For some of us in the United States, this has been the longest winter ever! Extremely cold temperatures and record snowfalls have continued for months now. These four boys and a girl have been like caged animals during this seemingly never ending winter. That is why we are especially grateful for our much needed spring break to Hawaii.
Beyond the warm weather, sunshine and beauty of the islands, we were drawn to Hawaii for this vacation because we wanted to spend it with Uncle Stew and Auntie Kim. Lucky for us, Hawaii happens to be be a perfect halfway meeting point between Shanghai and Chicago.
After a nine hour direct flight from Chicago to Oahu, then a quick 45 minute flight between the islands, we arrive in Maui. Aloha!
Our final day in Paris, we made our way to the “love lock” bridge over the river Seine. The padlock we placed on the bridge is locked and the key subsequently thrown in the water to symbolize unbreakable love. Ours was inscribed not with our own initials, but those of the five of us, because next time we are in Paris we will most certainly be four boys and a girl. Au revoir.
This is the title of the bronze statue that proudly rises above the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It overlooks the pristine grounds of the cemetery where the remains of 9,387 American military servicemen are buried. Their final resting place is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel.
The names of 1,557 additional Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign but could not be located or identified are inscribed on the walls of a semicircular garden near the memorial.
An expansive wall within the memorial depicts the landings at Normandy.
France has granted the United States a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery, free of any charge or tax. The cemetery is managed and meticulously maintained by the American government.
It was an absolute privilege and an honor to be there May 8th, Victory in Europe Day. We witnessed the flag lowering ceremony, and proudly watched as American servicemen who fought so bravely for our country helped to lower the American flag which flies above this sacred memorial.
Although France is known for its vineyards and wine, the Normandy region has a climate in which apples grow and thrive. This major apple-growing area in Normandy is situated in and around Calvados, whose beaches were the main staging area for the D-Day Landing and whose landscape was a central battle zone throughout the Invasion of Normandy.
Cidre bouche (literal translation meaning “cider under cork”) and Calvados (apple brandy) are made and served at the Lebrec family estate and orchard. We were fortunate enough to make a stop here to visit and taste.
Beyond enjoying this family’s hospitality and delicious spirits, part of the home is open to the public, and on display is an array of artifacts from the battles that took place on their property during the war. Their home was also used at one point as a headquarters for a combat battalion.
Merci to la famille Lebrec!
We travel with our tour group on various World War II vehicles from Omaha Beach to Pointe du Hoc along the Normandy coast.
Remnants of prefabricated bridges towed in pieces across the English Channel by the Allied troops and assembled just off shore.
The Atlantic Wall was a system of fortifications built by Nazi Germany along the western coast of Europe as a defense against an anticipated Allied invasion. The Wall primarily consisted of batteries, bunkers, and minefields. As part of the Atlantic Wall, the prominent clifftop location known as Pointe du Hoc was fortified by the Germans. On D-Day, the United States Army Ranger Assault Group successfully assaulted Point du Hoc after scaling the cliffs there.
Gaping craters in the earth remain where American bombs landed scattering pieces of steel reinforced concrete from German bunkers.
Next stop would be Omaha Beach. This is one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. Omaha is 5 miles long and faces the English Channel. To say that it was powerful to stand on this beach is an understatement. All I have known of the Allied landing on Omaha Beach is from documentaries and Hollywood reproductions like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan. To be there that day, however, it was serene and peaceful; difficult to imagine the horror and violence that took place there.
Our guide held photos from the D Day invasion as we could only imagine the how the brave young men would have been feeling as they landed on the beach that day.
The basic geography of the beach has not changed, and the remains of the German coastal defenses can still be visited.
Monuments stand as important reminders…
One of the greatest highlights of this trip would be our visit to Normandy. A bucket list item for sure, we decided that a side trip from Paris to Normandy was a must. Making this experience even more significant was the fact that we would make this journey on VE Day or Victory in Europe Day. This is a public holiday that marks the date that the World War II Allies accepted the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, thus ending the war in Europe.
We began our tour at the Le Memorial de Caen, a museum and war memorial in Caen Normandy. The main part of the museum features an exhibit which focuses on world events and causes leading to the war and the course of the conflict. We also watched a short yet powerful film on D-Day recounting the Normandy landings on June 4, 1944. This was a meaningful and worthwhile starting point for our day in Normandy.
Even the inside of the metro train car is covered in art.
A most charming and famous bookstore. Many well known writers and aspiring artists were given shelter here in exchange for their labor shelving books.
The column in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where Princess Diana tragically lost her life. It happened to be the 13th column.
Hanging inside a coffee shop.
Lost in translation. This is an advertisement for the movie Hangover 3.