Weekend with Mom & Dad | May 2014

Mount Bonnell

Happy Sunday!

I thought I would take a break from my Europe posts to share some pictures from last weekend when Mom and Dad were in Austin. They arrived late Friday night, so we had all day Saturday to explore. I decided to take both of them to Mayfield Park and Preserve, or as I like to call it, "the place with the peacocks." (I visited the park for the first time last year.) The peacocks are so tame and let people walk right up to them all around the park. We were all a little disappointed that none of the peacocks decided to show off their feathers while we there, but they still vocalized for us. (Strangely, their voices sound a little bit like cats' meows.)




Red yucca

Water lily

The park is located very close to Mount Bonnell, one of Dad's favorite places in Austin, so we also visited there while we were in the area. The views of Lake Austin and downtown are just extraordinary. It was a beautiful spring day, and many people were enjoying boating on the lake down below.

Lake Austin

Lake Austin

Austin skyline

University of Texas

After we climbed down from Mount Bonnell, we were hungry, so we headed to Matt's El Rancho for a late lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon hitting some of our favorite Austin places, including BookPeople, Half-Price Books, Paper Source and Whole Foods. I also introduced Mom to Room Service, a vintage store I've visited a few times. We enjoyed looking around, and I even found two wooden dolls from the U.S.S.R. to add to my collection. We ended the day with ice cream at Amy's, where I convinced Dad to take some pictures with me in the photo booth.

The next day, we went to church in the morning and had lunch at the new In-N-Out Burger in Cedar Park. Since I had to be back at church around 3 for the spring concert, we looked around a few places there before Mom and Dad dropped me off at the apartment so I could get ready. The concert began at 4, and I think both of our pieces went well. I enjoyed playing "Over the Rainbow" since we had one of the choir members sing along, and our other piece ("All Things Bright and Beautiful") had a fun Caribbean flavor.

Mom and Dad headed home after the concert, but it was great to have them in Austin for a little while.

European Adventure | Day 5

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On the fifth day of our cruise (April 10), we toured the Normandy beaches. We left the boat at 7:45 a.m. and took a bus to Arromanches and Gold Beach. The British forces landed here on D-Day and built a temporary harbor to help bring supplies from England over to France. You can still see the remains of the harbor from the shore, but it's no longer used for that purpose. While we were in Arromanches, Mom and I looked around the beach and watched a film on the building of the harbor at the museum. The group also ate lunch here at a restaurant called 6 Juin (June 6), although neither Mom nor I enjoyed the meal very much.

Gold Beach

Gold Beach

D-Day Museum


After leaving Arromanches, we drove over to the German bunkers in Longues-sur-Mer. We had the chance to look around the bunkers for a few minutes, but I was most fascinated by the fields of yellow rapeseed flowers nearby. Seeing these flowers was one of Mom's fondest memories from her vacation to Eastern Europe last year, so we both were excited to see them this year.

German bunker

Yellow rapeseed

Mom in Normandy

Our next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, one of the most touching parts of the entire trip. Viking had arranged for a simple memorial ceremony to take place when we arrived, and then we had the opportunity to look around. Seeing all of the white crosses (and Stars of David) lined up was truly moving. When you walked to the edge of the cemetery, you could look down to Omaha Beach, and it was really beautiful.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Omaha Beach

The final destination of the day was Omaha Beach, where the American forces landed on D-Day. Now there is a beautiful monument commemorating the landing, and the beach is almost pristine. Both of us enjoyed looking around, and since we couldn't walk all the way down to the ocean, we took a picture of our feet on the beach instead. (Mom always loves to dip her toe in the ocean to prove she's been somewhere.)

Omaha Beach Memorial

Omaha Beach Memorial

Omaha Beach

Shadow at Omaha Beach

Once we made it back to the buses, we had a long drive back to Rouen — almost 2.5 hours. I slept some of the way but also enjoyed looking around. We ate dinner soon after we made it back to the boat and ended up sitting with a nice couple from D.C. who had done a lot of traveling. It was interesting to hear their stories and share some of our own.

Lighted bridge in Rouen

European Adventure | Day 4

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After leaving Vernon on Tuesday night, we sailed to Rouen on the fourth day of our trip. We didn't arrive until early in the afternoon, so I slept in and then joined Mom for a lecture on Joan of Arc in the lounge. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, so the talk gave us a little background before we landed. After the lecture ended, Mom and I spent some time on the sun deck enjoying the scenery as we sailed along. We were both fascinated by the mistletoe in the trees and the adorable houses we passed by.


Houses along the Seine

Life preserver

Once we landed in Rouen, we took a walking tour with the rest of the Viking group. We toured an old cemetery, St. Maclou's Church, Notre Dame Cathedral (made famous by Claude Monet's paintings), and Jeanne d'Arc Church. We had some time to explore afterward, so Mom and I walked around some of the main streets and visited a few shops. I was excited to find several paper shops and even ended up buying a cute stamp of a French cat (oui! meow!) in one of them. As usual, we also tried several sweets shops, purchasing macarons and bon-bons. The most humbling part of our time in Rouen, however, was my attempt to order two drinks at McDonalds. I managed to get Mom's Diet Coke, but asking for a drink for myself was just too much to ask, I guess. At least Mom was well hydrated.

Buildings in Rouen

Aitre St-Maclou

Notre Dame of Rouen

Notre Dame of Rouen

Notre Dame of Rouen

Rue du Gros-Horloge


We returned to the boat later that afternoon. Since we had an early start the next morning, we got ready for bed soon after dinner. We stayed in Rouen that evening so we could take a bus out to the Normandy beaches the next day.

European Adventure | Day 3

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After leaving Paris, we began sailing up the Seine and landed in the town of Vernon early the next morning. Vernon is right across the river from Giverny, the location of Claude Monet's garden and our destination that morning. We were so lucky to visit the gardens in early April because the flowers were all in bloom and absolutely gorgeous. Mom and I enjoyed walking around after our guided tour, taking pictures of all the different color combinations — each one seemed to be more beautiful than the last!

Monet's Garden

Monet's Garden

Monet's Garden

Monet's Garden

Monet's Garden

While we were in Giverny, we also visited the Museum of Impressionism located close to the gardens. The current exhibit focused on the works of American Impressionists, including John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and William Merritt Chase. Both Mom and I have seen these artists' work before, but we enjoyed seeing them again in the context of Monet's garden.

That afternoon we took a guided tour of Vernon and visited the Collegiate Church Notre-Dame and several other spots around town. It was so interesting to see the timbered houses and walk down Vernon's many old streets. After the tour ended, Mom and I set off on our own for a little while. We found several fascinating shops to explore, including one selling French decorative items (so very "in" right now). I was especially excited to find a French version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone at a bookstore; my collection of Harry Potter translations is still going strong.

Vernon, France

Vernon, France

Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame

Au Reve du Toutou

Once we arrived back at the boat, we listened to a talk given by a local artist on the history of Impressionism. I took a few art history classes in college so I recognized some of the paintings she discussed, but I appreciated hearing how the Impressionist movement all fit together. One of the major themes of the French part of our journey was art (Monet's garden, Musée de l'Orangerie, Musée d'Orsay), so it was wonderful to have some background information from a current artist.

That evening, dinner was momentous for one main reason — I tried frog legs for the first time. Unfortunately, these legs weren't fried, so they still looked remarkably like frogs. I think I might like them better fried, but for now, at least I can say I've eaten frog (not as exotic as warthog in Africa, eh?).

Monet's Garden

European Adventure | Days 1 & 2

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Aww, Paris. J'adore Paris.

Mom and I began our European adventure in Paris, one of my favorite cities in the world. I first visited Paris in 2004, and Dad and I spent about 10 hours in the Paris airport back in 2006 (on our way to South Africa). I loved being able to return 10 years later and see some new things as well as some old favorites.

We arrived in Paris after a sleepless night on the plane, but once we made it to the boat and got settled, we set off to explore. We had originally planned to visit the Musée d'Orsay, but once we arrived outside the museum, we saw the longest line of people waiting to get inside. Since we had so little time in Paris, we didn't want to spend it standing in line. Instead, we walked across the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor to the Tuileries Garden. The Garden was all abloom — there were flowers and green trees and people out enjoying the outdoors.

Along the Seine

Musee d'Orsay

Tuileries Garden

Tuileries Garden

The Musée de l'Orangerie is located along one corner of the Garden, and although there was a line here too, we braved it and made it in fairly quickly. The museum houses Monet's Water Lilies, along with several other works of art, and both Mom and I really enjoyed our visit. It definitely made our trip to Giverny a few days later more meaningful. After we left the museum, we took the Metro back to the boat and enjoyed our first dinner on board.

In front of the Eiffel Tower

The next morning we took a bus tour of the city to many of Paris's most famous sites, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre. While we were at Notre Dame, Mom and I made a mad dash over to Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore I've wanted to visit for years. We took several wrong turns and were about to give up when suddenly it appeared around the corner. I only had a few minutes to look around and grab a book off the shelf (I decided on a Fitzgerald) before we had to walk back to the bus. At least I was able to mark something new off my bucket list.

Notre Dame de Paris

Shakespeare and Company

After our guided tour ended, Mom and I set off on our own. We headed back to the Île de la Cité for a lunch of crepes before visiting Sainte-Chappelle, a Gothic chapel located near Notre Dame. It was absolutely breathtaking inside, especially the stained glass windows on the top floor. We then took the Metro to Montmartre and Sacré-Couer, one of the highest points in Paris. The views were spectacular, especially once we climbed the 300 steps to the top of Sacré-Couer's dome.




By the time we climbed back down, however, our legs were shaking, and the thought of doing anything else was a little intimidating. We rewarded ourselves with macarons and headed back to the boat. That evening we said au revoir to Paris and began sailing down the Seine.

If you'd like to see more of my vacation photos, please visit my France and England album on Flickr.