Who else but crazy Americans would come up with the bright idea to take a road trip? It seems like since I have been here a European road trip consists of going somewhere on the train and calling that a road trip. No, we are Americans, and come hell or high water we were going to do it American style: 1 car, cooler full of snacks, CD’s and a crate of beer in the back for when we finally get to our destination ( we are in Germany after all). We were supposed to get an Audi, so I wasn’t too disappointed when they fellas rolled up in a Mercedes. We were hoping to also get a diesel to save on gas money, but the unleaded Mercedes would have to do; let me tell you, this thing looked like a 4 cylinder Ford Escort with a Mercedes symbol on the front and it performed like it was missing a cylinder when we were pulling the hills. (This has something to do with the fact that when you rent a car here, the power of the car is directly dependent on the age of the driver, since I didn’t rent it, I would have to suffer but at least it had good head room). Road Trip route
Let the Blitzkrieg commence, 4 Americans in a German made car going to France. The first leg of the GPS was programmed to take us all the way to the boarder, but then we had a problem. “Did it just say to insert disk 5?” “Yes”. “Well where the fuck is disk 5?” Yep, THERE WAS NO DISK 5!! Apparently in our Mercedes Escort, we were supposed to ask for disk 5, you would think that all of Western Europe, or at least the countries directly bordering Germany would come loaded on to our GPS. Still seething that we didn’t have disk 5 we wondered if we actually had unlimited miles, because if not, this was about to be a short trip. After a quick reassuring look at the contract we proceeded to head into Western France. Luckily for us we decided to print out the directions on where we were going. In France, if you drive on the good roads, they charge you a toll, so the directions we printed out told us how to get around the tolls using the back roads and where to expect the radar stations. Sweet! So we were saving money right? Well, the distances listed on the maps were not accurate and neither were the names of the roads because they tended to be called two different names and merge without any signage. However, on the directions, signs were listed so as long as we stayed on what we thought was the right road; all we had to do was follow the signs. Not the best idea, but screw it, we were on a road trip!
The first stop of the day was the city of Reims which is in the heart of Champagne country. No, we were not going to any of the colossal Champagne manors that lined the streets hiding millions of gallons of champagne bellow them; we were there to see the cathedral. This cathedral is supposed to have the best acoustics of any of the cathedrals in France. Sort of hard to tell when it was completely silent in there because it was a CATHEDRAL. Too bad we didn’t have time to go to any of the Manors for tastings but from what I understand it was super expensive and you know, “there is no sex in the champagne room”. Leaving Reims, wouldn’t you know it, we get lost, spend 15 minutes trying to find our way out of town towards Paris; we decide to just go towards Paris at the first sign we see. No problem, except we start to hit the toll roads and it cost us approximately 10 Euro to go about 25 Km, and when you are driving at excess of 150 Km/h that comes up pretty quick. Our first night in Paris finds us staying at the apartment of the girlfriend of one of the guys that was with us. So it ended up being the 4 of us, the 4 of them and then 4 of their other friends who were visiting for the weekend. Pretty cozy, to say the least. We take it pretty easy that night because we are planning on driving to Cannes. Ok, so I thought we were going to Cannes and I was getting really excited because of the film festival, ummm NO! We were going to Caen; I swear to god all of the names sound the same when the French say them! If we had disk 5 I could have looked and seen exactly where we were and saved me some embarrassment. On our way to Caen, we stopped at a market to get more meat and cheese and stuff for snacks and wouldn’t you know it, we got lost trying to get back on track. After driving around this little town for 20 minutes our friend’s girl friend who speaks French, convinces us to stop and ask for directions. She goes in, gets the directions and we attempt to find our way out. Now I know why men don’t stop for directions: It is because the people giving directions don’t know what the hell they are talking about and we would rather be lost then deal with the humiliation of being accused of not being able to follow directions that are crap to begin with!
We were actually not going to Caen; we had set our sight on the beaches of Normandy: Omaha and Utah. At this time, the sky was grey and a slight drizzle began to come down. Appropriate I think since those were the conditions on June 6th 1944 when D-Day commenced. For me personally, it was a rather eerie feeling taking my shoes off and walking down Omaha Beach feeling the sand between my toes and the waves lapping at my ankles. It was hard to believe the events of over 60 years ago with all the peace and tranquility that surrounded me. The cemetery and memorial that are at Omaha Beach are actually U.S. soil granted to us in perpetuity by the French government. This brought up the question among us, if these memorials under American care would actually last in perpetuity as American soil? Military cemeteries always make me feel sort of “funny” almost like I am having a religious experience like I can hear those that have been laid to rest saying “ I did good didn’t I?” Maybe it is because of my own personal experiences or a connection through family and friends that make me feel this way. What ever the reason is, the answer to their question is always “Yes and thank you”. An interesting side note, when we left, we began to see signs for Brest, I wanted to get a picture of the sign because it would add to my collection of wacky sign pictures that I have taken so far. So I am trying to remember why the name Brest sounds familiar (go ahead and say that I always have breasts on my mind) but that’s not the reason why. I remember reading that my Great Grandfather disembarked at the port of Brest after his Trans Atlantic Voyage almost 90 years ago to fight in WWI. So here I am 90 years later traveling the same roads (albeit paved) that my Great Grandfather traveled. Thinking about it makes the hair on my arms stand up, I wish I could have gotten that picture now and who knows, maybe one day I’ll make it up to the Arden Forrest.
We left Omaha Beach and headed to our Hostel for the night so that we could get an early start to Mont St. Michel. Wouldn’t you know it, on our way to our hostel we get lost again? Let me tell you that after getting lost so many times we finally figured out the genius behind the traffic rotary. The first time you go around, it is to get a good look at all the signs, the second time you go around, everyone in the car discuses which direction to go (by discusses I really mean argue heatedly, it’s the only time it is acceptable to be a back seat driver), the third go around is the one where the driver, tired of all the “discussion” yells at everyone to be quite and they pick the direction to go. We finally make it to our “youth hostel” and find that all of the mattresses have a rubber liner over them. Tired and amused at this discovery, we try to come up with all of the reasons why the mattress have rubber coverings. At breakfast the next morning it all made sense, in the entire breakfast hall, we were the only 4 people under the age of 60! So much for it being a “Youth Hostel”. As we were eating breakfast the observation was made, “Does anyone else find it ironic that the route we took here is close to the same route that the Germans took when they invaded and the route we are taking home loosely follows the route the Americans took to liberate France?” “Dude, don’t say that too loud, “we don’t want to give any of these old people a heart attack by bringing up the Blitzkrieg!” As we departed for Mont St. Michel the receptionist mentioned that there was a marathon ending there. We expected that we would have problems getting there because of all of the people in the Marathon, but as we got closer and closer we didn’t see anyone running by us which lead to numerous French jokes (somehow I think they had to do with “no battle going on so why bother running”) Mont St. Michel is perhaps one of the most famous Cathedrals in France because when the tide comes up, it covers the road to the cathedral and it looks like it is on its own island. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to contend with a high tide because it was so early. The views from the cathedral were absolutely breath taking and I believe that it is one of the most amazing that I have seen since I have been here. Believe me when I say once you have seen one cathedral they all pretty much look the same, just the scenery changes. After touring the cathedral which had an art exhibit of photographs of sacred mountains around the world and walking through the small walled town, we ate crapes and drank cider which are both specialties of the region.
We start to head back to Paris and we are making good time, or so we thought. We had been driving for about an hour and we began to see signs for Mont St Michel. “Why do the signs say we are 100 km from Mont St. Michel?” “What are you talking about; the directions say we should be about 3 hours from Paris!” “I’m just saying, these signs are saying we are getting close to the turn off for the cathedral.” “SON OF A BITCH!!” and like a chorus of drunken sailors, “Fuckin’ disk 5!!!” echoed in our Mercedes Escort. Somehow with the excellent printed directions we had, we managed to go 100 Km south of where we started.
Rolling into Paris, we decide to take a driving tour of the city. That was cool with me because I really only wanted to take a few pictures of the Eifel Tower and I knew the next morning, we probably wouldn’t be in any condition to go site seeing. So we decide to drive the around the Arc Di Triumph, the worlds largest rotary. Picking out the perfect music (it would have been classic to have some Benny Hill) we start our journey only to be halted 50 meters later because of a parade. Minor setback right? We start over again and to the left I see the Eifel Tower, by the time I get a picture of it, there is a van in front of it spoiling the view so we decide to go around once more seeing if I can get an unobstructed view. No dice, I get the same van in the picture. “What the HELL!!” I yell (I’m slightly cranky from being in the car for 7 hours). It turns out that the van in question was a police van that the cops came in to stop traffic for the stupid parade!! So my only picture of the Eifel Tower has a freaking police van in it. It takes us 5 more turns around the round about before we finally get out of it. Hooking a right at the next round about, in the span of 5 minutes we: almost get t-boned from running a red light (who the hell puts a stop light in the middle of a round about?) have a scooter rear end us (if you are going to pretend to own the road at least drive a hummer) and almost get sideswiped by a bus (fair enough, we were driving in the bus lane). That night we went to a house party that was thrown by a bunch of Americans whom the girls we were staying with all knew. I knew it was going to be a wild night when we had to hail our bus. No seriously, we hailed our bus down after it had passed the stop by about 200 meters and we were still on the opposite side of the road! During the party, I was offended by a Canadian, (apparently I was a typical American for wanting to go back to the States and make money instead of staying in Europe and getting taxed 50 percent), we saw some “ass antlers” (the literal German translation for a tattoo across the small of the back), an old French man throwing eggs at the door to get us to be quiet, and a friend of mine running off into the night like Quasi Motto not to be seen until 10am the next morning. The next morning we woke up and went to the “American Diner” near the Sorbonne it was started by an American who was tired of not being able to get an American breakfast, it even had all the diner kitsch as decorations. I had the steak and eggs, let me tell you, after not having a steak for almost a year because it is very expensive to buy in Germany; I almost went into food coma ( I think being hung over didn’t help either). From there we saw the out side of Notre Dame (remember what I said about cathedrals?) the pyramid by the Louvre and then we went home to pack and begin our return to der Vaterland.
It’s really hard for me to sum up my opinions of France and Paris in particular. It is nice, but it is not quite the “magical and mystical” place that everyone makes it out to be. I think maybe it might be because I am used to European culture and it doesn’t seem so foreign to me anymore or maybe because France looks a lot like Middle American and it seemed like we were driving through Kentucky. But this is what I do know:
1. We drove about 2300 Km or about the distance from San Diego to Toronto.
2. In France, we gave as good as we got; don’t worry, France still didn’t win.
3. The threat of, “I’m totally going to blog about this when we get back” will not stop anyone from questionable behavior.
4. Four days of dick and fart jokes brings people closer together. Period. I said PERIOD!
5. ALWAYS ask for disk FREAKN’ 5!