2017 Recap & What’s In Store For 2018

Welp, 2018 is officially underway, and it is certain to be one for the books.  I have a lot in store for this year, but I will get to that shortly.  First, a recap of 2017.  2017 was actually a bit of a slower year for European travel, as the hubs went on a TON of work trips and we traveled to the states over the summer.  Here is a peek at what our year looked like…

Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre, Italy

I just love Italy.  A trip to Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre with some family friends was just what the doctor ordered to cure the mid-February winter blues.

 

 

Solo Trip to Toulouse and Carcassonne, France  

I will be writing a blog about this trip shortly, but it was a peaceful and relaxing (albeit wet) weekend away on my own in France.  The quaint, cobbled streets of Toulouse and beautiful walled city in Carcassonne provided a perfect for a little getaway over spring break.

 

 

Three Weeks In the States: Chicago, Milwaukee, Port Clinton, Columbus

Again, I am in the process of writing this post.  We spent three weeks visiting family and friends in the states, including a night in Chicago, a visit to Brandon’s family in Milwaukee, some time on the lake in Port Clinton, Ohio, and about a week in Columbus, Ohio.  It was a fantastic and exhausting “vacation”; it was wonderful to see so many people!

 

 

Jurassic Coast 

While Brandon was back in the states for a work trip, the kids and I spent the weekend with friends at the Jurassic Coast in southern England.  Our day at Durdle’s Door was gorgeous, while our second day was very wet {but what is a trip in the UK without a little rain, right?}

 

 

Childless London

B and I had a quick, childless trip planned to Aalborg, Denmark in September, but then Ryanair had a massive pilot problem and had to cancel a ton of flights.  So our trip was cancelled.  Since we already had babysitters lined up, we decided to take advantage and spend a night in London on our own.  I heart London.

 

 

Failed Trip To The Lake District

Ugh.  The Lake District has been on my UK bucket list since we have been here.  And alas, it still is.  We had a trip to the Lake District planned for a long weekend in November.  First, Brandon didn’t make it back from TDY to join us, which wasn’t a big deal, but still a bummer.  Then, we set off on a Thursday night, planning to stop about halfway in the Peak District to stay the night.  Well, the kiddos and I were almost to the apartment we were staying in when I hear Benjamin say his belly hurt, then promptly throw up down the front of himself.  I guess the winding, hilly roads of the area didn’t agree with him.  Because I knew much of the rest of the drive was going to be the same, we stayed in the Peak District for the night, then headed back home.  We did get a few great views and some yummy breakfast!

 

 

Winter Wonderland/London

Winter Wonderland in London is always a favorite of mine…what could be better than two of my favorite things: London and CHRISTMAS!  Our family friend was in town again in December, so we spent a Saturday and Sunday exploring London and visiting the beautiful Winter Wonderland!

 

 

Algarve, Portugal

We rounded out 2017 with a trip to beautiful, sunny Algarve, Portugal.  I will also be posting about this before too long, but it involved lots of beautiful colors, gorgeous beaches, and fantastic coastlines!

 

Now for some BIG news!  At the end of the year, we also found out that we will be moving to Okinawa, Japan in the summer!  While we were originally really hoping for the base in Italy, we are beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to explore another part of the world.  I’ve heard absolutely brilliant things about Okinawa, and cannot wait for the big move over the summer!  With that in mind, we I have had some serious European travel panic attacks.  There are still so many places to see and things to do!  {I would say that even if I had been everywhere, but it’s so true!}  I have quite a few trips planned before the move, and a hopefully a few more in the works.  As of now, my travel plans for 2018 include:

  • Berlin and Prague (with hubby, sans children!!) in February
  • Moldova in March (girls trip)
  • Croatia over spring break
  • Colmar, France in late April (another girls trip)

We move in August, and we are hoping to have some family visit before we head out.  Hopefully we will get some travel in with them as well– possibilities include Iceland (dreamy!), Scotland, and Germany.  Thinking waaaay ahead, Taipei, Taiwan might be a possibility in the fall/early winter and of course, exploring our new island home of Okinawa!  [If you don’t know anything about Okinawa, just Google it…alllll the heart eyes!]

Paris: The City of Epic Tantrums and the Eiffel Tower

Was it Audrey Hepburn that said “Paris is always a good idea”?

Well.  She must not have had a 2 year old at the time.

Oh Paris.

While I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience your twinkling lights and beauty, I have to say I was decidedly under-impressed.  Now, this could be for a number of reasons: the chilly winter weather {though I feel I was prepared for this}, the fact that I visited shortly after my swoon-worthy trip to Rome, or, perhaps, the apparent disdain my two-year-old had for you.  {To be fair, Paris is not exactly a two-year-old’s paradise.}  Still, I am not so sure I would’ve been overly impressed with the city even without traveling with my littles.

Paris had been on our “to-do” list since we arrived in Europe over three years ago, mostly just because it was such a high-profile city and we were so close; it seemed silly that we would live here for four+ years and not visit.  We actually won a Paris trip through Brandon’s work Christmas party in 2014, but it fell through several times for various reasons {I am actually quite glad we did our own trip, I think the one they had would’ve been incredibly impractical for our family and traveling style}…  Anyway, we ended up using the money from the prize for a different trip, and figured we would just plan our own Paris trip eventually.  This summer rolled around, and with it, the “one year left” mark for our original date of departure from the U.K.  We freaked out a bit because there was so much of Europe we still wanted to see.  Ergo, us planning back-to-back trips in October, November, and December to some of our top destinations: Normandy, Rome, and Paris.  [Since then, we have been fortunate enough be able to extend our time here in the U.K. at least another year, so our travels will continue, hooray!]

I digress.

Like I said, Paris was on our list mostly just because we felt like we had to go.  Obviously, we were excited at the prospect of seeing such iconic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe, but overall, we kind of went into it knowing we would probably be underwhelmed.  And…we were.  It’s funny though, because after the trip, I posted pictures on Facebook and someone mentioned that it looked like we had a great time.  I didn’t necessarily intend for it to look that way, as I do try to be realistic about our travels {but taking photos of crying babies and toddlers isn’t really my jam}…plus it’s not like it was a horrific trip, it just wasn’t as amazing as many of our others.  But, I was thinking about why I do take photos—and I think I have come to the conclusion that I really just try to capture the essence of the places I visit: the beauty, the ambience, the eccentricities and quirks.  And that is how I more or less remember it, through my photos.  Don’t get me wrong- I will never forget Benjamin’s temper tantrums at the Lourve and Sacre Couer, or how my back ached from the long days of baby wearing and hauling Benjamin around in his stroller.  But having beautiful, meaningful photos does help me put on my rose colored glasses 🙂

Again, I digress.

We planned Paris for my winter break, the week before Christmas {December 20-23}.  This was mostly my doing, as I am a Christmas fanatic and figured if we were going to The City of Lights, why not experience it all lit up for Christmas?  For the first time since we arrived in Europe, we took the Eurostar high speed train from London St. Pancras International train station to Paris Gare du Nord.  I would highly recommend this mode of travel, especially if you have littles!  The train was clean, quick, and felt much more spacious than an airplane, especially since we were able to get seats around a table.  To get to London St. Pancras station, we drove to Stratford International Station, then took the high speed commuter train to St. Pancras– SIX minutes y’all!  That’s it!  Another thing I liked about taking the train is that we only had to be there an hour before our departure time, unlike the two hours for the airport.  At St. Pancras, we grabbed some coffee and a light breakfast and made our way through security to the Eurostar waiting area.  Once our train was called, we followed the crowd, and eventually ended up on the platform, where we had to locate our car number and seats.  Like I said, the seats were spacious, we had a table area, and there was plenty of room for our luggage {oh yes. that. we could basically take as much luggage as we needed…I mean, there are restrictions, but we would’ve had to pack for an army to go over. So glorious!}  The train took a little over two hours (everyone slept most of the way except me, surprise surprise), and it dropped us right in the middle of Paris at the Gare du Nord station.  At this point, it was about 10:30am, and our AirBnB wasn’t ready yet, so we took the metro to Gare de Austerlitz, which was one of the larger stations in Paris and literally right next to our AirBnb.  We stored our bags there, then decided we should go pick up our 2-Day Paris Passes, which I purchased through Viator.  We weren’t sure really about the lay of the land yet, so we figured a cab would be the quickest and easiest way to navigate, since we needed to be back by two to meet with our AirBnB host.  Y’all.  If Viator tells you to print your voucher, DO IT.  AND DON’T FORGET THE PAPERS IN YOUR LUGGAGE THAT IS BEING STORED AT THE TRAIN STATION.  Seriously.  The moment we stepped in the Paris Pass office, I had that dreaded feeling.  I just knew we left the paperwork.  Luckily, the lady there was exceptionally nice and allowed me to {after repeated attempts} email her my voucher, so she could print it and get our Paris Passes sorted out.  I am 100% positive she didn’t believe me when I said I did print them and just left them in our luggage…but guys, I promise I did!  Anyway, we got our passes, which we were going to use Wednesday and Thursday.  By the way, this was our first *Benjamin being a butt* experience– he was super crabby at the office, and at one point, hit his head or something silly like that.

Next order of business was lunch, because we hadn’t eaten since our light breakfast at the train station.  We walked a bit, then hopped in a cab back toward Austerlitz, and found a nice little restaurant right by our apartment.  We ate at Au Soleil d’Austerlitz, where I had pasta with foie gras.  To be honest, I didn’t know what foie gras was before I ordered, I just knew it was a delicacy in France.  It was actually pretty good; even Benjamin had some!  Our timing worked out pretty well, we were able to meet up with our wonderful host and head straight up to our apartment after lunch.

The apartment was wonderful!  It was, like I said, literally right next to Gare de Austerlitz, which made getting everywhere super easy.  It was a studio style apartment, but extremely spacious, with a reallllllly comfortable queen bed and a sofa bed, as well as all the necessary items (kitchen, sightseeing info, table, TV, clean bathroom, etc.).  Our host was great too!  I will mention that the apartment was on the 3(?) floor I believe, and there was no elevator.  We are pretty accustomed to this, so I almost don’t even feel like it’s worth mentioning.  There was an entrance area downstairs (within the locked gated area) that we were able to leave our stroller in, so that was nice.

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Our first adventure of the trip was to see Paris’s star, the iconic Eiffel Tower.  We bought a Skip-The-Line Tour Ticket through Viator, and our tour time was 4:45.  Again, we didn’t really know the lay of the land yet, so we figured we would head out and if we were early, we could wander around a bit.  We took the metro again {super easy to navigate!! just pay attention to the stops, as my French is pretty terrible and what they say doesn’t at all look like what the name is!} and ended up right down the street from the tower.  Ok guys, I am cringing and sweating while writing this, because I feel like I’m about to be judged so hard….when we climbed up the metro stairs to the street level and saw the tower over the buildings along the street, I was…disappointed.  Eek. I know. Cringe.  I just expected it to be so….shiny…and massive….  And it wasn’t.  Granted, we were still a bit away from it, but first impression?  Not so amazing.  [Don’t stop reading my blog because of this, I’m sorry Paris and Eiffel Tower lovers]

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Anyway, we had time to kill, so we walked down to the tower and, of course, took some obligatory selfie(s) and 7 bajillion photos from different angles.  I will say I was much more impressed once we actually reached the tower- it was so grand and sturdy.  I think I expected it to be more delicate and feminine, if that makes sense.  I also am pretty sure I expected it to just be “sitting” on a grass field, and it definitely wasn’t- obviously, it is surrounded by the ticket booths and security checkpoints, as well as some shops.  I finally figured out where our tour was meeting (the next street over), so we headed that way.

Our tour guide was knowledgable and friendly, but the tour wasn’t anything over-the-top amazing.  I mostly booked it so that we could skip the line, which is always good with littles.  We went through security and headed straight to the elevators (you can take the stairs but that was definitely not an option for us!).  Our tour allowed us access up to the second level, and from there, you could choose to purchase tickets to go all the way up.  The elevators are a little crazy–they are at an angle so it feels super strange going up, plus they are pretty big so it feels like there are way too many people in them!  I am normally not fazed by heights, but the Eiffel Tower actually kind of freaked me out.  I think it was because it’s not solid– you can obviously see through all of the beams and, while the beams are sturdy and solid, it still feels kind of…empty…  Anyway, because of this, I was fine stopping at the second level- it would’ve been cool to go all the way up, but I feel like I still got an awesome experience!  By the time we got up, the sun had mostly set, so we got to see the city all lit up.  Our tour guide told us all kinds of really cool things about the city, but I am a horrible listener, so ask my husband 😉  I kind of wish we had gone up during the day too, so I could get some daytime pictures, but we took more obligatory photos, and decided to head back down.

Then, my most favorite part of the Eiffel Tower happened: the lights show!  Every evening on the hour, the tower sparkles with flashing lights, making it appear absolutely magical!  Seriously, it might have been my favorite moment from the whole entire trip!

There was a small Christmas market right by the tower, so we strolled amongst the markets, and ate some German food for dinner [I feel like I always do this; my first meal in a foreign country is always something distinctly not from that country…haha]  We finally made our way back to the apartment to wind down and relax after our long day.

Our second day in the city started off with croissants and coffee from a cafe downstairs from our apartment, then we took the metro toward the museum area.  We meandered our way around the city a bit, allowing us to see some of those iconic Paris sights: the Paris Eye and obelisk, the giant roundabout, Champes Elysees, etc…  We used our Paris Pass to go to the Lourve.  The pass came with a skip-the-line deal, but I think we would’ve been ushered to the front anyway with the kiddos in tow.  The Lourve is HUUUUUUGEEEEE.  I mean. GIGANTIC.  And beautiful, inside and out!  It is absolutely an art-lover’s dream, thought we didn’t get to enjoy it much.  Benjamin was being his two-year-old self and only wanted to run around and look out the windows.  We got to see a few sections, and of course, stopped in to say hi to Mona.  She’s so tiny, it’s crazy!  And the room is just swarming with tourists.  But we had to say hello and take our photo!  This is definitely a place I would like to revisit when the kids are on another continent  older, or staying with their grandparents, perhaps 🙂

The Big Bus Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour was included in our Paris Pass, so we hopped on after the Lourve and rode around for a good bit of the afternoon.  It was nice to sit and take in the city from the bus, and Benjamin even got in a bit of a much-needed nap.  I like the bus tours, as they give great information, provide an easy way to get to and from all of the main attractions, give us a good idea of the layout of the city, and Benjamin loves busses!  There are two routes for the Big Bus, so while on this route, we drove by Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, the National Assembly, Obelisk, Paris Eye, Champs Eylsees, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Hotel des Invalides, and Opera Garnier.  We hopped off at the Opera Garnier stop, as we were starving.  We had a delicious lunch at a nearby cafe, then tried to go into the Opera house.  Unfortunately it was closed to public for the evening, so we got back on the Big Bus and headed for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was gorgeous.  We have been to many, many cathedrals, churches, etc. during our travels, and this definitely ranks up there.  It was dark by the time we got there, so it was all lit up and decorated for Christmas.  After taking a peek inside, we walked across the street to check out a small Christmas market, as well as the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.  I only stole a small glimpse inside, but I’d love to go back and peruse their shelves and sip a coffee there!

Thursday we decided to get back on the Big Bus Tour, on the other route, up toward Montmartre.  We had to upgrade our passes for 10 euro in order to keep a second all-day bus pass, which was well worth it for us with the littles!  We passed by the Moulin Rouge (we passed on going in), then stopped near Sacré-Cœur, located high above the rest of Paris, giving amazing views of the city.  We wandered through Montmartre, and stumbled upon an “I love you” mural (where approximately 37,592 Asian tourists were taking 342,341,565,475,678,456 selfies in varying poses).

After a few selfies ourselves, we made our way back to Sacré-Cœur.  I absolutely love the look of Sacré-Cœur.  It’s unique and strong and beautiful and welcoming all at once.  You can climb the stairs to get to the basilica, or you can take a little tram up there, which is what we did–bonus: it was included in our all-day public transportation pass 🙂  It was a misty, gray day, so the views of Paris were okay, but not as good as they could’ve been.  We headed inside the basilica, but Benjamin decided he wanted to throw a tantrum, so I took him outside while B looked around inside.  {Yet another place in Paris I’d like to truly get to see!}  We took the tram back down and ate lunch at Le Studio Cafe, which was right across the street from Sacré-Cœur.  While I am not normally one to eat so close to a tourist hotspot, it was actually pretty good, and we had a great view of the basilica while we ate!

Once our bellies were full, we wandered our way to Gare du Nord, where we were able to get back on the Big Bus.  [By the way, Benjamin was being a crankypants toddler pretty much the whole time, and finally fell asleep as we were waiting for the bus.]  We got off by the Opera house again, and while walking to it, found a candy store with some delicious chocolate 😀  We tried visiting the Opera house again, but the tours that were included in our Paris Pass had sold out for the day by the time we got there 😦  We were super bummed!

Instead, we made our way to the Musee d’Orsay, which was on my list of things to do for sure.  I loved it.  First, it’s in an old train station-SO.COOL.  Plus it has more contemporary stuff, including some stuff from Cezanne, Van Gogh, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Another thing I realllllllly wanted to do while in Paris near Christmastime was visit the Christmas market on Champs-Elysées.  I tried some white vin chad {mulled wine}, which I promptly threw out.  I have tried several types of mulled wine, and have not enjoyed a single one, much to my chagrin.  It’s apparently just not my thing.  Anyway, we devoured some yummy market snacks, “window”-shopped, and let Benjamin ride a motorcycle on the carousel.  By the time we had made it up and down the avenue, it was almost time for the Eiffel Tower light show, so we hung out a few minutes to see it from afar.  Once again, it did not disappoint!  To this day, Benjamin talks about the Eiffel Tower, watches the video on my phone, and points it out in any photo or image whenever he sees it!

It was getting late, so we headed back toward the apartment, and ate dinner at a nearby restaurant before packing up our stuff at the apartment.

In the morning, we gathered our luggage and took it to be stored at Gare du Nord, as we had to be out of our apartment by midday, yet our train wasn’t until evening.  We aimlessly wandered about for a bit [my favorite way to explore], and found the most amazing little lunch spot:  La Maison Bleue.  It was definitely my favorite meal of the entire trip!

We were on a mission that afternoon to find a Seine river boat cruise, and walked alllllllll along the river looking for one.  I love the little bouquinistes (street booksellers) along the river, which have been around since the 15th century.  We ended up getting some street art along the river to add to our travel collection.

We stumbled upon one of the love lock bridges, where we also finally found a river boat cruise at Pont-Neuf.  The cruise was about an hour long and allowed views of all of the major attractions in Paris.  It was interesting to see everything from a different perspective, and nice to be able to relax on the heated boat!  They also gave a ton of in-depth info about everything we saw.  It was extra fantastic because Benjamin absolutely LOVED the boat- he ran around from front to back, up and down, side to side, watching everything.  I think my favorite view of Notre Dame was actually from the boat tour!  I am so glad we decided to do the tour, it was probably a highlight for everyone in our family!

Finally, we had a snack and coffee before heading back to the train station to catch the Eurostar back to London.

Normandy, France: A Bittersweet Weekend Away

Normandy, France has been on our “must see before we leave Europe list” since we arrived in the UK in 2013.  B is a huge history buff, and being affiliated with the military, we just knew it was something we had to see.  Normandy is not actually terribly far away, so we could’ve driven if we had wanted, but I found flights on Ryanair for like $8 apiece and jumped on them right away.  This was Marybel’s first flight, so I was interested to see how traveling as a family of four would go.  Overall, I think the long weekend (Columbus Day) was incredibly meaningful and memorable, and the kiddos did amazing, especially with the amount of car travel we did.

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**I am going to admit outright that I am terrible with history/names/dates/etc., so I apologize in advance for minimal information and/or if I inadvertantly make a mistake.  I will do my best to post the most accurate information and links to more thorough details regarding everything we saw.

We flew from London Stansted to Deauville-Normandy airport, which is definitely one of the smaller airports I have ever been in!  This was our first time ever renting a car for our travels, but it was necessary in the Normandy area, as everything we planned to see was pretty spread out.  I booked the car through Ryanair when I purchased our flights, and picked up the car at the airport upon arrival.  The only downside to renting a car whilst traveling is bringing two carseats for our littles.  I have used meet and greet services before at the Stansted airport, but didn’t this time, and immediately regretted it.  It would’ve been worth it to pay the little bit extra to not have to lug our checked suitcase (we almost always check a bag nowadays with two littles, it is just easier in the airport and on the plane), diaper bag, backpack, Benjamin in the stroller, Marybel in the Lillebaby, and both carseats through parking lots, on and off the shuttle, and up to the check-in desk.

Anyway, some friends of ours were traveling in the area as well and were on the same flight, so we both picked up our cars, then headed toward the town of Caen.  One of my college roommates had been traveling around Europe for a few months, and we made plans to meet up in Normandy, so we were picking her up at the train station in Caen.  The city isn’t terribly large, but it took us a bit to find the train station [I blame this on a number of things: lack of sleep, signs being in French, driving a rental car on the opposite side of the road, etc.].  Anyway, we finally found her, got ourselves situated back in the car {it was a little like playing Tetris with our luggage, two carseats/kiddos, and three adults, but we did it!}.  B really wanted to do a cheese tour while we were in Normandy, so that was our first destination.  We headed to Camembert, an agricultural town housing a museum and gift shop/cheese tasting area for the Camembert cheeses.  It was about 45 minutes from Caen, winding through vast farmlands and cute towns.  We skipped the museum (much to the chagrin of the worker there, even though we technically paid for the museum fee so that we could do the tasting), and dove straight into the tastings.  We were each given three different cheeses, served atop bread slices.  I personally enjoyed all three varieties, as did my college roommate.  The others liked two out of the three, but were completely turned off by the very pungent smell and strong taste of the third.  I like to think that I must have an exceptionally mature palate, which is why I enjoyed all varieties 😛

Other than our cheeses, we hadn’t eaten much all day, so the next thing on our agenda was to check into our AirBnB and find some dinner.  When I first booked accommodations, I didn’t know that my roommate would be meeting up with us; luckily I had booked a place that could sleep up to four adults.  The AirBnB we booked was an adorable flat in the tiny seaside town of Langrune-Sur-Mer (sorry, no English translation).  Our host was incredible–she was very welcoming, gave us lots of suggestions and information, and the flat even had a pack and play (cot), high chair, and books and toys, which my little guy loved!  It was cozy, with a small living area and kitchen, one bedroom with a large bed, and one bedroom with bunkbeds.  I loved that it was in a secure gated area also.

Once we got settled, we decided to walk around the town to see if we could find somewhere to eat.  Our legs needed to stretch out after being in a plane and car all day.  Unfortunately we are not ‘European enough’ to eat dinner late, so we didn’t find anything in our town open for dinner yet [not that there were tons of options anyway since it was such a small town!].  We ended up back in the car, and drove to the next town over, Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.  We ended up at a yummy pizza place, La Mama.  After dinner, we picked up some wine and headed back to the apartment so that us adults could catch up with each other and the babes could sleep.

Saturday was to be our “D-Day day”, and we had a lot we hoped to see.  The Normandy area is huge.  There is SOO much to see, from Mont St. Michel to the D-Day sights to Monet’s garden.  I knew we weren’t going to be able to see it all, so we made a plan to start with our “must-sees” and work our way back toward the AirBnB.

Our itinerary for Saturday ended up being: Saint-Mere-Elise/Airborne Museum —> Utah Beach —> American Military Cemetery —> Omaha Beach —> Pointe-du-Hoc

We started the day at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, which was one of the first towns to be liberated in the D-Day invasions.  The highlights were the church and the Airborne Museum.  The church displays a dummy of the American paratrooper John Steele, who landed on the church during the invasion, and played dead so that German troops wouldn’t shoot him.  He ended up being taken prisoner by the Germans, but later escaped and rejoined the Allies.  The Airborne Museum was really cool and interactive, I would highly recommend visiting!  There were several buildings that housed different parts of the museum.  We walked through model planes amongst life-sized soldiers, saw paraphernalia from the D-Day invasions, and even got to “feel the wind” as we were able to *experience* what it would be like to be a paratrooper during the invasions.  Benjamin wanted nothing to do with that part of the museum (and I would advise parents not to take very young children through it, as it is a bit overwhelming; our friends’ 2.5 year old did okay, but was still a little bit frightened by it), so B and I took turns.

Next, we made our way to Utah Beach, one of the American beaches.  It was, in essence, just a beach, but there were memorials, and it was surreal to be standing on the very same beaches these young men stormed so many years ago.  After taking a moment to let it all sink in, we decided to move to our next destination: the American Military Cemetery.

The cemetery makes the whole experience of Normandy incredibly real.  The sheer number of crosses and vast expanse of land dedicated to the cemetery is overwhelming and humbling.  As I write this, I find myself having a difficult time finding the words to even express the experience.  Hopefully my photos will help, otherwise, I hope you get the opportunity to visit this area one day.

Omaha Beach was next on our tour, the other American beach.  Again, it is another beach with memorials and reminders of its grim past, but being there was just so strange and trying to put into words how it felt is beyond me.

It was getting late in the day, and we had only really snacked throughout the day, so we were all getting hungry.  However, we really wanted to see Pointe-Du-Hoc, as it was highly recommended by many.  We made our way there, and I was so glad we went.  Please take some time to read about the invasions and all of the places I am mentioning, as they are all worth it.  I cannot adequately describe these places and events in a few sentences.  At Pointe-Du-Hoc, we saw the cratered cliffs and were able to go into some of the German areas of fortification.  The views were also pretty incredible.

After our long day of heavy and powerful sightseeing, we decided we would head back to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer for dinner again.  As I mentioned, the sights throughout Normandy are fairly spread out, so we had done a lot of driving, walking, and hauling the kids in and out of the car.  They did absolutely incredible…..until our drive to dinner.  We were still about 30-45 minutes away from the town when all hell broke loose in our car.  Marybel was hungry and crying, and Benjamin thought it would be funny to mimic her cries, so he was both screaming and laughing for most of the ride.  I felt awful for my college roommate, who was sitting between them in the back seat.  I’m sure I scarred her for life and provided the best birth control ever!  We finally made it back to the town, and settled on Les Gourmands Disent for dinner.  We all enjoyed both dinner crepes and dessert crepes!  Delicious!  Once again, we ended our night with some wine and good conversation.

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Sunday was another full day of sightseeing, with lots of time in the car again.  The plan was to head to Mont St. Michel in the morning, then squeeze in anything we felt we missed the previous day in the afternoon.  I had heard from friends who had visited Mont St. Michel that it was incredibly beautiful from the outside, but that the inside was nothing super special and that it was usually packed elbow to elbow, as the pathways were super narrow.  We had all decided that we would see how we were feeling when we arrive as to whether or not we would venture inside.

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The drive from Langrune-Sur-Mer to Mont St. Michel was about an hour and half.  You could start to see the island from quite a bit out, as it is set up so high.  It’s magnificent to see in real life!  I think we pulled over at least twice to take photos from afar before we even got to the parking lot.  The island is sometimes surrounded by water, other times not, depending on the tide.  We all arrived at the visitor center around 10:30am, and immediately agreed that we should definitely go inside the small village.  Luckily, the employee at the visitor center advised us not to bring our stroller, as the pathways were steep and cobblestone.  I carried Marybel in the Lillebaby, and Benjamin half walked, half rode on daddy’s shoulders.

**As a side note, we used to have an Ergo baby carrier, but sold it and bought the Lillebaby mesh once Marybel was born.  I loved my Ergo, but I like that the Lille can be used from birth (8lbs and up) without an insert, can forward face (only recommended for short periods of time), and that it is the mesh version, so it is much more breathable than the Ergo.

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Anyway, there are several ways to get from the visitor center to the island; you can walk, take a free shuttle bus, or arrive by horse and carriage for €5.30.  We chose to truly live in the moment and took a horse and carriage ride.  Not only did the kiddos love it, it gave fantastic views along the way.  Had we known French, we probably could’ve learned a whole lot along the way as well 🙂  I think if we had unlimited time and didn’t have the kids, we might have walked out there, just for the experience.  The whole area is just breathtaking.

Once inside the walled village, we mostly just wandered and took a ton of pictures.  While I could totally imagine that it could get packed in the high tourist season, I am so glad we went in for the full experience.  The town was adorable (though most of the restaurants and shops were super overpriced), and there were some really great photo ops.  Since we were kind of on the shoulder/off-season, it was busy, but not terribly packed.  Before heading out, we stopped at a little restaurant (I don’t know what it was called 😦 ), where I had the most delicious omelette!

**Here is a picture of Benjamin having one of his epic “silent tantrums” on our walk back to catch the shuttle bus to the parking lot….

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As we headed back toward the area of Langrune-Sur-Mer, we discussed what D-Day sights we felt like we missed out on from the previous day, and all agreed that we would like to see the German Military Cemetery.  My roommate had been told to go to both the American and German cemeteries, if only to compare the two.  Both the kiddos fell asleep on the drive to the cemetery, so B and I took turns checking out the grounds.  It certainly was different from the American cemetery.  While it was kept neat and nice just like the other one, the grave markers were simple, small plaques on the ground, rather than the pristine white crosses, and most of the plaques indicated two fallen soldiers, rather than just one.  I’m glad we experienced this sight, I think it was important to see the “other side”.

From there, we had absolutely no agenda, so we just sort of drove around, looking for signs for interesting D-Day sights.  We ended up at Arromanches, which was used as a portable harbour for the Allied forces.  The beach here was recently used as the location for a memorial art installation in which two British artists (along with volunteers) etched 9000 life-size silhouettes in the sand, representing those who lost their lives on D-Day.  The images from the installation are stunning!  We stopped at a lookout area, then headed town to the actual town.  The town was adorable, and the beach was beautiful, especially in the late afternoon lighting.  While many of the towns and memorials paid tribute to the United States and Allied forces, this town in particular paid a great deal of respect with lots of signs and memorabilia.  We had a yummy dinner [and dessert] at Au 6 Juin {note the reference to D-Day!} before we drove back to our apartment.

That evening was spent packing up and drinking yet more wine.  The following morning, we had to drop my roommate back off in Caen to catch the train before we headed back to the airport to go back home.

**I don’t really want to end this post on a bad note, as we had such an amazing, meaningful weekend in Normandy, but our experience at the airport heading back was less than fabulous.  First, we tried to return our rental car, but no one was at the rental place, so we couldn’t figure out how to get it back to where it belonged.  Finally, our friend found a code for the gated parking lot on the rental agreement (which we were NOT informed of when we picked up the car).  While the boys parked the cars, the girls got everything prepped for security and VISA checks with the littles.  Security was a nightmare.  As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Deauville’s airport was tiny.  The line for security was literally one teensy, tiny room with one scanner.  We thought we had everything ready (bags/coats/etc in bins, iPad out of the backpack, belts off, items out of pockets, etc.).  Marybel was in the carrier, as she was on the way through security at London Stansted, and I still had my boots on, just as I had in London.  We had Benjamin out of the stroller, as they usually have us push the stroller through, then carry him through with us.  Well, they first made us take our iPad out of the case.  No biggie.  Then, they told me I couldn’t wear Marybel through, I had to take her out of the carrier, take the carrier off and send it through the machine, and take my boots off before coming through.  Meanwhile, they made us fold up the stroller, then Benjamin had to walk through on his own {not a huge deal, as one of us was on each side, but still super annoying as he was already cranky and upset}.  They wanted to pat me down, so once the stroller was through, I unfolded it to put Marybel in it for a few minutes so that I could get patted down and put my shoes back on.  Well, while I was doing that, they took Brandon aside as well to get patted down, so Benjamin was trying to climb in “his” stroller with Marybel, and most of the workers didn’t speak English, so we struggled to ask them if one of us could go get the kiddos and then switch once the other was finished.  Finally, we were able to put all of our stuff back tougher and get Marybel back in the carrier just in time to get on the plane.  It was by far the worst experience I have had at an airport, and I have been to many, many airports in my travels!

That aside, our weekend in Normandy was fantastic, given the atmosphere of the visit.  I am so glad we were able to experience this incredibly important historical place; it is something I will never forget.