Tag Archives: normandy

Looking back at a great trip

It’s Sunday afternoon and we’ve been back in the USA for six days. I guess it is a cliché, but as much as we enjoyed our trip to Paris and Normandy, it is nice to be back in our one house. I think about a week and a half is my limit before I start thinking it would be good to be back to familiar surroundings and routine.

Our trip back to Savannah on Monday was grueling. As we were riding the RER train to the airport, Mrs. Poolman commented that she hoped we had the same luck as we did on the flight over; that is, no one sharing our three-across seat combo. Or, at least not a 300 pounder. As it turns out, the guy in the aisle seat was closer to 400 pounds. Seriously! And Air France has to have the smallest seats in existence, in both width and front-back space. We were on that Boeing 777 for 11 and a half hours, and Mrs. P was not a happy flier. Jabba the Hut oozed across the armrest and over into Princes Leia’s seat space, and the person in the row in front kept reclining her seat so far that she couldn’t even focus on the back-of-the seat TV monitor. At one point Mrs P just couldn’t stand it any more and got up and stood in the back of the plane for around an hour. We didn’t realize how small the seat space was until we connected with a Delta MD88 in Atlanta. When we sat down, Mrs. P and I looked at each other and commented on how much more room there was. Long haul – tiny space. Short haul – roomy seats. That doesn’t seem right.

One thing interesting about travel is trying to figure out the different plumbing and electricity. When we checked into the Holiday Inn St Germain des Pres in Paris, we couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights on. They would come on and then go out again. Then we noticed a little device on the wall near the door. The room key is a flat piece of plastic, and you are supposed to insert the room key into the slot in the wall device. That allows you to turn on all the room lights. Nice idea to save on electricity, but a bit confusing if you have never encountered it before.

What is it with the French thing of a shower guard that only covers half the tub? We had this in three of the four rooms in which we stayed. You have to really work at it to keep the shower spray from soaking the entire room. Would a full-length shower curtain be that difficult?

This is the bath-shower in our apartment. Note the glass shower barrier that extends only halfway down the tub.

Visitors to Mont St Michel are constantly climbing stairs.

You stairs are everywhere!

There is no flat surface on the island. Everything is up or down. It’s a great way to get some exercise. I did notice they have automatic defibrillators about every 50 feet on all the streets.

Instructions in several languages

I wonder how often they are used. At one point, I was out on the causeway taking some pictures when a very rotund man walked by on his way to the gate. All I could think of was, “Oh man, you are going to die here.”

And once again, I have to point out that the people we encountered were all fantastic. The French, and Parisians in general, have a bad reputation for meeting unfriendly, especially to Americans. We did not encounter that at all. Everyone was great, whether we were interacting with a waiter in a sidewalk café, or a fellow passenger as we were packed cheek-to-jowl on a crowded Metro train. The only even slightly unpleasant people we encountered were tourists. See my posting on our trip to Versailles.

The bank account won’t take another trip like this for a couple of years. But if I can get Mrs. P back on an airplane, we’ll attempt another trip before too long. Looking forward to it.

Paris & Normandy — Day Ten

Today, Friday, we spent on Mont St Michel. This is an abbey and tiny tourist community on a small island where Normandy and Brittany come together.

We had a nice time exploring and relaxing. A European breakfast wascincluded in our room rate — pastries, ham, cheese, hard boiled eggs, cereal and fruit. We had very nice meals for lunch and dinner. I’m a little concerned that Mrs Poolman is going to expect a three-course “menu” (entree, plat & dessert) everytime it is my turn to cook dinner at home. Sorry, hon. Here’s some potato chips to get you started. The burgers will be along shortly.

Tomorrow we drive back to Caen to catch the train to Paris. Then one last day in Paris before flying home on Monday. Hopefully our drive tomorrow will be uneventful.

Mont St Michel is a postcard photo waiting for someone to press the shutter button. Here are some samples.

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From the causeway

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The one main street on MSM

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Lunchtime

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The merry band

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Myself

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The causeway to the island

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Mrs P in the small graveyard

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You can't go anywhere without walking up or down steps.

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One attempt at framing a shot

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And another

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No one home here

Paris & Normandy — Day Nine

The saga continues.

What the first eight days may have lacked in adventure, we made up for today. We were up and moved out of our apartment by nine AM. Off to Gare St Lazare to catch our train to Caen.

This leg of our trip has had ill omens from the beginning.  On our first evening here we went to Gare Montparnasse to purchase these and other tickets. The very patient ticket seller spent nearly a half hour, working discounts and combos. Sister-in-Law was handling the transaction as this was her job in our division of labor. I noticed the fares and timetables did not seem to be what I had seen on line, but I kept my mouth shut, until the vendor wrote the destination on one of the ticket envelopes, not CAEN, but CANNES? Oops! I pointed out the error and the vendor patiently reissued the correct tickets and demonstrated to SIL the proper way to pronounce the two very different cities.

After all that, the train ride to Caen was pleasant and uneventful. We located the National car rental agency. We picked up our Citeron car and directions to our first stop — Bayeux. Then the fun began.

I drove while SIL and BIL navigated. Just getting out of Caen was a nightmare. At one point I’m pretty sure I drove down a section of street reserved for trolleys. We took the wrong entrance ramp to a limited access highway and drove 20 km out of town in the wrong direction before we were able to get turned around. Five or six wrong turns later and we were finally on the highway to Bayeux, leaving five or six years of my life in the rearview mirror.

We had lunch in Bayeux and then made our way to the American Cemetary at Omaha Beach.

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Bayeux Cathedral

As it was at my last visit here in April 2011, it was very moving. 

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Some of our merry band in the cemetary

Our original plan was to move on to Vierville-sur-Mer to locate the stretch of beach where Mrs Poolman’s and SIL’S father landed with the 116th Infantry Regiment in the second wave in D-Day. We were also going to stop at Point du Hoc. However, others in our party lost interest and wanted to get on to Mont St Michel.

What was left of my driving patience disappeared when we were driving down a narrow Normandy lane with close hedgerows on both sides and a cement mixer roared around a blind curve with his left wheels well on our side of the road. We escaped, but the right side of our car was in the bushes. I’m glad I got the damage collision waiver when we rented the car.

The rest of the trip to MSM was uneventful. We checked into our hotel on the island and had a nice dinner. We took a walk out to catch some night photos from the causeway.

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On to bed. Tomorrow is intended for sightseeing at Mont St Michel.

A day of airborne history

On Sunday morning, we awoke to a breakfast of ham, cheese, yogurt, fruit and pastries, The buffet included the Norman version of an apple pie and a custard pie. Interesting.

(By the way, click on any photo for a slightly larger version.)

We were off bright and early for a day-long tour focused on Utah Beach and the related airborne operations on D-Day.

"The gang" mounting up

Before we left, Dan and I went for a stroll in the central city area around our hotel.

Central Bayeux looks like the Hollywood version of an older European city. Dan said, he almost expected to see Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” to coming dancing around the next corner, singing “Bonjour, bonjour!”

The sun was just a coming up and the light was interesting. I took several pictures of the thousand-year old cathedral and some street scenes.

The Bayeux Cathedral

A Bayeux street

The Bayeux Cathedral at sunrise

Once on the bus, our first stop of the day was Ste. Mere Eglise, the first French town to be liberated by the allies in 1944, and what Steve (military guide) described as the airborne equivalent of Mecca.

We toured the airborne museum. It was very well done. It included an authentic Douglas C-47 transport, set in a scenario as if it were being loaded on June 5.

Douglas C-47

The C-47 (military version of he venerable DC-3 civilian passenger aircraft) was the plane on which our father served as a navigator in Italy.

From the airborne museum, we walked across the street to the “eglise” (church) of Ste. Mere Eglise.

Ste. Mere Eglise

If you recall the movie, “The Longest Day,” this church figured prominently in the movie, and apparently, it was actually shot here on location. Paratrooper John Steele, played by Red Buttons, got caught on the steeple. To commemorate that, the church still has a dummy and parachute hanging there. It’s kind of cheesy, but effective.

The inside of the church is lovely.

The altar area

There are two stained glass windows that commemorate the liberation, one with the Virgin Mary and the other with the archangel Michael, both with paratroop images in the design.

Stained glass of St. Michael. Note the parachute above his head and the logo of the 82nd AB to the left.

We had a very traditional French picnic with baguettes, pastries and drinks, purchased from a nearby shop.

The picnic.

I had a foot-long, fresh baguette, stuffed with chicken, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. The French pastry was great. I topped it off with a Diet Coke, or Coca-Cola Light, as they say here. The price came to just five Euros, or about seven dollars. If they opened stores like this in Savannah, they’d drive Subway out of business.

Poolman, Dan, Ron and Birdie at Ste. Mere Eglise

After lunch, we drove to Utah Beach. The museum there is closed for renovation, so to be honest, there really isn’t much to see there.

Nearby, however, we had special access to Brecourt Manor. This is the Norman dairy farm featured vividly in the second episode of Band of Brothers. Then Lieutenant Dick Winters lead a small group of paratroopers to successfully destroy a battery of German artillery that was threatening the troops coming ashore a few miles away. This is private property and not normally accessible to tour groups, so this was a treat. The start of our mini-tour was amusing. The short dirt ramp to the cow pasture was completely covered in cow manure. Everyone spent the rest of the afternoon wiping their feet and picking at their treads with sticks.

Birdie, working his way through the dung.

Steve led us through the pasture (“Rule one – don’t disturb the cows!”) to the adjacent pasture where he outlined the operation.

Dan moving under a fence from one field to the other.

Steve explains it all.

Cool stuff.

Our next stop was Ste. Mere du Mont. We had our picture taken in front of the World War I monument, in the same location as a group of 101st troopers had their picture taken on D-Day. That photo is included in the Band of Brothers book.

Poolman, Dan, Ron and Birdie in front of WW I monument.

Our final military history stop of the day was La Fiere, a crossing over the Merderet River that was the scene of some heavy fighting involving the 82nd Airborne on D-Day.

Merderet River at La Fiere

Close by is a chateau and a B&B. We got to talking to the American woman who owns the B&B. She suggested we walk over to the chateau, saying that the owner is a nice guy and he has a bunch of old souveniers he has collected from the area. The chateau owner,  Yves Poisson was most gracious. He pulled out an old reserve parachute he had.

The parachute at La Fiere

He also showed us some of his collection of battlefield artifacts.

We returned to St. Mere Eglise and had a very nice dinner at the John Steele Tavern.

As we walked down the street to dinner, we passed a vivid example of one of the differences between European and US culture – a condom machine on the sidewalk of one of the town’s main streets.

When you just can't wait.

Sometimes I guess you just can’t wait for the pharmacie’ to open.

Over dinner, Birdie continued his European version of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.” Dan and I had left our window open in our hotel room, and Birdie and Ron started discussing whether we would have pigeons in our room when we returned. Birdie assured us that if we did have pigeons when we returned, there were no two better people on the European continent to handle the problem than Ron and himself.

“For pigeons, we are like ghostbusters!”

Birdie said he really hoped we did have pigeons in our rooom, because he wanted to use the rocks he collected from Omaha Beach to kill them. Then he said he would cook them overnight on the steam radiator.

“I think if we put a towel down to collect the drippings, we’ll be fine. God knows that radiator gets hot enough.”

Birdie has had a continuing theme of cooking birds in his hotel room ever since Paris.

Fortunately for both us and the Norman pigeon population, there were no birds in our room when we returned.

We got back to our hotel in Bayeux fairly late, and after updating this blog, we hit the sheets for another early day tomorrow.

Saturday on the Cotentin Peninsula

We had a great day today (Sunday), but it was an extremely long one. We visited Ste. Mere Eglise, Utah Beach, Ste. Mere du Mont and La Fiere.

I just posted the account of yesterday’s events, and it’s going on midnight. So I’ll just stay a day behind for now. I’ll post tomorrow and try to catch up.

The day at Omaha Beach

(Written on Saturday, 4-1.)

We started the day with a cloudy, cool morning in Paris. We climbed on the bus and started off for Normandy.

On the road again...

It seemed like it took half the day just to get out of the Paris urban area.

Between the Paris traffic and stops, the trip was longer than anticipated, nearly 5 hours. As we got closer to Normandy, the sun came out and we had a beautiful, warm day with temperatures in the upper 60s or 70s.

Our first stop was Bayeux, which is also where we will spend the next two nights. We had a short stop to the rest facilities and grab something quick to eat. I got a ham and cheese baguette. I stopped by the men’s room on the way back and stuck the sandwich in my pocket…for about a second before it fell out, out of its bag and on to the men’s room floor. Oops! Poolman’s lunch turned out to be a couple of granola bars on the bus. Oh well.

We started the beach tour at the American cemetery.

American Cemetary at Omaha Beach

This should be familiar to most from the opening and closing scenes of “Saving Private Ryan.” It was a moving experience. The cemetery is very impressive and immaculately well kept.

Steve Mrozek, addressing "the troops"

Our “military guide,” Steve, located the graves of several people he was seeking, including Bob and John Niland, brothers whose deaths became the real-life premise behind the fictional “Saving Private Ryan” story.

We walked down to the beach. When you read the history of the battle here, you learn about the bluffs.The bluffs above Omaha, looking towards the British beaches Most of the stories do not do justice to these very significant, steep slopes.

Once on the beach, Birdie pulled out his bottle of Calvados, an apple-pear brandy native to this coast (This area is sometimes referred to as the “Calvados Coast.”)

(l-r) Birdie, Poolman, Dan, Ron

He had four shot glasses, and we drank a toast to the guys who had a much rougher day here 67 years ago.

We worked our way back up the bluff and visited a couple of German gun emplacements, minus the guns.

Dan at the entrance to a bunker

We had just a few minutes to visit the interpretive center before it was time to get back on the bus.

Our second stop of the day was Point du Hoc, the pinnacle between Omaha and Utah beaches, where American Rangers scaled 150-foot cliffs to destroy some German 155mm guns that could threaten the invasion fleets off either beach. This area was heavily bombed and shelled. The craters remain. While aside from the old bunkers, the area of Omaha beach we visited, didn’t look much like a battlefield. Point du Hoc definitely did.

Point Du Hoc. Note bomb craters.

Our “innocents abroad” adventures continued when we returned to Bayeux and our hotel. The Hotel du Luxembourg is an old European city-style hotel.

Hotel du Luxembourg, Bayeux, France

It is more of an inn than a modern business hotel. When Dan and I went to our room, we saw it had only one double bed. We went back down to the lobby and tried to explain the situation to the cute, young lady manning the front desk. She had limited English, and we have virtually no French. At one point she said, “I can breeng you new sheets.” Of course this did not make sense to us.

So Dan slapped me on the shoulder and said, “Listen, I really like this guy, but we really do need two beds.”

She promised to work on it, but we ended up solving it on our own. A married couple on the tour, Damien and Lori, had a room with two beds, so we just swapped.

When we were in the process of changing rooms, we realized that double bed was really just two single beds – pushed together and covered with a single spread.

“I can bring you new sheets.” Now we understand!

Our room

As expected in an “inn” of this type, our room was small, but clean and comfortable. We have a full window, which we left open during the night. (Note – steam heat but no AC.)

We had a few drinks and a nice dinner. Saturday is looking to be a full day.

It’s late here

We had a very good day of traveling and touring today. However, it was a long day and it is late here in Bayeux, France. I don’t have time to do a full post. I’ll catch up tomorrow. Suffice it to say, we did shots of Calvados (Norman apple brandy) on the sand at Omaha Beach.

More details tomorrow. Good night!

Another beautiful day in Paris

We had a very busy day in Paris. It’s too bad so much of it was spent “enjoying” the delights of the Parisian mass transit system. A total of three trips between central Paris and the airport, amounted to about four hours of transit time.

Either my alarm clock didn’t work or I didn’t hear it (a real possibility), but I didn’t awake until Ron called me a little after 7:30 am. That gave us a late start and we never caught up. However, we didn’t really worry about it and made the most of the time we had.

Ron, Birdie and I ran out for a breakfast of pastry and coffee and orange juice at a sandwich shop around the corner. Then we got our bags and reversed our steps from Tuesday morning and headed out the Best Western Hotel near the airport.

Our three days of experience we picked up maneuvering through the Metro and train system made the trip back to the airport a little easier than the trip in on Tuesday, but not by much. We had two Metro (subway) trains and the longer RER above-ground train. All were jammed packed. It was tough to get our bodies onto the trains, let alone our luggage. The combination of luggage and crowds made the process like running an obstacle course in a rat maze.

As we went to board our second Metro train, Ron asked me to confirm our destination. “Chatelet des Halles,” I told him. It was good he asked, because while I made it on the train, Ron and Birdie did not. There just wasn’t room at the door they tried to use. What they did see, as the train pulled away, was me falling backwards.

Because it was so cheek-to-jowl crowded, I thought it would be best for me to remove my backpack to reduce the space I was taking. As I pulled the backpack off, the train took off. I just felt myself falling backwards – right into the lap of a teenaged girl. Since the train was still accelerating and there was nothing for me to grab on to, it took me maybe 10 seconds or so to be able to extract myself. Very embarrassing, but right in line with many of our other adventures on the Paris Metro.

We finally made it out to the Best Western around 1130 am and connected with my brother, Dan, and the rest of the tour group. After dropping off our bags and getting situated, we headed back into town for lunch and a visit to Notre Dame.

A tour boat on the Seine near Notre Dame

Poolman and brother, Dan, at Notre Dame

We did a short walk through the Latin Quarter south of Notre Dame and ate a very nice lunch at a little sidewalk café. None of us could make sense of the bill, but we decided that it was a good meal at a reasonable price, so we just paid it and left a tip.

We toured the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was just amazing. Here is a sample of some of my photos.

Cathedral of Notre Dame from the front

One of the many stained glass panels.

The right transept with cherry blossoms.

The flying buttresses that hold the walls up.

Gargoyles

It seemed like our trip back to the Best Western took forever. I had one satisfying moment. While we were waiting for the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, a woman (French, I believe) asked me for directions. Me? It turns out she was headed to the hotel right across the street from the Best Western, so I was able to help. Imagine that!

This evening, we had dinner with the rest of the tour group. We are hitting bed early because the wake up call will be coming at 6 am. Then we are on the bus, headed for Normandy and the rest of our tour.

Should be fun!