Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nathan's Visit, Part Deux

And we're back.

So Thursday seemed promising at first since I had only one class before Nathan and I headed to Normandy for the weekend before he left. It all turned sour however when I went to tell Kathi what time we needed to leave. I confirmed with Kathi a couple days before that should could give us a ride, so I was shocked/angry/frustrated when she said she was too sick to take us. We had an hour before we needed to leave and she could have told me this at any point earlier in the day. Also, it should be noted that by "sick" she really meant "hungover" as she drank an entire bottle of pink wine the night before. So I had really no time to find us another ride to be able to make our train. I went to the teachers room and asked around but none of my teachers were available. Defeated and furious I returned to my room where Nathan was waiting with packed bags to tell him we wouldn't be able to make the trip. But just as I got in the room Marie calls my cell phone. She asked around for me and found another teacher (whom I've never met) to give us a ride. It was a godsend. I went from furious to elated with a tinge of remaining disappointment in Kathi. But we got from Joigny to Caen with ease and barely any wait time to boot. There can be something very relaxing about train travel that I wish we had in the US.

We got to Caen after dark, which I hate getting to new places after dark, but our hotel was right across from the train station and not too difficult to find. It was another Etap hotel chosen out of cheapness. It was slightly better than the Etap hotel I stayed in the Friday before Nathan's arrival, but still smelled pretty bad. Once we checked in and brought our bags upstairs we headed into town to find some dinner. We actually lucked out because we found an awesome crepe restaurant (crepes come from Normandy, as well as many other delicious things like hard cider, Camembert, and calvados) and Nathan had been wanting crepes ever since he got to France. So we had a full meal, with a savory crepe which is a buckwheat flour crepe with ham, cheese, and an egg (very aptly named "The Complete"), a sweet crepe of white flour with butter and sugar, and a half pitcher of Norman cider to go along with them. Probably the best meal we had in Normandy.

The next morning we went to a bakery and super market to stock up on some food since we were heading out to the American Cemetery for the better part of the day. We took the train from Caen to Bayeux and then a bus from Bayeux to the cemetery. The weather was beautiful. I'd been to the cemetery before, this was my fourth time in fact, but it is still impressive and moving. The little museum at the site is very, very well done. And of course just wandering the grounds is an experience in itself. All was going well until we walked down onto the beach and I stepped in what looked to be just wet sand but turned out to be quicksand. I got out quickly but at the expense of the lower half of my pants being covered in wet sand and my shoes looking like brown clogs. Nathan was crying he was laughing so hard. I went and stood in the ocean enough to clean off my shoes and most of my pants but I was still rather dirty. One American girl walking buy just summed it up: "That suuucks." After cleaning them my shoes weren't brown and sandy anymore but my feet stayed wet the rest of the day.

Then we walked from the beach up by the bunker remains below the cemetery. With how beautiful it is at these beaches and with the cement and metal retaken by grasses it is very difficult to actually imagine what happened there on Omaha Beach. It always astounds me that the American Cemetery, like no other place on Earth, makes me feel proudest to be an American.

After standing in the rain for about 45 minutes, Nathan and I got on the bus back to Bayeux. Half way back we were given quite a shock when the 50 something year old male bus driver cranked the radio to Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." I'm not sure if it was just a patch of great reception or this man rocks out to pop during his off time, but either way it was great.

I showed Nathan a little of Bayeux when the bus dropped us off and we had kebabs for dinner. Bayeux is one of my favorite towns in Normandy and I know when my mom visited it was hers as well. It's just quaint enough but still has things to do and accessible to other towns and sites because of the buses and trains. We spent our second and last night in Caen, with one day left to explore Arromanches before heading back to Paris Saturday night. The problem was that we had to check out of the hotel before we visited Arromanches (to get there we also had to take the train to Bayeux and take a bus). I went downstairs in the morning to ask the receptionist if we could just leave our bags here until the afternoon since we had to pass through Caen anyway on our way to Paris. As I was waiting, two loud Algerians come out of the elevator, one with bloodshot eyes and a lit joint. He goes behind the counter and opens all the drawers and says loudly, "There's no money!" Then he tried to hand me his joint but some of it falls on the ground so he bends over and spend about a minute trying to pick it up. At that point I said, "F this" and decided while carrying out bags would be a hassle it would be much safer. We would get lucky once again in Arromanches, however, because one of the hotels (a pretty nice looking one at that) kept our bags for free for the couple hours we had to explore.

Arromanches is a tiny little town who's only real importance is that it was the site of Port Winston, the world's largest prefabricated harbor designed by Winston Churchill to be used for the D-Day invasion (really interesting, I suggest googling it). Nathan and I spent a bunch of time such browsing the military and souvenir shops. We also had calvados with our lunch (hard alcohol made from apples, really good). The only thing Nathan and I actually paid to visit was the 360 degree theater, which is a 25 minute movie in a theater that mostly plays real WWII footage on screens that circle the audience. It's cool, if not a little frustrating because you never know which screen to watch. The view from the bluff on which the theater sits makes the hike worth it in itself. Again we had great weather. I just worried that with everything going right we were bound for some rude surprise soon, and the next opportunity for a rough patch was the hotel in Paris.

I chose a different Etap hotel for the night before Nathan left. This one was close to the airport, being less than a 10 minute free shuttle ride away. But it seemed our bad luck had run its course because this hotel was awesome. It smelled clean and the shower was perfect (a good shower being something you learn not to take for granted in Europe). In the morning we had a great breakfast at the hotel too. I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.

So there you have it, a happy ending to this turbulent story. I hope it wasn't too much rambling and if you read all the way through it congratulations! You get a gold star (imaginary, of course).

I hope you all back home are having a good week. For me, only three more classes until I'm on another two week vacation! It's ok to be jealous...

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