Normandy: Saltwater Toes and the Middle Ages

Work for the next 5 days after Prague was a total blur. Our schedule was made until the 5th, and because myself and four of the other guides – Allison, Derek, Sao-Mai, and Jess – all had two days off we planned our own little adventure to Normandy, Northern France.

A car was rented, an endless supply of cookies was acquired, and a few maps were briefly glanced at. We left right after work on the 1st, and drove straight for 3 hours to the city of Caen. Our plan was to do both Juno Beach and Mont St-Michel in one day and then the second day take our sweet time back to Arras.

We stayed in the crappy French motel chain, Formule 1. Never, again. So much smoke, no ensuite bathroom, bunk beds. But, you know what, it did the job but did not deserved to be commemorated in photo form.

Wake up was 8h30, and we made it to the beach after a slow morning but quick drive right in time for the 10h00 tour at Juno Beach. Juno was the site of Canada’s landing on D-Day.


Tetrahedrons used on the beach to make it hard for tanks to pass through.


Inside a German Bunker.

Needless to say, we were those people on the tour. Asking questions, doddling, taking pictures of the tour guide… basically the people we were the people we ourselves hate on our tours. Tant pis.


The beach.

After doing the tour, we went through the museum, and being me I was really just interested in all the really cool war propaganda.

Exhibit A:

Half of the centre was just trying to explain Canada to Europeans. They even used a Métis from The Pas, MB to explain what the Métis nation is. Family lineage represent!

After the tour and visitor centre, and spending 20 euros on postcards (nice one Allison), we made our way back to the beach.


The beach seems impossibly small, but it was about 8km long and 300-500m from sea to shore. The tide was at its highest when we were at the beach so it was hard to get a really good feeling of what the beach was like on D-Day. Nonetheless, very cool. Also, another fact that only I will appreciate, where are tour was and where these pictures were taken was where the Winnipeg Rifles landed! (Ya, no one else cares…).

After Juno, we drove along the ocean over to Omaha Beach, the American war cemetery and memorial. Man, the Americans sure can do memorials. I was pretty blown away.

Part of the Omaha Memorial


Typical

Exploring some WWII bunkers. Green sludge was a little too much.

Afterward we grabbed some great lunch in a little cafe right on the ocean. We all got eggs and toast, but I decided to ask for mine scrambled which was a trial in itself trying to explain scrambled eggs to a French speaker. Lots of “briser” et “scrambellled”.

Once we were all ready to go, we hopped in the car and took about 3 hours to get to Mont St-Michel due to some misdirections but no matter, we made it and can definitely say we saw Normandy.

One problem was that we thought we had until 11pm to see the Abbey but unfortunately it was closed at 6pm, and since we didn’t make it there until 6, no dice. Although I was pretty disappointed, we ended up wandering around the old little town at the base of the Abbey, walked in the ocean and watched the tide come time, pretty nice.

The lovely Allison soaking up a day's travel

We were starving after the whole day and of course because it was a Thursday the French took that to be a holiday and closed almost every restaurant at 9pm. I’ll never understand their culture. Eat late, close early. The only place that was open was the French version of Swiss Chalet so we grabbed some bread and poulet roti and mowed down.

The next morning we had planned to take it slow, so we drove around the city of Caen. Downtown, an excellent creperie/breakfast cafe was eaten at. I had delish toasted baguette, the best tea I’ve had in France and some fresh OJ. Everyone else got crepes or omlettes. The woman who served us also owned the tiny cafe and it was without doubt the best service I’ve had while being in the country.

Our plan had been to drive over to Bayeux to see the longest tapestry in the world, from the 11th century, outlining William the Conqueror’s conquest of England. Really, really cool. (Dane you would have lost your mind here…) They gave you an audio guide so it actually told you the story of what was going on in the tapestry. Oh by the way did I mention it was 77metres long? Yea. Those peasants weren’t joking around.

Look at that hand of God about to smote himself some peasants.

There was also a lame-ish exhibit made back in the ’80s for when Prince Charles visited. I had fun with my Macro setting. There were so many miniatures…

Behind Allison is the longest Cathedral in France. It was designed to fit the whole tapestry laid out, so the illiterate peasants to look at William conquoring England.

We wandered for a bit around the downtown of Bayeux (very quaint and pretty), then hopped back in the car to again, very slowly make our way back to Arras. We decided to take the really scenic route along the ocean. Eventually the cute little beach towns became too much to handle and we stopped in Deauville. Deauville is the big-ish resort town that many Parisian’s frequent on their days off. Picturesque.


Derek showing off his guide pose, psyched to be there.

Finally, we wrapped up the day on the beach, wadding and jumping in the waves. Here’s the gang, minus Sao-Mai who was lovely enough to take the picture.

We continued our slow trip back to Arras, all the while listening to Britney Spears. Pretty solid end to a great couple of days.

– N

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Walk when the Locals Do or How to Fail at Avoiding Looking like a Tourist in Prague

So, hopefully everyone is all caught up from my last edition. Though I trust you all are. After talking to the information booth in Terminal 2 of Charles de Gaulle, we were set up with a spot to sleep. We asked him if someone would be there to wake us up in time for our 5h00 check-in. Here’s what the man at the information desk said: “Oh, you’ll know…”

How promising and reassuring.

We passed out and were so joyously awoken first by the intense hardness of our “beds” (i.e. the floor) and then by the 400 people checking in for the 5h00 am EasyJet flight at the check-in counter directly across from where we were set up. In any case we miraculously made it to the check-in counter with no hiccups, security was a breeze and before we knew it we were off to Prague!

Both Allison and Jess passed out, but I decided to journal my way through what just happened. After a short plane ride, we had arrived!!

We get out of the plane and finally everything started to go our way. We managed to take out cash from the ATMs just fine and almost immediately after that, our shuttle driver picked us up, with a “Natalie Coops” sign and all. I’m still not too sure why my last name is misspelled like that so often… We get to our hostel after a huge traffic jam in the middle of the suburbs.


So relieved to be in the hostel, in Prague, FINALLY.

After a quick relax in our gorgeous hostel (literally 5 stars for 13 euros) we took a walk to the beautiful old town where we soaked in the sights. Stopped finally for some actual food and of course because it was the Czech Republic, was super cheap. I had pulled roasted pork in the saltiest gravy ever (yes) and weird cabbage that kind of tasted like barn and some dumplings. Just what we needed. That and the free .5 L of beer. Awesome, all kinds of it.


Sweet Communist relic

Beautiful Prague

Soaking up the life in Prague, with that delicious roast pork and beer.

Ugh, Prague. Prague.

People were 'defenestrated' here. I.E. Kicked out of a window as a way of capital punishment.

After taking the New Europe walking tour that really took us all over the Western half of Prague, we literally ran back to our hostel quick changed and made it to the Opera with 3 minutes to spare. Sat down, got vertigo, and listened to the Marriage of Figaro.

What began as a lovely opera ended up lasting… 3.5 hours. Yep. A full four hours of Italian sang a haute voix. So, yep. Great, but Mozart, cool it on those runs.

The next day, it rained for the most part. We wandered around Charles Bridge (definitely my favourite part) and then made our way to Gehry’s Dancing House (Allison and I lost it a little bit and Jess didn’t get it). Finally we made it to the castle, but because we were too cheap we walked around, soaked up the sights (and the walk), then made it over to the garden just to the right of the Castle.

Guide hand of the Prague Castle and Charles Bridge

BEST BRUNCH EVER. The problem with France is that it cannot do brunch, so we grabbed some in Prague. Pancakes. Real bacon. Paradise

Lennon Wall. Trying to look as non-chalant as possible.

PRAGUE!

Definitely a highlight as probably every single postcard shot of Prague comes from these garden views.

We finished the day where my dad’s co-woker Hana (a former Praguer) suggested… the beer gardens! For 70 cents, one litre of beer and a slight mid-afternoon buzz. Great way to end a chaotic but absolutely fantastic trip.

We made it back to the airport with two hours to spare, bought massive amounts of desserts and laughed at what a whirlwind the past 36 hrs had been.

I’ve just gotten back from touring around Normandy, so expect an update on that soon!

-N

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One Man, One Kit or How to Not Make it to Prague 101

I haven’t been writing in the past few weeks, work work work and work. Loving every minute of it. When not working, many cheap beers and dance parties ensue. More on that later. Because we work five days a week, we only get two days off. But being in Europe and so close to Paris I’ve been trying to take advantage of this. After checking for cheap (ish) flights, Allison and I decided on going to one of my top destination choices… PRAGUE.

One problem, did not realize that traveling in Europe is NOT traveling in Canada. We booked our train tickets thinking as long as we can check-in online and run from the train we’ll be good. Nope. Just a bad idea. About 4 days we were to leave, our other friend Jess decided she’d come along too (and thank God she did…)

Jess trying to relax on our slow train ride of death.

After sending way too long searching the night before if SmartWings had online check-in we realized it was a fool’s errand. SmartWings, a super cheap airline does not have online check in. Ok, so strike one for the plan, but that’s ok, our train might be early because the one thing France does well is trains… right? Wrong. We frantically get to our train station after work and boom. Only train that is delayed is ours. ONLY OURS. By ten minutes. Ok, so ten minutes isn’t the end of the world is it? Wrong. By the time we get on the train it’s only 5 minutes delayed, but on the tracks that time turns into 5-10-15-20 minutes late. Mostly due to the fact that it just decided to stop half way there about three times.

“Don’t freak out, don’t freak out, don’t freak out”

No matter because we were ready to run. And by run I mean sprint. We finally start pulling into the train terminal after about an hour and a half of a creepy Siamese cat unblinkingly staring at Jess the entire way and me trying to remain in a state of Zen. We were waiting at the train exit with a man who worked for the Red Cross at Charles de Gaulle. We told him our plan, and his reaction should have told us. It was one of those reactions of pity and disbelief. Just all-in-all bad news. He told us how to get there the quickest way possible and wished us “bon courage”. The minute the train stopped we bolted. We took those escalator steps two at a time. Then ran along the ‘blue line’ to get the small train to take us to Terminal 3. Upon which we ran straight there to be completely and utterly shut down.

I did not realize how greatly my french had improved until I started yelling at the super rude and incompetent Terminal 3 staff. I don’t think I’ve yelled or enunciated so loudly before in my life. After Jess being rational, me being insane, and Allison being somewhere in between, we decided to just shell out the money and get to Prague.

We figured we’d be able to book a cheap hotel room and spend the night in a nice bed. Wrong. Oh so wrong again. Apparently because there were huge conferences and an international tennis tournament (of course) there were no rooms open. What so ever.

SO GUESS WHERE WE ENDED UP.

*drum roll*

You totally guessed it, the floor of Charles de Gaulle!

Jess setting up her ‘bed’ for the night.

Allison prepping for her night.

So after about 6 hours of half-sleep and drunk Spaniards making cat noises we wearily roll up to the check-in counter and waited patiently and early for our flight.

Beat a night in CDG like a boss. Geared up for Prague.

So that wraps up our frantic and basically ridiculous first attempt at making it to Prague. Next up, we make it there!!

– N

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So this is what people did before the Internet…

A while back, Natalie Alex and I went to the Found Footage Festival when it came to our lovely little Mayfair theatre.  It was EASILY the best $6 I have ever spent on a Wednesday night.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Found Footage Festival (hereafter called FFF), it is basically these 2 guys from small towns in the States (I think, if I am wrong, I am terribly sorry, I haven’t read their bios or anything, I am a very lazy and uneducated blogger…) who troll second-hand stores across the US and Canada for REALLY bad home movies, pick out the highlights and put them all together into a 2 hour session of absolute brilliance.

I’m not talking about home movies like little Bobby’s fourth birthday party, I am talking home movies like this:
http://blip.tv/play/hLEMgq3LJwA

ANYWAY. The reason for this post that is arguably 3 months late (since we went and saw FFF in like February) is that I have just recently found my FAVOURITE video of the night: Rent-A-Friend.

Basically this home movie targeted the really sad and lonely people that just couldn’t get out of their homes to talk to real people so they could buy this video, pop it into their VCR and talk to the person in their TV.

Essentially this is what lonely people did before the Internet. I honestly cannot decide which is sadder, talking to a fake person asking you questions in your television. Or sitting in the dark in front of your computer screen hoping that someone across the world will talk to you in some obscure little chat-room-thingy (again, I apologize for the ill-informed nature of this post. Are chat-rooms still a thing? Is there a hyphen in between chat-room?).

Now that I have amped it up, without further adieu…. RENT-A-FRIEND:

http://blip.tv/play/hLEMgrylQQA.html

Ariel out.

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More proof I am still a 6-year-old at heart: EuroLions.

Anyone who knows me can attest to my overwhelming clumsiness and incredible propensity to topple over. So the fact that I absolutely adore climbing on statues, trees, benches, pretty much anything that you can climb on, makes very little sense to others. I, however, think I am far better when I am climbing on public monuments than I am simply standing in one place.

My extreme love of climbing on statues was in full swing in Europe where they really love cheap wine, cobblestones and giant statues in public places.

the Evidence:

There are an inordinate amount of stone lions in Europe. This particular one is in Venice.

Vatican City Lion.

Roman Lion.

Roman Lion #2.

Venetian Lion #2.

Vatican City Obelisque.

Berlin War Memorial. (It's not as bad as it sounds, they encourage people to play in the giant maze/field of huge concrete slabs. Trust. I'm not a soul-less fiend who only wants to have fun taking pictures.)

Versailles garden statue. (I have already posted this one, but it just fit so nicely with the whole theme, and who am I to mess with the theme?)

Bruxelles Moustache Man.

Amsterdam's Sex Museum giant marble butt/vagina.

I feel like there were many more instances of me climbing on things. (I know for a fact there is a photo somewhere of Amanda and I attempting to climb a tree in Amsterdam, but I am 98% sure it’s on her camera.) But I am sure you get a pretty good feel for how much fun it is to jump and climb on statues and monuments all over Europe.

Ariel out.

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Oh Brugge!

So on the last day of training we got our schedules for the month of May, Andre, Rosalie and I all had two days off together and were more than ready to get the hell out of our “hotel” and take advantage of Europe. Originally we were thinking London or Amsterdam, but as we would be leaving the next morning, everything was much too expensive. What we eventually settled on was Bruges (or Brugge in Belgium), a smaller town in Northern (ish) Belgium. It’s a beautifully preserved Medieval city that finds its claim to fame from the 2009 movie “In Bruges“.

The view from our hostel!

We managed to get a ride with the lovely Vimy guide, Reta from this winter’s session and managed to get there in less than two hours. We dropped our stuff off in our wicked hostel called “Snuffle”, rented some bikes and proceeded to ride around for the rest of the day.

View of part of the main square.

The Belfry which we decided to climb all the way to the top.

We climbed all the way up to the top, and me, being a weakling and kind of afraid of heights was shakey-legged and sweaty-palmed but alive! Here I am clinging to the grating for dear life, though I was not as freaked out as I expected, which is definitely something to be said for my fear!

View from the Belfry

Climbing down all those stairs.

After the Belfry we took our bikes and decided to just bike wherever our little hearts took us. They took us all around, to the canals, along Medieval cobblestoned streets, and into a 13th century nunnery.

A part of the nunnery

A canal! There were old couples all over the canal cruises. Adorable.

After we made our way back to the hostel, got some great advice on restaurants, then made our way back to the main square and watched the sun go down. Luckily our hostel had happy hour, with 1 euro beers from 9-10pm. Needless to say we indulged… a fair amount.

Sunset in the main square

Such cheap beer.

We had about 4 rounds of these...

So more or less we had a wonderful day of relaxing, bike riding and drinking a quaint little town. Not too bad for a simple day trip!

-N

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My Mom

Me and Mom in Vancouver last summer. Love you!

Excuse me while I venture off into different territory with this post, but I’d like to take a second, in honour of Mother’s Day, to say a few things about my mom, Ann.

My mom, as with the rest of my family, have always been amazingly supportive, kind, caring, and everything I could wish for.

The family, with Uncle Pete, Aunty Joce, and of course, Gram and Grampa Copps!

Being here in France has given me an even greater opportunity to realize how great my family, and importantly my parents are to me. So this goes out to my mom, here’s to afternoon tea, learning to knit, and watching old movies on a rainy day. Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I love you!!

Mom and Dad!

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