Feeling very lucky and grateful that I had the presence of mind this morning to click the “Travel Documents May Be Required” button as I was printing our tickets for China. After all the countries we visited this year, HOW could it not occur to us that we needed a visa to enter China! So, three hours later after filling out over 30 pages of forms and printing copies of all of our passports, hotels, flights, contacts, etc..we rush down to the Embassy and prayed we could get an “urgent” order – we leave on Thursday! We had been warned that the China Embassy was very disorganized and we could wait for hours. To the contrary! We were greeted at the entrance where our documents were reviewed for completeness, given a computer generated queue number, and showed to the waiting area. We were number 3 in line and out of there in 20 mins. And, our visa would be ready at 9am in the morning! Downside…urgent processing fee cost an extra $100 per visa – ouch! I guess it could be worse…loss of all the deposits and air fair costs if we couldn’t get to China. So, Bob and I breathed a sigh of relief and did a little “high 5″ as we left the building. Great team work even if our brains were on autopilot.
One day a week or so ago, we were going out the front door and heard this loud honking noise from a car on our street. Bob walked out to see what was going on and found that it was the mail carrier trying to deliver a package to us but couldn’t get into the gate. Bob brought the box back to the house and the boys opened it on the table. What a surprise when they found it full of halloween candy, rubber spiders, eyeball bouncing balls, fake mustaches, and other crazy disguises. Our lovely renters back in California sent the boys a halloween care package! How nice is that! They don’t celebrate halloween here in France as it is considered “Too American”. There are some parties in bars and such but the kids don’t trick or treat or dress up as far as we can see. We did find a pumpkin at the Chestnut Festival in La Garde-Freinet and plan to carve that tonight. We are having a little halloween party with a local family who invited us over.
While in Normandy, I wanted to check out an area called Mortagne au Perche about an hour west of Paris. This is the region in France from where many of the French
Canadian ancestors emigrated. I was able to find some history on my mother’s side from a french canadian website of baptism records that led me to my 10th great grandfather,
Zacharie Cloutier, who was born in Mortagne au Perche in 1590. Apparently,Zacharie was one of the first french pioneers to “New France” (Canada) in the early 1600′s. I was hoping to find some information about Zacharie while here and, at the very least, see the land from where he came. We booked ourselves a little “gite” cottage in Colonard Corubert about 17 km from Mortagne. It was a bit out of the way, but, it was a very special place. It was called Le Chene, The Oak, because of all the oak trees on the property.
It was so comfortable and reminded me a lot of Grass Valley. The countryside was extremely beautiful. Rolling green hills, oak trees, old stone farms and lots of horses. This is where the beautiful Percheron draft horses come from. We definitely enjoyed the rustic spaciousness of this gite after the little hotel room in Normandy. The boys settled right in and were asking to stay longer than 3 days. There were two dogs, 3 cats, and 3 chickens for them to play with. We had a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 2 story cottage, 16thcentury, on a
hillside with views, horses in pasture across the driveway, a huge lawn area with old orchard fruit trees, and even a tennis court. The owners were English/Scottish and lived on the property. There were 4 old houses on the property, apparently it was a little village in times past, but had been consolidated into one property. I really felt comfortable here and told the boys it was probably because Perche was where our ancestors came from. We would go back to Perche and this cottage in a heartbeat.
Not far from the cottage is an Emigration Museum in the town of Torouvre. This is where the history of the first pioneers to Canada is displayed. The Cloutier name is all over the place. I even found Rue des Cloutiers just down the street. There was so much history here.
Zacharie was a master carpenter in the area and was asked to go to Canada probably because of his skills. Apparently, the name Cloutier means “one who nails.” My grandfather, Ovide Cloutier descends from Zachary’s son Charles. I have all of the Cloutier names through the generations down to my mom. The only thing I was not able to find was the burial place of Zacharie’s parents, Denis Cloutier and Renee Briere. I spoke with the City Hall in Mortagne au Perche and apparently, in those days, the practice was to use the same grave site in the church yard over and over again. So, even though I know that they were supposedlyburied in St. Jean de Baptiste parish, I was not able to find them.
This has been an interesting journey into my past and I am so happy to have had the chance to visit this area. Zacharie must have been a very courageous and strong person to leave his homeland for a new adventure in the untamed wilderness of Canada. He also must have had a strong sense of family because he did not want to leave them behind, but instead, brought all of them with him on his first trip across. He was very successful in the new land and lived to be 87 years old.
From September 13th to the 16th, my family and I visited the Normandy beaches where D-day took place on June 6th, 1944. While there, I went to many different places including Omaha beach and Pointe Du Hoc.These were two of the places where the U.S.
and allies attacked the Germans. The Americans landed here and had a difficult time getting inland for the Germans had the beaches well defended.
Omaha beach and Pointe Du Hoc have very different landscapes. The wide flat sand and large bluffs of Omaha made it easy for Germans to attack from above and defend once the Americans landed on the beach.
At Pointe Du Hoc the 250 American rangers had no easy feat either; there were sheer cliffs that they had to summit while Germans were shooting down at them. Once again the Nazis had the higher ground. Although both operations suffered many casualties, they both were successful. These landings eventually led to the retaking of Europe and the defeat of Germany.
During my stay in Normandy, I also went to a German base that was apart of the Atlantic Wall. This base was a German defense unit. It bombarded allied troops for three days till the final assault on June 9th, 1944. The attack from the U.S rangers took five hours to completely secure the base. As I walked through it, I saw thick concrete shelters and trenches all over the place.
Each of the shelters had a use. I saw the remains of a small hospital and a radar outpost. Some of the shelters were places were the soldiers could sleep. Inside there were no windows and it was very hard to see because of the darkness. 155mm guns were also placed to attack targets many miles away. While walking through this German base looking at all the
shelters and weapons, I could see why it took so long for the rangers to capture it.
After the war was over, there were many memorials including cemeteries for the dead soldiers who gave their lives for the freedom of other people. At the American cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer, there are 9,387 graves for the Americans who died throughout World War II in Europe. When I went there, there was a museum all about D-Day and the soldiers who fought and died in the war.
The museum had three sections: Preparation, Determination, and Sacrifice. The soldiers had to prepare for the actual invasion. This included the plans of attack and the training each person had to complete.
Next, in the heat of battle, soldiers were determined to do their job. They did not give up and retreat, but kept pushing. And lastly, the sacrifices they made were many. Being crippled for the rest of your life, both mentally and physically, was sometimes worse than that of dying.
I felt sad after reading the stories about these men and women.
Standing on the beach, I thought about how the soldiers must have felt going out there and possibly not coming back. They had great courage. How their families must have felt when they received a telegram about how their son or daughter had died in the war. I also pondered about what these battle fields looked like during the war. Normandy now shows few battle scars. The view one sees when they look over onto the beach makes it is hard to believe that so many people had died there.
I have definitely slowed the pace of my blogging. It is not that I don’t have anything new to write about. Quite the contrary, our travels continue to be quite rich in new experiences and adventures. Now, in fact, many things that I can write about have piled up. So I will start with our experience with leasing a new car in France.
Renault and Peugot have long term buy/lease programs where you pay upfront and get a brand new car, full insurance, and roadside assistance for up to 6 months. This was the cheapest option for us and turns out to cost about $20 a day
all inclusive. That is so much cheaper than what you could rent a car for here in Europe and includes the insurance, etc. We went with Renault because their website was the easiest to use and their service was fantastic. It usually takes 30+ days to get the paperwork and order completed, but, we did it in 10 days and they had the car ready on time at the delivery site just outside of Paris. The car is called a Kangoo (Can go) although, that is probably debatable.
When I told my Swedish friend Per on Skype that we have a Renault Kangoo, he made a comment that he hoped we got the diesel version because a Kangoo gas engine would barely make it over a hill. Well, the diesel Kangoo is still quite a weak engine, but it can make the 130 Km speed limit on the toll freeways, and well, not driving fast allows us to take in the sights better. We really got this car for its relatively large luggage space in the back, which we fill up with our bags and supplies when moving bases. The boys are bummed that there are no back seat windows. Both back seat doors are sliding doors, like on minivans. This is kind of strange for such a small car. I would never buy one of these cars, but it is new, the cabin is spacious and comfortable, and gas mileage is excellent. It will do us fine for the next few months.
What happens when you put gasoline in a diesel engine?: So, we pick up the car without hassle and start out for Normandy. A few kilometers from the gas station, the engine stops working. I can write about this now. 60 kilometers outside of Paris, only one hour or so of driving the brand new car we leased, I pull into a gas station at a highway rest stop. I am realizing that really I don’t remember my ‘gas station french’, although I may never have actually learned the vocabulary. Mauritania, where I learned my French, pretty much does not have gas stations.
I was already flustered because my American credit cards was not working in the machine and I had to go talk with the attendant, which again had me flustered because this was day 3 in France and I was realizing that my French is pretty poor. So I put gasoline in my diesel engine. Car dies on a busy highway. I had a pretty good
meltdown because I knew what a colossally stupid thing I had done and I didn’t know how easy/hard it would be to fix this. We were in a dead car on a busy highway at 3 in the afternoon. To compound matters, we had not yet bought a French cellphone simm card. Our UK simm card had like a dollar-fifty left on it. Not much when you are calling for service assistance and they ask you to hold as you wait for the English speaking person to get on the line. Another American credit card problem – we could not use our credit card to top up the simm card by phone, we could only do this at a store. Gigi had to plead with the Orange service person to give us ‘emergency credit’ of 3 dollars…twice. This finally allowed us to complete our communications with the assistance service. One great thing about the Renault lease program is EVERYTHING is insured. They even have printed on the instructions ‘when wrong gas put in the car.’ The guy on the phone even acknowledged that this was a common reason for breakdown. The boys just played on their iPads in the back seat. Gigi was frazzled. I was fried. One hour wait, 45 min tow ride with little talking, an hour at the service station draining the gas from the engine…and voila! We were back on the road again. Both Gigi and I feared that we were going to be stuck the night in whatever minor village the service station was located in. We couldn’t communicate, we just were just groping our way along. In the end, the roadside assistance was very good, and the service station people very nice. And the solution to the problem was not nearly as bad as I had feared. We made it to our Normandy beach hotel about 4 hours behind schedule, and we collapsed into the beds upon arrival.
Mom made me a coconut and lime cake in the AGA oven. For my birthday lunch, I had 2 California rolls at a sushi restaurant called Soushi in Cirencester. I had a lot of time to hang out here. I watched movies, played on my iPad, and watched more movies. The house has a big back yard. We could play cricket and badminton, and fly my helicopter. We went on a lot of walks. We saw and petted horses. We walked among cows and calves on the Commons. Thanks Stuart and Glynis for letting us stay at your wonderful house!