Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Friends in France-Part Deux

After spending  5 days in Switzerland, we are now on our way to France, where we will spend 9 days.  

We rented a 8 passenger van, see below, for the trip.

Our "road trip" group.  From left to right, Jerry, Joan, Terri, Greg and Paula.  We are on a way to Chamonix.

In front of the Bed & Breakfast, in Chamonix, where we stayed Friday night.  Great little French Alpine cabin at the foot of Mont Blanc.

A picture of Mont Blanc (the highest mountain in Western Europe at 15,771 feet) from our B&B.

On Saturday morning we had planned to ride the Aiguille du Midi gondola, but the weather was overcast and we could not see the top of the mountain, so we decided to skip the ride and head for Vandenesse-en-Auxois,  our next overnight stop.  It is located about 17 miles west of Dijon.

Our arrival at Vandenesse-en-Auxois, to see our B,B&B-bed, breakfast and barge with Captain Max.  This area is well known for its hotel barges .

From left to right is Paula, our Captain Max, Greg, Joan, Jerry and Terri.  Upon our arrived, Max had prepared us some nice drinks.  One of them, seen above, was champagne mixed with a black currant liqueur. Very tasty!!

We discovered during our two days with Max, how funny he could be...knows all about wine, French politics, President Francois Hollande, the US elections and he is best friends with everyone we met.  We also discovered that, Bea, his charming wife and Max are both good cooks and gracious hosts.

Our traveling group in front of Max and Bea's Wine & Water Barge where we stayed for 2 nights.

Arriving late in the afternoon at Vandenesse-en-Auxois with no plans, we were pleased that Max had already made us a reservation at the restaurant located in the Castle Chateauneuf in the background, about a 45 minute walk from the barge.

The castle was built in 1132 by Jean de Chaudenay for his second son Jehan. Jehan took possession of Castro Novo in 1175. The family reigned over the fief for 9 generations, ending in tragedy in 1456, when Cathrine of Chateauneuf was burnt to death, after poisoning her second husband, Jacques d'Haussonville, thus ending the Chateauneuf family line.

The castle was then given by Philippe le Bon (Duke of Burgundy) to his godson Philippe Pot. The interior courtyard buildings were rebuilt and the castle made much more comfortable. As Philippe Pot had no children and died in 1493, the estate was given to his brother Guy Pot and through marriages Marie Liesse de Luxembourg. As she became a Carmelite nun, the castle and lands were purchased by Charles de Vienne, Count of Commarin.  For almost 150 years the castle remained in the family, until Louis Henri de Vienne sold to a rich banker, Paris de Montmartel, in 1767. Through various heritage the castle returned into the hands of the Veinne family.

With the French revolution, the castle was taken away from the family, the lands divided. The new name of the village was Montfranc. All coats of arms and "Royal" symbols degraded or destroyed. The village remained important as garrison for the National Guard and a commercial center. 

In 1894 the castle was classified as a Historic Monument and became the property of the Burgundy Regional Council in 2008.

A view of the Vandenesse valley from the castle.

This statue in the middle of the Castle Chateauneuf, honors the men and women of Chateauneuf and the village of Vandenesse who died in WW I and WW II.

We enjoyed a great meal at the castle.  At the conclusion of the meal, Max picked us up, in his large van, and took us back to the barge.

A view of the canal where the barge is docked.

On Sunday, Max took us on a wine tour, in the area around  Dijon and Beaune, known for their Bungundy wines, to do some wine tasting.  Our first stop was at the Chateau du Clos De Vougeot, seen in the background.

A view of some of the vineyards owned by the Chateau du Clos De Vougeot.

The next stop was Domaine Quivy.  This winey was established in the early 1700's.

The tasting room of Domaine Quivy.  We soon discovered, Max knows a lot about the areas where the wine is grown and which wines are the best.

A view of the wine cellar of Domaine Quivy.

Restaurant in Volnay, where we ate lunch.

Max made us a reservation at this restaurant named, Le Cellier Volnaysien.  According to Max, one of their specialties is Coq au Vin.  We were dying to have it and discovered it was made with rooster and not chicken as we had expected. It was actually surprisingly delicious. 

Our last stop of the day was Cave Du Chateau Corton-Andre.

The Cave Du Chateau Corton-Andre, dominated by its patterned tiled roof.

The tasting room at the Chateau.

We returned to the barge, after a full day of visiting vineyards, and Max prepared a delicious dinner.  Most grocery stores are closed on Sunday, so Max went to his next door neighbor and got permission to take 2 heads of lettuce from their garden.  He used them to make us a great salad.

In the morning, we had to leave early, so that we could drop Greg and Joan at the Charles de Gaulle airport to pick-up his sister and brother-in-law, Terry and Jim , who were flying in from St Louis.

With 2 cars, we devised a meeting plan at Giverny for lunch, at the Monet Gardens.  Around the table, from the left is Greg, his sister Terry, Joan, Paula, Jim (Greg's brother-in-law), Terri and Jerry.

Paula in one of the Monet Gardens.  Even through it was late in the season, the flowers were still very beautiful.

The Water Lily Pond. The money shot!

Claude Monet noticed the village of Giverny while looking out of a train window. He made up his mind to move there and rented a house and the area surrounding it. In 1890 he had enough money to buy the house and land outright and set out to create the magnificent gardens he wanted to paint. Some of his most famous paintings were of his garden in Giverny, famous for its archways of climbing plants entwined around colored shrubs. The water garden, formed by a tributary to the Epte, with the Japanese bridge, the pond with the water lily, the wisterias and the azaleas. 

Monet lived in the house with its famous pink crushed brick façade from 1883 until his death in 1926. He and many members of his family are interred in the village cemetery.

One of the items on my bucket list has always been a visit to the site of the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.  We left Giverny and headed for Arromaches, where we stayed for 2 days in order to tour the area. 

Pictured above are the names of the beaches where the troops landed.  Below is a recap of what troops landed at each beach and how they fared on their first day of very intense fighting.

Who landed on Utah beach?
 This was an American landing beach. The US 4th Infantry Division came ashore here at 6.30 am on D-Day.

What were their orders? 
To break out and split up. Most of the troops would push north towards the important harbour at Cherbourg.

How did it go? 
Small landing craft were launched from bigger ships several kilometres offshore. This was a problem as 6.5 feet high waves meant some soldiers were injured or even drowned as they climbed down into the smaller boats. Twenty three thousand troops were landed and 210 were killed, missing or wounded.

The waves and strong winds meant the first soldiers landed 1.25 miles to the south of their target. This turned out to be a good thing. They found there were fewer German defences there - so the rest of the troops also came ashore at the "wrong" place

Who landed on Omaha beach? This was an American landing beach for the US 1st infantry division with the 116th regiment of the 29th division.

What were their orders? 
To capture the coastal villages and then cut off the important road from Bayeux to Isigny.

How did it go? 
This was the toughest place to land. The US soldiers had to fight really hard to get ashore and 2,400 were killed or wounded. There were problems even before the first soldier landed on the beach.

The German defences on the beach were supposed to have been damaged by an attack from bombers and warships, but these had missed their targets. The defences were intact, so troops had to advance 1,970 feet up the beach under heavy fire from German machine guns positioned on a cliff.

Thirty amphibious tanks that would have helped protect the American troops nearly all sank because the waves were too big. The conditions on the beach were recreated in the film Saving Private Ryan.

Despite all this by the end of the day 34,000 US troops had been landed here and the push inland had begun.

Who landed on Gold beach?
 This was a British landing beach. The British 50th Infantry Division, and the 47th Royal Marine Commando, led the attack.

What were their orders? 
To cut the important road from Caen to Bayeux and take over the small port of Arromanches. It was hoped they could link up with the US troops at Omaha Beach and the Canadians at Juno Beach.

How did it go? 
There were 400 casualties as the beach was secured. The landings took place from 7:25 am onwards. Landing craft dropped armoured vehicles onto the beach, some of these were damaged by land mines. A naval bombardment in the morning weakened the German positions and the town of La Rivière was taken at 10:00 am. By the end of the day 25,000 troops had come ashore at Gold beach. 

Who landed on Juno beach?
 This was a Canadian landing beach for the 3rd Canadian Division, joined by tanks from the British Hussars.

What were their orders?
 To cut the road from Caen to Bayeux, link up with the British forces at Gold and Sword beaches and take an airport west of Caen.

How did it go? 
The Canadian troops suffered a lot of casualties. There were 1,200 dead or wounded out of the 21,000 troops who landed at Juno on D-Day. Casualty rates in the first hour were very high, with half of the first assault teams killed or wounded.

By the end of D-Day the Canadians had linked up with the British from Gold beach. They took the towns of Bernières and Saint-Aubin. Some of the tanks managed to cut the Caen-Bayeux highway. 

Who landed on Sword beach? This was a British landing beach for the 3rd Division together with French and British commandos.

What were their orders?
 The aim was to capture the town of Caen which was at the centre of the local road network. The commandos would move inland and meet up with the airborne Allied troops who had taken over important bridges a few miles in from the coast.

How did it go?
 About 29,000 soldiers landed on the beach on D-Day and there were 630 casualties, dead or wounded. They finished the day four miles short of the town of Caen but were successful in linking up with the airborne units. 

Mulberry Harbor – Gold Beach.
This picture was taken from our hotel.  It shows one of the only remnants of the portable temporary harbor that was developed by the British, to facilitate rapid offloading of cargo onto the beaches, during the Allied invasion of Normandy.

In order to see as much as possible, we joined an all tour that visited many of the important D-Day sites.  Pictured above, wearing a hat, was our guide Stephan.  He did a good job of explaining what happened before and after the  D-Day invasion.  Here, he is explaining what happened on Omaha Beach.

Omaha Beach, looking west.  All the sites have a sober and subdued feeling. 

One of the German casements overlooking Omaha Beach.

Our next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer.  

At the entrance to the cemetery is a plaque that reads as follows:  "If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be ground in this Cemetery. Here was our only conquest, all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead".

The Cemetery and Memorial is located on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8. It borders on the left flank of Omaha Beach, and overlooks the sector where the 1st Division landed on D Day.

The cemetery site covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.

It is a very somber and moving experience to see all of the rows upon rows of headstones.  The headstones, made of Lasa marble, are precisely aligned.

The Chapel
This is built from limestone and the main inscription inside reads "I Give Unto Them Etneral Life and They Shall Never Perish".
The Memorial

The main feature, which is difficult to see in this picture, is a 22 foot bronze statue "The Sprit of American Youth Rising From The Waves". On either side of the Memorial, are huge wall maps, showing the campaign in the European Theatre of Operations during WW II.

Our entire group felt that the tour did not provide enough time at the Cemetery.  However, it was time to move to our next site, Pointe du Hoc.  

This plaque overlooks the cliffs that were climbed by the 300 handpicked US Army Rangers who were chosen for this mission.  Over 200 of them were killed before they took Pointe du Hoc.
Another view of the cliffs.

Our guide is standing in one of the craters that were the result of massive Allied bombings.  The bombings were to soften up the German entrenchment at Point Du Hoc.  There are hundreds of craters like this one, all over the area, due to heavy Allied bombings during May and June and most intensely on June 6th. 

One of the German bunkers at Point Du Hoc.  This one was used in the filming of The Longest Day.  From our guide, we learned that most of the movie was filmed in Ireland.

Our next stop was this church at Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
The American Paratrooper, Private Jon Steele, was made famous in the movie The Longest Day.  An effigy of Steele, in his 82nd Airborne uniform, hangs from the church steeple.  Bullet holes are still visible in the church's stone walls. 
On the night before D-Day (June 5–6, 1944), American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne parachuted into the area west of Ste-Mere-Eglise in successive waves. The town had been the target of an aerial attack and a stray incendiary bomb had set fire to a house east of the town square. The church bell was rung to alert the town of the emergency and townspeople turned out in large numbers to form a bucket brigade supervised by members of the German garrison. By 1:00 am, the town square was well lit and filled with German soldiers and villagers when two planeloads of paratroopers, from the 1st and 2nd battalions were dropped, in error, directly over the village.

The paratroopers were easy targets, and Steele was one of only a few non-casualties. His parachute was caught in one of the back steeples of the church, causing the cables on his parachute to stretch to their full length, leaving him hanging on the backside of the church to witness the carnage. The wounded paratrooper hung there limply for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner. Steele later escaped from the Germans and rejoined his division when US troops of the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, attacked the village capturing thirty Germans and killing another eleven. For these actions and his wounds, Steele was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

The main alter in the chapel of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

Stained glass window in the chapel of Sainte-Mere-Eglise depicting the Virgin Mary and two paratroopers, one of which is John Steele.

Another stained glass window in the chapel of Sainte-Mere-Eglisel depicting Saint Michael and the insignia of various Allied military units that fought in or near the village.

We then proceeded to La Fiere, about 2.5 miles west of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. This is where on June 7-10, 1944 members of the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, fought a fierce battle against repeated German attacks. 
The small stone bridge over the Merderet River was a key point for the Germans to take in order to break up the American landing at Utah Beach, while at the same time being key to the Americans so that they could expand their beach head in Normandy.  Over the course of the battle, the Germans attacked the lightly armed Americans with both infantry and armor but were never able to cross the bridge.   
The bronze statue pictured above, is "The Airborne Trooper".  It was dedicated, by the French, to the Americans who fought and died here.  On the statue is written, "A grateful Tribute to American Airborne Solders of D-Day 6 June 1944 - 7 June 1944".

Our next stop was Utah Beach.

Utah Beach, which is about 3 miles long, was the code name for the right flank, or westernmost, of the Allied landing beaches during the D-Day invasion.  Utah was added to the invasion plan toward the end of the planning stages, when more landing craft became available.  Despite being substantially off course, the US 4th Infantry Division (part of VII corps) landed with relatively 
little resistance, in start contrast to Omaha Beach, where the fighting was fierce.

Our last stop was the church at Church at Angoville-au-Plain.  

On June 6, 1944, a US medic post was set-up in the church at Angoville-au-Plain. Over subsequent days the village changed hands three times between the German and American forces, and each time the US Medics, Robert E. Wright and Kenneth J. Moore of 2nd battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of 101st Airborne were ministering to the wounded of three nationalities, US paratroopers, French civilians and German soldiers.

Today, you can still see the blood stains, on the pews, of the people who were treated by Wright and Moore.
The main alter of the church.

At the church is this plaque honoring Wright and Moore.

Our D-Day tour ended and we headed back to Bayeux to pick-up our car.   I think I can speak for our group, it was one of the most memorable and emotional days of our lives.  

Bayeux Cathedral (Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux).

The church is the same size as the Notre Dame church in Paris.
This site was once occupied by Roman sanctuaries. The present cathedral was consecrated on July 14, 1077 in the presence of William, Duke of Normandy and King of England. 

In 1064 it was here that according to Duke William, Harold Godwinson (who in 1066 became King Harold II of England) swore an oath to support and recognize Duke William's claim to become King of England.   The breaking of this oath led to the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and lead to the killing of Harold II. 

The main alter of Bayeux Cathedral.

One of the many stained glass windows in the cathedral.

Before heading to Paris, we made a stop in Honfleur.  It is located on the southern bank of the Seine River where it meets the English Channel. It is especially known for its old, beautiful picturesque port, characterized by its houses with slate-covered frontages.

The Sainte-Catherine church, pictured on the right, which has a bell-tower separate from the principal building, is the largest church made out of wood in France.  The church was built in the mid 1400's.

We arrived in Paris On Oct 3rd, which coincided with Joan's birthday.  To celebrate this occasion, we booked a dinner cruse on the River Seine.

The next day we visited Notre Dame Cathedral.

It is arguably the most stunning gothic cathedral in the world—and is undoubtedly the most famous. Construction began in 1163 and was completed in 1345.  Notre Dame Cathedral was the very heartbeat of medieval Paris. After a period of neglect, it recaptured the popular imagination when 19th-century writer Victor Hugo immortalized it in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

The cathedral is 420 feet long, 226 feet wide and the 2 towers are 226 feet tall.  Its one spire is 300 feet tall.

The cathedral houses three relics of the Passion, a piece of the Cross, which had been kept in Rome and delivered by Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, a nail of the Passion and the Holy Crown of Thorns.

The crown is a circle of canes bundled together and held by gold threads. The thorns were attached to this braided circle, which measures 21 centimetres in diameter. The thorns were divided up over the centuries by the Byzantine emperors and the Kings of France. There are seventy, all of the same type, which have been confirmed as the original thorns. See picture below.

These relics are presented to the believers for veneration on the first Friday of each month, every Friday during Lent at 3 pm, and on Good Friday from 10 am to 5 pm.
The Crown of Thorns.

The North Rose Window in the Notre Dame Cathedral.

In the center is the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christ Child, surrounded by prophets and saints.

Jerry and Terry, with the River Seine in the background.

The Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal Arch) .
It is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of the Champs-Elysees. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
The monument stands 164 feet high, 148 feet wide and 72 feet deep. The large vault is 95.8 feet high and 48 feet wide. The small vault is 61.3 feet high and 27.7 feet wide. Its design was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus. It was the largest triumphal arch in existence until the construction of the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang (North Korea) in 1982.
 The Arc de Triomphe is so colossal that three weeks after the Paris victory parade in 1919, (marking the end of hostilities in World War I), Charles Goxefroy flew his biplane through the archway.

The Eiffel Tower.

It is one of the most recognized structures in the world.  It was built for the1889 World Exhibition, which was held in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution in 1789.  It was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffle, whose company designed and built the tower.

Originally intended as a temporary exhibit, the tower was almost torn down and scrapped in 1909.  City officials opted to save it after recognizing its value as a radiotelegraph station.  In 1957 they added additional broadcast antennas.

The tower is the tallest structure in Paris, at 1,050 feet, and the most-visited paid monument in the world.  In 2011, 7.1 million people ascended the tower.  It received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010.

Counting from the ground, there are 347 steps to the first level, 674 steps to the 2nd level and 1710 steps to the small platform on the top of the tower.  The public can only climb as far as the 2nd level, access to the top is by elevator only.

Jerry, Terri and Paula on Rue Cler.  It is only about 2 to 3 blocks long, but it one of our favorite streets in Paris. 

On this street, of outdoor markets, you can find a wonderful selection of specialty food stores, patisseries, butchers, delicatessens, cheese specialists, fishmongers, greengrocers, chocolate shops and cafes.  

Most of the street is a pedestrian area and still has its original cobblestones.  This authentic market street is where the locals go to buy their favorite foods or to meet friends and enjoy sitting outside the many cafes while they watch the world go by.

We ate breakfast most days on the Rue Cler.

While in Paris, Terry and Jim celebrated their wedding anniversary.  In honor of this occasion, we are on our way to a place called, Amorino Cler (on Rue Cler), who according to one of friends in Portland, has the best gelato in Paris.

The Les Invalides complex. 

King Louis XIV originally built the Les Invalides complex, in 1679, as a hospital and home for disabled soldiers. In 1905 it was established as the museum of the Army of France. The museum has a huge collection of military paraphernalia dating from antiquity to the present day. It contains 500,000 objects, including weapons, armor, artillery, uniforms, emblems and paintings.  It also houses the museum of military models and the museum of contemporary French history.
Cathedral Saint Louis des Invalides.

The tomb of Tomb of Napoleon is located in this chapel that is also located in the complex. 

In this chapel are buried some of France's war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).

Napoleon's Tomb.
Napoleon was initially interred on Saint Helena, where he had been in exile since 1815, but King Louis-Philippe arranged for his remains to be brought to France in 1840. 

The Tomb of Napoleon is made from red porphyry (a type of quartz) with a green granite base and circled by a crown of laurels and inscriptions of the great victories of the Emperor. His remains, inside the sarcophagus, are protected by six concentric coffins, built from different materials, including mahogany, ebony, and oak, all one inside the other. His body was laid in the tomb on April 2nd 1861.

The main alter in Sainte-Chapelle (The Holy Chapel).

It is one of the only surviving buildings of The Capets who ruled the Kingdom of France from 987 to 1328.  The church is close to Notre Dame cathedral, in the heart of Paris. It was commissioned by King Louise IX of France King to house his collection of Passion Relics, including the Crown of Thorns - one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. Construction began some time after 1239 and was consecrated on April 26,1248. The Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of Gothic architecture.

Although damaged during the French revolution and heavily restored in the 19th century, it retains one of the most extensive collections of installed 13th century stained glass anywhere in the world.

The Rose Window in Sainte-Chapelle.

Saturday night, Oct 6th, we attended a concert, in Sainte-Chapelle's, of the works of Antonio Vivaldi.  He is recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers, his influence during his lifetime was widespread over Europe. He is known mainly for composing instrumental concertos especially for the violin. 

The 6 people on the alter were the musicians and they were magnificent.

After the concert we all went to a small restaurant to bid everyone farwell, as it was time to end our fun and head back to our respective homes and back to the real world.

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