Monday, March 26, 2018

Paris to Phoenix

Casa Grande, Arizona
Leisure Valley RV Resort

Bill and I were up early as the luggage needed to be put outside our hotel door by 6:30 am.  We were still early by the time we finished our showers so we put our luggage out about 6 am and then went downstairs to the dining room for our provided breakfast.  I will never forget French scrambled eggs and also the way the French cook bacon.  
We said au revoir to all of our traveling companions.  Isabelle was making sure that there were no last minute glitches and all the luggage was accounted for.  Bill and I had given Isabelle a tip the night before, but we handed her a bottle of champagne to celebrate the end of the first trip of the season.  

I was waiting by a a glass showcase that had French souvenirs in it.  There were some bracelets that had an Eiffel tower charms.  I saw a sign with items listed but didn't see any word that might be bracelet in French.  I asked Isabelle what the price on the bracelet was.  She read the card and said it wasn't listed.  She immediately went over to the desk to ask a hotel employee.  The girl came over and opened the glass case and pulled out the bracelet.  She but it on my wrist and said something to Isabelle.  I started to take the bracelet off but the girl put it back on my wrist.  Isabelle said "it's a gift".  I was shocked but Isabelle wasn't.  

The van was right on time and six of us left for our flight.  George and Linda were scheduled for a departure 15 minutes after ours.

When we arrived at the airport, a Grand Circle representative was there to greet us and take us to our airline check-in.  She had carts ready for our luggage.  

Everything went smoothly and we were told to go to Terminal M.  We took a train a short distance to our terminal.  

I've never seen a cleaner airport than this terminal.  They had lounge seats that you could take a nap on.

Our plane was a double decker Airbus.  We had upstair seats and they were very comfortable.  There was so much leg room I couldn't reach the footrest.  I brought the noise cancelling headsets but didn't need them as they were supplied.  No problem there was a compartment by the seat for stowing purses, jackets, books and stuff.  

It was a 10 hour flight but went relatively quickly.  I believe we landed on time.  I was quite surprised at how quickly the plane emptied out.  Los Angeles was very busy but since we have a Global Entry Card it went smoothly.  We bypassed all the lines and went over to a kiosk to put our passport in.  No filling out any forms.  

We had to retrieve our luggage as LAX doesn't do a transfer.  There was a lot of construction and we ended up walking from the international terminal to terminal 2 with our luggage.  

The terminal was packed.  I guess I didn't realize it was spring break.  

Our flight was overbooked and they were offering $600 a piece and you'd take the next flight out in the morning.  When it got up to $800 which also included hotel and transfers we still decided not to take it.  Sherry and Dave would have probably already left for the airport.  

Once we were on the plane we both said, we should have taken the $1600.

Turtle Safely........

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Paris to Normandy--The End of a Beautiful Trip

Casa Grande, Arizona
Leisure Valley RV Resort

The last day of our Paris to Normandy stay in St. Malo started out early.  After verifying with Isabelle that our luggage had been delivered to the lobby, we said au revoir to Brittany and boarded the bus.

As soon as we departed, Isabelle followed up with information she'd given us the night before about Air France going on strike.  She said she'd called the home office and they were working on rescheduling everyone on those flights.  I told her that we received an e-mail from Air France that our flight was disrupted and not to go to the airport until we were rebooked.

France is known for its demonstrations and strikes.  When we were staying at the Crowne Plaza in Paris during our pre-trip we noticed some kind of demonstration every day in Republic Square.

Isabelle also announced that the Metro and RER were on strike, so Paris traffic would be worse.  

Our flight was scheduled for 10:20 am. I watched the clock waiting for the 24 hours before check in.  Some of the group had earlier flights, so they were checked in before us.  One couple who had a Delta flight operated by Air France was able to check in.  I breathed a sigh of relief, but it didn't last long.  Isabelle came back and said their flight had been cancelled, but Grand Circle had already re-booked.  They were shocked that Isabelle had this taken care of before the airline had even notified them.  

Finally it was time to check in.  Did I mention that the bus has WIFI?  I was able to check in.  I don't know if I was happy or sad that we wouldn't be extending our trip.  

Everyone that had a cancelled flight was rescheduled and I could see that Isabelle was smiling again.  She spent a lot of time on the phone getting the information for everyone affected.  

The French cookies and candy were handed out by Isabelle while we watched the beautiful countryside roll by.  

Next stop was at the Unesco World Heritage Site of Chartres Cathedral.  It was lunch time, and this was lunch on your own. Isabelle showed us where the restaurants were and what they specialized in.   She said French onion soup and seven of us went inside.  We all ordered onion soup and I ordered Bill some beer while he was in the restroom.

I think I might have found the right brand for him.

Desperados sounded like something he'd like.  I thought it was plain beer but was served with a lemon. It is beer and tequila with 5.9 alcohol.  

 The Chartres was build over 800 years ago. 

There are over 150 stained glass windows depicting stories from the Bible.  

These hand carved statues have recently been cleaned.

We had an excellent local guide show us around.  Hard to believe this could be constructed this well to withstand over 800 years.  

After the Chartres, we boarded the bus for the last time for our ride back to Paris.  It was almost 6 pm when the bus arrived at the Novotel hotel near the airport due to the heavier than usual traffic due to the metro strike.  

We were on our own for dinner.  The hotel had a nice looking restaurant but Isabelle said she knew of a better place.  She'd made reservations for 15 us for dinner in a nearby village.  

We were to meet her in the lobby at 6:45 for a short walk to the restaurant.  She lead us behind the hotel and across a park and into a quaint little village.  I probably would have stayed at the hotel, if it wasn't that George and Linda were going.  It had been another long day, but you don't want to miss anything.

Once we walked into the restaurant, it was packed.  One thing about the French, they know how to have a good time.  We had told Isabelle we wanted a table for four and it was ready when we arrived.

We all ordered the same thing--fish and a Desperados beer.  It was wonderful, and fitting for our last meal in France.  

Au revoir!

Turtle Safely.....

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Paris to Normandy--St Malo

Casa Grande, Arizona
Leisure Valley RV Resort

It's all a blur but I'll try and finish the blog about our fantastic Grande Circle trip from Paris to Normandy.

After the tour of the Caen Memorial we traveled through some beautiful countryside.  Normandy and Brittany are quite a contrast compared to Paris.  Our hotel was the Hotel De Courtoisville in St. Malo.  

Isabelle, our program director, gave us a walking tour of the area surrounding the hotel.  George, Linda, Bill and I walked up to a restaurant for dinner.  If you aren't familiar with France, you might not know that dinner is served sometime after 7 pm.  Restaurants do not open before that hour and also require a reservation.  We walked to a restaurant where we could see someone inside but no one sitting at a table.  We walked in and a very nice lady greeted us and said they don't open until 7 pm.  It was probably around 6:30 pm.  She said no problem we could sit at a table until 7 since it was cold outside.

She came and took our drink order and came back with our drinks and two plates of salmon appetizers.  Our meal was great and when we asked her for our check (you can stay as long as you want) she came with four after dinner drinks.  No charge for the appetizers or after dinner drinks.

The following morning we had another local guide give us a tour of St. Malo, a walled city that dates back to the Middle Ages.  The tour included a tour of a corsair's home.  The house was about a city block long.  

This is the oldest house in St. Malo.

St. Malo was protected by the sea and the walled fortress.  

After our tour of St. Malo we climbed back on the bus for a tour of nearby Dinan.  We had an included lunch at a creperie that served a mug of cider and traditional crepes.  

Before we arrived at Dinan, our guide directed the bus driver to a small quaint fishing village called St. Suriac.  He gave us another walking tour of the village.  This parish is very impressive for such a tiny village.

George found a French fishing hat, like Bill's Greek one.  I think it looks great on him.

The following morning we rode the bus to the tiny village of Mont St. Michel. Here's a view from the bus window.

A causeway connects the island to the mainland.  A tram takes you over to the causeway and you walk from it to the inside.  There are only a handful of people who live in Mont St. Michel.

Our view of Mont St. Michel was awesome as it was high tide when we approached it.  We met two local guides as they wanted to keep the groups small when we climbed up to the Abbey.  

Once again we were happy that before the trip, Anne suggested we bring walking sticks.  I didn't know if I could make it to the top but decided to try anyway.  
 I'm afraid I didn't get too many photos as we were using the walking sticks. Note the entrance behind me has a moat and draw bridge just like you see in the movies.

And up we climbed.....

The view was fantastic.

Notice that the tide is starting to go out now.  The red box around George's neck is "the whispers".  They ensure that you hear everything the guide tells you--now remembering is something else.

Linda always takes a great photo.  George really likes his new hat.

We thought we were done climbing, but there was more.

We're smiling because we all managed to make that climb. We guessed it was something like 900 steps at a mountain like angle.

I wish I could capture in a photo the size of this structure.

I've taken a couple hundred photos every day and this day wasn't an exception.

We took the rampart down. It was very steep!

I can see why this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

It's a beautiful place.

A short tram ride took us back to the restaurant.  This photo was inside the restaurant and a view from our table.  Our choice for lunch was an omelette or salmon and of course a choice of wine.  Those that chose the salmon where also given a sample of the omelette.

I can't understand why anyone would use such a tiny cup for coffee until I tried it and found out how strong it was.

Here's our last view of Mont St. Michel as we leave on the bus.

On our way to Cancale we stopped for a short tour of a German cemetery. It includes graves of WWII soldiers and women and children that died in the  invasion.

Here's another few of the crypts.

Now we are on our way to Cancale "the oyster capital of the world".  Notice the tide is out in this photo.

I was amazed to hear how they "grow" the oysters.

Now I've never bought oysters, but I think 4 Euro a dozen for fresh, really fresh, oysters is a deal.  

I had tried oysters before on this trip, but none that tasted as good as these.

We didn't stop at one.

Linda tried them and went back for seconds.

Cancale was picture postcard perfect.

I learned the word "deviation" on French signs.  Our poor bus driver said he'd drive along the coast and sand dunes on the way back to St. Malo.  Every time he made a turn there was a deviation sign because they were doing some road repairs.  In one place he backed the bus up about a block. He also showed us the tube he has to breath into before the bus will start.  They don't tolerate drivers who even had one beer. 

After we returned, Grand Circle had a farewell party.  Blackcurrant wine with cidre was served for our toasts.

That's Isabelle, our post trip program director, next to Bill.

I'll try and finish the trip blog tomorrow.  Just too tired right now.

Turtle Safely.......

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Paris to Normandy--Bayeux

St. Malo, France
Au Grand Hotel De Courtoisville

Way too far behind, but I'm trying to catch up.  

It's difficult with such busy days, trying to remember what you did yesterday.

Sunday we did a walking tour of Honfleur with our program director followed by a tour to Bayeux. 

Here's Anne showing this jail which dates back to medieval times.

 We saw two UNESCO sites.

The Tapestry Museum of Bayeux has a 230 feet in length embroidered fabric.  It dates back to 1066.  Naturally no cameras were allowed.  You were giving a head set which 
described all the events on the tapestry.  I can't imagine having an item that old.  In the US we are excited to have a Civil War artifact.  

We also toured the Cathedral.  I've already forgotten the facts of the Cathedral.

The Captain's farewell dinner was great.  It was a wonderful cruise and we're not over yet.

The following morning we boarded the red bus this time as we now have Isabelle as our program director.  There was a light dusting of snow.  

The entire crew went up on deck and waved good bye as our bus pulled away.  Halfway to Saint Malo we stopped in Caen to tour the Peace Memorial Museum.  

The museum was interesting and the best part was there was a German bunker that we toured. 

I'll try and finish more tomorrow night.  I'm way too tired to finish.

Turtle Safely........ 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Paris to Normandy--Normandy Beaches

Saint Malo, Brittany, France
Au Grand Hotel De Courtoisville

I have to say that I'm behind in blogging due to the emotions you feel when touring the Landing Beaches at Normandy.

Our bus picked us up at the boat at 8 am.  Our program directors told us to dress as warmly as possible because it gets very windy and cold at the beach.  It was also suggested since we'd be walking in the undisturbed battlefield to bring our walking sticks.  We were given picnic lunches as the day was going to be long and it would take up too much time to be waited on in a restaurant.

The bus stopped in Caen and our local guide, Colin, joined us.  What a wealth of knowledge he was.   

Our first stop was Pointe du Hoc.  I'll let the photos do the talking.  

This bunker had no gun because the gun wouldn't fit in it.  Bill probably could tell you the details of the size and caliber.

These were the barracks.

The size of this bomb hole doesn't show well in this photo.

It was extremely cold and windy.  It looks like the water is nearby, but it is long way below this bunker.

This bunker was more like the size of a hotel.  It had many rooms inside.

I can't believe how fortified this bunker was.

The hooks on the walls were used to hold the bunks.

After visiting Pointe du Hoc we visited Arromanches which was Gold Beach.  We were going to have our lunches on the beach, but it was too cold.  We ended up eating our picnic lunch at the hotel.  

I thought this painting on the wall says it all.

Here's the remains of the 2 kilometer floating bridge used as a harbor.

Today we watched an excellent documentary on the floating bridge while on the bus.

Here's a section of that floating bridge.  What a fete that was to invent a floating bridge that could hold tanks.

From Arromanches we drove to the American Cemetery.  Our guide told us that 1.8 million people visit every year as compared to the one in Italy we visited which has 40,000.

This wall has all the names of those missing in action.  Whenever the remains of someone is found, there is a little marker put by their name.

A service was held while we were there.  I'm not sure if that is done everyday, or just for Grand Circle.

Our program directors gave all of us roses so we could put them by a grave.

From the American Cemetery we next visited Omaha Beach.  Emotionally at this point you are drained.  

I just couldn't walk on that beach.  Bill did it!

You wouldn't believe the size of the waves.

I firmly believe everyone needs to visit this area.  Words can not describe it.

We were all exhausted when we returned to Honfleur.  Our crew was waiting for our return with hot chocolate and hot towels.