Steely Dan was performing “Aja” in its entirety at the Chicago Theater that night.  D’oh!!!) and just wanted to get our French adventure underway.

Which we did, in the strangest possible way.

Those of you who read what I wrote Wednesday about driving in France for the first time may remember that I guessed getting from the airport to our hotel here in Roissy might be the hardest drive of the whole trip.  You’ll be happy to know that, for once, I was right.  

We picked up the rental car, and pulled out our directions for Via Michelin to get to the hotel from which I’m writing this, the Ibis in Roissy-en-France.  Driving out of the airport, we’re getting ready to look at the directions when we see a sign that says “Ibis”.  Knowing that Roissy-en-France is right outside the airport, we figured that our drive is already over.

So we follow the sign, and see a big block of hotels in the distance, including the Ibis.  However, the area around it (an area in which we’ve stayed before) didn’t look familiar, which I just chalked up to the fact that they’re building stuff around here ALL of the time.  So we drive up to the Ibis, and notice that there’s some of that construction all around it.  So much construction, in fact, that we can’t seem to find a driveway to get into the hotel anywhere.

So we circle around the big block of hotels again, and still don’t see a way in.  We circle a few more times, and finally see a back way into the block.  Asking a nice gentleman on the side of the road, he does indeed indicate that you get to the Ibis through the street we’re on.

Cool.  

We finally (FINALLY) find the Ibis parking lot which, of course, is a paid underground lot.  We bring the car down into depths of that beast, park it, and haul our luggage up to the reception desk to check in.  Now, remember that we’ve just flown over from the U.S., haven’t slept in about 24 hours, and just spent the last of those 24 hours trying to get into the parking lot of the hotel into which we’re about to check in.

And that’s when we realize we’re at the wrong hotel.

That’s right; apparently, there are several Ibis hotels and (here’s the kicker) also two towns with Roissy in their name right by the airport.  The Ibis hotel we tried to check into is the Ibis in Roissypole, while the Ibis hotel we’re supposed to check in to is in Roissy-en-France, the next town over.  So we haul our luggage back down into the car, and pull out of the lot, which then thoughtfully charges us 3 Euros for parking for the 15 minutes it took us to found out we were at the wrong hotel.  We ignore the signs on the road that say “Ibis Hotel, turn here”, and we instead look at the Via Michelin directions I printed out, directions that had us going to the right hotel in the right village, and make it there in less than 3 minutes.

If only, if only if only. . .

You know, though, if that’s the worst thing that’ll happen to us on this trip, then I have the feeling we’re in for a GREAT time for the next nine days.  After all, didn’t I say that getting out of the airport would be the hardest part?

8-)

We have slept for a whole two hours now, and are getting ready for our trip tomorrow to Bayeux, our home base for the next week.  It should only take a couple of hours to get there.  Assuming, of course, we actually follow directions this time, and don’t drive off after being led astray by a mischievous hotel sign.


*****


SUNDAY, 9/6:

Bayeux, like Marquette, is full of surprises.

We’re now in our home for the next week, the beautiful French town of Bayeux.  The drive up from Paris was uneventful, at least once we got out of Paris.  We arrived here a little after noon, and as I write this at 10 pm Saturday, it’s the first time we’ve slowed down all day.

THAT’S the kind of a place Bayeux is!

As soon as we got into town we headed down the road to the city market they have every Saturday, a market where they sell everything from fresh produce to live ducks to Bob Marley sweatshirts (they love their Bob Marley here in France).  We then stopped at, uhm, four bakeries, checked out the menus of several dozen restaurants, and just strolled up & down one of the most wonderful streets in the world,



a mile-long wonderland of every kind of shop known to humankind (including at least a half-dozen that make sausages while you wait!)  We also stopped at the Super U to buy chocolate and this great little 6-pack of bite sized cheeses to try for dinner (the cheeses, that is, not the chocolates), and then headed out for another very long stroll.  What did we see and/or hear on this long stroll?

We saw a football game (that’s a soccer match to you guys) in the municipal stadium across the street from our hotel.  We saw kids practicing American football (complete with pads & helmet) at a school, which caused Loraine to crack, “I bet they’re better than the Lions”.  We saw hundreds of pieces of impressive architecture (some stemming back 4 or 500 years).  And we went to one of our favorite places here, a place that no one who knows us would be surprised about—

A cemetery.

This is actually a British military cemetery (the Brits liberated Bayeux the day after D-Day) and we’ve always admired one cool thing about British military markers—they let the families of the deceased put a little, personal saying on the bottom of each headstone.  It’s really touching to read some of them.  



Now, we must not have been paying 100% attention the previous two times we were here, because this time around we noticed that there are not only people from Britain buried here, but from former member states of the British Empire as well.  We saw the graves of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, one American (who was flying in the British Air Force), and many others, including one who section of graves that surprised the heck out of us.

You see, along with all the allied soldiers, there are about 100 Germans buried here, as well.  

It’s kind of funny; there are many German cemeteries that dot the French landscape, so you don’t expect to see German graves in a British facility.  Yet there they were, gravesites tended with the same care as those of soldiers from Britain, Canada, and Australia.  I guess it speaks wonders about how far the world has come in the last 70 years.

And, perhaps, how far we still have to go.

After that, Bayeux held one more surprise for us. Right across the road from the British cemetery is a memorial put up by Reporters Without Frontiers, honoring every journalist in the world who’s been killed in the line of duty from Ernie Pyle in 1945 to Daniel Pearl in 2003 and all the way up to 2008.  It’s newly built, and why it was newly built in Bayeux , we have no idea.  We’re just glad we had the chance to see it!



Tomorrow, Sunday?  That’s the day we head to St Georges de Bohon for whatever awaits us there.  We know it involves, among other things, a mayor and the press.

Can’t wait to see what else happens!


******


MONDAY, 9/7:

Another year, another ceremony in a French village.

While Sunday morning’s gathering in the little French village of St. Georges de Bohon was nothing like the town-wide festival that our journey to Grand Failly produced last year, it was still a nice chance to meet, greet, and see Loraine in all her glory.  About 20 people from the village turned out to say “hi” to us, show us around their new church and the bombed-out stones that remain from their old church (one built in the 13th century, sadly), to hear from the town’s mayor, and to have a little gathering at their town’s warm memorial, and to then have a little reception in the town hall (complete with champagne), covered by reporters from three local papers.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s Loraine talking to them!



Now, you may ask yourself why 20 people, a mayor, and 3 reporters would willingly give up a couple of hours to greet us on a nice Sunday morning.  I know that WE asked ourselves why 20 people, a mayor, and 3 reporters would willingly give up a couple of hours to greet us on a nice Sunday morning.  Well, as it turns out, we were the first Americans to actually show up there.

Even though it’s been 65 years since the town was liberated by Americans.

One of those Americans was Ludvic Steinberger of Marquette, who died somewhere on the hills around the little village of St. Georges de Bohon on July 7th, 1944.  If there’s one thing the people of this town have never forgotten, it’s the Americans who gave up their lives so that their little village could be free.  But in the 65 years since the town’s been liberated, no one from the U.S. has apparently stopped by to visit, so the people of the town have never had the chance to say “thanks”.

So that’s what they did when WE stopped by.

Like last year in Grand Failly, we personally had nothing to do with the liberation of the town.  We weren’t there in 1944, our grandfathers weren’t there in 1944, our uncles weren’t there in 1944.  But because we come from the same city as someone who WAS there in 1944, someone who gave up his life in that town, the people of St. Georges de Bohon, even after 65 years, turned out to say “thanks”.

So on behalf of the extended Steinberger family of Marquette, who provided us with pictures and documents to give to the people of St. Georges de Bohon, we accepted those thanks.

****

I did get a chance to practice what little I remember of my French while we were in St. Georges de Bohon.  Hardly anyone there spoke English (a rarity for this country), but between several of us, we were able to communicate.  And I have to give a big shout-out to my new friend Ingrid, a very charming 11-year old who decided that Loraine and I couldn’t leave until she made up and gave us little trinkets in the colors of the French flag—



So thanks, Ingrid!  Hope you and your mom enjoy looking at the map of Marquette County we gave you!

****

After the ceremony, we then spent the afternoon driving around several sections of southern Normandy, where the fighting was taking place about a month after D-Day, which was right before the Allies broke through into the main portion of France.  While we did take a wrong turn or two, even those wrong turns led us to memorials out in the middle of nowhere.  I mean, you can’t swing a dead cat (pardon moi, “chat”) around here without hitting a memorial of some kind to the Americans or the British or the Canadians, and we were actually able to see a few that we never would’ve found if we hadn’t taken those wrong turns.

Finally, after about 10 hours, we came back to Bayeux, and chowed down at a local restaurant.  Here’s my dessert—



It’s a Tarte de Normandy; basically, it’s a custard and apple tart with vanilla nutmeg ice cream on top of it.  And yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

On Monday, more driving around with the guy who set up the ceremony today in St. Georges de Bohon.  His English is about as good as my French, so I’m thinking things will quickly devolve to the level of one of those Jerry Lewis movies they love so much over here.  It should be quite the day. . .

8-)

******


TUESDAY, 9/8:

Monday, I got to do something I’ve never done before.  Monday, I got to crash a French wedding reception.  Not only that, but I was driving around a French town’s mayor while I was crashing it.

So, technically, I got to do TWO things Monday I’ve never done before!

First things first, though.  While you guys got to spend the holiday enjoying the nice weather (and as an aside to daily blog reader Sandra of Marquette--yes, we should’ve come over here in July and given you guys nice weather back then.  Sorry we didn’t think of it earlier!), we got to enjoy the first day of a work week here enjoying equally nice weather and exploring more of the area around where we had our little ceremony yesterday; specifically, the area centered around the town of Sainteny, the home of Jean-Paul Pitou.  Jean Paul was the guy who talked yesterday’s mayor (yes, we apparently are quite big among French mayors) into putting together the little ceremony at St. Georges de Bohon, and today he wanted to show us around more of his little neck of the woods.  We couldn’t necessarily say no, and as it turned out, we were glad we didn’t!

The touring stuff was pretty much the same as we usually do, except for the fact that my co-pilot wasn’t the lovely and knowledgeable Loraine; instead, my co-pilot was the excitable and knowledgeable Jean Paul, a man who, like I said yesterday, speaks English about as well as I speak French.  And despite that, we did not get lost once today, and as far as I can tell, we only made two wrong turns, which is actually a lot better than Loraine and I did on our own yesterday.

What made today special were two things, the first being lunch.  At his insistence, Jean Paul invited us to his home, where his wife Christiane and her mother were waiting to make us lunch.  Now, mind you, this was not any ordinary lunch; no, this was a traditional Normandy lunch, circa 1944, made on a circa 1944 stove with circa 1944 pans.

And here, I’ve been thinking Loraine’s a World War II geek.  She’s a piker compared to these guys!

Back in 1944, the people of Normandy didn’t have much to eat except what they had on their farms.  They had grain, they had eggs, and they had a few pigs.  So after the Allies liberated this area, the people of Normandy ate what was basically a ham and cheese crepe for every meal of every day.  And while I probably wouldn’t have wanted to eat for every meal of every day, I have to admit that the ones we had today were tres bien.  Very tres bien, in fact.

Jean Paul’s mother-in-law sure knows how to wield a mean circa-1944 skillet!

Then after more touring, we were brought back into Sainteny to meet that town’s mayor (our second mayoral meeting in two days), as well as a member of the town’s council.  They wanted to share their memories of the Nazi occupation with us, and show us into their town council chambers/hall of flags, where they have the flags of all 50 U.S. states (plus the District of Columbia) either flying high or on display.  Like the people of every French town we’ve ever been in, they are very appreciative of the sacrifices made by Americans 65 years ago, and will never forget their love for their liberators!

After our meeting with the mayor, we had one last stop.  Jean Paul said we needed to do a very French thing, so that’s now we ended up driving the town’s mayor around and crashing a French wedding reception.



Well, okay, maybe “crash” isn’t the right word.  The town’s butcher was married a couple of weeks ago in his bride’s home town, and they hadn’t had the chance to celebrate in Sainteny yet.  So the entire town, including Jean Paul and the mayor, were invited to a little gathering held in the back yard of the town’s restaurant after all the shops closed for the day.  Because we were visiting Sainteny, I guess we were considered part of the town for the day.  And since the mayor needed a ride. . .

That’s how we crashed a French wedding reception with a French mayor in tow!

Tomorrow’s our first day in several that doesn’t involve any mayors, any ceremonies, or any wedding receptions.  It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, so we’re driving down into Brittany (akin to driving from Michigan to Wisconsin) and visiting the American military cemetery in St. James, to say “hey” to four people from Marquette and Alger Counties who are buried there. We also have several stops planned along the way, in places we want to visit just so we can say we visited there.

Yes, I know we’re living a hard life over here.  We really are!

****

When I was blogging during our trip last year, I know something that stuck in some people’s minds were the pictures I took of animals!  We’re in farm country here, but instead of sticking in a picture of a cow (like I did several times in 2008), here are two things I found interesting today.  The first was taken on Omaha Beach (yes, THE Omaha Beach)—



Yup, that’s what you think it is. . .it’s a horse pulling a man in a sulky.  They have harness races around here, and give the horses a good workout running up & down the beach.  (I, personally, especially like the ferry boat in the background).

And today’s other animal was found while we were stopped filling up our gas tank—



No, I have no idea what that it.  I do know, though, that you can see the reflection of the dork taking the picture right next to the bug!

That’s all from France today. . .


******

Listen to Jim’s phone call from France on Tuesday


******


WEDNESDAY, 09/09/09 (!):

1,000 kilometers, and still accident-free!

That’s right. . .a very long day of touring Tuesday pushed us over the 1,000 kilometer mark after 5 days of driving in France, and like I mentioned in a blog before we left, whatever apprehension I had about driving in a foreign country has now entirely disappeared, disappearing to the point that Loraine and I keep joking (well, at least I think we’re joking) that we should quit our jobs and move over here to become tour guide for Americans.

Well, we’ll have to see about that.  Although couldn’t you see us driving around every day in scenery like this?



Speaking of Americans, there seem to be a lot of them over here right now, and we’ve started playing this game between us called “Spot the Obnoxious American”.  Sadly, it seems like some of our countrymen who come over here are disappointed by the fact that France is not like the U.S.  And when I hear that, I just shake my head and think to myself, “Well, why it’s called France, and not the U.S.”

When we’re here, we try to fit in with local people and local customs. After all, we’re visitors in their home.  And I’m guessing many other American tourists try the same thing.  There is, however, a subset of Americans who seem to, well, act American.  They speak loudly about everything.  They push their way through lines, loudly.  And they complain loudly, especially when things like food or the local language aren’t the way they are back “home”.

That’s because you’re NOT back home.  You’re in France.  And you wonder why some French people think all Americans are loud and obnoxious?  That’s because those of us who try to fit in aren’t noticed.  It’s only the ones who ARE loud & obnoxious getting noticed.  So that’s why we play “Spot the Obnoxious American”. . .because, sadly, it’s an easy game to play.

Okay; got that off my chest.  Here are three Americans who are neither loud nor obnoxious.  



Loraine’s on the left, some dork is on the right, and in between us is Alan Amelinckx, a Louisiana native who’s the assistant superintendent of the Brittany American cemetery near the village of St. James.  Visiting the cemetery was the main reason we drove over 300 kilometers today, through some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen anywhere (travel hint—NEVER take the freeway if you want to see what any place is really like.  Always stick to the side roads for the most amazing views).  In the cemetery we visited the graves of five men from Marquette and Alger Counties who were killed during WWII; Alan was kind enough to sand each of them for us so that the names of our local heroes would stand out like this—



Then he and Loraine spent some time talking about war stuff while I went off and shot a bunch of pictures; around 180 for the day, I think.  Alan was also kind enough to open the chapel tower at the cemetery for us.  It’s about 120 feet tall, and on a clear day (like today) you can see all the way to Mont St. Michel, which is a world famous monastery built on a hill in the Atlantic Ocean about 10 miles from where we were standing.  

I guess it was just a day for great views all around.

Finally, when we got back to Bayeux, we were planning on going to an Indian restaurant for dinner.  Unfortunately, there was a gas leak on the main street, which shut down both traffic and the gas that that the Indian restaurant uses to cook the White Curry Chicken we were planning to eat.  Instead, we just grabbed cheeses and several other things, and had a little picnic to celebrate the end of a very nice day on the road.

By the way, you know how Americans will always stand and gawk whenever something out of the ordinary is going on?  Well, it’s no different over here--



That’s the news, live from Bayeux.  Now, back to you!

(jim@wmqt.com), who was incredibly happy because it was 88 degrees here today!

******


THURSDAY, 9/10:

For us, Wednesday in France was a day of work.  

Tuesday, lots of sun and the area’s warmest temperatures of the year (88 here in Bayeux, in fact) made for a great day of sight-seeing.  Wednesday, with clouds, mist, strong winds off the Channel, and temps only around 60, made for a perfect day of research work.

And research work we did.  We logged another 250 kilometers on the road, this time tracking down the locales where several of the men from Marquette County Loraine is studying were killed.  In fact, in the case of paratrooper Arthur Lemieux of Marquette, we think we narrowed it down to the exact field.  When we were here three years ago, we had a rough idea of where he died; now, armed with new information from people he was with the day he died, and with several hand-drawn maps, we know for sure that he died in this field—



Much of our day was spent playing historical archeologist; at times, I felt like I should have a fedora and bullwhip with me, and change my name to Indiana Koski.  However, there were then times when we saw something like this—



And realized that while this “work” may be fun for us, for gentlemen like this one (who we saw in Sainte Mare-Eglise), it’s also part of his past.  Everywhere you look around here, you see WWII vets coming back, probably for one last time, to visit old haunts and to pay their respects to fallen comrades.

That, by the way, is why Loraine does the work she does. . .to make sure gentlemen like the one in the picture, and the one whose field we found today, are not forgotten.

*****

We did have time for a little fun and a little sight-seeing today.  Remember how I said it was cold and misty and windy today?  Well, hopefully, this picture will give you an idea of what it was really like—



It was taken at Colleville-Sur-Mer, right on the English Channel.  Colleville is the home of the Normandy American Military Cemetery (the one from “Saving Private Ryan”), which is rapidly becoming the Disney World of military cemeteries.  It’s filled with busloads of people, interactive videos kiosks, and, believe it or not, metal detectors you have to pass through before entering.

It’s weird—no other American cemetery we’ve visited over here is anything like that.

It’s weird.

*****

Finally, big news—

I have my box of cereal!



If you were listening on the air when I called in yesterday, you may have heard that I was doing it from the inside of one of those Super U grocery stores I’m always babbling about.  In fact, I was calling in from this one—



in Port-En-Bessin.  While working hard Wednesday, we did manage to stop in THREE different Super U stores, buying chocolate or baked goods or stuff to drink, or the legendary box of cereal I’ve been trying to get my hands on for three years now.

In fact, I think the tears are welling up in my eyes even as we speak.  So on that note. . .


*****

Listen to Jim’s phone call from France on Thursday

*****


FRIDAY, 9/11:

It’s been eight years already?

Anyway, Thursday in France was another long distance-driving, hard-working research day, although we did allow ourselves time for a little sight-seeing and fun.  First, the hard work—



This is the end result of my actually using the French I learned (and thought I forgot); a nice French woman understood enough of what I was babbling to take a picture of Loraine and me at the grave of Ishpeming’s William Richards, buried at the Normandy American cemetery (you know; the Disney World of American military cemeteries).  Those of you who read this on a daily basis have heard the story of Major Richards before; he was the engineer killed on Omaha Beach as the first wave of American troops landed, and was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

When he was killed, Richards was surrounded by 12 or so of his subordinates; what we didn’t know is that they all (or so we think) are buried along with Richards at Normandy, so one of our side projects for the day was photographing the graves of each of the men Richards was commanding that fateful June morning.  We have no idea what we’re gonna do with all the pictures; we just felt like it was something we had to do.

Now, like I said, we also played tourist for a small part of the day.  Remember how, right before I left, I told you about the cathedral here in Bayeux?  The one that’s almost 1,000 years old, and can be seen from something like 10 miles away?  Well, this is what it looks like from the inside—



This picture really doesn’t do it justice; in fact, I don’t think ANY picture can really do it justice.  I mean, we’re talking ceilings that are over 100 feet tall, little chapel-like spaces surrounding the main part of the church, and wall paintings that date back to the 1300s.  

Oh, and there are catacombs under the main altar, too.  Cue the creepy organ music (provided, of course, by the 18th century organ they have, still in working condition).

Yup. . .it’s an impressive place.

*****

Okay, here’s today’s animal picture—



Bakers here do wonderful things with meringues; in fact, next to the pink pig you’ll notice a partially obscured green frog, and just to the left of where I took this picture was a brown cow.  No, I didn’t try any of them; it seems like a shame to actually eat something that beautiful.  Instead, I tried something that was so good my mouth wept for joy (mouths do that over here, you know).  It was a slice of a loaf of candy. . .the outside of the loaf being a white almond pate, while the inside was an almond/cognac mix, with little chunks of pistachio mixed in.

With confisserie that heavenly, it’s no wonder Bayeux has a 1,000 year old cathedral!

*****

Speaking of great food (which I seem to have done a lot of in the past week), we finally got to eat at that Indian restaurant we’ve been eying.  And I have to admit, the Poulet Taj Mahal (chicken in a mild curry/cashew cream sauce) was as good as it sounded.  The walk back from the restaurant also provided me with an opportunity to update a story I first reported Tuesday—

Remember the gas leak that shut down part of Bayeux (including our Indian restaurant)?  Well, it wasn’t just a gas leak; turns out, it was a gas explosion—



The top floor of the building was blown out, tossing all the stuff you see above into the street.  As far as we’ve been able to find out, though, no one was injured.

Updates as we get them in.


*****

Listen to Jim’s phone call from France on Friday

*****


SATURDAY, 9/12:

Sometimes, when your plans go awry, that’s a good thing.  

Friday, we were just gonna playing tourist for once on this trip, driving back part of the way to Brittany (the place where we went Tuesday) just to look at some of the incredible views one more time, and to see if we could see things we’d not seen yet.

And that’s when the phone message came into play.

I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but we were supposed to meet a local gentleman named Thierry at the Normandy American cemetery yesterday.  However, mixed signals prevented him from showing up.  When we got back to our hotel Thursday night, there was a message from him, asking us to call back.  Since it was late, and since he’s a dairy farmer by trade (dairy farmers being early risers, you know) we didn’t call him back until this morning.  

That’s when he wanted to know if we still wanted to meet him today.

We had kind of been looking forward to driving to Mortain and seeing what there was to see, but decided that we could make an abbreviated trip to the area (literally driving there and back), and still make it in time to meet Thierry.  So we drove there (and back), oohing and aahing the entire way to sights like this—



That’s where we stopped for five minutes and ate lunch, at a roadside turnoff just north of a town named Percy.  I’m thinking that, if the cows wouldn’t mind, we could make a regular habit of it!

Alas, we couldn’t stay too long, and were soon dodging detours and slow moving tractors to meet up with Thierry.  And once we did, it was like Loraine found her doppelganger from France—



Like Loraine, Thierry’s been doing some research into American soldiers who were killed; unlike Loraine, he’s been researching soldiers who died on his mother’s farm and near the church where his father lived.  You see, his mother, who was 12 at the time, lived in a manor that was right across the road from one of the fiercest battle of the days following D-Day, the battle for the La Fiere Bridge (long story short—only one bridge was available to get tanks off of Utah Beach into France.  Both sides wanted to control it; for four days, it went back & forth).  So we were able to hear the story of how his mother lived under the Germans for four years, then how, in the matter of four days, found her house under American control, then German control, then American control, etc, until the Americans finally prevailed, but not before her home was reduced to rubble.

After showing us several other things, he took us to his home to meet his mother.  And when I say “home”, I mean “HOME”.  This was one of those stereotypical French manor houses, beautiful in both size & design.  And not only did we meet his mother, but one of his brothers was there, bringing along a friend, as well.  

That’s right; it was another day of people who wanted to “meet the Americans”.  But we were glad to do it.  Both Thierry and his brother had worn T-shirts purchased during a previous trip to the US; I guess they wanted to show us a little bit of home, or just how grateful they still are—after all these years—to people from the country that helped liberate their mother a couple of generations ago.

All in a day’s work over here, I guess.

Thierry did have one more surprise for us.  Waiting in his kitchen was a copy of Le Manche Presse, the local newspaper, which featured an article about and pictures of Loraine and her geeky sidekick Me during our little visit/ceremony at St. Georges de Bohon Sunday.



I guess those journalists the mayor of St. Georges de Bohon invited weren’t just there for show!

After that, we drove back into Bayeux one last time, and just had to take a picture of this—



You see these all over the place; in France, Michigan is nothing more than a chain of dollar-type stores.  Or, I guess, in this case, they’d be Euro stores.

Amazing what you find over here.

Finally, I really do have to give a big shout-out to Kristi and the great people at AT&T for setting up my phone to work over here.  Not only did they enable me to call back and report to you guys on the air every day, but I was able to check the weather and update Facebook and Twitter with my phone.

Thanks, Kristi.  You rock!


*****


SUNDAY, 9/13:

Like many French couples, Loraine and I had a routine.  We’d get up in the morning, eat breakfast, hop in the car, drive to work, do our work, come home from work, discuss our workday, and then steal soaps and shampoos from the hotel before dinner.

Well, okay, maybe not all French couples live in a hotel and can steal the soaps & shampoos, but aside from that, we lived a fairly normal life over here.

And now, sadly, it’s come to an end.  

I’m writing this from Roissy-en-France (yes, the Roissy-en-France that played a large part in our big driving “adventure’ from last week) where we’re staying Saturday night before flying back to Marquette on Sunday.  We sadly left our recent home of Bayeux France this morning, but not before we were able to partake in another Market Day!



I don’t know if I talked about Market Day last week, so forgive me if I’m bringing up something I’ve already brought up.  But every town and city in France has a Market Day, when local farmers and craftspeople get together in a town square to sell everything from fresh produce to T-shirt to live chickens.

Think I’m kidding?



Then after Market Day (where, by the way, we bought an amazing little container of just-picked raspberries), we took one last walk along the streets of our French hometown—



The drive to Paris was uneventful, except for the maze of confusion that is getting into Charles de Gaulle airport.  We finally made it in, returned our rental car (with,  apparently, a little scratch that appeared out of nowhere) and took the shuttle bus to our hotel here, where we’ll pack, sleep, and ponder the fact that our little journey is now over.

Hope you’ve enjoyed these little missives from the road; reading a couple of e-mails from you makes me think that it wasn’t all in vain.  Unless I decide to not get on the airplane tomorrow, I’ll be back on the air as normal on Monday.  I may be dead tired, but I’ll be back on the air as normal on Monday.

That’s it from France; au revoir!

(jim@wmqt.com)


******


MONDAY, 9/14:

Just a very quick note from my phone to let you know that, while late, we did make it back home safe and sound (well, at least, as sound as we can be).  More to come!


*****


TUESDAY, 9/15:

I think it’s just the speed of the turnaround that gets you the most.

I mean, one day you’re having breakfast in the sun outside of Paris, and then the next you’re staring at your office computer, wondering what you need to get done.  It’s like there’s no transition, no time for a de-acceleration.

I guess you might call it cultural whiplash, if nothing else.

Anyway, that’s how I felt for a while Monday morning upon returning to work.  It was kind of surreal for a while; like I wasn’t supposed to be back here, or something.  I forgot several things at home, several things I routinely bring with me without even thinking about it.  I keep seeing big honking pickup trucks & SUVs instead of tiny Renaults or Citroens.  And a couple of times when my coworkers asked me something, I, without even thinking, answered them in French.

Needless to say, THAT got quite the reaction.

Some people have always expressed amazement that I go right back to work right after spending a week and a half on one of these European adventures, and I’ve always wondered why they were amazed.  But after this sudden turnaround (I mean, we get into Marquette at 10 Sunday night, and 10 hours later, I’m at work) I guess I can kind of see where they’re coming from.  But, unfortunately, time (and radio) waits for no one.

So despite the cultural whiplash, onward we move!

*****

By the way, I did a little math in my head (and we all know how dangerous THAT can be).  I ended up driving 2,237 kilometers in France; that’s approximately 1,400 miles.  And you know what that means?  I drove more in 9 days in France than I have over the past year here in Marquette!  Yup; I usually average100 miles a month on the roads here, so when you compare that to the 1,400 in France, I’m actually set through the end of next February!

Amazing how that works out, isn’t it?

*****

Finally, Loraine and I want to acknowledged everyone who acknowledged us during the trip.  Aside from these blogs, we Tweeted and posted on my  Facebook page, and we really appreciated the comments, best wishes, and sarcastic remarks left by many of you.  It seems like many of you enjoyed sharing what we did; we just hope you weren’t too bored with our babbling!

Now, like I said, it’s back to the real world, and all the adjustments therein.

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Have a highly above average Week !!!