Lauren, our granddaughter, and Toby, our dog, are great backseat traveling companions because:
#1 They don't fight with each other.
#2 One of them makes great observations and funny jokes. The other one wags his tail and smiles. We enjoyed every minute of our travels with them.
Our adventures began early one rainy morning when a friend was kind enough to drive us to the train station. We took the train to Lyon where we boarded the TGV to Paris. It was a very pleasant trip, with only a slight glitch catching a cab to our hotel, because most of the cab drivers did not want a dog in their cab. (See the full story on Toby's page.)
Michele, Ian and Lauren arrived at our hotel from the airport just a little after we did, and we took Lauren out while her mom and dad got settled. Our first stop was to see the Captain of the Port at the Paris Arsenal. We introduced ourselves and made sure that we are on the waiting list for a winter mooring next year. Once again were told that we may get a spot, we hope so, but we now know that it is not very likely. There are only a few moorings for barges of our size and the requests are numerous.
Over the next few days we toured around Paris with Lauren during the day, meeting her parents each night for dinner. We hit all of the high spots on Lauren's list, la tour Eiffel, l'Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, le Métro, and of course we stopped in at our favorite café on the Champs-Élysées for a French hot dog.
Everyone likes the same sites in Paris, even kids, but this trip, because of Lauren, we also stopped to look at the skate board and scooter stores as well. That was something that we had never done before.
Lauren bought a kids Polaroid camera at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Élysées, and she was able to take some great photos that she pasted into her travel journal.
She loved the old buildings and she thought that the métro was very cool. She decided that she could definitely live in Paris.
After spending several days together in Paris, we picked up our rental car and headed out with Lauren and Toby, while her parents stayed on to enjoy their vacation alone in Paris.
Our main destination was Normandy and a tour of the D-Day beaches. On the way, we stopped at Giverny to see Monet's home and the beautiful gardens. We toured the house, strolled through the garden, and Lauren spent time in the gift shop picking out gifts for her mom and dad.
Lauren liked the house and the gardens, and she decided that she could live there.
We arrived at our first destination, a chateau near Bayeux, in the late afternoon. Chateau Vouilly was the site of the American Press Room during the Normandy invasion. It is a beautiful chateau with large grounds for our traveling partners to run around on.
Our suite was big and comfortable, and we all thought it was cool that this chateau had a moat. Lauren liked it and decided that she could live there.
Breakfast was served in the dining room each morning. This was the same room where Ernie Pyle, Andy Rooney and many other reporters typed out their stories of the invasion for their newspapers back home. There was a nice display of war time artifacts and photos, and one desk with a typewriter that had been used by the reporters. It brought the history to life, and it was a good base from which to see the D-Day beaches.
We started our first day at the nearby German Military Cemetery, which was chilling with its black monuments. Instead of headstones, there were groupings of five black crosses placed in a pattern throughout this cemetery of over 21,115 German soldiers.
From the German cemetery, we toured the D-Day beaches starting with Arromanches les Bains. There we saw the remains of the Mulberry Harbor and visited the museum. At Omaha Beach, we paid our respects to the 9,387 Americans at rest and to the listed 1,557 MIA's in the Garden of the Missing.
The beaches are very different, Omaha beach is very steep immediately off the water's edge, and Utah is flat with a very long distance from shoreline to land.
We all agreed that the Utah beach museum was the best museum that we toured. It is built over and around a German bunker. There were many personal artifacts there with stories and photos of the men who fought and died during the invasion, and more than in any other museum the stories brought the history to life.
One photograph showed Brig. General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., another general and a colonel with battle maps spread out before them in the sand of Utah beach. General Roosevelt's actions that day would posthumously earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was 56 years old, had already suffered a heart attack, and he was the son of the late president. He had to obtain a stack of dispensations and special orders to be able to go ashore on Utah beach with his troops, as he had requested. Only a few hours earlier, we stood in front of his grave at the Normandy American cemetery, now we had a better understanding of who he was and why he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
We were constantly surprised by Lauren's interest in all of the invasion history. She read the displays at the museums, and her eyes did not glaze over when we explained what we knew of how the invasions were set up and put into action. Visiting the cemeteries, it made us sad to look at the grave markers and realize that most of the soldiers were only about 10 years older than the innocent child that was standing there with us.
The Bayeux tapestry was next on our agenda. Another war in another age, clearly illustrated by a wonderful tapestry, and described in one of our books as a lively comic strip justifying William the Conqueror's invasion of England and offering insights into 11th century life. Again the history came to life. We all liked the smiling horses riding in a boat across the channel better than the battle scenes with lots of heads lying on the ground and headless soldiers sitting on their horses with arrows piercing their bodies.
After the museum we went back to the car for Toby. We took a walk around Bayeux before we looked for restaurant for lunch. Lauren liked the town and thought that it would be a nice place to live.
We happened by a restaurant that we had read about in one of our tour books, the Lion d'Or, and went in to ask if Toby would be welcome. The answer was a somewhat surprised, "But, of course". We entered the restaurant and found it to be comfortably elegant. A little poodle raced out from under his table to bark at Toby, but Toby kept his cool. He walked straight to our table and took his position underneath.
It was a memorable lunch with all of us on our best behavior. The food was good, the conversation lively and the service excellent. Toby was given a drink under the table from a special guest dog bowl.
We didn't want to leave, so we lingered as long as we could over coffee and desert. Finally, it was time to head south to Brittany and our next stop, a farmhouse near St. Malo.
We found our way to our farmhouse even though we had been given the directions over the telephone in French, and we had to pat ourselves on the back for that achievement.
St.Malo was bathed in the light of a beautiful sunset when we arrived that evening. We enjoyed walking around the walled city and tasting the regional specialties at a crêperie. The next day we burned a few of those calories climbing billions of stairs up to the top of Mont-St-Michel. One of us complained a lot. Someone had told us that Mont-St-Michel is a whole bunch of steep stairs up to a lot of empty rooms. One of us might have agreed with that statement, but we had fun anyway exploring the ancient abbey. The original structures on Mont-St-Michel were built as early as the 8th century and looking at the view from way up there we all agreed that even without binoculars you could see an enemy approaching long before they arrived. Lauren decided that with the proper furnishings she could make it a comfortable place to live.
At the end of our vacation, we met Michele and Ian back on our barge. Lauren had never seen our new home before and she loved it. She and Toby slept on the sofa bed together, and Lauren thought that our barge was so nice that she decided that she could definitely live here.