Monday, October 24, 2011

Center Parcs Normandy

Warning: Lots of pictures!
Last week we came back from a great we didn't even know we were going to take. Let me explain. We booked a cabin at Center Parcs, thinking it was in Lorraine, France. We were scheduled to check in at 3 pm Monday, Oct 10. When I checked on our reservation Friday afternoon (Oct 7) I realized that we hadn't, in fact, booked at the Lorraine Center Parcs. We had booked at the Center Parcs in Normandy. Instead of an easy 2 hr car ride we were looking at a an 8 hr (with no stops) car trip driving us across northern France, through Paris, to Normandy. We were in serious shock. What to do? We decided to go for it. We bid Gram and Pops goodbye on Friday, said hello to Caitlin and Artur on Saturday and headed out bright and early on Sunday to Normandy.

Crossing the Rhine...our gateway to adventure.

We spent our first night in Reims, France. It was raining, but the kids hung in there, especially after five hours in the car. We went to visit the amazing cathedral in Reims (pronounced Rance, as in rhymes with France). Now there are cathedrals and there are Cathedrals. This was the latter. All the French monarchs were crowned here, starting with Clovis, the first king of the Francs in 509. This is a look at the ornate front door.

...and the rose window dating back to the 13th century is still on display. We were there in time for Reims to celebrate the Cathedral's 800th anniversary. Wow.

At the back of the nave are these three stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall himself. They were absolutely incredible and depict several Biblical scenes and scenes from French history. What a sight to behold!

Being in the heart of Champagne, we toured one of the many champagne caves in the area. The girls loved seeing the "sleeping" bottles. On our tour with us were two couples from Albuquerque. Small world!

Our arrival at Center Parcs. Here's the view from our breakfast buffet.

One thing that surprised us was how many people didn't speak English. In Germany, most people speak SOME English but in the region of France where we were, there seemed to be fewer English speakers. What good practice to dust off our high school French and see how it worked!

Our cabin had a few issues, but we were pretty comfortable there. It was right in the middle of the woods, the leaves were changing, we had a nice walk to the pool/eating area each was very relaxing. Of course, the girls had been talking about going to "the pool in France" for weeks leading up to our vacation. Because why else does a 2 and 4 yr old care to visit France? :) The pool was awesome. See the smile.

Playing in the kids' area. There were also small jacuzzis (that Kate named the "turtle pool") and several water slides. Just to the left of this picture is a huge "Water Tree" that dumps 900 liters of water on all around...very safely, of course. The noise was incredible. The girls loved every minute, and with their differing personalities there was always one ready to go on a slide and one ready to relax in the turtle pool.

Another highlight--throwing acorns into the pond that our cabin backed up to. They could have done that for hours!

We went to visit the horses one day and saw this amazing house that stands at the entrance to the Center Parcs grounds. It's very typical of the Normandy-style houses and we were disappointed that we couldn't go in and see it. But when you have a big stick and the sun is shining, who cares about a big ole' house?

One day we broke ourselves away from the pool and acorns and drove the 2 1/2 hrs to the Normandy beach area. First we visited the American Cemetery that overlooks several beaches. There are over 10,000 soldiers buried here. It was incredible.

I think the most moving moments for me (Jen) were when we stood on Omaha Beach. To think of the enormity of the task before the soldiers who stormed the beach along with the incredible number of men who gave their lives on that day... and today we hear the peacful cries of the gulls alongside the gentle swells of the ocean and my children run about, collecting shells....the history is palpable even after 65 years.

Standing on Point du Hoc between Omaha and Utah beaches. This German stronghold was stormed by a ranger battalion of 255 men who scaled the cliff to overpower the Germans and take out the guns. At the end of two days, the 90 remaining men succeeded.

When we moved to Germany, we didn't think we'd be able to make it to the beaches at Normandy. After all, there's so much to see in Europe and so little time...we are so grateful to have been able to spend even one afternoon at such an inspirational and moving place.

After our week at Center Parcs, we piled back on the van to Nancy, France. We spent the night here before finally making it back home. Nancy is such a delightful place! And amazingly enough, isn't even mentioned in Rick Steves' France. He's missing out--we think we need to write him. Our kids nicknamed it Fancy Nancy Francy.

Enjoying the obligatory French pastries on the steps of the basicila in Nancy.

Sadly, the Basilica (which was an incredible sight) was closed. We never found an open door, no matter how hard we tried.

Here's the 16th century gate to the old city.

Sitting alongside the locals (who occupied all the other benches) in the park on a fancy Nancy afternoon.

The gate between the park and the Stanislas Place (a gorgeous square near the ducal palace of the Lorraine nobility. Also notable, this is where I had quiche Lorraine in Lorraine!

Our vacation was relaxing, fun, and sweet. Great family time was had by all. Now back to the real world!


beth and melinda said...


Anonymous said...

I second that wow!! What beautiful pictures. we are so happy that you are able to see and experience so much in you short few months in Europe!!! And isn't amazing that you unplaned such a great vacation!!! So funny how things work out. Love you -A&J

b.niel said...

yay! Fancy Nancy! What an awesome trip! Love these pictures, especially ellie chomping down on that pastry. so cute! glad the planning blip turned out in your favor! love you guys!

Erin said...

Fun, fun, fun!!! We LOVE seeing all the photos. We spent lots of time in France (Patrick lived there for two years) and Josh and Patrick went to all the Normandy beaches, too. We love seeing all your pics and the great time your family is having. What wonderful memories you are making! And we continue to live vicariously through you. Enjoy all those adventures!

Nana said...

What great pics of a wonderful vacation. There was something for everyone. It's such a joy to see you enjoying the history of the countries and the beauty of the buildings. I especially appreciated your comments about Omaha Beach. It is incredible to see that and then realize the history. It's quite moving. The pool area for the kids looked fantastic. I'm sure they loved it. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to give us a review of your time away. We love you!

Shari Baker said...

God must have been thinking that he really wanted you to see this area, so made that happen! I'm glad that you got to go!