Note the stairs. (Stairs would become a theme in this trip.) There were lots of them. LOTS of them. This is not a journey for the faint of heart... or weak of knee.
The beach sites were gorgeous despite the cruddy conditions. It was hard to imagine how much death and devastation occurred in these places. The only place where you could even begin to get an inkling of what it was like was at Pointe du Hoc, where the Earth is still cratered from all the bombing; the original ceiling of a bunker is still in place, scorched and crackled by a flame thrower; a cement wall full of bullet holes. Profound experience.
|at les arromanches|
|Omaha Beach, Dog Sector|
|Pointe du Hoc|
On the way back to Germany, we stayed overnight in the city of lights at the infamous Chat Noir hotel! During our afternoon, we were able to hike amongst the bones of Les Catacombes (lay cat-uh-comb-buh, as I was so politely corrected by a Frenchman during my last visit), take in the view of and from Sacre Coeur, and sample some authentic Parisian cuisine.
Of course, to get to Sacre Coeur you must first climb Montmartre - a hill in the 18th arrondisseement (think: neighbordhood) in Paris. Fortunately, there were some stairs along the way to help. (Yey, stairs!)
At the top of the hill, we discovered that there's a little red train that runs you all the way up Montmartre for a fee. Clever thinkers, those Parisians! Ah well... we still made it to the beautiful Basilica.
It's absolutely gorgeous inside; breath-taking. Truly a must-see! And the view of Paris from this height is just awesome. Not awesome as in the casual "that's totally rad!" 80's way - I mean awesome as in reverent. I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and thought that the view here was more impressive. ...I wonder what it would look like from the top of the Basilica!
And 8 Euros or so later... stairs! (I told you it was going to be a thing.)
Lots of spiraling, teeny tiny steps... about 300, to be precise. Up...
totally worth it.
Paris was absolutely lovely. But after a long day it was time to head back to the Chat Noir, get some food, and get some rest. We had a train out early the next morning.
The metro was quiet the next morning - just a few people who were still
drunk drinking from the night before. So it was a surprise when a
very handsome man with two little boys literally ran and hopped into our train car
just before the doors shut. (It was just like in Mary Poppins, when they all hold hands and hop into the sidewalk art - only these guys were jumping into the Paris Metro. Still magical, right?) They were much more awake than most of the rest of us that morning and the boys were so cute you couldn't help but smile. The dad beamed a smile back at us and I thought, “Man. This
guy really looks like Usher!” A thought I later shared with my mother, who agreed.
Of course a French man would be that devilishly good looking. I tried not to stare. ...too much.
After our Paris excursion we spent a few days hanging around Stuttgart, then we were off to Switzerland! Staying in Schaffhausen, our main goal was to see if we could locate any information on my grandmother’s grandparents who had come over to the States from a small nearby village named Guntmadingen. We weren’t sure if we’d find anything, but no sooner had we stepped off the train than we had run into someone selling strawberries under the family name – from Guntmadingen!! (Best strawberries I’ve ever tasted in my life!)
After checking in, we toured around Schaffhausen – visiting the Rheinfalls, seeing a castle, then wandering around downtown. From what I hear, the Swiss are pretty proud of these falls. I think I would be too. They are quite impressive.
Of course, to get to the castle we did encounter some old friends...
(I'm pretty sure dad wanted to kill me at this point. It would've been the perfect revenge to just push me down these stairs.. these evil, soul-sapping stairs. Of course, I'm glad he didn't.)
Needless to say... we slept pretty well that night.
The next morning it was time for Guntmadingen. When we asked for assistance on finding the right bus to get us there from the front desk, we discovered that one of our potential distant cousins worked at our hotel!! She gave us lots of wonderful information and even provided contact information to stay in touch. So not only did we get to see where my ancestors lived (right up to one of the very houses they lived in!), we found someone we may actually be distantly related to. Successful journey, indeed!
Clearly, it didn't take us long to visit. We even walked over to the neighboring town (whence the photo was taken) to check out the church and its graveyard. It's the very church where ancestors of mine were wed and buried - a humbling experience. After seeing it all first-hand, we understood why everyone in town (including our bus driver, who clarified our desire three times before shrugging, laughing, and issuing our tickets) thought it was so funny that the American tourists wanted to see Guntmadingen!
|That little cluster of houses in the distance? The entirety of Guntmadingen.|
On the train back home, mom happened to browse a magazine that had been left in our seating area. In her browsing, she came across a photo of someone she recognized: one of the little boys from the train in Paris. In fact, both of the little boys – hand-in-hand with that handsome young man that had looked so much like Usher. We were able to make out enough of the article to determine that yes, the photo was of Usher. In fact, he had recently (a few days prior) held a concert in London. Meaning he was in Europe. Meaning...
We. Saw. Usher!!!!
(dad wasn’t nearly as thrilled.)
We. Saw. Usher!!!!
(dad wasn’t nearly as thrilled.)