Category Archives: 2014 09 FRANCE – West Coast & Central

Croissant Land: PART TWO

Saturday, September 13, we drove to Chinon, the fortress where Joan d’Arc first met the Dauphin in 1429. On the way we stopped at one of the most famous chateaus in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau. And, what a whopper of a home this was.

While stopping at the tourist office, this time in Chenonceau, we saw Susan from Denver and Hattie from Atlanta who had stayed in the same hotel we had in Amboise. We also seemed to be following the same tours as we had seen them the day before at both Chateau Royal and Chateau du Clos Luce. They were traveling with two other folk, and we offered to squeeze everyone into our car for the short ride to the chateau.

Spilling out of the tiny backseat (4 women),

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we all stretched

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and independently headed for this vision of grandeur.

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It’s known as the Ladies’ Chateau, beginning with the woman, Katherine Briconnet, who together with her husband created the vision of this house on the River Cher.

She and Thomas Bohier, the General Tax Collector, purchased the property in 1513 and over the next ten years demolished the existing fortress and mill built by the Marques family while keeping the ‘keep’, the Marques Tower. They proceeded to construct a major showpiece. Unfortunately, their son ran up huge debts enabling the Crown to take possession in 1535.

Gorgeous views looking up and down the river, as well as across to the gardens.

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Meanwhile the mistress of King Henri II (not to be confused with the 11th century King Henry II of England), Diane of Poitiers (1499-1566), lusted after this little place on the river.

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When the king confiscated it for debt repayment, Diane managed to get her boyfriend to kindly bestow it on her. She had first met the cute little princeling when he was eight and she, twenty-eight. Love flourished, perhaps more on his side than hers…, and she remained the love of his life for 25 years.

The illustrious history of the chateau continued to grow under Diane’s power and influence. Known for her beauty, intelligence and sense of business, she became one of the most influential women in France.

Not to be bounced aside that easily, Henri II’s wife, whom he married in 1533 was none other than Catherine de Medici (1519-1589).

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Ironically, their initials of “H” and “C” seen throughout the chateau,

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create very nicely a “D” when intertwined, something, I’m sure, pleased the ousted Diane.

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After Henri’s death in 1559 Catherine, now a Regent for her young son, Francis II (who, by the way, was the husband of Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots) pushed Diane out of the chateau, taking it for her own royal residence. To entertain more properly, Catherine added two long galleries above the bridge and Italian Renaissance decor.

More deaths, more marriages, and we get to the next lady, Louise of Lorraine (1553-1601).

When her husband, King Henri III, the fourth son of Henry II and Catherine, was assassinated in 1589,

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she stayed in the Chateau, painting her bedroom black and devoting herself to religion. Compared to the previous women of the house, she wasn’t much of a party gal, and, believe me, this home is made for parties.

The next illustrious lady was Louise Dupin (1706-1799).

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She brought the Age of Enlightenment to the Chateau, starting an outstanding salon attracting the elite among artistic, scientific and political figures, such as Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire. With Rousseau she researched and wrote one of the earliest pieces of feminist philosophy, OUVRAGE SUR LES FEMMES. This brilliant lady also saved the Chateau during the revolution due to her popularity among the locals and using the chapel for wood storage, thus disguising its true purpose. Additionally, she happened to be the great-grandmother of another famous female, George Sand.

In mid-19th century Marguerite Pelouze (1836-no known date of death), descended from the industrial bourgeoisie, took possession of Chenonceau, which her husband had purchased from Dupin’s heirs. Not lacking for funds, she spent a fortune to restore the estate to when Diane de Poitiers ‘reigned’. Unfortunately, due to a political scandal, she was forced to sell (seems to be a theme among these chateaus…).

Skip forward to WWI, and the current owners (the Meniers of the Menier Chocolate Factory, my kind of tribe) at that time paid to convert the chateau to a hospital. Simone Menier (1881-1972) served as matron and cared for over 2,000 wounded soldiers.

During WWII, the chateau was a demarcation line between Nazi-occupied France and France under Vichy control. The door at the southern end of the gallery was used to smuggle jews and those escaping the German zone and as an access by the French Resistance. Simone (above) also participated in the resistance during this second world war.

All in all, this Chateau represents not only a bodacious abode but also important times throughout France’s history.

Again, too much detail to bore you with, so I’ll just mention a few highlights, beginning with:

In the chapel, Mary Stewart’s Scottish guards left some graffiti dated 1543 and 1546:

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They don’t do anything half measure… look at the flower arrangements that graced many of the rooms and halls. Talk about picking a few blooms for the house:

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Beautiful tapestries literally covered the walls, and the cost of just one of these functional decorations (great against cold stone walls) were typically only seen in the homes of the very rich:

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Just as I found the fact Leonardo da Vinci had lived and died in France, the fact that Catherine de Medici ruled France from this desk with views of River Cher, was remarkable to me. Unfortunately, she, too, created so much debt she had to beg money from her Italian connections… :

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We’re looking at the same view she would have five hundred years ago:

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Here’s her mark (on a ceiling):

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Here’s where she entered from her bedroom into the ground-floor gallery:

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The party rooms (galleries on two floors used for entertainment):

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To provide a sense of the lavishness with which these royals partied, here’s an excerpt form Cowichan Valley Citizen website:

It was there at Chenonceau in the late 1500s that Catherine de’ Medici hosted a party for the Duke of Aragon that hasn’t been equalled since. Her guests enjoyed mock naval battles and a grand regatta staged on the nearby river Cher, plus a bunch of satyrs chasing lightly clad nymphs in a colourful tableau.

But at the banquet, Catherine outdid herself. She had recruited the most beautiful noblewomen in all of France to serve at the long tables as waitresses…. and you’ve guessed it…they were all topless.

The extravagances she staged are the stuff of legend. In fact one for her son lasted four days and four nights.”

FYI: one source said that big gala for her son really drew down the coffers…

South door used to escape to the ‘free zone’:

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One of the two kitchens:

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With groceries being delivered via boat under the bridge and a rotisserie spit with a counterweight to turn it hanging outside (Hattie not quite sure of this contraption):

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Another shivery moment of history: a 16th century, Italian cabinet with mother-of-pearl and fountain-pen engraved ivory incrustations, a wedding gift to Francois II and Mary Stewart (!):

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Louis XIV portrait by Rigaud given by Louis to his uncle, Duke of Vendome, in honor of a previous visit. Now THIS is a frame (size is roughly 5 feet x 7 feet):

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(Can you imagine what you would do if one of your relatives gave you a portrait this size for you to hang on your wall?… of course, it helps if your home is a huge chateau, and the relative a king…)

One of the marble medallions brought back by Catherine and placed above doors on the second floor (what they call the first floor). It’s an emperor, but please let me know which one if you decide to research it, which I haven’t):

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Of course, you HAVE to have a wine cellar, which we visited but didn’t taste in spite of the way it looks…:

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The maze was the last bit of the estate we toured. Created by Catherine’s orders with 2,000 yews, it wasn’t that difficult to figure out, but you could imagine what went on behind these hedges back in the day:

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Hstorical pinpoints, such as Catherine de Medici’s room from which she ruled, bring life to figures found on the paper pages of history. This is one reason why I love history and am enthralled by the quirks and haphazardness of people moving in and out of each others’ lives. It was a small world, too, thanks to the practice of inbreeding among all the royal families of Europe.

Leaving the splendor of Chenonceau we picked up our trail of Joan d’Arc as we headed towards Chinon. Chinon is a beautiful little village on the Vienne River bordering the ancient counties Anjou and Poitou. Henri II, Count of Anjou and crowned King of England in 1154 (again, not to be confused with Henry II over in Dover land) developed this fortress on a site whose history dates back to the Iron Age.

The Hundred Years War brought the Royal Fortress of Chinon into prominence with Charles VII using it as a refuge in 1418. It was here Joan met the Dauphin for the first time in 1429. She traveled 11 days through enemy territory with a small ensemble, an amazing feat during those times.

After the 17th century, the fortress was neglected, which began its slow decline to basically a ruin. After seven years and over 17,000,000 euros later, this site opened in 2014 with audio-video displays as part of the tour. Unfortunately, neither of us felt the money had been well-spent but you didn’t need really anything other than knowing this young Maid slept and drilled her soldiers here prior to routing the English from their siege of Orleans, roughly 100 miles away.

Historians can’t say for sure which room the famous meeting took place, but they did say there are two possibilities, both of which we saw.

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I don’t know if you know the story but to test her (as if the poor girl didn’t have enough to prove) Charles disguised himself as a regular guy while one of his minions dressed as a royal prince. She did pick him out correctly in spite of this trick. From there, he sent her to be vetted by the Church. They approved of her (obviously retracted this later), the Dauphin gives her an army, and she rides into history.

Similar to visiting Normandy’s beaches, following in the footsteps of this charismatic young woman, you can’t help but breathe in the grief. Knowing how she died blankets every site with sadness.

The fortress also figured prominently in the history of the Templar Knights, an organization involved with the Crusades and one envied by both the Pope and kings due to their influence and accumulated wealth. This order began two hundred years earlier by nine Frankish knights wanting to protect the pilgrims making their way to and from Jerusalem.

In spite of their vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, they managed to accumulate a lot of wealth and proceeded to serve as a bank for many, including the ever, over-spending royals; and, it was this wealth that King Philip IV aimed to grab to fill his beleaguered coffers. This guy Jack (1243-1314) was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templars and he wanted to return the Templars to their original goal of soldier-monks. In short, Philip with the help of Clement V, the pope in his pocket, managed to have the Templars convicted of despicable acts (confessed under torture). Those who confessed to unbelievable lies were not burned; those who refused were burned. Amongst the latter were two: Jack and Geoffrey de Charney of Normandy.

Frankly, the Templar exhibit in the Fortress’ visitor center was one of the better displays.

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After seeing the fortress, we visited the Tourist Agency who located a wonderful inn for us: Hotel Diderot. We had one of the last rooms, which happened to be in a little garden cottage across from the main house in this little village.

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Breakfast the next morning featured many homemade jams and preserves as well as a traditional breakfast treat of cracked walnuts, local honey, and fresh goat cheese mixed together and eaten on toast or rolls. That, with cut fruit and aromatic coffee made us sorry we weren’t staying a second night. Plus, Calhoun, we discovered one of our hostesses had gone to UNH! Talk about a small world :)

With lingering glances at the jams and croissants, we left to head to Chartres. First stop, though, was the church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois.

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where Joan retrieved or had retrieved the sword of Charles Martell, Charlemagne’s grandson. Joan had dreamt the sword was buried inside this church, and there’s a plaque indicating where she found it.

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In her own words during her 1431 trial:

 

“When I was at Tours or at Chinon I sent to seek a sword which was in the church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois, behind the alter, and it was found at once all covered with rust.

Inquisitors: How did you know that this sword was there?

“This sword was in the earth, all rusty, and there were upon it five crosses, and I knew it by my voices…. I wrote to the prelates of the place that if they please I should have the sword and they sent it to me. It was not very deep under ground behind the alter, as it seems to me, but I do not know exactly whether it was before or behind the altar. After this sword was found, the prelates of the place had it rubbed, and at once the rust fell from it without difficulty. There was an arms merchant of Tours who went to seek it, and the prelates of that place gave me a sheath, and those of Tours also, with them, had two sheathes made for me: one of red velvet and the other of cloth-of-gold, and I myself had another made of right strong leather. But when I was captured, it was not that sword which I had. I always wore that sword until I had withdrawn from Saint-Denis after the assault against Paris.” Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses, p. 61-62
She also stayed next door in the priest’s home while on her way to Chinon.

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Next was Orleans where Joan d’Arc fought her famous battle, forcing the English to give up their seige.

Along the way we had to investigate the dried-up sunflowers. Having seen fields and fields of them, we wanted to find out if the seeds were still in them (yes).

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We also some nuclear generators and silos, just one site of several we’d spotted during our drives.

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Unfortunately, the house in Orleans where Joan stayed had been destroyed by Allied bombs during WWII,

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but it was rebuilt and now houses the most extensive research library on the second floor (available by appointment) and a brief film of her life on the ground floor (not the best).

We felt we really didn’t need to stop here. The city wasn’t the prettiest and the Joan d’Arc information could have readily been found in books, but we did have an excellent gyro at a tiny, street side restaurant and bought a book on the Maid.

Back in the car to continue to our final and last night stop in France: Chartres. I had last been here in 1971 via an American Youth Hostel bike trip with my friend Annie Bommer. I told Max what I remembered from that trip was (1) the French had carefully removed all the stained glass so it wouldn’t be harmed by WWII fighting and (2) it was the first time I had ever seen a skinned rabbit (it was hanging in a butcher’s window).

Reaching Chartres, we located a hotel right in the center of town. It was a Best Western, but nothing like any I’d been in before. It was like a dream with some of the friendliest hosts and hostesses we had met during our trip.

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And, not only was the price right BUT, I got my TUBBY!! Talk about feeling like a princess…

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After unloading our one knapsack, we headed out to the cathedral. It’s the oldest medieval cathedral that has only been slightly modified (unlike others) since the early 1200’s.

While there, a service was occurring with a soloist contributing to the other-wordly feeling we got walking in this huge cathedral. It was breathtakingly lovely as we gazed literally in true awe of its size and history. Talk about if walls could talk.

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It’s also a pilgrimage site since the 12th century due to the Sancta Camisa, a faded tunic said to be what Virgin Mary worn at the birth of Christ. Riiiiggghhtt. Uh-huh.

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Walking out of the Cathedral I saw the Michelin Man

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and just had to take a photo for Colleen who, I’ll never forget, for the longest time had a keychain with his image. From the sublime (Cathedral) to the not so sublime :)

Furthermore, Chartres offers a light show starting at 10 p.m. running until 1 a.m.

Get a relaxing libation (tea or wine), lower the lights, sit down in front of a big screen if possible, and watch this, then tell me it hasn’t captured your soul.

We caught some, but not all, of the 29 sites. It was mesmerizing, and this is another city we’d love to revisit. It’d be worth it if only for the light show.

The next morning, Monday, September 15th, it was time to head back to Dover as winds looked favorable, along with the tide, for an early morning departure for Ramsgate. It would be our last stop on the south coast before crossing the Thames and heading up to our winter berth.

We encountered some rude ferry toll takers, which prompted us to snap an interesting sign that explained why they had this demeanor.

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Of course, taking a photo right in front of them (they sat behind the glass wall on which this message was posted) wasn’t the smartest idea, especially since we were asking her if we could get on the earlier ferry (fortunately, there were no-shows and we got on).

To say our trip was magical doesn’t do it justice. Just know that croissants never tasted so magnificent :)

Croissant Land: PART ONE

After touring Dover Castle Monday,September 8, we checked weather, winds and tides again. Our goal since we left Orr’s Island June 6th was to reach our winter berth before the end of September. So, every day was a potential passage day towards our chosen winter home, Ipswich on the east coast of England.

On Tuesday, September 9, winds were still on the nose for our NE sail up to the mouth and across the Thames to Orwell River. Worse, the tides were only running in a favorable direction during the night. And, the forecast was the same up to and through the weekend.

So, why not go to France? We’re in Dover. There are lots of ferries running to and fro Calais. And, I’d always wanted to see Normandy after Max’s and my Betsy’s descriptions of their visits. Plus, Max wanted to visit some landmarks of another soldier’s sacrifice, that of Joan d’Arc.

Ferry and car booked, knapsack packed, and off we went the next day, Wednesday, September 10th.

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We arrived 90 minutes later in Calais, picked up a rental car and exited the ferry terminal only to see immigrants trying to slip across the channel. Seeing these people wanting a better life but unable to reach it legally was a reminder of how fortunate many of us are just due to being where we were born.

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(Notice more immigrants in the side mirror)

Our itinerary was flexible with the Normandy D-Day beaches as our designation; and, since we would be driving through places associated with Joan d’Arc, we added those to our sight-seeing list. Rouen being the first.

It was in this city where she was brought for her trial, staying in this tower.

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This building is what remains from a castle constructed by King Philip II Augustus after his conquest of Normandy in 1204.

Rouen was where, after six months of questioning with a final verdict of heresy, she was burned. This young girl age 19 led a French army to victory over the English only to be used as a pawn in the political wars fought between France and England. She had been captured on May 23, 1430, by Jean of Luxembourg who was in cahoots with the Duke of Burgundy who was in bed with the English.

In late November, she was handed over to the English who desperately wanted to squelch any inspiration this young maiden engendered in fellow French citizens. To do so meant proving she wasn’t God’s messenger but the devil’s. By condemning her as a heretic, the English were also smearing any legitimacy King Charles VII of France had earned thanks to Joan’s valor and belief in his right to be King of France.

In spite of standing up to a learned panel this illiterate young Maid held her own; however, she couldn’t fight the twisting of words and meanings, and on May 23rd she was deemed guilty of crimes: her pride; her disobedience of the church; her indecency (dressing in men’s clothing); the audacity of believing God chose her; and, her stubborn persistence in believing her visions were true, something the Church didn’t validate.

On May 24th, she recanted when they began to read out her definitive sentence in front of the stake. She was given life in prison and agreed to wear women’s clothing. However, May 28th she renewed her faith in believing God did choose her. Joan was now seen as a relapsed heretic and, therefore, had to be put to death by burning.

On May 30, 1431, this young girl was led to the stake. The place is marked by a garden in one of Rouen’s Squares. Talk about sobering. Her history was a powerful lead-up to another place where young people sacrificed themselves, each devastating.

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From there we drove to Caen, still unsure of where we would be stopping for the night. We have found, however, at every Tourist Information Office in France, they couldn’t have been more helpful. In fact, it was because of the guy at the Caen office we decided to stay in Bayeux, just a little bit further towards D-Day memorials and beaches.

Not having reservations, we found a lot of hotels, inns, B&Bs were chock block full (September coupled with sun and warmth drew a lot of tourists to this part of the world, us being two of them). Fortunately, one hotelier called several places for us and, voila!, we had a room.

And, what a place THAT was.

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When we managed to drive through the gates we were greeted with ‘how did you find us?!’ for there wasn’t even a sign out front. The reason being, the Domaine de Bayeux had only been open since this summer, and it was still unfinished in certain rooms. But, who cared? It was simply gorgeous.

We had a room in the old carriage building and decided to stay two nights.

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We shared some drinks with fellow travelers in the garden,

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which led to a small orchard at the end of the property (and where I picked some apples for car food).

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The breakfast was to die for… the room as well as the fare.

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It was at breakfast that I decided a worthwhile investment would be in someone who could sew B&C (baguette and croissant) pants. It seemed no matter how hard I tried to keep crumbs from showering me, it never worked.

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So, why not a design that camouflages them? That, and an elastic waistband, and I’d be good to go :)

The next day, Thursday, September 11, we headed to the D-Day beaches.

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The Battle of Normandy began with planning back in 1943, code named Overlord. General Eisenhower was appointed Commander-in-Chief with General Montgomery in charge of the land-based troops and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Forces (Operation Neptune). You may remember that Ramsay was also the one in charge of Operation Dynamo, which rescued troops at Dunkirk.

June 5th was the selected date only to be moved to the 6th due to weather. On that day the sacrifice began with the landing of allied troops on beaches and behind enemy lines by parachutes.

There is so much literature about this 100-day engagement (from June 6 to August 21st, 1944) and written far better than I can even pretend to do so here, so I’ll just note the places we toured. Many more exist along the stretch of this coastline and inland, but we decided to hit some of the main ones, knowing we will return.

First stop: Arromanches where one can see the remains of the artificial port or Mulberry Harbor. This port was used to supply troops as they fought the Germans during Operation Overlord.

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Second stop: Longues-sur-Mer, the only coastal defense battery (German) retaining its original guns.

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Max doing his usual inquisitive touring…

Looking at the gun…

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Looking out through the bunker…

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and, my looking in.

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Third stop: Normandy American Cemetery, with its row upon row of white crosses and an excellent visitor center, if you only could see one site, this is it. Forgive the repetition of the crosses. It is just too hard to stop paying homage to those who will never leave these grounds.

The memorial featured an inspiring bronze statue, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”

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The memorial had detailed graphic displays on the walls surrounding the statue explaining the strategy and tactics.

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From there, you walk into an expanse of startling white crosses, and the sadness takes over.

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Looking down to the beach.

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Looking up from the beach.

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Just thinking and realizing what occurred here.

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Fourth stop: La Pointe du Hoc, where the 2nd Battalion of Rangers lost 135 out 225 men, neutralizing the Germans’ ability to cover both the Omaha (to the west) and Utah (to the east) beaches.

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What had to be scaled:

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Once scaled, there were huge craters from allied bombing, which made fighting extremely difficult.

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Fifth stop: Sainte-Mere-Eglise where the iconic photo of the American paratrooper John Steeple caught on a church tower.

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The effigy is a little cheesy but tells one of the amazing stories from this Battle. He lived, hanging there for two hours only to be captured and then later escaping. He died in North Carolina 1969.

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We wished we had stopped at the German Cemetery. At breakfast some people told us there were statements by the local French who were alive during the German occupation. One person stated he/she would never, ever step into that cemetery but they did not blame the current generation. It would have been interesting to hear others’ thoughts concerning the German army.

The actual battlefield is only one tragic reminder of what war costs, specifically WWII. On April 28, 1944, American sailors and soldiers were practicing landing on Slapton Sands, England, a beach serving as a rehearsal for the Omaha Beach landing in June. While Exercise Tiger was occurring, nine German torpedo boats attacked alerted by heavy radio traffic in Lyme Bay. A total of 749 American troops were lost (killed or declared missing). This information was released 43 years after the event; however, the dead and missing were honored by some veterans of this tragic exercise, erecting a monument soon after the war on Omaha Beach.

Many other stories await anyone who wishes to step back in time to witness the horrors and valor often associated with war. We will return.

Leaving the next morning, prior to driving to the Loire Valley, we made sure to see the Bayeux Tapestry. This amazing piece of embroidery is over 130 feet long by 20 inches high and was commissioned in the 1070’s by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror (aka “The Bastard”, Duke of Normandy, then King of England), as propaganda for William’s claim to the English throne.

The original stretches behind glass in a half-lit room and relates the story of how William and Harold II met and fought for the right to rule England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

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I could try to relate the set-up for this battle but I’d only confuse you along with myself. The names alone, such as AEthelred the Unready (Edward’s father), Cnut the Great, and Sweyn Forkbeard, perfectly convey the stormy, convoluted history of this region in the 10th and 11th centuries. (For instance, Harold had just finished two weeks prior fending off Hardrada King of Norway’s attempt to claim the English throne. When you think about it, what was it about this island that engendered so much envy? Beer? Tea? Scones?? or just because ‘it’s there’?)

Just to give you the reasons why each would think they should be England’s king: Edward the Confessor’s mother was a sister of William’s grandfather; Harold was Edward’s brother-in-law; and, Hardrada’s nephew had had a pact with the Danish King of England, Harthacut.

Edward promised the throne to William in 1064, but on his deathbed January 5, 1066, left it to Harold. Harold claimed the throne and was supported by the Witan, a council of English lords. Unfortunately, for Harold, William didn’t agree.

This tapestry represents Odo’s idea of ensuring his and his bro’s view of the Battle was the correct retelling of the Battle. The figures in the 32 scenes are detailed enough to see displeasure, fear, and happiness. The descriptions and sequence slant the story to William and Odo’s liking, no surprise considering who ordered it.

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Not only is this piece of art a beautiful piece of history, but also an example of effective medieval PR.

If we had stayed in Caen our first night versus continuing on to Bayeux, we would have visited William’s ducal home, his abbey (Abbaye-aux-Homees and Abbaye-aux-Dames) serving as his and his wife’s, Matilda of Flanders, burial sites respectively. There’s an entertaining site about William worth reading just for the fun of it: http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-william-the-conqueror. But, for more clarity and detail on the who, what, when, where story of William, just surf the net. And, let me know how you get on with those early English, tongue-twisting names.

Following our view of the tapestry and a quick stroll through the requisite cathedral, another mine’s-bigger-than-yours building,

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we drove to Amboise in the Loire Valley nourished by our orchard-fresh apples from Domaine de Bayeux.

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Again, without any reservations, most places were booked but the convenient tourism office located a small hotel just around the corner. We grabbed it, definitely nothing like our first two nights, but clean, quiet, and welcoming.

In this beautiful town on the Loire, we toured two more sites. The first was Chateau Royal d’Amboise. Built on a fortified stronghold by Fulk, Count of Anjou, in the 11th century, this chateau was confiscated by Louis XI in 1431 in lieu of executing the traitorous owner, Louis d’Amboise. Nice exchange, for it became a favorite of the royal family with kings constantly remodeling both buildings and grounds, from Charles VIII (1470-1498) to Louis XII (1462-1515) to Francis I (1494-1547).

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The latter king’s time of residence encompasses one of the most interesting periods due to his friendship and patronage of Leo, as in Leonardo da Vinci. Francis I invited him to come and live in Amboise, and in 1515, this Renaissance inventor, artist, and scientist did just that. The story goes he rolled up three of his favorite canvases, Mona Lisa being one, stuffed them into the saddlebags, and headed for France with several of his disciples, including Francesco Melzi and Battista de Villanis, his faithful Milanese servant and vegetarian cook.

The king gave him Chateau du Clos Luce built in 1471;

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and, over the next three years, Leo enjoyed the remaining years of his life, painting in the garden,

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dreaming up more inventions, doing some urban planning, sitting by the fire waiting for Battista to serve him up some medieval veggie fare,

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and conversing with his king friend. A tunnel connected the two residences, allowing Frank and Leo to visit at will without the nuisance of guards and peepers.

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He died in May 2, 1519 at the age of 67.

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The brochure on Chateau du Clos Luce says “tourists are told” he’s buried at the Chateau Royal’s St. Hubert Chapel, and we did see his tomb.

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(I had to snap a pic of the flowers by Leo’s grave. These were some of mom’s favorites, and she would have loved the aroma.)

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Whether he’s really there or not, who knows, but it makes sense. After all, who wants to tote a body around in central France during the summer without A/C?

I must say both Max and I were astonished to learn of this relationship and to know we were walking in the rooms where one of the greatest renaissance thinkers lived. This nugget of history was definitely one of the most surprising during our recent travels.

Stopping for a libation on our walk back to our hotel we met a couple from California. We started sharing our adventures on the road, specifically France’s highway toll system.

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Max told them how we had entered a payment lane that required a special token card unbeknownst to us. How we discovered this riveting bit of information was twice putting our credit card in only to have it rejected. But, we’re not talking simply sliding back out. We’re talking having the card on the second attempt spat out and sliding under the car. It’s like having a robot stick its tongue out at you, and not nicely.

Fortunately, the card was retrievable but only after getting out of the car and crawling underneath.

Now we were stuck. We couldn’t go backward because of cars lining up behind us and we couldn’t go forward because we couldn’t pay. We couldn’t pay because we didn’t have that special card.

Pressing the button for help, a woman responds saying something about a green arrow. We looked around. No green arrow, only a bright, alarming red indicating the stupid tourists hadn’t paid yet. Asking her to raise the gate so we could drive over to pay at the side building, she refused and kept saying something about a green arrow.

By this time, Max, who’s much more patient than I, lost his temper and started saying very precisely and very loudly to the little box, WE CAN’T BACK UP AND WE CAN’T PAY HERE SO OPEN THE GATE.

Needless to say, she didn’t. So, finally, when enough cars behind us realized we weren’t going anywhere and, hence, they weren’t either, reversed and got in other lanes, we then were able to inch backwards and try another lane. By doing so we saw the infamous green arrow, which was flashing above the last lane to the right and which evidently took cash.

Well, the best part was this couple exclaimed ‘that happened to us! we, too, had our credit card spat out and had to crawl under the car!!’.

I must say it was nice to know someone else had experienced the exact same treatment, including the vomited card. All we could think was it created a constant source of entertainment for the tollbooth takers who probably manually controlled how and for whom the card spit-it-upeth and were roaring with laughter. With any luck they had it on tape until the next unsuspecting smuck rolled into that lane. Live and learn. Let’s just say all four of us are now much more cautious when approaching a French toll gate…

And, just so you know, my feet pay testimony to seeing four impressive sites in eight hours…

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On to the next adventure!