Friday, October 9, 2009

Guest blogger Kayce-Reflects on her first trip to Europe

First of all, I want to take this opportunity to thank Marisa and Justin for opening up their wonderful home, and traveling around Germany and France with me! It was truly an experience I will never forget, and get ready, because I’m already planning my return trip next year!!!

I’ve had a few days to digest my wonderful trip, and I’m slowly coming back to reality. When Marisa and Justin asked me to be a “guest blogge”r and describe my trip, I immediately started thinking of ways to capture the trip in words, without overwhelming you with long paragraphs. Since I’m a list maker, what better way than to make a list!?!? So here goes…I’ll wrap it up at the end with some brief commentary on my trip to Normandy, and round it out with some pictures!

My 3 favorite things about Frankfurt

  1. The Frankfurt on Foot tour: Our tour guide Dave, who’s an American, was awesome! We walked around the city for almost 5 hours, and learned so much about Frankfurt’s history
  2. The Eintracht Soccer game: I’m not even going to pretend to be a soccer fan (no way…not this Auburn girl), but to experience European soccer first hand was pretty outstanding
  3. Dom Romer: The Dom Romer is the city square in the middle of Frankfurt. One of my favorite memories from the trip was when we sat outside and had an afternoon Hefewiesen and chatted the afternoon away.

My 3 favorite things about Munich
  1. Oktoberfest: Without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip. It was pure fun…complete with liter beers, tons of laughter, new friends, and old friends. Shoot, even the headache accumulated from the morning/afternoon activities ended up being funny
  2. The Hofbrauhaus: If you ever get the opportunity to go to the Hofbrauhaus please go! My only advice…don’t get the original Pilsner. I had major beer envy once I tasted all the others.
  3. Dachau Concentration Camp: It’s tough to put this under “My favorite things…” category, but my father is Jewish, and the Holocaust hits close to home. This was truly a very real and reflective afternoon for me, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have seen a place where so much evil and brutality existed, but to see the resilience of the Jewish people despite the atrocities.

My 3 favorite things about Paris:
  1. The Eiffel Tower: On our first night in Paris, Marisa, Ethan and I bought wine, bread, cheese, and chocolate and sat at the base of the Tower and waited for it to light up. From the great conversation to the French wine to the glistening lights…it was fabulous
  2. Versailles: Ok, technically Versailles isn’t in Paris, but close enough. The palace was amazing, and the audio tour rocked!
  3. Musee de Orsay: Van Gough + Monet + Manet = spectacular! To see Van Gough’s self-portrait with my own eyes was awesome!

My 3 favorite foods
  1. The German schnitzel
  2. The French baguette from Versailles
  3. The chocolate croissants from both countries
 My 3 least favorite foods
  1. The leberkasee: It was so revolting. It literally translates to “liver cheese.” Enough said
  2. The “green sauce”: a weird mint green sauce toped with hard boiled eggs…ick!
  3. The coffee: I know it’s technically not a food, but I sure did miss my Starbucks
 My 3 least favorite things about Europe
  1. What they say is true…the French stink. Words cannot describe the stench on the Paris Metro
  2. Coke and water was at least 3 euro at every restaurant. I tried not to cringe every time I ordered.
  3. The lack of college football: I know I’m being nitpicky, but I was dying not knowing the Saturday college football scores.
 The 3 biggest surprises
  1. I loved the Roudin Museum in Paris. Who knew I had such an appreciation for sculpting?
  2. They don’t take credit cards like we do here in the US (i.e. for small dollar purchases). It was pretty apparent that I needed more cash once I arrived
  3. The efficiency of the Subways: I don’t think we waited more than 5 minutes for any train
 Finally, after Marisa left Paris, Ethan and I had the opportunity to spend the day in the Normandy region of France. After a 2 hour train ride from Paris to Caen, then another short train ride to the town of Bayuex, we arrived around 9:30 AM. We ended up getting a taxi service to take us to the beaches, and we had a driver who spoke zero English and drove like a maniac! It was quite an interesting start to the day.

Our first stop was the American Cemetery, which honors the American soldiers who died during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The Cemetery is actually owned, operated, and maintained by the United States government. Before arriving at the cemetery, you walk through a museum that is dedicated to the events leading up the invasion of Normandy, the invasion itself, and the subsequent European liberation that followed. I found myself feeling very emotional in the museum, but nothing prepared me for the feeling I had when I saw the cemetery. The grounds are beautifully maintained and each headstone is marked with either a cross or a Star of David honoring the soldier’s faith. I walked around the grounds with tears freely flowing as I thought of the bravery those men faced that day. It was truly a remarkable experience, and is one of the highlights of the entire trip. I almost feel like I would be doing the cemetery a disservice by trying to put it into words. All I can say is it was an emotion I was unprepared for and I felt extreme pride for the men and women who gave their life for our country.

After the Cemetery, we made our way to Omaha Beach, which was the deadliest of all the Normandy landings, and was compiled almost entirely of American soldiers. If you have ever seen Saving Private Ryan, the first 25 minutes of the movie depicts the Omaha Beach landing. There was a small memorial on the beach, as well as a surviving gun bunker. It was pretty amazing to actually stand on the beach. Looking back, I wish I would’ve put my feet in the water, but I didn’t think about it at the time. We were only there for about 20 minutes, but it was long enough. Again, the overwhelming emotions I experienced made this a truly remarkable visit.

From Omaha Beach, we made our way back to Bayeux and went to see the Bayeux Tapestry, which dates back to 1066 and chronicles the rise of William the Conqueror. We did the audio guide as we walked around the tapestry and it told the story of the Norman Conquest. I loved it! The tapestry actually looks a little cartoonish, and the commentary on the audio tour was funny at times, but it was a neat stop in the middle of our World War II influenced tour. Also, the town of Bayeux is absolutely gorgeous. I was amazed at just how old everything was. It makes our “old” antebellum mansions here in Georgia look pretty silly in comparison.

After a quick lunch of quiche overlooking the Bayeux Cathedral, we made our way back to Caen to visit the Memorial Museum of Peace. I was slightly disappointed in the museum. I was hoping it would be more D-Day specific, but it discussed World War II from a much broader perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but if I could go back, I would spend longer in the American Cemetery Museum.

My one piece of advice for anyone considering a Normandy trip would be to spend a few days there. While I am so incredibly happy I had the opportunity to visit, I wish I could’ve had an extra day to really take in all of the museums and memorial sites. If the others were anything like the American Cemetery or Omaha Beach then they’re worth visiting as well.

So…that’s it! That’s the Reader’s Digest version of my European Adventure. I had an AMAZING time and I can’t wait to go back.
Kayce Stein
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