Sunday, August 14, 2016

European Adventure 2012: Back Home--St. Germain, Chocolat, and German Cleanliness

After visiting Omaha Beach, we were let out of the cemetery parking lot and drove back to our hotel in Lisieux.  We came across a bit of a predicament upon arriving back...most of the restaurants in town were bars!  Eventually, we found a pizza parlor and had some pizza...yup...French pizza!  It was actually pretty good!

The next morning, we drug our feet as we checked out of our hotel and made our way back to our car parked in the town's ancient town square.  Dan thought of what this town square must have looked like in medieval times...probably a lot different, but a lot alike at the same time.  I'm sure they must have had medieval festivals here!

We began our drive back to Paris to return our car and meet up with our friend Tom one last time before boarding our train for Kaiserslautern, Germany.

When we arrived in Paris, we went to the district of St-Germain-des-Prés to meet Tom.  While we were there, we stepped into the ancient church of St-Germain-des-Prés.  This part of Paris was once located outside of the medieval city removed from the main city due to frequent flooding of the River Seine.  For this reason, the Benedictine Abbey and its buildings were built in the fields away from the city...fields/meadows in French is "prés," hence the name.  The abbey was founded in the 6th Century by Childebert I, the son of Clovis I (King "Louis" I of France).  The church was originally dedicated to the Holy Cross and St. Vincent, but, after St. Germain, a bishop of Paris was canonized as a Saint, Germain's relics were moved from the church's vestibule to its main body in a ceremony witnessed by Pepin and his seven-year-old son, Charles--one day to be known as "Charles the Great" or "Charlemagne."  The Church was then known as St-Germain-des-Prés.  The church was frequently plundered and set on fire by the Normans in the 9th Century.  Due to this, it was eventually rebuilt, and rededicated by Pope Alexander III.

For nine centuries after his death in 576, his remains were carried in procession through the streets of Paris in times of plague and crisis.  The bishop's remains are still in the church today and may still be kept retro altare ("behind the main altar") in the main church.  The Tomb of the French philosopher, Rene Decartes is also in this church.

After visiting this historic church, we looked for Tom and couldn't find him.  So, we decided to try to see if we could use someone's cell phone to call him.  And...what better place to find someone who would let us use their cell phone than in a French Chocolate shop????  :)

While Sarah and Peter shopped for some gifts for family and for some "souvenirs" for us, I asked an employee if I could use their store's phone.  He told me that they couldn't do that.  I started to get a bit were we going to get a hold of Tom?  I decided to join Sarah and Peter and look at all the amazing chocolate sculptures the shop had on display.  Then, the young employee who I had just spoken to came over to me and gave me his cell phone.  He said "Use my phone!  Just don't tell my boss, I could get in trouble!"  I thanked him profusely and was able to get in contact with Tom to make arrangements for meeting him.  Whoever said the French/Parisians are rude must have been dealing with the wrong crowd...this guy stuck his neck out for us and we'll always remember him for his kindness!

After this episode, we met up with Tom and walked around with him a bit.  We had to get going to the train station to catch our train, so Tom accompanied us to the train station.  To pass the time before our train left, we all went to a restaurant across the street from the train station to get one last taste of French food.  It was delicious as expected.  To this day, the jury is still out in our family as to what country has the best food:  France or Italy (Dan's vote is for France!).

We bid a fond farewell to Tom and thanked him for taking such good care of us and for showing us around the incredible city he called his home.  It was great to have him with us!

We traveled by train back to Kaiserslautern (the city outside of Ramstein Air Base).  We picked up a taxi and had a great conversation with our cabbie.  She was half American, half German...her father was an American GI and her mother was a German.  As she drove us through Kaiserslautern, we noticed that there were a lot of kids dressed up in costumes walking around with their parents.  We asked her what this was all about and she told us that it was Rosenmontag or "Rose Monday."  This festival is held mostly in the Rhineland region of Germany on the Monday before Ash Wednesday each year.  It is accompanied by parades and costumes.  Candy and flowers are thrown to the crowds during these parades.

Our taxi driver took us outside of Ramstein and unfortunately couldn't take us on base.  We processed through the front gate and began walking to the KMCC--the base's giant shopping center with a huge BX and many other stores and restaurants.  Luckily, a military mom with a van saw us walking with Peter and our suitcases and was kind enough to give us a lift.  We went to the KMCC and did some long-awaited shopping.  The BX alone could have fit three of Incirlik's BX's...literally.  After Dan got a new iPod, we went down to the food court to have some had been nearly a year!  

After filling ourselves on the delicious sandwiches, we got a cab to take us to our hotel off base.  Our hotel was privately owned and very nice.  It was run by a local German woman who--in typical German fashion--was very adamant on keeping a clean, impeccable establishment.  In fact, she had an entire binder of rules and regulations for visitors:  "Make sure you wipe down the shower" and "Pick up after yourself" were some of the directions from our hostess. Despite being under the microscope, it was a nice stay with a delicious traditional breakfast with homemade fruit jams.

After our stay, we caught a cab back to Ramstein, hopped on the rotator and were off for home in Turkey.  It had been a whirlwind trip (4 countries!) but one of the most holy and memorable we had been on.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

European Adventure 2012: Omaha Beach

After going to Mass in Lisieux, we hopped in our rental car and made our way through Normandy to the coast of the English Channel so we could visit Omaha Beach.

Normandy is named after the "Normans" who were a group of Vikings who took control over this northern part of France around the turn of the first millennium.  One of the places we drove by on our way to Omaha Beach was the town of Bayeux where the famous Bayeux Tapestry is kept.  This tapestry was created to depict the legendary Battle of Hastings in 1066 where the Normans defeated the English--the last time anyone has successfully invaded and conquered England.
A segment of the Bayeux Tapestry 
On our drive we eventually saw a road sign for Omaha Beach.  It was pretty amazing to see a road sign for such an important landmark in our Nation's history--even if it was in another country!  This wasn't a road sign for a local state park like Mahoney State Park back home in Nebraska…this was for THE Omaha Beach!

As we got closer to Omaha Beach, we recognized that Normandy is very beautiful.  It was very green and the homes we drove by were very charming.  Eventually we arrived at the Normandy American Cemetery.  We processed through security there and walked through the visitors' center.  They had many interesting displays and artifacts from the invasion.  They had some actual paratrooper jump boots on display there.  It was neat to see the "real" things.  Throughout my military career, I've seen that style of boot worn by numerous people, but had never seen a pair of them that were from a real paratrooper--let alone one from WWII!  They also had an Army canteen and some Bangalore torpedoes which were used to blow up German obstacles.

After walking through the visitor center, we stepped outside onto a paved trail which led to the cemetery.  From there, we could see Omaha Beach.  Ironically, it was gorgeous.  Everything was so green on that crisp, sunny, late winter afternoon.  We could feel the wind off of the channel.  It was surreal to be standing where our servicemen had fought, conquered, and died.  

We kept walking till we saw the impressive American Normandy monument and the rows of thousands of crosses marking the final resting places of so many of my Nation's heroes.  The view was staggering…so much sacrifice for our freedoms.  Two American flags flew proudly high above them all.  We began to walk among the crosses and read some of the names:  Clifford Stafford from Kansas, Henry Tinker from New York, etc., etc….The cross of PFC Richard Atwood had a Rosary around it.  We even saw a cross dedicated to "A Comrade in Arms Known but to God."

After looking at the crosses, we decided to walk down to the beach itself.  A trail from the cemetary led down onto the beach.  As we walked down the small trail through foliage and trees, I thought about the brave soldiers who had scaled this deadly hillside in 1941.  I could see two empty German turrets on my left that must have rained devastation upon our troops upon their landing and advance.  We kept walking down the trail and eventually the soil under our feet had turned to sand…we had set foot on Omaha Beach.

Once we had walked through a small, sandy forest at the base of the hillside, we stepped out onto the open beach.  It was much bigger and more wide-open than I had ever imagined.  It was probably about a quarter of a mile from the hillside to the water!  It was a stark contrast to how it's portrayed in Saving Private Ryan.  I imagined how deadly this beach must have been…It was painful to imagine wave after wave of American soldiers getting chewed up by German machine gun fire and landmines as they steadily made the long trek to the hillside and to direct contact with the enemy.  On the beach, I could see the ghastly, hollow remains of German turrets lodged in the hillside still eerily guarding the beach.  As we walked along, we even saw the remains of German landing obstacles still stuck in the sand. 

View of the hillside at Omaha Beach from the sea.  American soldiers had to go a long way through open beach where they were easy targets for German gunners.

German turrets overlooking Omaha Beach

Peter sitting on a German landing obstacle on Omaha Beach

The wind from the sea blew across clear puddles on the beach and kept reminding us that it was still winter there.  Sarah, still experiencing the effects of pregnancy morning sickness, wasn't feeling very well from all the walking and so we decided to start making our way back up the hillside.  Peter ran around on the beach to stretch his little legs.  It was sobering to think of the thousands of men who had fallen where my little son was now running.  This beach was much different on June 6, 1944.

We made our way back up the hillside on a separate trail than the one we had come down on.  On the trail back up we stopped at two of the empty German cannon turrets to look inside.  The Nazis used to be…right…here.  The view of the beach was impeccable…these turrets were well-placed to stop an amphibious assault from the beach below.
In the back of one of the German turrets

View of Omaha Beach from one of the German turrets

On our way back up the hill, we walked by a monument to the Fifth Engineer Special Brigade and another to the U.S.'s 1st Infantry Division (nicknamed the "Big Red One").  Next to the latter, we saw the entrance to subterranean German barracks…a spider hole.  Fitting to have a monument to our fighting men standing over the remains of the enemy's living quarters!

Visiting Normandy was an incredible experience that I will never forget.  Thanks be to God for the sacrifices of thousands of American, British, and Canadian troops who broke into Hitler's "Fortress Europe" on that fateful day in Jun 1944, and in a little over a year ended the most destructive conflict in human history.

European Adventure 2012: St. Therese Basilica

We were blessed to be able to attend Sunday Mass at the Basilica of Saint Therese in Lisieux!  To say it was impressive is an understatement!

After soaking in the grandiosity of the outer architecture, we entered the basilica and found the inside to be equally awe-inspiring!  The main floor of the basilica was vibrant with colors and details.  

the inside of the dome

the nave and the apse

Sunday Mass was celebrated by the Bishop of the area in the downstairs crypt of the basilica.  The crypt was just as gorgeous with detail and color, but this dimly lit cozy space possessed a quiet unique peace.  It was the perfect place to attend Sunday Mass and wrap up our pilgrimage to Lisieux.  Mass sounded so beautiful in French and it was celebrated by the local bishop!  The church was packed!

After the beautiful Mass, we visited the back of the crypt where the relics of Saint Therese's parents are held.  Saint Therese's holy parents, Blessed Louis Martin and Blessed Zelie Martin, are just one step away from being canonized Saints.  Their relics are held in a beautiful gold reliquary with scenes carved out from their inspiring lives.  Sweet Peter visited the reliquary with me and helped me leave a note with our special intentions for Blessed Louis and Blessed Zelie to intercede for us. 

Peter also helped me light a candle for our intentions; one of his favorite pilgrimage activities!

Our visit to the Basilica of Saint Therese was a truly special way
to spend our last morning in Lisieux!

Pictures of Blessed Martin and Blessed Zelie: inspiring examples for us as parents!

Before we left Lisieux, we just had to visit Saint Therese's tomb one last time! 
Saint Therese, please pray for us!

European Adventure 2012: St Therese's childhood parish church

When we booked our Lisieux hotel on-line months before our trip, we had no idea how special the location would be.  After we arrived and began exploring, we were thrilled to discover that our hotel was right across the street from Saint Therese's childhood parish church!  We could see the magnificent Cathedrale Saint-Pierre right from our hotel room window!  It was incredible to be next to the church that little Therese attended Mass every Sunday with her family, where she often attended daily Mass, and where she went to confession.  How beautiful to visit the sacred place where the graces of the Sacraments were first planted in her soul!

Do you see little Sarah and even littler Peter beneath the massive cathedral?
  And the inside of the cathedral was just as impressive with its grand pillars and archways!

Tucked near the left entrance of the cathedral was the confessional used by Saint Therese! 

The magnificent high altar

This chapel behind the main altar contains the tomb of Bishop Pierre Cauchon who financed the chapel's construction.  Cauchon was an English-sympathizing bishop who oversaw the trial of St. Joan of Arc which led to her death.
Ironically, another great Saint of France spent time with Cauchon (and could have interceded for his soul) as well:  St. Therese would come to this chapel to attend daily Mass!

Below is the chapel where Saint Therese attended Sunday Mass with her family

Saint Therese's father would rent out this side chapel for his family for Sunday Mass. 
 It was amazing to visit this spot on a Sunday and think of all of the Sundays Saint Therese
and her family spent here in prayer! 
One last glimpse of the incredible architecture in this amazing cathedral--made in the Middle Ages without any machines! 
It was a truly unforgettable stop on our pilgrimage!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

European Adventure 2012: Lisieux Day 1 (Part 2)

After visiting St. Therese's childhood home, we went to the convent where she spent the last 9 years of her life (before dying of tuberculosis at age 24).  It is here that she wrote her famous spiritual writings and spent countless hours in prayer and sacrifice.  This is also the site of her tomb.

Saint Therese's personal crucifix and the crown she wore at her profession of vows

"Holiness consists simply in doing God's will, and being just what God wants us to be."
-Saint Therese

Saint Therese's habit and shoes
"I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors' defects--not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues."
-Saint Therese

Art supplies used by Saint Therese
"Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love."
-Saint Therese
Holy cards of Saint Therese

The tomb of Saint Therese of Lisieux
The most memorable part of our visit to Carmel was spending time in prayer before Saint Therese's tomb.  The light was dimmed in the quiet, serene little chapel.  At that intimate, silent moment, we were the only visitors at the tomb of this great Saint; our dear friend.  We prayed on our knees for her intercession for our little family and all of our loved ones.
We finished up our evening by paying a quick visit to the empty, cold, dark St. Peter's Church not far from our hotel.  Inside this ancient medieval church was the confessional St. Therese used before she entered the convent at Carmel.
After a quick visit to St. Peter's (we would return first thing in the morning to explore it completely), we tried to find some food.  To our surprise, many of the restaurants in town that we stopped at were serving as a bar that night and weren't serving food, so we ended up walking to a small supermarket not far from our hotel and purchasing some pre-made sandwiches, fruit, and yogurt.  We took our food back to our hotel room and had a picnic.  We looked down from our room at the town square below and watched ice skaters skating on the square's ice rink, enjoying the brisk evening.
It had been a day to treasure.
"Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our father's love —
difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs — everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness — Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift.
Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events —
 to the heart that loves, all is well." 
-Saint Therese

European Adventure 2012: Lisieux Day 1 (Part 1)

The next stop on our trip was a life-long dream come true.  Saint Therese of Lisieux has been one of my favorite Saints since third grade.  Saint Therese was the patron Saint of my elementary school and childhood church.  I spent many years of my life learning about this holy young woman and her spirituality.  I love her simplicity and her heroic love.

When I was in college, visiting convents and discerning God's Will for my life, I prayed many novenas to Saint Therese asking her to pray for God's plan in my life.  I later discovered that my future husband (who also loves Saint Therese) also prayed many novenas during his college years asking Saint Therese to help him find his future wife!  Our heavenly friend did intercede for us, and we were married just a week and a half before her feast day in Saint Theresa's Church in Lincoln, NE. 

My sweet husband made sure that Lisieux, France was on our itinerary!  To visit the home of one of my heroines since childhood was absolutely unforgettable!

Saint Therese was born in 1873 and lived only 24 years, much of which was spent in a cloistered convent in Lisieux, France. Her spirituality is called the Little Way: doing small things with great love.  Her spiritual writings were so profound and applicable for every Christian that they are still very popular today.  She was declared a "Doctor of the Church" by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

The drive to Lisieux was breathtaking: French countryside with rolling green hills.  We found Lisieux to be a small, quiet, ordinary town.  A humble home for a humble Saint.

Our hotel was right across the street from Saint Therese's childhood church, St. Peter's!  Saint Therese went to Mass here with her family every week when she was a little girl. We loved this view from our hotel window!

Les Buissonnets was the childhood home of Saint Therese in Lisieux.  This is the setting of countless stories I've heard and read about little Therese and her family.  To be here was like a dream. 

We entered Saint Therese's childhood home and we were greeted by a sweet French nun who spoke zero English.  She smiled graciously and pushed the "play" button on a recorded audio tour of the home.  Peter snoozed serenely in his stroller as we listened to the tour and walked through her home. 

Saint Therese's entryway and fireplace

Saint Therese became very ill when she was young.  Her miraculous healing was attributed to the intercession of Our Lady.  Therese stayed in this room during her illness.

The Dining Room

One of Saint Therese's Dresses

Saint Therese's First Communion Dress

This picture was taken in the bedroom which Saint Therese spent the majority of her childhood.  It is now filled with many objects from her childhood.

Another picture of her childhood bedroom

This floor was the original floor in their home! 

The backyard gardens

We were the only people (other than two sweet nuns) at Saint Therese's house during the majority of our visit!  It made us feel like we were her special guests. It didn't feel like a tourist stop at all, it felt like a home.  It was incredibly peaceful and absolutely unforgettable.

Praise God for such an incredible gift.

"When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth."
Saint Therese of Lisieux