Fourth Floor Walk Up

Marilyn has been mostly (read totally) responsible for scheduling — trains, busses, cars, places to stay, etc. She has been almost perfect in her accomplishments. The few glitches we have had are mostly not because of anything she has done and she has recovered with utmost alacrity (see post about EasyJet).

However, after 900 or so steps at Mont Sainte Michael, several non-working escalators, and many steps up and hills to climb; she swore that she had done enough step-up exercises for the rest of her life.

And then — she finds an Airbnb in Paris that is only a long block from the Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately for her, it is on the fourth floor and, despite her careful planning, does not have a lift. Four flights of 17 stairs each, plus four more to get to the lobby (for the math challenged, that’s 72 steps!). We have managed by only making the round trip once a day. We think that maybe Roy has some kind of an in with the gods of exercise and has managed to put a hex on us.

From the bottom. Makes one’s stomach queasy just looking.
Out the window.
Our flat is top left.

After a long walk from the metro, we stopped for dinner at the Indiana Cafe. Probably because the menu outside indicated that they had nachos. The decorations were mostly American Indian and the menu included fajitas and pulled pork sandwiches, obviously Mexican. Marilyn really liked the nachos – so much so that we went there the next day. Also, after more than 7,000 steps, Marilyn was too tired and too hungry to explore more. It’s hard to be an adventurous eater when, because of the language, you have absolutely no idea what is being served! Or maybe that makes you very adventurous.

Normandy Cemeteries

Omaha Beach is home to the Normandy American Cemetery. A new museum (2019?) displays an extremely impressive history of the D-Day invasion. It includes biographies of many of those who served and/or died here. Near the exit is a stark hall in which the names of the approximately 8,500 killed in the invasion are read out load in an endless loop. Moving. There was also a ”Wall of the Missing” listing those servicemen never found (probably in the sea, as many landing craft were lost).

There was a French and an American flag at every cross.
The memorial. This is the 78th anniversary of D-Day.
Wreaths from groups and individuals, both French and American.
A facsimile of a temporary grave on the beach. If you look closely, you may be able to see the mound of sand.
Omaha Beach in a more peaceful time.

The figure in the memorial is a ”Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves” by Donald De Leu.

After the American Cemetery and the stop at Pointe du Hoc we visited the La Cambe German War Cemetery. This site started out as a cemetery for both German and American soldiers. The Americans were eventually moved to the US or to the American Cemetery.

The total grave count at La Cambe is 21,222. This is the largest cemetery in Normandy on a site only one-tenth the size of the American Cemetery. The large mound in the center of the plot represents the mothers and fathers who lost children in the war. The 1,120 Acer Globosum maple trees planted in the Peace Garden act as so many symbols of peace and reconciliation.

On the way back to Caen, Marilyn wanted to go by Saint Lo (or St Lo for you crossword puzzle fans). Both of the museums we visited noted the almost total destruction of the city (by the Allies primarily) in the days around D-Day. We were curious to see if the rebuilding were obvious. It is. We had confused it with Sainte-Mere-Eglise where the paratrooper landed on the church and hung from the steeple. They still have a mannequin hanging there. Eglise was also the first French mainland village liberated.

Normandy D-Day Beaches

Marilyn has had the Normandy D-Day beaches on her bucket list at least since we started planning this trip. So today we went to the Memorial de Caen Museum before starting toward the beaches. This is a wonderful museum with more detail about the causes and the waging of the war than can be ingested in one trip. We were slightly disappointed because the portion on D-Day was not as exhaustive as we wanted for this day trip. Still worth visiting.

We began our day by driving north from Caen to the coast between Sword (easternmost) and Juno beaches. We then traveled the coast to Arromanches-les-Bains just past Gold Beach. The view from here is the best view of Mulberry Harbor, an artificial and ”temporary” harbor to facilitate the unloading of men and materials to support the invasion.

Part of the harbor still exists.
Interesting sculpture with some of the beach defenses in the background.
A portion of the bridge for unloading. It was supported by pontoons.

Between Gold and Omaha Beaches, we stopped at Longues-sur-Mer for a look at some typical German bunkers. The amount of labor and concrete used in the defenses boggles the mind.

Large artillery guns.
Machine guns.
From the machine gun emplacement it’s hard to see the big guns.

From there we went to Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery (see next post). After that Bob walked out almost a mile from the visitor center at Pointe du Hoc to visit the sight of the scaling of the cliffs by Army Rangers. When they reached the top, they discovered that the big guns that would have threatened nearby beaches had been removed and not yet installed in new bunkers. The Rangers faced fierce mortar and machine gun fire, however, and their numbers were decimated. This is one of the few places where the craters from the allied bombardment are still visible.

Cliffs seen a little east of Point du Hoc. Pretty significant cliff to climb. Their ladders were too short and their ropes too heavy with sea water to throw up so they could climb. Finally, they used some the Germans had left, apparently.
The point. Very exposed landing.
How big was the bomb that caused this crater?

Caen – Search for Food

Slept in a little – still recovering from our side trip to Sweden and 900 steps at the abbey! Got up and went looking for breakfast. Our Airbnb is right on the quay and just a few blocks from the city center. Turns out Sunday is market day around Port de Plaisance only a block or so from our Airbnb. Only a few of the resturants were serving food because of all the offerings by vendors at the market. Found some paella that looked really good. Went into a bar and asked if we ordered drinks could we eat food from outside. They said we could so we ordered hot chocolate and opened up the paella. It was cold! Took it home for dinner.

Finished up our hot chocolate and went looking for the place we had been told has sim cards. The only one they offered was good only in France, so we passed. Decided we had to have something to eat and found a really nice resturant. Marilyn had fish ’n’ chips and Bob had sea bass. Both were good, but not as fresh as the fish in Scotland. Chips were better than Scotland’s. Guess the French know how to make French fries.

After lunch, we wandered around a little and moseyed through the market and back to our room to update the blog and rest.

Caen has a cathederal that is in ruins after being bombared by the Allies in WWII, a magnificant abbey, and a castle. These pictures are of an active church.

Not sure how secure this castle is — it has a handicapped ramp!

The market had offerings ranging from fresh food, fruits and vegatables, flowers, rugs and tapestries, and general ”stuff”. Marilyn said, ”Who needs a Walmart?”. One table literally had the kinds of household items, kitchen, etc., one would buy in Walmart.

The buckets contain a huge variety of olives. Grumpy would love it!
Marilyn said if she just put a scarf around her neck everyone would think she was French – until she spoke!
Fresh strawberries for Granny?
Marilyn found cherries. After a sample, bought a quarter kilo.
Harbor full of boats, old and new.
Some looked like they had not been used in years.
Ducks are building a nest on the back of a power boat.

There are no curtains or shades on the windows in the Airbnb but, after our walk, Marilyn pressed a button inside the front door and these shades came down. Two sets and the second made it as dark as when they turned out the lights in Carlsbad Caverns. Boy, were we surprised!

On to Caen

The biggest problem we have experienced (so far) is lack of working cell phones. Fortunately, both of our cars have had nice GPS systems. However, we had problems finding our Airbnb in Caen and also needed to call the manager to let us into the building. The nine hundred steps had caused Marilyn’s feet to swell, so she had taken off her shoes in the car. We finally stumbled upon the Tourist Information Center (following barely adequate signage). Turns out, it’s in the middle of a block. About the time we spotted it, traffic stopped at a red light. Marilyn jumped out of the car in her stocking feet while Bob tried to figure out how to get back to pick her up. Bob finally figured out how to turn around at a drop-off area for a church and started back. About the time he spotted Marilyn outside on the sidewalk, an ambulance came roaring by and stopped traffic. She spotted him, crossed the street, and jumped in the car.

The nice man in the tourist center made the call to the Airbnb manager and gave Marilyn maps and information about the city. While standing outside the center (still in her stocking feet), a man walked by with his family. He stopped, turned around, looked down at her feet and asked her if she needed shoes. She explained what had happened and he asked whether or not she was lost. He seemed concerned that she was someone with dementia or something and needed help (can’t imagine why he would think such a thing about a person standing outside in her socks). She assured him she wasn’t and thanked him for his concern. What a nice thing for a stranger to do. Fortunately, he asked in unaccented English so no problem understanding each other.

Found the Airbnb because Marilyn remembered that it was called Le Norway. There is definitely a dearth of house/building numbers in this country. The young woman manager had very little English, but was able to communicate adequately with Google Translate. Another reason we miss our cell phones and data plans.

Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel

This is an imposing abbey on a rock. There are free shuttles but the line was long and the distance was less than a mile so we decided to walk (although it was about 1.6 miles from the parking area). It was a beautiful, sunny day with a very cool breeze. Perfect!

DO NOT, we repeat, DO NOT visit Mont Saint-Michel on a bank holiday, religious festival day, end of Covid, beginning of summer Saturday!!! Apparently, there are something like 3 million visitors a year. There were 1 million today. The hoards were incredible.

We learned quickly that the French are not like the Brits/Scots. They do not queue. They do not care if you are handicapped. They do not control their children. They litter. Obviously, they were not all this way but the contrast to what we had been experiencing was quite noticeable.

Enough of that.

The abbey was 900 steps to the top (302 feet above sea level) which sometimes got very interesting. There are virtually no handrails so Marilyn walked with her stick in one hand and the other hand on a wall. Some areas were fairly narrow and the hoards tended to just push through. We decided the order for these monks was the Order of the Enlarged Thighs. Marilyn said she thought they just never came down.

Doesn’t look too far away.
Getting close to the entrance. We didn’t realize it didn’t mean the entrance to the abbey.

The rock on which it is built.

Getting above the roofs of the village.
Above the small cemetery.
Getting quite high now.
Finally! The entrance to the abbey? No, but close.
We purchased our tickets at the visitor center before walking out. We were told to stay left – all those people are waiting to buy tickets.
This is as high as one goes. This is the entry to the abbey.
Wow, those ants are really the hoards.

Proof that Marilyn made it! And, is still standing.

Out on the ”patio” looking up at the abbey and the bell tower.
How they got the huge stones up to build this is inconceivable.
Bob says, maybe with the help of something like this.
Coming down was more steps but many with handrails and sometimes ramps.

To read about the abbey’s interesting history, click here. We did NOT walk back. Bob probably would have without Marilyn. Instead, she sat on a bench near the shuttle stop while he stood in line. What a good husband!

First Day in France

Right away, this place looks so different from the UK. Mostly it is the architecture.

Chartres was only slightly off the highway to Rennes so we stopped to take a peak at the Cathedral. This is a Gothic cathedral completed in 1220 and it is quite impressive!

EasyJet Not So Easy

This is an epic saga (and we chose those words wisely). Spoiler Alert – we got to Paris today (in case you don’t want to read this long, involved (epic saga).

Yesterday we arrived at Edinburgh Airport before 11 am for a 1:30 pm flight on EasyJet. We had boarding passes but needed to check our backpacks. After some people were turned away for a later flight we thought we might be too early. The clerk said our flight would open in, pause, looked at watch, ”about now” and sent us to a kiosk. All good. Edinburgh Airport is not large by big city (London, NY, Chicago, etc.) standards but it was quite a hike to the gate. We found a nearby gate with fewer people and sat down to wait. Boarding was to be at 12:55 so just short of that we made our way to the correct gate and got in line. Almost everyone on the flight was already queuing. Boarding time came without any activity. We could not really see the agents or the gate entrance but nothing seemed to be happening at 1:15, 1:20, etc. Finally, about 1:30 (flight time) an announcement was made about several flights being cancelled, including ours. Oops. Got on our phones to get app and see if any EasyJet flights were available (not sure we would have trusted them, however). British Airways and EasyJet had been cancelling flights frequently over the previous week with no notification. Hard to imagine how an airline doesn’t know ahead of time that it does not have crew or other necessities for a flight. Not sure about the safety of their flights after this.

Anyway, we had to pick up our backpacks and return to the main terminal area to talk with a live person. Got in another line and waited a half hour or so and word came down the line that there was nothing for 48 to 72 hours to get to Paris. We had a car and hotels booked for the next week (too late to cancel) so really needed to get there. Marilyn had been online looking for trains, buses, even the ferry from Dover to Calais. We couldn’t get off the island (oh, Gilligan).

Finally, Marilyn found a flight to Paris via Norwegian Air to Stockholm, overnight in the airport and Air France to Paris at 6 am. So, for a measly 800 Euros, we could go (good thing the Euro and the dollar are about equal right now).

Flight didn’t leave Edinburgh until 6 pm so we hiked over to a hotel (supposedly 5 – 10 minutes but for us, with our backpacks, it was more like 20). Had a lovely rest and lunch.

This was the Moxy Hotel. Interesting use of books.

Having a Shandy and chilling out. Really needed it about 12 hours later!

Hiked back to the airport and had to wait nearly an hour to check in. Marilyn tried to tell Bob we couldn’t check in until about 2 hours before but he insisted on 3. Wish the man could learn to sit and relax. Finally, got in line for the desk displayed for our flight and the agent couldn’t find any record of us in the list of passengers. The agent tried to figure out what was wrong since we had a confirmation number. She talked twice with supervisors and finally said we needed to contact the seller and get them to get us on the list. Problem – no phone. The agent was so wonderful. She helped us find a number and then called it on her phone. Bob talked while the agent helped other customers. Bob wasn’t having much luck when the agent came back and said she was trying one more thing. With our passports in hand she went to another nearby desk and they found us. Right flight, wrong desk. Ugh. Anyway, another line, some rush to get through security and get to our gate but we made it.

In Stockholm we had to retrieve our luggage and carry it around all night. So happy we are traveling light. While Marilyn was trying to sleep, Bob was reading on his IPad. Suddenly, he realized that instead of it being almost 3 am, it was almost 4 am and we needed to walk the 20 minutes to our gate to check in. We thought the UK was with the rest of Europe in time zone. Got to the desk to check in and guess what. Another line. Don’t think we have ever queued as much!

No chairs anywhere. Had to sit on the stacked backpacks and wait for desk to open to check in for Stockholm flight.
Trying to sleep in Stockholm Airport. Not a lot of luck and very stiff after.

By the time we reached Paris, took a train to the nearest station to the car rental, and hiked the last 20 minutes, we felt like we had run a marathon. Got the car and got out of Dodge.

Stirling Castle

So many folks told us to visit this castle that we decided to make it our last hurrah. It was so different from Dunvegan Castle that we had visited on Skye. That castle was started in the 13th century and added to over the centuries. It is still inhabited by the chief of the Clan MacLeod (pronounced MacCloud) and feels more like somewhere one could live. Stirling castle is much more of a fortress and was, apparently, important to the defense of Scotland as well as being a royal residence in the 15th and 16th centuries. For more information, click here. There are some good pictures in the link to give an idea of the fortification. It would have been, and apparently was, very defensible. Apparently the Great Hall and much of the castle were, at one time, finished to look like gold. We were told that James V wanted the world to know the importance of the Stewart kings. We were told by one of the docents (all of whom seemed very knowledgable) that James V was good at fundraising. When asked for an example, he explained that the king blackmailed the pope by suggesting Scotland might follow the king’s relative (Henry VIII) and leave the Roman Catholic Church.

The Great Hall is the color that much of the castle would have been at one time (too expensive to do more of it this color now)
Apparently, the queen didn’t actually sleep here but in a small room off this bedchamber.
Robert the Bruce

Sheepdog Demonstration

One of the things Marilyn really wanted to do in Scotland was to see sheepdogs working. So, she arranged for this gentleman, Ian MacKay (pronounced MacKey), to demonstrate his dogs, Glen and Jet, working some sheep. The dogs are Border Collies. Glen is older and more experienced so he started with him. He then added Jet to show the dogs herding the sheep into a pen. It was really amazing to watch them respond to Ian’s voiced and whistled commands. Jet is only two and sometimes didn’t want to do what she was told, especially to lie down or stay. When she was supposed to lie down she would, for a few seconds, and then start inching along on her stomach. We asked what would happen if he left the dogs out with the sheep. Ian said Glen wouldn’t bother them but Jet might chase them around. You know how youngsters can be!

Glen would make a wide circle around the sheep and start them moving.
Then move in to get them really going.
He brought them right over to Ian.
Here the two dogs have the sheep backing into the pen. The sheep appeared to want to resist but didn’t. Ian said the sheep are afraid of the dogs.
The sheep never turned their backs on the dogs as they were being encouraged to enter the pen.
The dogs crouched down and eased along on their bellies to back the sheep into the pen.