Vive la France, Trois – Grenoble and the Women’s World Cup

From Caen, we had to take a train back to Paris to catch a train to Grenoble.

This would probably be a good time to mention how good the pubic transport system is in France. In six days, we travelled from London to Paris to Caen to Paris to Grenoble using only trains, city buses, trams, a coach, and our legs.

The Engineer loved the trains, especially the Eurostar and the TGV we took from Paris to Grenoble. Below is the view we whizzed by at over 200 miles an hour. Yes, those are the Alps.

I loved Grenoble, even though it was a bit of a drama trying to use the tram to our AirBnB. This was partly because the sun was finally shining (Yay!) directly on the screen of the ticket kiosk for the tram (Boo!) and partly because the machine was being cantankerous and not accepting our credit card.

Since it only took cards and coins, and we had only bills, this was a problem. Eventually I thought to try another card, which worked fine.

Go figure.

Note to would-be travelers: If you plan to use credit cards, have a back-up one for situations like this. And if you think such an occurrence unusual, I can tell you the same thing happened at several toll plazas later in the trip. (On a side note, highway tolls were pricier than you might expect, but the roads were incredible. We didn’t see a pothole until we hit Paris.)

The tram ride took less time than the figuring out of the ticket machine, and our host had given detailed directions to the apartment where he greeted us with great — dare I say French? — charm.

Here is a panorama of our lodging, with The Engineer beginning to regret he allowed me to plan a trip involving seven different beds in fourteen nights. It does make the place look larger than it was, but it was just lovely. It was near this church, an extremely busy place with many people coming and going for some kind of festival, so I took a peek.

Our AirBnB in Caen was also very nice. We’ve used AirBnB six times and had excellent experiences every time. Yes, it can save travelers money, but more importantly, it enables us to stay in neighborhoods, rather than the hotel districts. It feels somehow more authentic to be able to dine, walk, ride buses, drink, and shop with people who live in the city we are visiting.

Grocery shopping in a country where you don’t speak the language can be an adventure in itself as we discovered in Germany when the butter I picked for breakfast turned out to be garlic butter, and the sausage The Engineer picked turned out to be be more like pepperoni or salami.

Never mind. We had a nice lunch made from them. 🙂

Grenoble sets at the foot of the French Alps, and the surrounding mountains add to its beauty. If you want, you can (and my dear husband did) ride a cable car for a more far-reaching vista. Not a fan of heights, I kept my feet firmly on the ground and took pictures from there.

We had come to Grenoble to see a football game. This kind of ⚽️ , not this 🏈. You know, the sport actually played with your feet?

The Women’s World Cup had come to town, and we were going to be part of it. In case anyone forgot what was happening, there were markings on sidewalks to remind us. (And in this picture you get the added bonus of seeing my super-cute and extra-comfortable shoes!)

The game was amazing, much better than expected, with Jamaica Reggae Girlz making their debut against Brazil. Although they lost 3-0, I felt they could be proud of their showing this year, especially give the fact that they got there without the support of their country’s football federation. Though Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella has become a major benefactor, these girls have fought for the right to be here. Their coach is a volunteer. One of their star players lost three brothers to gang violence and another to a car accident within a short time. The team was unrated as late as 2017. (More info on their journey here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/05/31/reggae-girlz-jamaica-backed-by-cedella-marley-make-world-cup/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.22d92066f5c1.)

Yet, here they were, in the Women’s World Cup.

It had rained all day, right up until the game started (and rained again afterwards), but the clouds parted, and we saw the blue sky for the game.

It was wonderful.

Brazil warms up.

The opening ceremonies were, well, ceremonial!

The Alps reappeared partway through the game, which had an attendance of about 17,000.

After attending the game, I have a new goal. I’d like to volunteer at the 2026 Men’s World Cup, when it’s shared by the US, Canada, and Mexico. Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to be a part of?

Vive La France, Deux – Caen Churches and London Taxis

Caen also had many beautiful churches. I didn’t get all the names of them, but I took lots of pictures.

I think these are all of St.John (Eglise Saint-Jean), though I can’t swear to it. We walked by it multiple times each day, and there were so many interesting details. Plus, they were replacing stones and cleaning for it, so there’s a big contrast between the new, clean parts, and the older parts. The churches are mostly made of limestone, and you can see below why some parts were being rebuilt. The two most famous religious buildings are the Abbaye aux Hommes and the Abbaye aux Dames (Abby of the Men and Abby of the Women, respectively), built by William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders.

Below is the exterior of aux Hommes and the interior of aux Dames.

En route to aux Dames, we came across the ruins of another church, tucked between some houses.

A few more photos of odds and ends before I tell you about the London taxis in Caen. Panorama taken from William the Conqueror’s Chateau.Plantings commemorating the 75th anniversary of liberation of Caen.

Stopped for a drink at a cafe and looked up to see this.

Interesting building and detail of carving.

Palace of Justice – As it stands today and in the past.

And now, the taxis. You may wonder what London taxis have to do with Caen, France. So did we. But there they were, a long parade of the distinctively English vehicles turning into a parking lot in front of the cafe patio where we were enjoying a cold beverage. Luckily, a British woman came out of the cafe to explain what was happening. The cabs were part of the Taxi Charity, which offers trips to veterans — anything from a day out to see a concert to an international excursion to France for the 75th anniversary of the landings at Normandy. She knew this because she was the companion (perhaps wife) of a 90-some-year-old veteran beneficiary.

To quote their website (https://www.taxicharity.org/), “To fund and facilitate these outings, the charity is wholly reliant on donations from members of the public, businesses and trusts and the amazing group of London licensed taxi drivers who offer their time and vehicles for free.” And they’ve been doing this for more than sixty years.

That, my friends, is why I travel — not just to see things I’ve heard or read about but to see and learn about things I never knew existed.

Vive la France

In case you missed all the hints in the previous post, last Friday, we returned from a fourteen day trip to England and France.

The Engineer has two aunties who retired to France with their husbands, and we’d been meaning to visit ever since. When I discovered the Women’s World Cup was being played there, we decided 2019 was the year. Plus it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and there were some planes we wanted to see land in Normandy 75 years after their original flights there.

We were bumped up to economy plus on our flight – the second time ever this has happened in over thirty years of travel back and forth (thank you, Virgin Atlantic!) There was copious alcohol to be had, and for some reason, I felt obliged to say “Yes, thank you” each time it was offered.

Anyone who knows me well knows I rarely overindulge because I hate the way I feel the next day. Add in no sleep and an eight-hour flight, and well, I was feeling a little rough when I began to sober up (with a fresh new day to enjoy the process – ugh!).

Anyway, I remember the food on the flight was delicious. So delicious, I apparently had to take a picture of it.

Yes, even the cheesy thing was good, though I can’t recall what it was.

Or maybe I was just impressed with having actual flatware and glasses. At any rate, it was clearly important to me at the time, so I’m sharing.

And, naturally, we couldn’t cross the Atlantic without popping in for a visit with the rest of my husband’s family, so we started by landing in London, renting a car, and driving up to the Midlands for a visit. It was especially nice because we got to see some relatives we haven’t seen in quite a while.

I had done a family tree and history of my father-in-law’s family, discovering in the process that there were several publicans among them. One of the pubs was still a functioning pub, so we went for a look. It was once a coaching inn, not very old by English standards, only from sometime in the 1800s. The pub is called the Bulls Head, in Blaby, if you’re ever in the neighborhood. It’s been tarted up, but here’s a picture of the oldest looking bit. Not a big place, but the beer was good.

Then it was back to London for an overnight and off to Paris via the Eurostar from St.Pancras station.

A little over two hours later, we were in Paris. From there, we had to make our way from Gare du Nord to Gare Saint Lazare via the Metro. The magenta line to be exact. At Saint Lazare, we caught the Intercite’ to Caen.

Here’s a map I marked up to show the major places we went. We were in Caen because that’s where the “Daks Over Normandy” were landing, and we wanted to see them. In particular, we wanted to see “That’s All Brother.” This particular airplane led the US forces for the D-Day invasion. It was sitting in Oshkosh, awaiting a conversion to turbo, where an aviation historian located it just six months before it was scheduled for the process (which Wikipedia says uses only 30% of the original plane, with th rest being scrapped). Here’s a link to the whole article:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/That%27s_All,_Brother

Familiar with the plane’s story from our yearly sojourn to Oshkosh, it was there we also heard of the plan to fly as many Daks (DC-3s) to Normandy as possible for the 75th anniversary.

We were in! Tickets went on sale February 1, and I purchased them that day, after checking back many times to make sure they hadn’t been put up early. I also hoped to purchase a ride in one of the planes, as advertised on the website, but the link never materialized, and when I emailed to ask about it, they were somehow all sold out.

I won’t belabor the point except to say the event was a disappointment. The planes were parked quite a distance behind the fence – so far, you couldn’t make out the nose art or N-numbers. There were no placards telling about the planes’ histories as I’ve seen at most air shows and fly-ins, and no one around to ask. If you look at the pictures below, you’ll see how far back the fence and spectators were from the aircraft.

Organizing an event based so heavily on volunteers is surely a mammoth challenge, so I won’t speculate what happened, but this certainly wasn’t what we came to Caen to see. Fortunately, Caen had other attractions. The war was hard on this city, and its citizens do not forget that history. Below is a picture of a memorial to the British regiments that liberated Caen. Behind it, you can see part of an enormous and ancient structure, William the Conqueror’s Chateau, built around 1060.Within its walls is the tomb of the unknown civilian, dedicated to the civilians killed during the bombing that followed the landings at Normandy. Some estimates place these losses of life at several thousand, with 35,000 left homeless. (These figures are for Caen alone. The toll throughout Normandy was much higher.)

“One journalist remarked about what he saw of the city after its liberation, ‘The very earth was reduced to its original dust.'” (Quote is from “Romanticizing D-Day Ignores Thousands of Civilian Deaths” by Marc Workman in The Daily Beast, https://www.thedailybeast.com/romanticizing-d-day-ignores-thousands-of-civilian-deaths).

We were wandering around the castle (chateau means castle, which I didn’t know before going to France) the morning after we arrived and stumbled upon the yearly memorial service for the victims. It was moving to hear the words of a woman survivor, twelve at the time of the bombings, read aloud in French and English and followed by an excerpt of a diary written by one of the English liberators.

There were English soldiers there, representing those who were involved, and Scottish pipers, as well as schoolchildren singing the national anthem of both France and England. Most poignant of all were the old soldiers, one of whom had to be helped away to a seat because he couldn’t stand for the whole ceremony.

I know it’s a cliche, but you would think after so many years of innocents suffering, we would find a way to stop fighting.

There were poppies growing wild everywhere, and they always remind me of that poem, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. It was written after WWI, but remains a sorrowful reminder of the losses of war beginning “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row …” If you’ve never read it, go here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields.So when I saw this poppy crushed in the dirt of Normandy, it seemed a symbol of how we’ve treated the sacrifices of those who came before us.

Update: We saw “That’s All Brother” at Oshkosh again this year.

As you can see from the photos, the view was much different.