Lauren, our 10-year-old granddaughter, and Toby, our dog, are great backseat traveling companions because:
#1 They don't fight with each other.
#2 One of them makes excellent 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 an enjoyable 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, they said that we might 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, we also stopped to look at the skateboard and scooter stores because of Lauren. That was something that we had never done before. Lauren bought a kid's 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 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 destination was Normandy and a tour of the D-Day beaches. On the way, we stopped at Giverny to see Monet's gardens. We toured the house, strolled through the grounds, 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 is a beautiful chateau with extensive grounds for our traveling partners to run around on. The American army's press camp was housed in this chateau from June 10 to August 10, 1944, during the Normandy invasion.
Our suite was 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. 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 an excellent display of wartime artifacts and photos and a desk with a reporters' typewriter. It brought 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, 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 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 the shoreline to land.
We all agreed that the Utah beach museum was the best museum that we toured. Built on a German bunker, the museum housed many personal artifacts with stories and photos of the men who fought and died during the invasion. More than in any other museum, these stories brought history to life.
One photograph showed Brig. General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., another general and a colonel with battle maps spread out before them in Utah beach sand. 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 was the late president's son. He had to obtain a stack of dispensations and special orders to go ashore on Utah beach with his troops, as he had requested. 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 earned the Medal of Honor.
We were 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 made us sad to look at the grave markers and realize that most of the soldiers were only about ten years older than the innocent child standing there with us.
The Bayeux tapestry was next on our agenda. Another war in another age, clearly illustrated by a beautiful 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 a 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 somewhat surprising, "But, of course." We entered the restaurant and found it to be comfortably elegant. A miniature 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, the service excellent. Toby was given a drink under the table from a dog bowl for special guests.
We didn't want to leave, so we lingered as long as we could over coffee and dessert. Finally, it was time to head south to Brittany and our next stop, a farmhouse near St. Malo.
We found the farmhouse even though we had been given the directions over the telephone in French, and we congratulated ourselves for that achievement.
Saint-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 many 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. 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 comfortable that she decided that she could definitely live here.