Hello again from Europe! We have had a packed couple of days, making good use of what little time we had in Paris.
After we left the chateau in Bayeux, we traveled a short way by bus to Pointe du Hoc, which is a site of many bomb craters left over from the war. It is located between Omaha and Utah beaches. From there, we journeyed back to American soil -- to the American Cemetery at Omaha. It was every bit as moving as you’d expect. The students walked in solitude, jotting down reflections in the journals and looking for soldiers from North Carolina among the 9,387 buried there. One student, Sofia, remarked that she may have found a relative of a friend back in Chapel Hill. The soldier was from North Carolina and had the same last name.
Next, a walk on Omaha Beach was in order. The students collected some sand to take back home and tried to imagine what the beach looked like on D-Day. The contrast was not lost on them. How could something so bloody have happened at such a serene place?
Two students -- Hannah Stickland and Maysa Guthrie – left a vase at the memorial that they had made in art class. They filled it with beads that represented each of the Holocaust victims.
“We are saying that our school honors them [with the vase],” Hannah told me. “We’ve studied what you’ve been through and we respect you.”
But the American Cemetery is not just for Americans. Valerie Huet, the Smith teacher on the trip who is a native of Normandy, said her father brought her to it many times when she was young, to show appreciation for the U.S. sacrifice. “It’s such a part of our history,” she said.
After a morning that stirred many emotions, we said goodbye to Normandy and traveled a few hours by bus to Paris. We began our journey Sunday at Charles de Gaulle airport outside of the city but hadn’t ventured in. Over the next day and a half (Tuesday and Wednesday), we saw Montmartre, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. We also learned how to bake baguette and croissant from the man who operates the oldest bakery in Paris. (Interesting fact: In order to legally call a baguette a baguette in France, it must weigh exactly 250 grams.)
It was a whirlwind stay that included one 16-hour day, but the beauty of the city and the weather (60 degrees and sunny) sustained us. And the baker’s baguette didn’t hurt.
We learned how to take the metro and RER (commuter train), that our guides at the Louvre really don’t care much for Dan Brown or the Mona Lisa and that middle schoolers love to shop (OK, maybe we already knew that.).
At one point on Wednesday, we broke into smaller groups to enjoy more mobility and sightseeing options. Justus Heizer got to visit his grandparents, who live in an apartment near Notre-Dame. With the help of McMahon, he was able to converse with them almost exclusively in French. And I, along with teacher Denise Keene and Principal Phil Holmes, took four students to Musee D’Orsay. The Louvre was nice, but I much preferred the museum that features many works by Monet, Manet, Cassatt, Degas and Renoir. And just like that, we were back in Normandy, figuratively speaking, through Impressionism.
I am writing this from a train station in Paris. We awoke at 5:45 this morning to get here after getting to our hotel at midnight. It is hard to believe that it is Thursday, and we are headed to Brussels by train. When we arrive, we will videoconference with Smith Middle School.
UPDATE AT 3:30PM: The trip leaders made the decision to cancel the videoconference as there are protests being held at the EU Commission building today. They are nonviolent in nature but have attracted large crowds – not the best circumstances for keeping track of 31 middle and high schoolers. Instead, we are enjoying some down time. We had lunch at the Grand Place in Belgium, stocked up on Belgian chocolate and have checked into our hotel.