We spent our first weekend abroad stepping back from direct agriculture sessions and instead focused on learning more about French culture and spending time honoring and remembering those who fought for our freedom on French soil.
Saturday started off with a tour of the French tapestry of Bayeux. The tapestry marks one of the oldest written documents of Normandy. It tells the story of William the Conquerer and the only successful attack on English soil in 1066.
We followed that up with a trip to Hoc Point, the midway mark between Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day. The area remains as it was at the end of World War II, riddled with mortar holes, gun bunkers sunk deep into the earth and tunnels connecting them all. To honor what the Americans did for France during the war, the country donated several pieces of land to the U.S. as memorials, making this tribute American soil in France.
Our journey honoring those who fought and died for our freedom continued with a tour of Omaha Beach. Now a beautiful strip of sand, deep blue water and beach goers, it’s hard to imagine it as it was over 60 years ago; strewn with mines, barbed wire, metal spikes and bombarded with bullets.
The final stop of WWII memorials was at the American Cemetery and it was the most moving. Words cannot explain the emotions that cross your mind as you stare into a field of perfectly spaced white marble crosses going as far as the eye can see. More than 9,000 men are buried here, nearly 2,000 missing are honored on the wall of remembrance and the nation’s monument to all those who died is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.
My great grandfather fought in the war and was badly injured when his jeep hit a landmine. We were lucky, he got to come home, marry my great grandmother and start my family. His best friend riding with him wasn’t as lucky. To this day it’s extremly difficult for him to talk about and he rarely mentions his service. As I walked through the graves I thought of how easily one of these could have been him and how I wouldn’t be here today had that been the case.
As I started to look at names I couldn’t help but to look for a soldier from Ohio, my home state, and as though it was meant to be, the first soldier I found was named Wendell. My great grandfather went home from the war and had a daughter named Nancy and she just so happened to marry a man named Wendell, my grandfather. While the soldier who rests in this plot is no relation of mine, I couldn’t help but feel the connection. Nor could I help the tears that sprang to my eyes as I thought about all that had been lost in that beautiful strech of beach…
Sometimes it takes a view like this and an experience this moving to just help put life in perspective and to make you thankful for all we have.
Sunday kicked off in Versailles with a tour of the royal palace. The palace is most famous for being the home of Louis XIV and the location for the sumptuous and lavish parties thrown by Marie Antionette that instigated the French Revolution and led to her beheading. Today the palace serves as a museum, showcasing stunning artwork, a vast array of statuary and some of the most elaborate gardens in France.
While wondering through the city of Versailles looking for lunch we came across a packed farmer’s market. The market itself was like touring a new agritourism site. As a frequent visitor to the Soulard Farmer’s Market in St. Louis, I thought I knew big and diverse, but this put us to shame. Products ran from fruits and veggies to fresh spices, to whole chickens with their heads still attached and live lobsters. I was shocked by the size of much of their produce and sampled a basket of blackberries round as golf balls!
After lunch we headed to Paris where we whirled through sights like Notre Dame, the Church of the Sacred Heart and the Louve. We took a leisurely river boat ride to get a view of the beautiful bridges and buildings along the river. To cap it off we visited the Eiffel Tower and rode all the way to the top to take in the stunning view of Paris at twilight.
We had the added bonus of being in town on the final game of the World Cup. Paris put up huge screens in the park for fans to watch the game and thousands showed up. They were a solid block of Spanish red and yellow from the top of the tower and you could hear the crowd roar even from that great of a height!