Thursday, May 26, 2011

How far away were we from home?

Checking back in for a post involving distances.

A quick word first on what I did over the past weekend. I spent the previous weekend hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain's National Park with a group from Hermitage United Methodist Church. We hiked up Mt. LeConte on Friday and spent the night at LeConte Lodge (link to their official site LeConte Lodge). We hiked back down the next day. LeConte Lodge is a real neat place. I would recommend it if you ever get a chance to go. The only way you can get to it is by hiking one of the 5 trails to the top. The shortest trail is Alum Cave trail at just over 5 miles and the longest is the Boulevard trail at just over 8 miles. The facilities are basic with no electricity or showers. You stay in either a cabin or lodge depending on your group size. They have flush toilets and running water (via a spring, it's treated with a little chlorine to make sure it is clean). They also include a hot dinner and hot breakfast which are great. It is a nice peaceful place to get a way from it all for a little bit. I've been numerous times throughout the years. I've been so many times I didn't even take my camera but I did snap a few pics with my cell phone. I also missed the opportunity to take a picture of a bear in Cades Coves. I saw it from inside a car driving around the loop road. It was just walking along minding it's own business out in the cove in plain sight. Bears are pretty common in the park. There are about 1,500 with a population density of 2 bears for every square mile.

view from the Cliff Top area on Mt. Leconte close to sunset - taken with my cell phone

Let me transition back to the purpose of this blog post. I could probably write several post on the Smoky's if I had to. This post will be about something that I would think about from time to time on our trip and that was exactly how far we were away from home and which places were the farthest. In this post I am thinking about physical distance versus cultural distance. It was easy to see the cultural distances since we experienced them each day face to face. In this post we'll play a little trivia game too. The question will be what was the furthest distance that Alethea and I were from our home base of Nashville, TN? I spent about a hour recently researching this topic. I plotted and plugged in various cities in most of the obvious countries that we were in throughout our travels. I was a little surprised with a couple of the locations. I went into this looking at a flat map without giving much thought about the world being round and some places being further away while some are closer than I thought.

Before I get to the top five list I'll mention a few interesting tidbits. Before our trip the furthest I'd been from Nashville, TN was Rome, Italy at 5,025 miles. Krakow, Poland was a close second at 5,002 miles. The closest we were to home on our trip was in Portugal at a little over 4,000 miles. To put that in perspective Honolulu, Hawaii is 4,337 miles from Nashville. When I started to research this it really sunk in just how far away from home we were at times. We also covered some distance on our long haul international flights. The longest flight was our first international flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. It was 7,491 miles. We were in the air for 14 hours. I slept for nearly 6 hours and watched 3 2 hour length movies. Alethea will remember that flight because the kid next to her got sick to her stomach and she helped the poor mother who had another young child to keep an eye on.

One humorous distance related tidbit was how close we were to Osama Bin Laden. I looked it up after his untimely demise. It turns out we were only 501.4 miles away from his compound when we were in Shimla, India back in March. I plugged in the GPS coordinates into Google Earth to get an exact measurement :-). It would have nice to collect the $25 million bounty on his head but I doubt he would surrender to us especially since we would have only been armed with a plastic spork. Anyway, listed below are the top 5 places we visited that were the furthest away.

One note on my methodology: I only included a country once otherwise the country that turned out the furthest would have the top three cities. Good news is that the two cities that took the place of number two and three were close to the same distance, so this is very close to being an exact list based on distance instead of one that is actually based on countries and cities combined.

Here's the top 5 list:
  1. Invercargill, New Zealand @ 8,628 miles. This kind of surprised since I thought it would be number one but New Zealand is about a 3.5 hour plan ride east of Melbourne, Australia which puts it further east and a little closer to the US than I realized.

    pic taken south of Invercargill, New Zealand @ southern most point 

  1. Bangkok, Thailand @ 8,695 miles. This one surprised me a little but not too much.

    Buddha statues @ Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand

  1. Kochi, India @ 9,075 miles. Not too surprised on this one. This area was the furthest south we were in India. I'll remember it for the heat, mosquitos, and our overnight trip through the Kerala backwaters.

    boats of the Kerala, India backwaters

  1. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam @ 9,089 miles. This one surprised me because I didn't realize how far it was both west and south. Vietnam was a country we enjoyed quite a bit although Ho Chi Minh wasn't among our favorites. We enjoyed Hoi An in the center and Hanoi/Sapa/Halong Bay areas in northern Vietnam more.
former Presidential Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Drum roll please, well a virtual drum role.

  1. Adelaide, Australia @ 10,210 miles. I was mildly surprised. My initial guess was either somewhere in New Zealand or South Africa. New Zealand came in only at #5. Cape Town South Africa was I believe 8th. As I mentioned earlier, Melbourne would have been second and Sydney third if I were going purely on exact distances by city.   

    us feeding a kangaroo on Kangaroo Island just south of Adelaide, Australia - 10 K miles from home

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Home and other miscellaneous topics like haircuts

Well we've been back home now for two weeks. It is good to be home. We've both spent the last couple weeks visiting friends and family. I feel rested. A pleasant surprise for me is that my allergies have made an tremendous improvement. I thought for sure things would be pretty bad when I returned back to Tennessee. It is probably the number one reason we decided to come home since we were fatigued with sinus issues for most of our 6 weeks in Europe. I've pretty much been staying indoors quite a bit and taking my medications when necessary. I went in for a wellness exam today and the doctor said I was doing about all I could do except maybe use a nose inhaler which I have (Alethea's). Now that I've taken a two week break I'll write some blog posts on trip related items. Some posts will be lighthearted and some more focused. I like to look at facts and figures being the analytical geek that I am. Speaking of numbers I weighed in at the doctor's office today as part of my wellness exam at 178 lbs. According to his chart I weighed in at 192 lbs. the last time I  saw my doctor 4 days before we left on our trip last July. The most I have ever weighed was 235 lbs about two years ago. If I were going skydiving again, I wouldn't have to pay the overweight fees (I usually refer to them as a fat tax) that I've had to pay twice before! Anyway, I'll start off with a lighthearted post regarding haircuts around the world.

I never really gave haircuts that much thought when we were planing for this trip. After all it is a rather routine experience. Although it didn't really present any great difficulty, I found it interesting from a culture experience. It is kind of neat to see how the process works in other countries. Fortunately for me my haircuts are pretty simple. I just had every barber use a 1 blade and start shaving. It is pretty easy to communicate this to someone even if they don't speak English although it was a little more difficult at first in Italy than it was in Beijing since the barber in China spoke more English than the gentleman in Rome. Probably the best or maybe most unique haircut I received was in Vientiane, Laos. I had to take my shoes off and walk barefoot into the barbershop. It is pretty common to have to take your shoes off any time you are indoors in Asia. She proceeded to cut my hair then when we were done she started karate chopping my neck so I also received somewhat of a massage too. Not bad for a haircut that cost 20,000 KIP or $2.45.

Vientiane, Laos on 12/30 - 20,000 KIP or $2.45

Probably, the next most interesting one occurred in Kusadasi, Turkey. We asked our hotel staff where we could get cheap basic haircuts and the person at the desk called out to someone else who told us to follow him. We followed him just a couple blocks from our hotel to barber shop. Our escort told the barber in Turkish what we wanted. The barber understood maybe a few words in English too. One interesting aspect was that everyone got a small cup of hot Turkish tea before their haircut. The barber would send his son out who was probably around 14 or 15 to a local shop. He would come back with some tea. Another interesting thing that took place was the gentleman before us was getting a shave with a straight razor blade. When the barber was done he poured something on his face and lit it. It flashed for a sec before going out. Alethea and I both got big eyes but the barber looked at us, chuckled, and essentially gestured that was for him and would not be happening to me. I was relieved :-).

Kusadasi, Turkey – 10/26, 13 lira or $9.13   

Looking back on it I would probably say the best haircut might have been the one in China. It cost around $5. He took his time and was thorough. The second haircut I received in Bangkok was pretty good too. It is kind of hard to mess up my style. It was a little mini adventure slash cultural experience each time I was ready for a haircut. Anyway, listed below are the dates, locations, and prices I paid for a haircut over the last nine months along with a couple other pictures Alethea took of me getting a haircut.

  1. Melbourne, Australia – 8/22, $9 AUD or $8.03
  2. Beijing, China – 9/25, 25 yuan or $5.22
  3. Kusadasi, Turkey – 10/26, 13 lira or $9.13
  4. Cape Town, South Africa – 12/3, 70 ZAR or $9.47
  5. Vientiane, Laos – 12/30, 20,000 KIP or $2.45
  6. Bangkok, Thailand – 1/22, 110 Baht or $3.58
  7. Bangkok, Thailand - 2/19, 150 Baht or $5
  8. Rome, Italy – 3/25, 11 euros (10 for haircut, 1 for tip) or $15.53
  9. Bayeux, France – 4/27, 12.50 for cut & 1.50 for tip = 14 euros or $20.43

1st haircut in Melbourne, Australia on 8/22

maybe the haircut with the least amount of English being spoken - Rome, Italy on 3/25

last & most expensive haircut in Bayeux, France on 4/27

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sampling the good stuff in Belgium

Next and final stop on our round the world trip was the country of Belgium. We spent just 5 nights in Belgium. We visited the capital of Brussels and the city of Bruges. For me it was the first time I had really been in Belgium. In 2007 I took a high speed train through it from Rotterdam to Paris. Alethea had been to Brussels many times from her flight attendant days. The sights of Belgium weren't the reason we were there for the most part. We were primarily there to taste numerous types of beers that Belgium is famous for. Belgium has a reputation as making some of the best beers in the world.

The fist stop was Brussels. Getting to Brussels was somewhat interesting. It was interesting because we took a high speed Thalys train from Paris. The train ride only took about 90 minutes to travel 200 miles. It would take 3 hours to drive this route per Google Maps. The train zipped through the French and the Belgium countrysides at a top speed that I saw of 296 km/h (184 mph). Not as fast as trains in China but pretty fast. One cool thing was that you could log onto your laptop or wi-fi enabled phone and see in real time where you were at on a map and how fast you were going. I will not preach too much but the US could really use high speed rail corridors in certain parts of the county where it makes sense. We need competition to flying. Traveling by rail is so easy and enjoyable compared to flying.

drinking lambic beer at Cantillon Brewery in Brussels

We essentially spent a day and a half touring Brussels. We didn't get to our aparthotel until around 6 pm on the first night. We slept in the next day due to feeling a little under the weather. We then spent the afternoon touring the Cantillon Brewery. This brewery is a little over a hundred years old and makes beer the old fashioned way. The beer itself is of the lambic variety that taste essentially like champagne. I wasn't a real big fan of the beer I tasted but I did enjoy the tour. The next day was spent doing a walking tour that we had downloaded off the internet. We walked from our aparthotel to the Grand Place. We also toured the Brussels Cathedral. We decided to skip the museums primarily because we had been to so many others in Italy and France. We did somehow manage to stop at 5 different places that served beers (including our lunch stop) throughout the day. We tasted a good variety of different triples, IPAs, dark beers, and even a pilsner.

City Hall of Brussels in the Grand Place

My thoughts on Brussels are that it is kind of average. It is nothing too spectacular but has some unique places to visit. Of course we didn't visit the museums, EU, or NATO facilities but none of those get that many stars in the travel books. We had a pretty good time visiting some interesting bars and a beer store in the city.

Experiencing Belgium culture in Bruges

The final stop in Belgium was the city of Bruges. Bruges is a very picturesque city. It has many well preserved old buildings and even the new ones blend in to the city's architecture. It is a city that definitely has a lot of Dutch influence especially since it is located in a Flemish (Dutch) area of the country. We spent just two nights in Bruges. We spent our time on foot wondering around the city. The attractions we saw were the Our Lady of Bruges church which houses one of the few sculptures of Michelangelo outside of Italy. We saw the Basilica of the Holy Blood which houses an alleged vile of Christ's blood brought back from Jerusalem in the 12th century. We visited the main town square and toured the De Halve Maan brewery. We of course stopped at quite a few establishments that served Belgium beer as we continued to sample various kinds of local beers. At the bottom of my Daily Log at the end of the blog post is a list of the beers that I drank in Belgium if anyone is interested. I really liked Bruges. It is a interesting town even if it is quite touristy. I would actually recommend spending more time in Bruges than I would in Brussels.

1.5 liters beer glasses in Bruges (no we didn't order this size)

Well that wraps up our quick tour of Belgium. I think it was a good way to conclude our trip by taking it somewhat easy enjoying one of our favorite activities of drinking good quality beer. As I mentioned at the top of the blog post Belgium was our final stop on our 9 month, 23 country, 5 continent around the world trip. We seriously considering continuing on to Scotland and Ireland for another three weeks but decided only a couple days before we came home against it. We were pretty much ready to conclude this wonderful trip for now. We were both in need of some rest. I was feeling somewhat fatigued with allergies. It's been a wonderful trip. We're both back home now in Tennessee and are going to spend some time resting and visiting friends and families. This will be my last post on individual countries but I plan on writing a few summary blogs on the trip over the next week or two before I shut the blog down until the next adventure :-).

Us on our final night in Bruges

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log:

Friday, April 29th
Train arrived on time close to 5:30 pm.
Walked from train station and checked in to apart hotel
Scouted out laundry option a few blocks away
Walked to grocery store which is in the train station
Bought groceries and walked back to apartment to eat dinner.

Saturday, April 30th
Slept in until after 11 am. Both of us were tired. Alethea hasn't been feeling well with a soar throat.
Having numerous problems getting online but Alethea isn't. I'm using a different OS and browsers. Can't figure out what the problem is. I've tried everything that I know of so far. Very frustrating.
Walked to train station to the tourist info office and picked up a map.
Walked to Cantillon Brewery. Went on a self guided tour and tasted two beers. Their beers are traditional Belgium beers. They are the last independent brewery in Brussels. They've been in business for over 100 years. Beer tasted like champagne beer due to the type they make. They make rare beers called lambics or gueze.
Walked back grocery to pick up supplies for tonight. Discovered laundry mat that is closer with better machines. Took groceries back to apartment then went to laundry mat.
Ate dinner
Finally got online by disabling my IP version 6 ip address option.

Sunday, May 1st
Day of walking around Brussels. Followed a .pdf map Alethea had downloaded. Combined sights with beer drinking at multiple Brussels pubs.
Stopped at 5 pubs plus had a beer at lunch.
Saw the Grand Plaza and the Brussels Cathedral which were neat.
Saw the infamous peeing man and peeing woman statues.
Rode metro for free for some reason.
Stopped at grocery store and ate dinner back at the apartment.

Monday, May 2nd
Woke up about 8:30 even though alarm was supposed to go off at 9 am.
Got online just to check email real quick to make sure there wasn't anything wrong with plans to get home the day after next and saw a couple comments about Osama Bin Laden then immediately switched to reading NPR to find out that OBL had been killed. Great day. I am glad he is dead. Be interesting to see how it all played out.
Ate breakfast and checked out of our hotel at 10:30.
Walked to train station and caught 11:05 train to Bruge. It was a few minutes late.
Train took about a hour and only made one stop in Gent before Bruge.
Left train station and found our hotel which is connected to the train station.
Checked in and then mapped out our itinerary.
Walked into town and ate lunch.
Walked around Bruge for the next couple hours. Very picturesque city. Feels very Dutch. Saw some windmills then started a mini pub crawl. Stopped at Bauhaus Bar then BeerTje and had some good beers. Also had a good beer at lunch.
Stopped at Subway for dinner.
Came back to hotel and ate and caught up on stuff. No internet here. It cost 4.50 euros a hour. Way too expensive. We got online on our phones at the one of the bars use wi-fi.

Tuesday, May 3rd
Full day of sightseeing in Bruge.
Went to church with Michaelangelo Sculpture.
Hour long tour of Half Man Brewery. Drank one blonder unfiltered unpasteurized beer as part of the tour.
Stopped at at bar and drank a De Gare.
Went to the church of the Holy Blood and supposedly saw a vile of blood from Jesus. It came to the current church from the crusades in the 12th century.
Ate fries form a frite stand in front of the Belfry.
Bought chocolate from the Dumond Chocolate store.
Walked around. First bar was closed.
Stopped at the bar we finished at the night before. Had two beers including a quadruple beer. Met a very nice couple from Colorado. They bought the second beer for us. We talked about traveling mostly.
Went to Caraffour at the train station to get dinner supplies.
Came back to room to eat dinner and pack

Friday, May 4th
Alarm went off at 5 am.
Left hotel at 5:30.
Caught the 5:56 train to Brussels North train station.
Changed trains in Brussels and arrived at the BRU airport at around 8 am.
Checked-in in with Delta and passed through passport control and security.
We were able to fly in 1st class from BRU to ATL. It was real nice. Watched TV and the movie the King's Place. Also slept for a couple hours. Left 30 minutes late.
Plane arrived on time after 9 plus hours in the air.
Cleared immigration and customs with no issues and no questions about being out of the country for 9 months in 21 countries.
We waited a little over a hour and flew standby to Nashville. We were the last two people to clear for the flight on the standby list.
Unfortunately, Alethea got sick to her stomach on the flight back.
Arrived back in Nashville on time.
Visited with Alethea's mom for a few minutes before grabbing our bags.
Met mom and dad who took Alethea to her Grandma's and me home.
End of RTW trip after 9 months in 21 countries on 5 continents.

Beers I drank in Belgium:

Val-Dieu Blonde
Marsedsous Brune
During pub crawl:
Aderlardes Triple (Moeder Lambic) 9% alcohol 30 cl, 3.60 euros
Arend Triple (beer of the month) – 4.90 euros
Chouffe Houbon IPA (Delirium Tap House) – 10%, 3.50 euros
Maes (Celtic Bsr)
Dark something (Les Brasseus) 4.50 euros
Brugse Zot Blonde
Leffe Dark
Saison DuPont
Chimay Brown
De Halve Maan: Bruge Zot Blong
De Garre: Garre
Achel Blong
Straffe Hendrick Quadrupel

Friday, May 6, 2011

Two weeks in France

The next country for us to visit was France. We spent almost two weeks touring France. We started in Paris then spent time in the Alsace region before finishing up in the Normandy area. Overall we were pretty busy during this stretch which is why I'm a little behind in posting blog entries.

Paris is a pretty good way to start a visit to France. To get to Paris we took an overnight train from Madrid. It would be our 9th and final overnight train of our trip. The ride was quite enjoyable as we had our own private cabin plus the scenery of the Spanish countryside were quite beautiful. The train ride took about 13 hours. We departed around 7 pm and arrived at 8:30 the following morning. Paris like Rome is a city I've visited before. I visited Paris one time previously  back in 2007. Alethea has visited Paris numerous times too as she used to fly there regularly while she was a flight attendant with Delta. Also like Rome Paris is a city worth at least a second visit if not more. We spent a total of 5 nights in Paris touring numerous sights. We spent our 1st day resting and plotting out our time in Paris. We were both trying to recover from allergies which were bothering us throughout Portugal and Spain. The remaining four nights were spent visiting sights as part of the Paris Museum Pass. I would recommend the pass for those visiting Paris unless you are going to be there for a short amount of time or if you've been there several times and don't plan on visiting too many attractions covered by the pass. For us the pass paid for itself. During our 4 days that the pass was valid we visited Saint-Chapelle, the Louvre (twice), Napoleon's tomb, the Army Museum, Rodin Museum, Pompidou Centre, Arc de Triomphe, Versailles Palace, and the Orsay. The only non pass sights we saw were Sacre Couer and Notre Dame (the church is free, hiking up to the top isn't free but is included in the pass but we didn't hike it). Many of those sights I had seen before but some sights such as the Rodin, Versailles, Napoleon's tomb, Saint-Chapelle, and Versailles were all new for me.

Pyramid entrance to the Louvre

My favorite sight that I visited for the first time was the Palace of Versailles. Versailles is just a magnificent and overwhelming complex that includes the actual palace, the gardens, and there is even a palace to get away from the main palace called the Grand Trianon. It is definitely a must see as it is immaculately decorated. It takes pretty much a day to see it all. I kept thinking this is both amazing considering it was started in the 17th century but also at the same time I kept thinking no wonder they had a revolution. It is just too over the top especially when the people of France were not doing so well by the time you get to the later part of the 18th century when the revolution took place.

one small section of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles

The next really neat first time thing for me was Saint-Chapelle. Saint-Chapelle was a royal chapel. It was built in the 13th century. It is rather small compared to Notre Dame and other Paris landmark churches but it is very pretty on the inside. It contained what were allegedly Jesus's crown of thorns that a French king purchased in the 13th century. After the French Revolution the alleged crown was moved to Notre Dame in Paris which is just a few blocks away. I would definitely recommend it. The one odd thing about the chapel is that it is surrounded by the Palace of Justice which contains the French Supreme Court.

Saint-Chapelle (13th century) in Paris

In all we had a pretty good but busy time in Paris. We stayed in an aparthotel on the south side of town that technically wasn't in the city limits of Paris but were within walking distance of public buses and the next to last stop on a metro line. We saved some money but preparing breakfast and dinner most days back at our place. The weather was also great. It was sunny and clear with day time highs in the mid 70's every day. The only real negative were the crowds. Paris in the spring time the week before Easter can be very busy. Most of the tourist appeared to be other Europeans from what we could tell. Many of the top sights such as the Louvre, Versailles, and the Orsay were quite crowded. I am glad we got to visit Paris. It is very beautiful city that would be in my top 5 cities in the world to visit. I would probably rank it second or third behind Rome.

Next stop for us in Paris was the Alsace region. We stayed all three nights in the city of Colmar near Strasbourg on the German border. It was a very scenic 6 plus hour drive across France to reach Colmar. We decided to rent a car for our non-Paris itinerary because even with gas prices close to $8 a gallon equivalent and tolls it was still cheaper than taking the expensive French TGV trains. The drive itself was uneventful. We found our hotel without too many wrong turns. The place we stayed at was the Maison Martin Jund which is an old house with some converted rooms as hotel rooms. Our room was nice and even had a mini kitchenette. The owner of the place didn't even copy our passports or ask for payment until we left when we checked-in which is unusual in Europe but we were in a small town.


The best way for me to describe Colmar was that is was the most German city I've been in even though it is located in France. The Alsace region where it is located has changed hands more than once between France and Germany. It has been in France's control since the end of WWII. The architecture of the buildings in the downtown area are mostly the old mixed timber German style buildings. The city is well preserved as it wasn't bombed heavily in WWII. We spent three nights in Colmar exploring it all on foot while we enjoyed the Alsace regional cuisine. I enjoyed a tart flambe which is a very thin crusted pizza, a breztel, and some German\French Sauerkraut. Colmar was a very nice relaxing stop after a busy stop in Paris.

The next stop for us was the city of Reims. We decided to stop in Reims as a way to break up the long drive of going from Colmar to Bayeux in the Normandy region. Reims was about a 3 hour drive from Colmar. We spent just one night in Reims. The place we stayed in Reims was called a hotel but was really just a house where a couple rents out two rooms. On the night we were there we were the only guests at the house. It is also conveniently located downtown next to the Reims Cathedral. In our brief time in Reims we did a little sightseeing. We visited the Reims Cathedral where at least 34 French kings have been crowned over the centuries. It was pretty neat but suffered a lot of damage in WWII but is still in good shape. It was actually about to celebrate it's 800th anniversary a couple weeks after we left. The other significant thing we saw the Surrender Museum. The museum marks the spot and tells the story of where the German armed forces surrendered ending World War II in Europe.

Reims Cathedral, a giant mechanical spider, and Alethea

The final place we stayed was in Bayeux, France. We did make two stops on the way. We stopped in Rouen for a couple hours touring their Notre Dame Cathedral and saw the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the steak. We also stopped in Caen just outside of Bayeux to tour the Caen Memorial Museum which is dedicated to the World War II, D-Day, and world peace in general. We spent a total of three nights in Bayeux. The first day we arrived late in the evening after driving across France. We spent the second day walking around the town and I got a haircut.

The primary purpose for visiting Bayeux was to tour the numerous D-day sights in the Normandy region. For me this was very important. When we were putting our list together of places we wanted to visit on our round the world trip the D-day sights were toward the top of my list. When we put the actual itinerary together I knew that France and Normandy would be toward the end and there would be a possibility that we may not make it since something could have happened causing us to come home before getting to this point. I am definitely glad were able to make it especially for a history bluff like me. We spent a full day visiting numerous sights in the Normandy area. We started with the small town of Arromanches which was known for a 2 mile long artificial harbor that was hastily built to offload allies troops and supplies. We also visited the US Military Cemetery, the Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery, Omaha Beach, Point du Hoc Ranger Memorial, and the German Military Cemetery. I didn't know there was a German cemetery before we arrived in Normandy. I enjoyed all the sights. My favorite was the US Military Cemetery. It is located just off Omaha Beach where many of the serviceman who are buried there died. The cemetery is very well maintained. There are almost 10,000 servicemen and women buried there. There is also a wall displaying the names of approx 1,300 serviceman whose remains have never been found. We saw the graves of Teddy Roosevelt Jr. whose father was President Teddy Roosevelt. He was a general and a medal of honor recipient. He died of a heart attack about a month after D-day. We also saw the graves of the Niland brothers. The movie Saving Private Ryan is loosely based on their story. It is a very solemn place that was quite busy. In all it was a very special day that I enjoyed from a historical perspective. I couldn't imagine all the horror or participating in the D-day invasion but without it the war wouldn't have ended the way it did.

US Military Cemetery in Normandy

This concluded a very busy two weeks in France. It was a country that I really enjoyed. I liked visiting different areas of France outside of Paris as much as a I did Paris itself. It is a very beautiful country in so many ways. France is a country that I would like to spend more time in. There is more variety in France than I think a lot of people realize. One thing that made a lot of difference was that Alethea is completely fluent in French. It made a big difference as she was able to ask for things and get things that I couldn't. I would like to learn another language someday too even though I can barely speak English :-).

Next stop for us is Belgium. The primary purpose for going to Belgium isn't for the sights. It is for the beer. Belgium is know as being one of the best beer places in the world and we'll do our best to test this reputation :-).

Link to photo albums:

Daily Logs:

Sunday, April 17th
Train made it in on time around 8:30.
Walked over to the metro and took it out to our stop. Walked little over half hour to hotel.
Arrived at hotel around 9:30 am. Check-in wasn't until 3 pm but we waited a little bit while they got a room ready for us.
Our aparthotel as it is called has a kitchenette and is on top of a Carafour grocery store so we stocked up after we checked in. Breakfast is 7 euros per person per day at our hotel. We can eat just fine for much cheaper. We'll eat lunch out during the day and dinner.
After lunch we took naps then worked on itinerary planning. I started on the night before on the train.

Monday, April 18th
Full day of sightseeing.
Took two buses to Notre Dame
Did the Rick Steves Historical Walk audio tour
Visited Notre Dame. Started to wait in line to hike the tower but it was very long. Decided to continue the walk.
Walked around the Latin Quarter and over to Saint Chapelle.
Went across street to buy the 4 day Paris Museum Pass.
Waited in line about 45 minuets to get through security @ Saint Chapelle. Toured St. Chapelle for 30 minutes. Very beautiful 13th century church.
Ate lunch
Walked to the Louvre. Toured for next two hours until closing time. Listened to Rick Steves Louvre tour. Saw the Mona Lisa. Plan on going back. Very crowded.
Took metro 13 stops back to our place and bought groceries for dinner.

Tuesday, April 19th
Full day of sightseeing in Paris.
Tried to see the Orsay but the lines were very long including the Museum Pass line.
Visited Les Invalides and saw Napoleon's Tomb along with a WW1 & WWII and Charles De Gaulle exhibit.
Visited the Museum Rodin
Walked the Champs-Elysees. It was very crowded.
Hiked up the Arc de Triomphe.
Took Metro back to apartment.
Went to grocery store and bought groceries for dinner.

Wednesday, April 20th
Long exhausting day of sightseeing.
Need to come back later and add notes.
Visited the following site Versailles, Momantre\Sacre Couer, & Louvre
Ate at Louvre McDonald’s
Got back around 10:30 pm

Thursday, April 21st
Full day of sightseeing in Paris.
Started with Jewish Art Museum – sort of got into trouble for wondering into a paid exhibit separate from the part the pass pays for.
Spent a couple hours at the Pompidou Center for modern art.
Final stop was the Musee D'Orsay which is undergoing a major restoration. Spent about 2 hours there. One of my favorite museums in the world.
Took RER C and bus back to apartment.
Did laundry and researched how to get to our hotel in Colmar

Friday, April 22nd
Drive across France
Drove from Paris to Colmar where we will stay for 3 nights. Drive took 7 hours.
Drive was pretty. Lots of bright yellow canola fields and wind turbines.
Funny how as we got close to Germany the town names, architecture, & people began to look more German.
Tolls were expensive over $50 worth.
Ate dinner and had a tart flambe (Alsace very thin crust pizza @ Maison Rouge).
Maison Martin Jund is where we're staying. Nice old hour. Only cost 30 euros a night.

Saturday, April 23rd
Full day of sightseeing in Colmar on foot
Slept in until 10 am. Went to grocery store to buy food for the next couple days especially since tomorrow is Sunday and Easter and we don't know what all is closed.
Followed the Rick Steves walking tour of Colmar.
Visited the St. Martin Cathedral that was started in the 13th century.
Finished by spending a couple hours at the Unterlinde Museum which was very nice
Had excellent dinner at restaurant downtown. I had the sauerkraut. Came back to hotel and talked about plans for the next few days and relaxed.

Sunday, April 24th
Easter Sunday
Pretty much stayed in and rested. We hadn't had a down day in a while
Worked on pictures and hotels for Belgium and did some research on some other possibilities.
Walked around town for a hour.
Toured a Dominican Church
Went back to hotel and ate dinner

Monday, April 25th
Drove from Colmar to Reims
Got advice from woman at hotel to take some country roads. Stayed on country roads from Colmar to Nancy before getting on bigger road.
Didn’t pay any tolls.
Had difficulty finding our hotel in Reims. It isn't really a hotel. It is a house with two rooms for rent. Very nice place. The other room wasn't occupied so we had it all to ourselves.
Checked in ate lunch.
Walked to the Surrender Museum where the Germans surrendered to the Allies on 5/7/45. Pretty neat.
Walked to the Reims Notre Dame Cathedral. In about a week it celebrates its 800th anniversary. I believe 35 kings have been crowned at this church.
Ate dinner. Walked back to hotel.

Tuesday, April 26th
Drove from Reims to Bayeux
Stopped in Rouen. Visited their Notre Dame church.
Saw spot where Joan D'Arc was burned.
Drove to Caen. Visited the Memorial Museum. Topics were end of WWI, WWII, Cold War, and peace in general.
Drove to Bayeux. Directions from Google Maps weren't accurate. Drove back in to a McDonald's & tried to call hotel. 1st call was disconnected and next two weren't answered. Alethea went in and conversed with some EMTs in French who sort of told us where it was at. We eventually found our hotel Premiere Classe.
Ate dinner then came back and cleaned up.

Wednesday, April 27th
Slept in until we woke up without alarms since Alethea wasn't feeling well.
Thought about driving out to St. Michelle but it is over 100 km one way and with Alethea not feeling well we decided against it.
Instead we decided to walk around Bayeux and sight see on foot.
First stop was to walk downtown to a barber shop since I was in need of a haircut. I last got my haircut in Rome about a month ago. We found a place recommended by our hotel. They were going to charge me 16.50 euros but Alethea negotiated them to the base rate of 12.50 euros which is still the most I've paid for a haircut since leaving the US. They did a good job though.
We then at breakfast\lunch (around 1 pm) at a restaurant downtown that advertised a meal of the day menu for 10.50 euros. I had the beef bourgion and a tarte. Alethea had the fish. It was a good meal.
We spent the next couple hours walking around town following the historical markers on a map we got from the TI. We toured the main cathedral as part of the tour. It was a pretty good way to see the town.
After the tour we stopped at the grocery store for dinner supplies.
Came back to hotel and got online.

Thursday, April 28th
Full day of sightseeing of the D-Day sights
Woke up around 8:30.
Left around 9 and ate breakfast at a McDonald's. We were the only people in there for most of our visit. The French don't eat much for breakfast and not at McDonald's.
Drove to Arromanches and view the Harbor
I went in to the 360 degree theater and saw a 18 minute film on d-day
Walked down hill to Arromanches. Walked around for a little bit then went to our car.
Visited Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery
WWII Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Vierville-sur-Mer – went on Omaha Beach?
Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument
German Military Cemetery
Drove back to hotel. Walked to Bayeux to try to find a restaurant that was open for dinner. No decent restaurant was open until 18:30 or later.
Settled on a restaurant and ate a great dinner.
Walked back to hotel and researched how to get to Paris and our hotel in Brussels.

Really enjoyed visiting all the D-day sights. The US Military Cemetery was my favorite. It is in very good condition which it should be. It is hard to imagine the all difficult it was for Allied and German troops during D-Day and the battles to come. I'm very glad we got to visit it. It was one of the top destinations in the world I wanted to visit when we planned out our trip.

Friday, April 29th
Drove back from Normandy to Paris
Woke up @ 7:30, left at 8:30
Took autoroute back to Paris. Tolls were less than expected .
Arrived in Paris with no problems. Traffic was heavy inside Paris
Returned rental car then walked to the North Train Station. Tried to exchange our tickets for an earlier train but we would have had to cash in our current tickets for 50% of face value & the only tickets available for the next train were probably only 1st class per the ticket person.
We ate lunch at a cheap Chinese food restaurant and killed a couple hours before our train
Train let right on time @ 16:01.
Train car had wi-fi, Didn't purchase any access but did they did have a map available that showed our speed and location. Highest speed so far is 296 km/h.