August 2, 2015


We finished the trip with a tour of the WWII sites in Normandy. Because we were only there for a day, we had a guide show us around. We thought we were getting a private guide, but when he showed up at our hotel he told us that he had double booked himself, and we would be joining a group of 6 other people....hmmmm. But turns out that was fine, because talking one on one for 10 hours would have been a little much. This way we had 6 other people for Jacque to engage. Jacque was around 75 years old. He was a child during the invasion, and was hit with a piece of shrapnel and nearly died. But he didn't--in fact, he told us that he hopes to die during one of his tours. He's certain that the people wouldn't mind--they wouldn't have to pay him for the day! He was quite the character.

It started out a fairly rainy day. But the mood felt about right for the somber German cemetery. 

 We next went to Sainte-Mère-Église, one of the towns involved in the D-Day invasion. One of the paratroopers parachute caught on the spire of the town church. He hung there for two hours, pretending to be dead, before the Germans took him prisoner.

When the church in the town needed a new organ, many years after WWII, they reached out to the American Veterans. They received so many donations they added new stained glass windows and honored those who fought there.

A bullet hole in a fence across from the church

We went to a WWII museum. Jacques offered to take everyone's picture in front of the was easier to oblige than to say no so there are an unprecedented number of pics of Ryan and I together. 

We next went to Utah Beach. It was really beautiful. We ate lunch and then continued onto Pointe du Hoc. I was amazed at how much remained 70 years later. There were still German bunkers, depressions from the bombing and barbed wire. It was odd for the surroundings to be so beautiful and peaceful.

Inside a German bunker, looking out.

These are the cliffs that the Army rangers scaled. I was amazed that they could make it up, let alone under fire. 

We went next to Omaha beach. This was the most meaningful part of the day for me. The sun had come out, and it was gorgeous. It was low tide, similar to conditions on the morning of June 6, 1944. Before the trip we had watched parts of Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, and in my head I had images of what happened on these beaches. It truly felt like sacred ground. 

Our last stop was to the American Cemetery. There is an interesting museum and then the iconic rows of crosses. It overlooks the ocean and is very peaceful and it made me proud to be an American. The most surprising thing about Normandy was the gratitude the people still feel. 70 years later, they still revere Americans. American flags fly all over the place. Jaques told us that if he ever gets pulled over for speeding, he speaks English and tells the officer that he is an American and his grandfather fought in WWII--and it works! Never in all of Europe have I felt so welcome.

June 4, 2015

Mont Saint Michel

After leaving Groombridge we took the Chunnel over to Paris and a train to Bayeux, a small town in Normandy. We found our hotel and settled in for the night. The next morning we headed off to see Mont Saint Michel. Unfortunately, it was raining (it rained on and off for most of the trip) AND it was a French holiday weekend AND it was as Saturday, so conditions were less than ideal. But still, it was really amazing.

For nearly 1000 years, people have been making a pilgrimage here hoping to ensure their salvation. I was fascinated to see people brave the cold and mud and walk barefoot along the sand. The tides had been unusually high  a few months ago, so we were glad to be able to make it to the island without any issues.

We coincidentally timed our visit with Mass in the Abbey. I've never been to Mass so I made us stay. It was nice, although we couldn't stay for the entirety.

Ringing the church bell


We stumbled upon a wedding in Bayeux. Kids will be kids no matter where you are! 

May 31, 2015

Groombridge Place

Thursday morning Ryan and I got up and headed to Groombridge Place. We almost didn't go because there really wasn't a good, timely way to get there and back, but we ended up just hiring a driver to take us.  Groombridge about an hour out of London--it is amazing to me how quickly you go from London City to beautiful Jane Austin countryside--and is the home of Philip Packer, Ryan's great x8 grandfather. The house was used in the filming of Pride and Prejudice and has the feel of a classic English manor. The gardens and surrounding grounds have been turned into a park of sorts, with animals, a small boat ride, archery lessons, trails through the forrest with giant swings in the trees. They even have a Zedonk. I mean, come on. This place is legit. As we wandered through the forest Ryan decided that Groombridge would make the perfect place to have a cyclocross course. And I am certain that all of the grandkids would love it. Packers, I think we need to step up and start a "Buy Groombridge" fund!

May 30, 2015

London, 2015

Ryan had some meetings in London, so we decided to take advantage of all those frequent flier miles he's been racking up. Ryan flew out on Saturday, and I joined him on Wednesday. Ryan and I had been adjusting our schedules towards London time for a few days, and I was able to sleep for a good portion of the flight over, which was great for beating jet lag. On Wednesday I successfully navigated my way from the airport to the hotel. I was not so lucky on my afternoon run. But thanks to google maps (and a little help from Ryan) I made it home safe and sound.

Ryan showed me around London and we ate at an Indian restaurant in Knotting Hill and wandered around the city until I called it a night.

The next day I had great time exploring the city. I started the day at Westminster Abbey. I was the first one in line and able to enjoy it without the crowds.

From there I made my way to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen was in residence--probably awaiting the birth of Princess Charlotte who was born two days later.

I then took the tube to the Victoria and Albert museum. I intended to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, but the wait was too long so instead I checked out a cool fashion through the ages exhibit.

As I wandered toward Kensington Palace, I stumbled upon the Natural History Museum and the LDS Visitors' Center. I stopped in for a quick tour and met some very nice sister missionaries.

I was starting to get hungry, so I found some food at the Royal Albert Theater. And from there I went to Hyde Park. It was wonderful. So green and peaceful. I found my way to Kensington Palace. I'm not up on my royals, and when the usher told me that Kensington Palace was the current home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge I had to google it to know that Kate and William were close by.

After the tour of the palace and the gardens I rented a Barclays Bike and rode through Hyde Park. It really is amazing how much more ground you can cover on a bike! It really was fun, and was nice because there weren't too many cars.

My next adventure was a different story. I had signed up for a "Secret London Bike Tour." We started in this somewhat sketchy graffiti tunnel where Banksy frequented during his early days. Then we went all over, joining right int with London traffic.  I was amazed at how easy it was to ride with the cars when you were following a guide. We even rode over the Tower Bridge. The scariest thing was that near the end of the 3-hour ride my cell phone died. Ryan and I were in the middle of texting each other to make plans for the evening. Thankfully my guide let me use his phone (and Ryan's phone number is one of the few that I have memorized!) and we hooked up.

Ryan and I had dinner at Nobu with some of his friends. Then we wandered around SoHo (I think--I was just following Ry) and got a waffle. If you've only got one real day in London, make it count!