Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lisbon ~ Portugal

Taking this one back to last September on our Costa Pacifica cruise with bro and sis . . . sometimes things get away from me . . . but here goes!

(downtown Lisbon)

 Our stop in Portugal was short . . . but definitely sweet!!  We disembarked to warm, sunny, beautiful weather waiting for us.  We had signed up for a Jeep off road excursion prior to disembarking and were quickly corralled to our awaiting vehicles.  Our specific Jeep was a nice shade of mustard yellow with open sides to allow the fresh air (and plenty of dirt and dust) to penetrate our minds and bodies. 

The scenery was simply fantastic!  After about a 20 minute drive to get out of the city we were met with great coastal views!  It really reminded me of our family's annual (or sometimes bi-annual) drive up the California coast to our favorite camping spot in Northern California.  We made several stops throughout the day in little villages as well as scenic, photo opportunistic locations.  The craziest thing of the day was the experience of riding in this "off road vehicle" on the freeway as we were making our way back to the port.  Completely unsafe!  The sides and back of the Jeep were open to air, there were no seat belts and we were sitting on benches in the back.  Imagine having six adults in the back of a pickup (with just a roof over the back) on bench seating riding down Highway 99 in the good ol'USA . . . would NEVER be allowed!!  But alas! There we were cruising down the highway, dust covered and stinking from a day of fun and adventure! Ha!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Normandy D-Day weekend

A four day weekend coming up??  Husband going back to the states for a job possibility??  I smell an impromptu weekend trip with a co-worker :-)

Normandy, France has been on my "must see" list since we arrived in Europe and with less than two months left here I had yet to visit it.

We decided to drive to Normandy as the train would have cost quite a bit and then we would have had to purchase a tour to drive us to all the sites . . . oh! did I mention we also took the dogs??  Yes, Mika and Milo went on a road trip to France . . . I wasn't too thrilled after the last road trip (see previous post) but I also had no dog sitter for them.  The drive was a good 8.5 hours getting there as my lovely GPS routed us through downtown Paris to escape from the traffic.  Instead of traffic we were stuck in a horrible nightmare of one lane roads, cars that drive way to close to one another and white knuckles.  At long last we arrive at our destination in time for a late meal (they allowed the pups to join us inside the restaurant . . under the table . . inside!!!) and then hit the hay.

The next day was jam packed with monuments, history and beautiful scenery!  The Normandy region is absolutely beautiful!  I was extremely surprised by the peacefulness that I found . . . I guess I expected such a war ravaged part of the country to be a little less appealing . . . it was lovely!  Our fist stop took us to the Overlord museum on the way to the American Cemetery.  The museum was packed full of helpful information as well as just about every type of tank, vehicle and war machine used during WWII by both the Allies and the Germans alike.  We then continued on to the
American cemetery which I found was much like the American cemetery in Luxembourg only with more monuments and a peaceful ocean breeze.  It was arranged in much the same way with the white stone crosses marking each burial site and a wall full of names for the lost soldiers.  We took a path straight from the cemetery down to Omaha Beach were most of the fighting took place on D-Day.  It was, again, very peaceful.  Nothing remained that would hint to the devastation that took place on this beach where over 2,400 American soldiers met their death. 

Mika and Milo had a hay day on the beach as we set them free of their leashes . . . the joy was written all over their cute and fuzzy faces.  Oh, the jumping!  Oh, the barking! Such pure bliss!

We then continued down the road to Pointe Du Hoc, a place I had only heard about from a previous co-worker and WWII history buff.  Honestly, I wasn't really expecting much but boy was I surprised!  It turned out to be my favorite stop during the trip! Pointe Du Hoc is a promontory with a 100 foot cliff that stood in between Omaha and Utah beaches.  The area was fortified by the German gun pits and concrete casements and was an important stronghold as they could threaten the Allied landings on both beaches.  On D-Day the American Rangers scaled the cliffs on rope ladders to overtake the Germans and destroy the guns.  The area was peppered with large craters from the repeated bombings, some 30 feet deep by 30 feet wide!  Several of the heavy gun housings were still intact and the bunker was surprisingly large.  To add to all of the fantastic remains of a not so distant war, the area was stunning in beauty!  The turquoise water against the steep cliff face took my breath away . . . if it had not been for the gusts of wind paired with a short, light weight skirt I could have stayed there for hours.


Our next stops took us to Utah Beach, Sainte-Mere-Eglise and a short drive through Caratan.  At Utah Beach the pups once again enjoyed their freedom!  They even took a picture with one of the memorials set up to honor the US Navy.  The beach had quite a bit more seashells than Omaha and the sand wasn't quite so soft. Sainte-Mere-Eglise was a small town near Utah beach which was famous as the landing spot of many of the paratroopers on D-Day and resulted in heavy casualties.  Many were caught up in utility poles and shot before they could cut themselves down.  A well known incident involved a paratrooper named John Steele who was caught up on the steeple of the town church.  Unable to do little else he hung from the spire for two hours pretending to be dead before the Germans took him prisoner.  He later escaped from the German camp and rejoined his division.  In memory of the event there is a paratrooper hanging from the spire to this day . . . of course this one is not real.

We stayed overnight two nights in Bayeux, France and I wish we had some more time to enjoy this quaint little town.  We were able to enjoy a traditional French dinner and visit the wonderful cathedral in town.  Bayeux is most famous for the Bayeux Tapestry made to commemorate the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.  Unfortunately we ran out of time and did not get a chance to see the tapestry.  I could have spent two days wandering the cobble stone streets, nibbling on eclairs and visiting the local boutiques that town had to offer . . . but alas . . . maybe next time?? Who knows . . if you are going on a Normandy trip, Bayeux is definitely worth the visit.