Monday, July 25, 2011


We had a splendid end to our eleven-month journey abroad! We woke up at a reasonable hour, ate breakfast while talking with a fellow resident of the B&B; grabbed a train into Portsmouth; toured the HMS Warrior (which was built in 1860), HMS Victory (Lord Nelson’s flag ship at the Battle of Trafalgar), and the only surviving British WWII submarine; saw a cheesy movie about the British Royal Navy fighting modern day pirates; had a fantastic cream tea at café in the museum complex; rode on a water taxi; and just scratched the surface of what we could have seen in Portsmouth. All in all, it was a fabulous day and we feel good about how our travels have finished.

Now it’s off to bed because tomorrow will be a long day filled with trains, planes, and automobiles and we've got an early wake-up time!

Can't wait to see everyone again!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Liphook, Day 1

Lovely Liphook

And now we’re back in the UK! Yesterday, Jean-Jacques and I got up early and left Orval at around 8AM to drive to Caen so we could check-in our rental car. Before we could return the car, we had to fill it up with gas, but it took forever to locate a gas station and we almost missed our drop-off deadline; however, we did managed to get it in on time. 

We then took a taxi to the Brittany Ferries, where we caught a high speed catamaran across the English Channel to Portsmouth (where we saw the HMS Victory). Once on land, we took a train from Portsmouth to Liphook, where we’re staying for three nights in a lovely B&B.

Today we walked about two miles to a steam-powered amusement park called Hollycombe with traditional carnival rides and organs. We went on the Ferris wheel, but Jean-Jacques was terrified during the entire time, so I went on a couple of rides on my own. There was a restaurant on the grounds, so we had lunch and cream tea. Also, there was a beautiful garden that we sat and read in for about half and hour. On our way "home", we took a forest trail instead of walking on a teeny road without a shoulder and got lost for a bit, but eventually made our way back to Liphook. 

Train at Hollycombe
For dinner we got Chinese take-out and watched TV to relax after our busy day. 
I’m not completely sure what the plan is for the last day of our trip, but we might be going to tour the HMS Victory in Portsmouth. Or maybe we’ll do something completely different!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Final days in Orval

Strangely enough, this will probably be my last blog post from France. I can’t believe it, but tomorrow is our last full day here. The past week has been such a blur that I don’t remember exactly what we’ve done daily, but I can tell you that we’ve eaten some great traditional French meals, wandered around Coutances, visited an ancient abbey, toured a castle owned by Steve Forbes, and relaxed in our rental. The weather has been terrible lately, so we get wet if we do much outside.

In many ways I’ll be sad to leave France. Yes, there have been some times when I’ve been frustrated by the cultural differences, but I’ve learned that we can look beyond our dissimilarities and respect one another for what our two cultures have contributed/continue to contribute to the world. I can see how Americans could annoy the French and I understand how the French can irritate us at times; we simply view the world differently. My world view, as an American, isn’t any better than that of the French; it’s simply more comfortable to me and I’m proud of it, but I can also respect France.

Here are some photos from our trip. During the rainy weather, I’ve had time to do some much-needed work on processing so now I’m caught up and ready for all the photos I'm going to take at Isabelle’s wedding.


View from a garden in Coutances

Garden in Coutances

American D-Day Cemetery 
Omaha beach

View from outside "our" stables

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel



Château de Pirou

The mighty beach tractors


Inside a church

P.S. For our final leg of our trip, we’re driving to Caen, dropping off our rental car, taking a taxi to the coast, riding on a speedy ferry to England, catching a train, spending three nights in Liphook, and flying home from Heathrow airport on Tuesday, July 26. It’s been a splendid trip; it was the perfect way to decompress after our school year in China.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More from McDonald's

Sadly, the internet is still out at our place, but we've been told that it should be back up soon. I'm not holding my breath.

Here's an update:

It was another splendid day of touring in the La Manche region of France. We woke up rather late, decided to take a hike, but ended up doing some other fascinating things instead. We drove through a number of small seaside towns, visited a couple of different beaches and walked for a long time on one (we’re planning to go back to it because there weren’t many people and the water was surprisingly warm). During the drive, we found a bird sanctuary so we thought about explore it; however, it turned out to be an example of France’s bureaucracy in action because the only birds we saw were seagulls, the “sanctuary” had 4-wheeling tracks running through the middle of it and the “path” we walked on was a service road. (No, I’m not exaggerating; it really was that bad.)

We made dinner for ourselves and are going to call it an early night. Tomorrow we’re heading to Bayeux to see the tapestry and hopefully find some good food. Maybe our taste-buds have drastically changed after ten months in China, but we’ve been sorely disappointed by the food here for a number of reasons (yes, the bread is good, but we can make almost the same stuff at home). First, we can’t find any open restaurants when we want to eat. Second, some of the cheese we’ve bought at farmers’ markets hasn’t been very good. Third, we like variety (Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, etc) in our food and we haven’t been able to find much of it. Third, the quality of some food has been poor and simply hasn’t tasted great to us.

The weather was horribly rainy, so we decided to postpone the Bayeux trip until the weather got better. Instead, we drove to Cherbourg to visit La Cité de la Mer which hosts a French nuclear submarine and an aquarium. My patience was almost used up by the time we entered the exhibits because it took an hour of waiting in line to purchase tickets; I don't know why it took so long, but the ticket-takers could have benefitted from a course in efficiency. (When I get frustrated by the French, which happens a little more than I would care to admit, I have to remind myself that I'm in a different country and I'm experiencing culture shock again. Though I'm in a western country, I'm still not home.)

The submarine was fun to visit, even though it was packed. We had a guided audio tour that explained many of the essential parts of the ship and we shuffled along the deck with a long line of other tourists.

After the submarine, we wandered around the aquarium and various other exhibits. I enjoyed it, but I think that aquariums I've visited in the States and Canada have been a little more interesting. You honestly can't beat Seattle's Aquarium. 

The weather cleared up enough so we could make the trip to Bayeux and enjoy walking around the streets of the old city. (Bayeux is special because it was one of the few cities in Normandy that was spared from the WWII bombings.) We ate a genuine French lunch at a small restaurant before heading to the tapestry. (Sadly the Petit Norman was closed.) Of all the places I've visited, I'd have to say that the tapestry was probably the most exciting. It was stupendous to see a thousand-year old object that we could understand; as Jean-Jacques pointed out, it shows a lot about human nature that we could look at something so old, but be able to identify with it. 

We had audio guides for the visit and it explained the tapestry's story. There were tons of people, but they didn't detract from the viewing. The anatomically correct horses were probably the most hilarious part of the experience. 

We were both exhausted, so we took a rest day even though it was Bastille Day. There were a few outdoor parties we could have attended, but we didn't have the energy or desire to participate, so we stayed home and watched the Tour de France instead. 

When we woke up this morning, we were both happy about our decision to take a day off yesterday. We're feeling much refreshed and ready to tackle France again. Right now we're sitting in McDonald's, catching up on emails and blogs. (I'm able to receive emails on my Kindle, but it takes forever for me to respond to them because the Kindle is meant to be a reading device, not a computer.)

We're not sure what the plan is for today, but we'll figure it out soon. I'm sure we'll do something fun.

We're getting itchy to return home; we're enjoying our time here, but we'll be happy to be back on our native soil. Plus, we miss everyone bunches!

Hugs to all!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Posting from McDonald's

Sorry for the long silence, but we’ve been without internet for a few days here in Orval. The weather has been rather nasty and a thunderstorm knocked out the internet cables nearby; the person who owns the stable has informed us that it should be fixed within a week (hopefully), but that the French are like the Chinese in the sense that they give you the worst possible prediction, yet end up completing the work in a shorter amount of time than originally expected. Hopefully, this practice will be true because we are suffering from severe web-withdrawals. (I wrote this entry last night, but I'm posting it from McDonald's on Sunday morning.) 

Here’s a brief explanation of what we’ve done since my last entry:

We drove to the American Cemetery near Omaha beach, which was one of the American landing sites during the D-Day invasion. There was an educational, and moving, visitor center that we toured before entering the cemetery; the exhibits provided an excellent overview of the events and they reinforced what I’m learning in the book I’m reading about the military operation.

After wandering around the cemetery for a while, we took some stairs down to the beach. It was eerie, moving, and strange to visit a place I’ve heard so much about over the years and that has made such an impact on the world. This trip to Europe has taught me that history is important, but that we’re constantly moving forward and we should focus our attention on the past, present, and future because all are equally important. We need the past to help us understand our present and future, our future to push us to make a better present, and our present to live the lessons we’ve learned from our past. 

On the beach we encountered people playing in the waves, taking pictures of the historic landscape, and contemplating the scene. Though it was little disconcerting at first to see people being frivolous in such a historically bloody place, I became happy that the French had reclaimed their beach because it’s such a beautiful spot. I feel that we should always remember the people who made sacrifices for our freedoms, but if we’re busy mourning all the time and not living and enjoying the gift peace, it’s a tragedy.  

Once we had finished our visit, we stopped at Pointe-du-Hoc for a quick stop. Then we returned home to Orval (after eating a hamburger at a Leclerc and seeing a prostitute eating with her pimp), made dinner, watched some terribly trashy British TV (is there any other kind?) and went to sleep.

I was feeling quite terrible on Wednesday, so we took a break from touring and stayed in our stables in Orval. I read a lot, took a nap, and recuperated.

Thursday was one of the market days in Coutances, so we made the trip into town, wandered around the market, bought some produce (the fruits were good, but the veggies weren’t quite as tasty), grabbed some food for lunch (sausage in a bun with mustard!), returned to our stables and relaxed the rest of the day.

We drove on the backroads to get to Mont Saint-Michel and man are the roads tiny! There were times when the road was only the width of our car, which is far smaller than most American autos, but it was considered a two-lane road. We were holding our breath through many corners hoping that we wouldn’t meet anther vehicle coming in the opposite direction; most of the time we were lucky, but we almost collided with a tractor at one point.

The Abby was fascinating, but extremely crowded; we paid that nine Euro entrance fee to tour the famous religious monument and, though it was expensive, I enjoyed the experience. At one point, Jean-Jacques and I lost one another and it took some time to reconnect because there were so many visitors.

After our trip to Mont-Saint-Michel, we tried to find a restaurant for lunch, but nothing was open. The longer we’re here, the more we’re discovering that we don’t understand the rhythm of French life; each country moves at its own pace, and has its own time table. We’re American, so we expect to be able to find food in eating establishments between the hours of eight AM to eight PM; however, in France this doesn’t seem to be the case. We have quite figured it out yet when the French eat lunch, but we do know that many of them eat dinner from eight PM to midnight. We’ll figure it out eventually, I hope.

We drove more back roads to Sainte-Mère-Église and tried to find a mansion and chateau along the way; though we finally tracked down both locations, we were disappointed to find out that they were only open for about four hours in the afternoon. (We still aren’t accustomed to life’s rhythms here.) We did stop at a market and bought more sausages in a bun for lunch; we ate our meal sitting on the steps of an abandoned shop while people watching.

When we finally arrived at Sainte-Mère-Église, we toured a fascinating museum dedicated to the paratroopers who landed in the city to capture it before the main invasions forces arrived. Jean-Jacques and I both really enjoyed the museum and were impressed by the interesting displays; we both agreed that it was probably one of the most interesting and well-done museums we’ve visited on this trip (and by this time we’ve seen a few...). 

Along the way back to Orval, we stopped at a few chateaux, one of which was probably one of the most exciting places I’ve ever visited because of my cultural background. The Great Wall and Forbidden Palace will always be the most exotic sites I’ve wandered through, but seeing the medieval castle today thrilled me because I’ve studied, read and seen movies about European history for as long as I can remember, so being able to experience a real castle was a dream come true. 

I’m off to bed now. We’ll be home in less than three weeks!

Monday, July 4, 2011

At "home" in Orval

On Saturday we left Quimper at around 10 AM, and drove on back roads for a few hours through lush, rolling countryside until we arrived in Orval at 5 PM. We "checked-in" with our British host, went into Coutances for some emergency supplies (grocery stores are all closed on Sundays), returned to our converted stables, settled in, and cooked dinner. 

Yesterday, I wasn't feeling my best (I've been fighting a cold for a few days now), so we spent the day relaxing; I read a trashy novel (the whole thing, mind you), started a book about the D-Day invasion, did some laundry, hung it up outside to dry in the summer sunshine, took a nap, and processed some photos. I was surprised to discover that it was the first time in about ten months that I felt truly relaxed. China was many wonderful, educational things, but calming or soothing are not words I would use to describe it. 

Today I awoke feeling much better, so we headed into Coutances to explore the town. We wandered around an ancient cathedral, past a number of cute shops in old buildings, and through a game-themed botanical garden. On the way "home", we stopped by the Carrefour for more supplies and discovered a carnival setting up in the store's parking lot. Feeling terrible for the animals, we didn't have the heart to visit the attraction this evening. (Some ostriches were cooped up in a pen on hot pavement; it didn't seem very humane.)

Tomorrow we're heading to the D-Day American landing sites at Utah and Omaha beaches. It will be a sobering visit, but definitely one worth making because it will be extremely educational.

It's late, so I should head off to bed. Hugs to all!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Quimper, Days 1 & 2

At the top left, you can see Jean-Jacques charging off to find us a haircutter

Yesterday we left Quimper to explore the coast and we drove to Point du Raz (we simply drove around the parking lot because we refused to pay six euro to stare at the Atlantic), Douarnenez, and through some other towns. We ate a picnic of bread, cheese, and sausage on a beautiful sandy beach and returned to the room a little early because I wasn’t feeling my best. Unfortunately, the room hadn’t been cleaned yet, so we had to visit a bio (organic) store and have a beverage at a cute coffee/tea shop before it was ready again.

Today I woke up feeling much better, so we took a bus into Quimper, window shopped, ate a savory crêpe for lunch, and wandered around the city before walking back to our hotel. 

Along the way home, we stopped by a fascinating, but eerie, church that had been constructed in the ninth century; in the stone we could see marks that looked like bullet holes, so that added to the somber atmosphere. (We saw a statue in the middle of the town commemorating the liberation of Quimper in 1944, so it's possible that a battle was fought close to the church.)

A slightly less touristy part of Quimper
The trip “home” was surprisingly pleasant because we walked through some beautiful gardens and nature preserves. We even passed by a former German prisoner of war compound, which was located in the middle of a dark forest, so it was rather gloomy. Part of the historical area has now been converted to a golf course, so I guess it’s a good use of the space.

Tomorrow it’s off to Orval, which is where we’re going to spend the next three weeks in a converted stable that we rented back in January. I’ve certainly enjoyed our touring thus far, but I will also be happy to have a home base where we can do some cooking for ourselves and laundry. 

Oh yeah, we also got haircuts today! Thankfully, we’re no longer the Shaggy Têtus.