Friday, April 13, 2007

France, or "Bonjour Ya'll!", Part Trois

In the morning, we headed for the coast, to see the English channel and maybe see Omaha beach.

We got lost.


Good thing we have so much fun being lost. We never did see Omaha Beach. But then again, another vacation day spent someplace so full of sadness for so many people during WWII probably wasn't a good idea anyway (remember Dachau?).

But we did make it to the English Channel and the beautiful coast of Northern France.

And here's mostly the same picture, much improved, because my guys are in it...

If you turn the other direction, you see this...

...which was captured in this painting by Claude Monet.

And a little farther down the coast...

These pictures don't do the water justice. It is the most beautiful color, clear as glass and COLD!

We stuffed our faces some more at a beachfront café and then headed out to Rouen, also known as the town Joan of Arc saved and then died in.

Rouen is a fairly large, fairly busy city, and it's loaded with one way streets, no left turns and lots of the cute, frustrating two way "alleys" that they call streets and that are only wide enough for one car at a time. We found them in every single city, town, and village we went to in France, much to our delight and dismay.

We were looking for a hotel Mercure that we had read about because it was near the city center cathedral and it seemed like a good place from which to do our exploring.

Insert hysterical laughter here.

After circling downtown, the Cathedral, and the Beaux Arts school, trying in vain to find a right turn, or a street wide enough to drive on, or in fact ANY way to get to our hotel, including accidentally crossing the river, and then purposely crossing the river, we were just about to give up (and Ted was just about to die of stress and frustration), when we decided to make a quick left into a narrow cobblestone alley we hadn't been on before.

After a block or so there was actually a signpost for our hotel! We followed it around the corner onto an equally narrow cobblestoned alley complete with pedestrians who politely, if casually, scattered for us to pass, and suddenly, there was our hotel, and a garage door marked 'Parking for Mercure Hotel'.

Whoopeee! Ted pushed the button on the wall next to the garage door and begged entry. The door opened and we entered a sloping driveway less than a foot wider than the car on each side and at the bottom was a sign that said "Large cars left, small cars right". Being big stupid Americans, we considered our little VW rental to be a small car, considering that our two suitcases and three people filled it trunk to steering wheel, and went right.


We were a large car.

After some jockeying around in seriously tight, enclosed
concrete spaces, we had arrived!

This is the view from the Cathedral looking back at our hotel room window. We are the second window up, just left of the pink part of the Mercure sign. Perfecto!

We set off walking to find the spot where the end had come for poor voices-in-her-head Joan of Arc. The area where she was staked and burned is nicely preserved and very low key. Even with the new buildings around it's easy to imagine a crowd of people gathered to watch her burn in that charming way the French (and most everyone else in history) had of using executions as entertainment.

That day, we were the only people whose business was this site. All the other people around us were local, and busy doing other things- no one spared a glance for us or the historical site until we took our camera out.

We couldn't guess whether the looks we got then were understanding ones or grimaces. It was a strange moment in time.

Anyhoo, as we wandered in our usual half brained way just looking and absorbing we stumbled across this place.

Did you really look at the picture? Because we were standing in front of the building trying to decipher the sign on the right side for quite a while before Ted finally said, quietly,

"Those are bullet and mortar holes."

Take a closer look...

Isn't that amazing?

We still haven't got a satisfactory translation of the sign, but the gist is that for four years during WWII the French resistance put up a fight here and were eventually imprisoned or executed for their trouble. The building was preserved in its besieged state - something Cooper sincerely appreciated, as you can imagine.

Here's the sign, in case you want to take a crack at translation yourself. We can't find any resource to translate the word 'bagnes'. Good luck. :-)

Finally we had to head back toward Paris to catch our plane home. As we approached the west side of the city, we decided to give Versailles a look, even knowing that every tourist and school group on the continent would be doing the same thing.

The place is such a monument to excess you can't even get a picture of the whole thing without a panoramic camera, which we didn't have, so you'll have to settle for this shot at an angle (including some scaffolding for work they are doing for the soon-to-arrive summer crowds).

Then if you turn slightly to your left you see this...

I'm telling you this place makes Hearst Castle in San Simeon look like a hillbilly house. William Randolph Hearst had nothing on Louis and Marie. They rent golf carts to the tourists just to get around the grounds.

We are all willing to bet folding money that the royal couple never even saw all the rooms in their palace, let alone all of their yard. Let them eat cake, indeed.

To the right of the palace is one of several ornamental gardens...


We were overwhelmed pretty fast and hot footed it to the exit, thinking fondly of our empty Chateau Chambord and our enigmatic rocks in Carnac- much more our speed. ;-)

To get up to the palace, we had walked a section of the grounds that was graded into the hillside and popped out near the fountain in the picture of the 'front yard'. When we left, we took the stairs next to the ornamental garden.

Actually, Ted ran down them first in order to look back and snap a picture of Coop and me at the top. You can barely see us, but I'm in white, waving goodbye!

Au revoir ya'll!