Our two weeks around France, touching into Germany, Switzerland, and Italy was fun, but we are officially broke and we will be eating Ramen until the first of the next month! It was well worth it though! We left the boat in Brest, France on the Northwest corner of the country. Brest isn't a super exciting town, but it has a safe marina that isn't too expensive and it is a good jumping off point to explore a little of the continent. We stopped in Saint Malo, a beautiful walled city with one of the most beautiful cathedrals I had ever seen (that is until I got to the next town, French cathedrals are amazing). It had been rebuilt having been mostly reduced to rubble in 1944. We had fun walking the ramparts despite the torrential rain.
After visiting St. Malo we drove a short distance to some of the D-day sites. The historic importance of these sites is still a significant presence in this part of France. Although visited, the sites are strangely quiet, as many of the veterans from this era are no longer with us and able to visit. Our first site was Omaha Beach, where the most brutal of the D-Day fighting occurred. It is hard to imagine the scene here during the fighting, today it is a serene 7 mile beach and quiet little beachside town. We also visited the American Cemetery and the importance of the site is palpable even today. 9500 Americans are buried at this site, which only accounts for about 40% of those killed in Normandy, the others were repatriated at the request of their families. We walked through the perfect rows of crosses and stars of David and pondered how many mothers lost their sons, how many wives lost their husbands and how many smiles the world lost on June 6, 1944 and the days that followed. It was a very somber afternoon to say the least.
After a quiet evening of reflection the following morning we were back in tourist mode and Versailles and Paris were our next stops. Paris was a definite hit, although it certainly has a different feel when you are trying to cater to the interests of kids. I attended a sunrise mass at Notre Dame, which was pretty spectacular to be in the church as the sun started to shine through the brilliant stained glass rose windows. Later Mike took the kids to the war museum, which they loved. Apparently their collection of medieval armor is fantastic. The museum also houses the tomb of Napoleon. In the afternoon we climbed as far up the Eiffel Tower as we could and it only took 68 peanut m&m's to bribe Ana up all the stairs. Actually Kena was great in Paris, she walked all the way from our hotel to Notre Dame, to the war museum, to the tower, by way of the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees. The boys and Mike toured the catacombs and saw the bones of 6 million Parisian's. They check your bag when you go into the catacombs beneath the city and they check your bag as you leave. I wondered who would want to take something from down there, but as the boys were leaving, police had been called because someone had tried to steal a skull. Ew! While in Paris we had some nice French meals, some good red wine and plenty of cheese and baguettes. We decided we are going to do a no carb, dairy or gluten product left behind diet through France. Zander judges countries by their food, and France was up at the top of his list.
From Paris we drove to Dusseldorf where we spent two days with one of Mike's good high school friends. He happens to be a Ferrari enthusiast, with a garage full of cars, and he has an 11 year old son, so needless to say Porter was a happy camper. It is always great seeing friends as we travel, but this was particularly sweet as Mike hadn't seen his friend in almost 25 years.
We then drove down the auto ban (and of course we had to test the engine on our small little rental car) to Hiedelberg and the Black Forest. Hiedelberg was a charming city and located further south in Germany, it managed to escape much of the Allied bombings. Most of the towns in Northern Germany were leveled and retain very little of their original buildings and grandeur.
South of Germany we drove through a little of Switzerland. Every time you pass a bend in the road in Switzerland, the scenery is more beautiful than the bend before. We passed villages, with steeped churches, clinging to the side of verdant peak, as perfect as any postcard. We drove up through the St. Bernard Pass, along the old highway, foregoing the tunnel through the pass. Historically the pass is significant as Romans used the road to invade the north and Napoleon even crossed the Mountains here going south. During the winter when the snows block the road, travelers could take refuge at the monastery at the top of the pass. Even today if you walk from the bottom they will give you a place to stay. This is also where St. Bernard dogs were traditionally raised as they were good rescue dogs. The pass was foggy and dusted with snow, but we had a small snowball fight and called it our one hour of winter this year. From the pass we descended into Italy where more chalets dotted the alpine slopes and every view was more lovely than the last. Chamonix was our last mountain stop and unfortunately it was covered in clouds and we weren't able to see Mount Blanc. Instead we indulged in Fondue and other cheesy dishes.
The last few days of our trip found us in Provence, France and then the medieval city of Carcassonne before heading back to Brest.
The trip as a whole was mostly awesome. We weren't without our fights over who had to sit in the middle seat, who got the roll away bed, etc., (and then of course there were the squabbles between the kids) but all in all we enjoyed our foray on the continent.
Its funny to hear what the kids get from these trips. There are the obligatory reports they have to write, they now know a lot about WWII, Napoleon, Notre Dame among other things and it amuses me to hear Kena say, when she sees a picture of the Arc de Triomphe on a book cover in the bookstore, isn't that the arch that Napoleon built for his armies? It will be interesting to see what she comes away with from this trip. But the boys sure have different highlights than I would have picked. Both boys were fascinated by the way the French use a different typing pattern on their computers to adjust for two fingers holding a cigarette, Porter loved getting "bone juice" from the catacombs on his shoe and all three love the chocolate croissants and speeding on the auto ban.
We are now headed back to Brest where we will ready the boat for a trip across the Bay of Biscay to Spain.
The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.
Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.
Our favorite sailing quote:
"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron