We know nothing about wine. When I approached mike about trying out some French wines before we head to France next month, he said, “like Merlot?”

Because we seriously only know the names of the most basic and commonplace wines. I’ve always preferred beer and we’re not big drinkers to begin with so wine knowledge was never a high priority.
But I thought it would be fun to try a few things. I googled wine varieties near Normandy (not much wine production going on in Normandy itself). Turns out the Loire region (nearby) is known for its Chinon. My that sounds so… French!
Guess we’ll pour some in our Toby Keith beer mugs. Kidding, kidding… Though we were once given something along these lines.
I recently had a brief discussion with some friends on whether we like or get frustrated by the planning and trip prep. Personally, I enjoy it! And what better way than to drink through this bottle of “research?”
Previously published elsewhere on our family blog on Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Paris, oh Paris

We have been home for less than a week. The trip to France was absolutely wonderful. Amazing. Spectacular. Energizing. Fantastic. Stunning.

Is it too soon to go back to France?
I jest. Kinda…
It’s wonderful to be away, but all those little things on your to do list have a way of smacking  you right in the head when you re-enter the real world and this week has been that way.
So today I turn my thoughts to the trip and begin a series of France posts. Our trip began in Normandy in a small town of Bayeaux and then we traveled to Paris. However, I’m going to just take it easy and post about the things we did and forget chronological order. It just seems easier that way and, of course, it doesn’t really matter to the folks who just want to see photos and hear about the experience.
And so I give you… the Eiffel Tower.
I know it will sound funny, but I am actually more impressed with this structure now that I’ve been there than I was before I visited. We both had a curiosity but the Eiffel Tower wasn’t on Mike or my bucket list.
It should have been. It’s really fascinating. First, it looks very sculptural in photos and I couldn’t imagine how exactly you traverse up and down it. I knew there was an elevator, but it just doesn’t seem very people friendly.
And, truthfully, it’s not. I mean, it’s totally fine, but it’s one of those things I don’t think would fly in America because it is truly just a giant piece of metal – rough and sharp and full of screws. Not that there aren’t safety measures in place and railings and guard rails, etc. I truly think it is all perfectly safe. But in America there would be defibrillators and water stations and step pads and grips and all sorts of stuff. And a multi-media presentation every five feet.
We decided to beat the crowds and hike up to the second landing. If we had just taken the elevator like normal people, my impression would be different. Mike climbed it like a champ, but I was heaving and pulling myself up by the end. It’s freakishly difficult. And you’re just surrounded by an endless vision of brown metal corners and joints and bolts.
But then you get to the landing and look out and it’s AMAZING.
And you realize that everyone around you, speaking a zillion different languages and having a zillion different thoughts and worries on their minds, it just temporarily all focused on the beauty of Paris. And the simplicity of the hike up that giant tower actually make the views and experience all the more meaningful.

We stayed in the Rue Cler neighborhood and it was an easy walk from our hotel. We had dedicated a much larger amount of time to the visit than we needed to because we chose to hike up the stairs rather than the long wait for the elevator. And we decided to forgo the ride to the very tippy top. I don’t always love heights and it was hard imagining the view being so much better (and the crowds being enjoyable). Mike was neutral on going to the very top. So we just made our way back down the stairs again. I tried to smile encouragingly at the folks who were sweating it up the stairs. You can do it… you can do it.

And it was worth it.

So that’s the story of the Eiffel Tower… have you been? what did you think?

Previously published elsewhere on our family blog Thursday, May 22, 2014

Paris, oh Paris

The Bayeux Tapestry

We chose to stay in Bayeux on a whim. When I started researching Normandy I read that Bayeux would make a good spot for day trips to both the D-Day beaches and Mont St-Michel. My main resource for this entire trip was the Rick Steves’ France 2013 book and his Paris book. We are Rick Steves’ fans, having previously used his guidebooks for our trip to Germany and Austria when we got married. I listen to his podcasts while I drive or fold laundry and we even youtube’d his Normandy episode and watched it in the kitchen while cooking dinner one night before we left.

But I digress. Bayeux.
Not knowing what to expect, we bought our train tickets in Paris and hopped aboard the SNCF train. When we arrived, we walked a few blocks to our hotel, when all of a sudden we see THIS:

The Bayeux Cathedral. Large-scale cathedrals like this really shouldn’t surprise us any more. They are all over Europe. However, they always catch us off guard because we are just not used to this kinda stuff being right off the sidewalk.

This picture above really doesn’t do it justice. It’s about twice as large (wide) as the picture shows. Our first day was solidly booked with the D-Day tours, but after returning from Mont St. Michel, we headed over to visit the cathedral and another amazing site – the Bayeux Tapestry.

I don’t always love visiting church after church after church. But the only church we had on our agenda this trip was Notre Dame so this was just a pleasant little surprise.

The church historically held the Bayeaux Tapestry (more on that in a sec) and good Normandy folks were supposed to come visit and relive the epic battle tale it tells. It would wrap around the inside of the cathedral.
As in most churches, there were corners filled with statues and relics and opportunities to light candles (for a donation of a euro or two) and say a prayer. I personally enjoy taking a minute to do this. But this one was actually a bit more meaningful because I noticed a picture of a saint who I actually had read about in the last couple of years.

Saint Therese of Lisieux (pronounced Lee-soh). There is a small town near Bayeux called Lisieux… Duh. It all fell on me like a ton of bricks. I’m so used to France being this hugely faraway place that I sorta forgot that places can be so incredibly close once you get over there. Again, if I’d had all the time in the world, I would have visited her home there.

I’ll spare you all the history about Saint Therese. However, the thing she was a Carmelite nun who died quite young and is most known for encouraging love and humility and living “the little way.” She is also known as the “little flower.” Here’s the wikipedia page if you’re interested!
I have a devotional that I picked up awhile back at a used bookstore with notes from her memoir and scripture for each day, but it has been sitting on my bookshelf. While I was walking through the cathedral, I had a renewed curiosity to to dust it off.
Now the biggest draw for the town of Bayeux is its tapestry. This amazing work of art is a UNESCO world heritage site. A tapestry? Yep, a tapestry.
Essentially, it’s a giant embroidered tapestry that tells, scene by scene, the story of William the Conquerer (heir to the English throne) and how he secured the throne from Lord Harold, who tried to take it in a rather underhanded way.
No photos are allowed of the tapestry, but if you click here, you can see photos and read about it. Now if you’re like me and thinking… really? a narration of a battle? this is interesting?

Oh my gosh! It was so incredible. The audio guide walks you through the story and each section of the tapestry. What a story. The king is about to die. He names a successor (William, Duke of Normandy) and asks Harold (a contender for the throne himself) to carry the message to William.  But Harold gets angry and ends up taking over himself– despite the fact that William saved his life when Harold was captured en route. There’s a scene where men are running through and getting stuck in the quick sand at Mont St. Michel (we had been there that very morning) and all sorts of crazy battle highlights. The saga continues with a final victory — William becomes known as “the conquerer” and history is forever changed.

And then you get through the whole story and the audio tour says… this would be known as the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Oh jeez, yeah, I’ve heard of that. Ashamed to admit I couldn’t have told you anything about it.  But, yes, I probably should have known a little something about this.

This might be the most amazing gob-smacking part of travel. If I can go somewhere and look at the place and read the history, I am infinitely interested and open to everything. To be quite frank – I feel really smart. The ability to see and feel things rather than read a chapter in a book is what makes my head spin and my world explode.

This little visit was yet another reminder that the world is real. These things I’ve read about really happened somewhere and there are lands and buildings and people and families touched by this rich history. I feel so incredibly lucky to have seen this tapestry. Mike and I agreed that we actually felt like we had seen something priceless.

Previously posted elsewhere on our family blog on Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Bayeux Tapestry