June 25, 2010
My high school French teacher once told me that with my southern accent and feeble attempts at pronunciation, I would be better served attending more English classes than foreign language courses. It certainly wasn’t her fault that I never picked up on the language. I spent a fair amount of my time reading the novel Lonesome Dove rather than paying attention in class. As a result, one of the only French expressions that I have been able to recall over the years is, “Je ne parle pas Français.” Fortunately for English speakers, this is a very helpful sentence that you can use when traveling in France.
Rouen, France, is an ancient town located in the northern portion of France known as Normandy. It is a picturesque, medieval town with several examples of fine gothic architecture and a rich history. Some Americans will know Rouen because of the role it played in both World Wars, especially during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. By the time of its liberation by the Canadians, almost half of the city had been destroyed. Another of its claims to fame is that it was the site of Joan of Arc’s burning at the stake in 1431. After reading Desmond Seward’s The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453, I knew I had to visit Rouen despite Mr. Seward’s obvious difficulties with mathematics.
After an early morning, two-hour train ride from Paris to Rouen, Karen and I walked immediately to our hotel to check our bags at the front desk until our 3 o’clock check-in time. The Cardinal Hotel is located adjacent to the spectacular church that dominates the center of town, the Rouen Cathedral. This is yet another jewel of France’s gothic architecture and was featured in a series of Claude Monet paintings.
In addition to the Cathedral, we visited the Church and Abbey of Saint Ouen, the gothic Saint Maclou church, and the 600-year-old astronomical clock known as the Gros Horloge (large clock). We also visited the dungeon and tower in the Rouen Castle where Joan of Arc was threatened with torture after her capture during the Hundred Years War. We had a café lunch near the spot where the future saint went up in flames, which is now the site of a modern church built in the shape of an overturned Viking ship. This town kicks ass.
Rouen has maintained a medieval feel while embracing the modern world. One thousand-year-old streets are lined with shops and boutiques filled with tourists buying iPhones, perfume, Monet posters, dresses, scarves, and pastries. During the late afternoon, Karen and I walked into a wine shop and proceeded to buy ten bottles of French wine and two bottles of Calvados (apple brandy made in Normandy) to bring back home. The proprietors of the shop acted as if they had something important to tell us, but they did not speak English. After trying to communicate with each other using primitive sign language, one of the gentlemen asked Karen to accompany him to the nearest post office where they found an interpreter. This is when we found out that you can only bring two bottles of wine or liquor in your luggage on flights back to the US. It is also the first known instance of Karen using a French word appropriately. That word was “merde.”
When Karen and the owner returned, we managed to negate the wine purchase despite our language barrier. I kept the two bottles of Calvados and did indeed bring them back to the States. We found many more instances of kindness like the owners of this wine shop showed to us during our visit to France. The myth of French rudeness was nowhere to be found for us during our stay.
Late that night while sleeping in our very comfortable room, I dreamed that I heard the sound of birds in the trees near our hotel and the cathedral. The sound then turned to one of children playing and running. It then turned into the orderly stamps of platoons of soldiers marching in time through the streets of Rouen. We spent the night in our hotel under the imposing spires of the cathedral and the ghosts of Normandy’s past.
I normally do not remember my dreams, but I attribute the night’s hallucinations on the “sausage” that I had for dinner. Just as Karen and I sat down at an outdoor café that evening, I realized I had forgotten to bring my food glossary with me. With a sense of adventure, we poured through the French-only menu to find words that looked familiar. One dish that caught my eye was Saucisse Andouillette, which to me sounded very much like andouille sausage, a spicy sausage known in the U.S. as a Louisiana Cajun delicacy. It took me about three bites to realize that “andouillette” can best be translated to English as pork chitterling.
Don’t get me wrong; eating pig intestines is not necessarily an unappetizing meal. With the right wine pairing and “mother sauce,” a properly trained French chef can make a bowl of catfish anuses taste like what a Ravel sonata sounds like. However, when you are expecting something very different, it can be quite shocking. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that this Son of the South had his first taste of “chittlins” in northern France.
Looking back on my time in high school, now thirty years gone, I would like to apologize to the very talented Madame Mixon for not paying attention in her class, especially when we studied cuisine. I would also like to apologize to Ms. Allen, my twelfth-grade English teacher, who specifically told me to never use the phrase “catfish anuses” in an essay.
Until next time…ramble on.
July 6, 2017
I have a lot of reasons to want to become a better writer, but foremost is to become a better communicator, which I think I stink at. You can probably tell by the previous sentence that I have some work to do. Grammar and sentence structure are only a couple of my weak points when it comes to communicating. It has been a long time since I took an English class. But…that is no excuse. Classrooms and formal education are only starting points when it comes to learning.
I often hear people lament the current curricula that are offered in our school systems. Very little time spent on handwriting…will cursive writing die out? What version of new math is being taught today? Why are we not learning more about Darwin, Jesus, the Chinese language, etc.? My point is that school is only a foundation for your education. If you feel a void in the curriculum, there is nothing saying you cannot fill it with learning outside of classrooms.
Absolutely one of the best ways that I have been able to continue and broaden my education has been through travel. When I read a book about the French Revolution or the Battle of Hastings, I feel some pull to physically visit these places. And although visiting these famous settings will certainly help you learn more about them, you will get a lot more than just learning about a time or place when you travel. You suddenly find yourself outside of your known world and in a strange land. A place where you interact with people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than you. Then (and this is very significant) you begin to learn more about yourself.
Not everyone has the resources (time, money, etc.) to travel as they would like. I understand this. It took me a while before I was mentally comfortable with spending a large portion of my income on travel. I also do not suggest that you rack up debt just to take a trip. Another common apprehension is when you factor in the unknown associated with traveling to places you have never been. The risk versus reward conversation you have with yourself can lead you away from sinking your valuable time, money and effort into travel. Nevertheless, I contend that after your first well-planned trip, the risk versus reward conversation will go away, and you will quickly become more confident in your travel skills.
Your educational travel does not have to be expensive or extravagant. Travel to the neighboring town where you live. Go to the closest National Park or National Forest and take a hike. Take up camping or backpacking. Learn how to camp out of your car. But be warned, this is how I started. It can lead to a desire to travel further. The next thing you know you’re reading travel guides to India.
Karen and I do not have children which can make it easier for us to travel both in time and money. However, we quite often see families travel with children of all ages. As I mentioned above, you and your kids will learn things through traveling that they will not learn in school. I know some families who home school, and traveling is one of their many learning activities. If you are confined to traveling during the summer or spring, fall and winter breaks in the school year, then yes, you will be joined by many other families and will experience much higher travel fees. But it can still be accomplished with some planning.
For planning your first trip to Europe, I highly recommend Rick Steves’ travel guides. If you are interested in taking a budget-friendly trip to Europe, pick up a couple of his travel guides or tune in to his show on PBS. Other travel guides to use in Europe and most any other destination in the world include Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodors. Additionally, there are many more resources out there to help you get started.
Till next time…ramble on.
Most of the stories that I post will not be in any kind of chronological order. They will just be excerpts from my travel journals.
June 23, 2010
Day three of our visit to Paris. We began the day at the Army Museum at Les Invalides located near the Eiffel Tower. Les Invalides is an army hospital and convalescence home that is still being used today by the French military. Louis XIV, the Sun King, began construction on the hospital in 1670, and France has kept it well stocked with wounded soldiers ever since.
Inside Les Invalides is the impressive Musée de l’Armée, where we saw an interesting exhibit on the Charles de Gaulle Call for Resistance in World War II. After Paris fell to the Nazis in the early stages of the war, the Vichy regime was established to make peace with Germany. Marshall Philippe Pétain, the French World War I hero of the Battle of Verdun, was named as the Prime Minister. By contrast, Free France, the government in exile and the one recognized by the allied powers was led by General Charles de Gaulle who refused to recognize the armistice with Germany. In 1940, while in England, de Gaulle recorded via BBC his famous speech known as the “Appeal of 18 June” which encouraged the French people to resist German occupation, launching what is now known as the French Resistance movement.
The next exhibit we saw was one of the most impressive displays of Medieval and Renaissance-era armor I have ever seen. An entire room was reserved for the suits of armor worn by the kings of France. Elsewhere in the museum were displays of uniforms, weapons and other miscellaneous wartime paraphernalia spanning the stone age to the end of World War II. Tombs of many of France’s military heroes, including Napoleon, can also be found here.
The section dedicated to the Napoleonic Era was a particular favorite. Before our trip, I read several books on the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars. It was here that we stumbled upon the famous portrait of Napoleon as Emperor. While Karen was snapping a picture of me beside the painting, I noticed a glass display box which housed the huge necklace that Napoleon is wearing in the portrait. I pointed to the necklace in the display case, then back to the portrait to show Karen what I had discovered. Evidently, when I pointed at Napoleon’s neck my finger came too close to the painting and an earsplitting alarm began screaming in our ears. Immediately four armed soldiers ran into the small room that was occupied by only Karen and me, noticed our confused looks, and escorted our red faces out of the exhibit.
If you are ever in Paris and have any interest in military history, please take an afternoon to visit the Musée de l’Armée. Just keep your hands in your pockets.
Until next time…ramble on.
There are a couple reasons why I am choosing to write an online blog. One is to write about my travel experiences so that I can somehow understand what it is I like about traveling and to remind my faulty memory of the things I’ve experienced and learned on these travels. Another one is so that I can become a better writer. Creative writing is something that I have always wanted to start doing, but for whatever reason (probably laziness), I have only now really started to write regularly.
This is not meant to be a ‘how to’ blog. There are many different resources, some of which I will mention later, that will do a much better job at showing you how to plan an itinerary, communicate in a foreign country or use a bidet. These entries will just be the stories of my experiences and miscellaneous ramblings and observations. Perhaps it will inspire you to go to some of the places I have visited. Perhaps it will give you the confidence you need to visit a place you have always wanted to see. Perhaps it will convince you that travel stinks and that you should never leave your home town. Either way, I hope this will be entertaining to you. If you do not find it entertaining, please stop reading this blog and use your valuable time to do something that has meaning for you. To be totally honest, I am writing this for me. If you, the reader, also receive some benefit then maybe I am on to something larger than myself. Or not.
I will often play fast and loose with the facts. For those who know me, this will not come as a shock. I will quite often sprinkle, or sometimes even drown, my recollections with falsehoods, exaggerations, and outright lies. Occasionally sacrificing fact for fiction is entirely justified in my mind when my aim is to entertain. Remember that one of the reasons I am doing this blog is to become a better (creative) writer. I will try hard, however, not to mislead the reader intentionally.
I do not know much about online blogging. I keep up with a few bloggers who I like to read occasionally, and I may recommend some of these from time to time. But this will be my first venture into online blogging and will certainly be a learning experience. I’ll probably make some mistakes like posting entries before I am finished with them, not understanding the blog platform, and a multitude of grammatical errors, misspellings and improper word use. I will try to keep these distractions to a minimum. And, to be honest, I have only recently started a daily journal so I am not even sure that I will have the discipline to keep this blog going regularly.
I am also not what I would call technologically savvy. As I write this, I am having difficulty getting connected to the internet. If you have questions regarding how to best receive blog updates, how to post comments, etc., I’ll try to help as best as I can. If you have recommendations or suggestions that you think would help me in my blogging whether it be software related, content requests, or if you have questions, please feel free to post in the comments section. Let’s keep it friendly, respectful, and act as if we were all sitting at my kitchen table leaning back in the chairs.
Until the next entry…ramble on.