Wednesday, November 29, 2006


On the second day of our journey to France, we took a train from Paris to Caen which is the closest major city to the beaches of Normandy where D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944. We rented a car which allowed us to explore at our own pace. We started out at Sword beach on the east side of the beach and worked our way toward Omaha beach on the west side. (Normandy is on the north side of France facing the English Channel) Click here and scroll down just a bit for a map of Normandy. It was amazing seeing this place where so much bloodshed and destruction occurred. In contrast to the violence which occurred, the country side is quite beautiful with many quaint villages along the way.

Looking out into the water, I tried to imagine the 5000 some odd ships which would have been facing the beaches. As we progressed along the coast, we stopped at a place called Aromanches where the British forces built a temporary harbor to assist in bringing supplies/forces from the ships to the land. This allegedly played a critical role in the invasion.

At various places along the 40 kilometer route, we stopped at the actual sites where the battle was fought. We saw enormous guns used to fire on ships, bunkers (some intact some very damaged), pill boxes, and assorted damage to the land. We were able to actually walk inside some of the German bunkers. You could very clearly see the damage to the bunkers resulting from airplane and ship bombardment.

Pont du Hoc on Omaha Beach was a major part of the battle where American troops climbed the cliffs and took on the German forces. I previously had no real concept of D-Day and what it might have been like. Seeing the cliffs and beaches in person helped me to realize the enormous odds stacked against any solider trying to attack from below on the beaches. These were truly heroes with tremendous bravery. All over the ground at Pont du Hoc were gigantic holes and depressions into the ground resulting from bombs.

The most somber and sobering part of the day was when we spent some time at the American cemetery where there are 9600+ graves each with a soldiers name on it. Standing in the cemetery was almost overwhelming. The sheer emotion and realization of the massive sacrifice of life was definitely apparent. Next time you see a veteran, thank them for their service. War is a terrible thing and it was very much realized in that place.

After departing from the beaches, we had a meal in a small town called Bayeux and made our way back to Caen for our trip home to Paris. We were sure to check the last departing train time during the day which was indicated as 9:30 pm. However, this was not the case. Apparently, the 9:30 train only leaves from Caen to Paris on Sunday night. So, we ended up spending the night in Caen arising at 4:45 am and getting on a 5:15 am train to Paris. Not the most fun way to spend one's last night in France but provided fodder for stories to tell later on.

For more pictures please click here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Recently, my friends Kevin and Matt came to visit from Kansas City. After several days of showing them around London, we went on an excursion to France. Paris is quite close to London and due to the proximity, a train ride is entirely feasible. The chunnel goes under the English channel for around 20 minutes with the total commute from London to Paris being 2 hours and 20 minutes.

My knowledge of French is extremely limited but prior to departure, I consulted with some native French speakers at work. During the trip, I practiced essential phrases such as Combien ca coute? (How much does it cost) Bonjour, Merci, Excusem moi and counting to 10. The lady I sat next to was a native of Paris and she informed me of the reason Paris is known as the "City of Lights." This pseudonym comes from Paris's distinction as being the first city to light up the major sites around the city at night.

We arrived in Paris on Monday night around 10:00 pm. After attempting to say in French "can you take us to our hotel," the driver took a look at the name and location of the hotel and called a compatriot who gave presumably better directions than those I printed off from the internet. The driver spoke virtually no English but as a fellow classical music connoisseur, we proceeded to say composer's names to each other with smiles and nods. "Beethoven, Bach, List, Berlioz, Handel, Debussy."

The hotel room was quite small with room for precisely three small beds and littel more space. But who's looking for luxurious accommodations when you're in a great city to explore in? We got up early the next morning and headed into town on the underground train which had a stop just outside our hotel's front door.

We were well armed with an itinerary thanks to I highly recommend their advice for any city you'll be travel to for sightseeing. They have excellent general overviews of the city, recommended itineraries, reviews of top sites, eating, and basic getting around information.

Our first stop was the Louvre which for some unexplained reason was closed on a Tuesday. We took a picture and promptly set off for the Seine river. The Seine and its accompanying river walk is quite beautiful especially with the changing autumn leaves. We then went to Pont Neuf, Vert-Galant Square, and Place Dauphine each of which offered nice general views of the city and some of its sights.

The next major place we visited was Sainte Chapelle, a Gothic chapel with beautiful stained glass windows all around. Stained glass windows literally covered all the walls in a brilliant array of colors with each window pane telling a portion of the Biblical account. As a side note, we learned that sometimes stained glass windows were used to help those who could not read still see and understand stories from the Bible.

Shortly after, we wandered through the Latin Quarter on our way to Notre Dame. Restaurant proprietors stood in the doorways inviting us to try their fares. However, we put lunch on hold until after Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was my favorite site in Paris. It has beautifully intricate Gothic architecture and is magnificent both inside and out. The cathedral was finished in the 1200s and took approximately 80 years to complete. Inside it was very beautiful but dark and tall at the same time. We were there during a Mass which was in French and that we clearly could not understand. Kevin and I climbed to the top via stairs and were greeted by stunning views of the city as well as some interesting gargoyles and statues on top.

After a lunch at a kebab shop in the Gothic Quarter, it was on to Place de la Concorde which contains a large obelisk allegedly built in 1200 B.C. We made this journey on foot which though a bit laborious, seemed more reliable to the newbie than the underground train system. I'm sure the train system works well for those who know its ins and outs but it did not seem as intuitive as the London Tube system.

We then made our way down the Champs de Elysees, Paris's most famous boulevard. Each summer the Tour de France participants race down Champs de Elysees on international television. The focal point of the avenue is the Arc de Triumphe which is 49 meters tall. Continuing our foot journey, we made our way to the Effiel Tower for a view of Paris's most visible landmark. It is 317 meters tall and one must get quite far away to take an adequate picture. Unfortunately, my wide angle lense stopped working so I had to take two shots of the tower with my telephoto lense. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the World's Fair and remained the tallest building in the world until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York was built in 1930. Kevin and I took an elevator to the top for a view over the entire city. This completed the first day. The second day we went to Normandy which I will discuss in a separate entry.

On the third day, the main site we saw was Sacre Cuer which is a beautiful basilica with another superb view of the city. Inside a choir was singing and the effect was one of reverence. The stated mission of the church is for worldwide prayer and intercession. The rest of the day was spent exploring the city a bit more then making our way back to the train station for the return to London.

Overall, the food in France was excellent. I had crepes on a couple occasions as wells as multiple tasty pastries. I'm not a big fan of cheese but was equally impressed with the quality. I'd place it on a completely separate level to that which I've previously tasted. The French can definitely cook.

Click here for more pictures

Sunday, November 19, 2006


"Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." -John 4:14

The things of the world have a tendency to cause thirst whether new or revisted. Drink daily from the water of Christ and be quenched of worldly thirst. Make Him your "Goderade."

Monday, November 06, 2006


Hola. Buenos Dias. Me gusta Barcelona. Porque no todos amigos y familia hablan Espanol, escribo en Ingles. My trip to Barcelona was muy bien. I enjoyed experience the culture there. One suprise was that Barcelona is essentially the capital of Catalonya which is kind of a nation within the country of Spain. They understand Spanish there but the primary language is Catalonian. When I arrived at the airport I was looking around at signs seeing a language that had some similarities to Spanish but was unfamiliar. I was thinking "um, what exactly does that say? I thought I was in Spain but that's not Spanish." It turns out that signs in public places like train stations, museums many times are listed with Catalonian boldly displayed and Spanish and English with less prominent positions on the signage.

The Spanish I learned in high school is not pronounced the same way as the traditional Spanish pronunciation. For example, the "s" in the word for school, "escuela", in Spain is pronounced with a "th" instead of the "es" that was taught in my classes. I found in heavily tourist areas that vendors usually just spoke English to me instead of helping me along with my broken Spanish. While this might be good for someone who doesn't care to practice, it was a bit frustrating to me because I wanted to practice using the language. I did have many opportunities to use it as well. I successfully talked my way out of a misunderstanding at the museum, purchased stamps, took a taxi to the hotel, purchased lunch on several occasions, and mailed some post cards all using Spanish. I also met a guy from Columbia on the plane and spoke a good deal of Spanish to him. (actually sat by the same hombre on the way there and back)

While my vocabulary is not what it could be, I've decided that I could definitely survive in a totally Spanish speaking environment if needed. Things don't come as quickly in Spanish but after a few days you start picking up on things. I even began to try to translate every object or word into Spanish. For a brief time when I started reading a book in English, I found myself still trying to think of the Spanish word.

Overall, I feel that the American culture would do well to learn more languages. Many people throughout the world can speak multiple languages. Knowing another language helps open up a new venue for communication and broadens one's horizons. Even if one does not become fluent, a basic understanding is good to have.

I arrived in Barcelona around 11pm at night but after a 15-20 minute taxi ride, arrived at my hotel. It was a very nice 4 star hotel which I found on the Internet for a reasonable price. One downside was the distance from the middle of the city. It took around an hour via tram and train to get to Las Ramblas which is in the center.

The first morning, I went into the city and began by walking down Las Ramblas. This is a street where they have tons of vendors, mimes, street performers and mostly where all the fast paced action happens. I also wandered around the Bari Gotic which has some really cool Gothic architecture. Another stop the first day included the Barcelona Cathedral. This is an enormous cathedral which has very nice stain glass windows, architecture, statues, and its very own gaggle of geese inside. I also stopped by a basilica called Santa Maria del Pi.

At the bottom of Las Ramblas close to the harbor, there is a monument of Christopher Columbus. I rode the elevator to the top and looked out over the harbor and the city. I then rode the funicular (basically a tram) up to the top of Mount Juic and got to see the Olympic stadium and former Olypic torch. Wandering served me well that evening as I wandered down to the Font Magica (Magic Fountain) which is a series of water falls flowing down and ended with a nearby fountain. The fountain has lights and water shooting all over with coreographed classical music. This over looks the city and provides a beautiful view. I highly recommend this as something to do if you're ever in Barcelona.

On the second day, I checked out the Picasso museum. It was structured more towards exploring his art throughout his life vis a vis just his well known cubist phase. He was quite talented at the more traditional styles of painting and drawing. I did some more wandering around the city and took some pictures of one of the many street performers playing guitar as well as a guy playing the glass harp (glasses filled with water) I went to La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral by the famous architect Gaudi, that has not yet been completed (estimated completion in 2025). I'm not one to be scared of heights but after taking the elevator to the top of this enormous structure definitely had a bit of nervousness. It is currently 60 meters (197 feet). It provided a terrific view of the city and I was up there close to sunset so had the added benefit of the extra color in the sky. I finished the day with a walk along the beach. There aren't really any waves that I could tell but that may change depending on weather.

On a couple occasions, I got some helado (ice cream) called frambuesa which was very good kind of tropical flavored. I also sampled some canella which provided a rich taste very similar to cinnamon.

I found a small bakery close to my hotel which had some really good pastries for a very reasonable price compared to some of the prices for things in the city. One day I went there and had breakfast, read my Bible, and wrote in my journal. The bakeries throughout the city had very high quality food and are another of my recommendations. Another classic Spanish dish is paella. It is a rice base with vegetables and possibly a small quantity of meat depending on the dish. Quite tasty.

The last day, I went to Parc Guell a park designed by Gaudi. This has some odd art/structures in it. I was not as impressed with the Park as I had anticipated being. There was some nice live jazz music put on by a guitarist and saxophonist at the top of the park. I also got a humorous picture of a sign on a nearby house indicating "if it's tourist season then why can't we shoot them."

I also went up to the top of Montjuic once more to see the Spanish fortress over looking the city and Mediterannean. In my opinion, this was probably the best view in the whole city and consequently spent a decent amount of time at the top. I closed the trip out by checking out the cathedral Santa Maria delMar then heading back to the hotel to grab my bag and head to la aeuropuerta. My flight arrived back in London at 12:15 am on Halloween and I had my second experience on the London bus system in the middle of the night. Not that the bus is bad, I've just become accustomed to traveling via the tube.

More pictures at the following links:
Day 1

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

Happy Guy Fawkes Day! Here in the UK they celebrate Guy Fawkes day. This is in memory of November 5th 400 years ago when Guy Fawkes and some of his buddies tried to blow up the Parliment building with the members of parliment and King James I inside. They were caught, tortured, and hung. (Guy Fawkes & co. that is)

To be honest, I think the celebration is just an excuse to shoot off fireworks and blow things up. They obviously don't observe the US holiday of the 4th of July so this is somewhat of an equivalent. I went to Battersea Park where allegedly the best display is put on. It was correographed to music and was quite good. As a side note, Guy Fawkes is alluded to in the movie V for Vendetta. Haven't personally seen it but it supposedly has a similar theme of rising up against the man.

More pictures viewable here
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