SHIELDHILL, Scotland - During my three months of travel in Europe I've seldom had a plan that extended beyond seven to 10 days, a so-called strategy that I've only regretted once.
A visit to Normandy, France, the site of momentous developments in World War II, was on my list of must-see places. I flew to Paris from Aberdeen, Scotland, in mid-August, intent on using the city as my base for a few days. I took a train from Paris to Caen, a port city in northern France's Normandy region, arriving at midday.
I had planned to hop on a tour bus for a half-day visit to one of the beaches used for the Allied landing, but I learned quickly that I had not allowed enough time for that. How about just a visit to the cemetery where the American war dead are buried? No, the tourism clerk responded. I did not have enough time in order to catch my evening train back to Paris. But the clerk offered a good option: a visit to the Memorial de Caen, a huge museum and memorial dedicated to the war. A long-distance friend, Roger Slavens, had in fact earlier recommended the museum. Sold.
The Caen museum is one of the most impressive of the many museums I've visited in my three-month tour. The museum features detailed exhibits and multimedia presentations that begin with the events of World War I and document how that war set up the inevitable conflict of WWII. I spent nearly three hours viewing the exhibits and artifacts, probably my longest museum visit of the summer.
The huge grounds of the museum contained three gardens, one each for the main nations involved in liberating France: America, Britain and Canada. The American garden is quite serene, featuring a calm pool that ends with cascading water.
While my Normandy trip did not go as planned, I recovered quickly. My good French friend Claire Mignard Sondhi, a former Spokane resident, urged me to visit the famous Montmartre area of Paris the day after my Caen trip. Claire's tips focused on Sacre-Couer, a Roman Catholic Church at the summit of the Montmartre hill, and the nearby art district, Place du Tertre. Sacre-Coure is the second-most visited church in France after the Notre Dame Cathedral.
I climbed the 300-plus steps of the church dome for what Claire promised would be a spectacular, 360-degree view of Paris. Indeed, it was stunning. The Eiffel Tower looks beautiful, even from afar. The art district did not disappoint. Famous artists since the 19th century have at one time lived in du Tertre, including Picasso, Van Gogh and Renoir. I purchased a small painting of the Eiffel Tower and I'm eager to display it in my Spokane apartment, assuming I get it home safely.
I've been here in Shieldhill since Saturday. It's a small community, a 20-minute train ride from Glasgow. I chose to come here because I felt a need to leave the large cities behind and simply enjoy the quiet life of Scotland. There's not much to do here and that's just fine by me.
My BnB host, Bruce Smith, has made my stay here very enjoyable. He's a 41-year-old native of Zimbabwe and came to Scotland about 20 years ago. He has degrees in psychology and works as an industry consultant. We've had several engaging conversations and he could not possibly be more helpful or gracious. He's fascinated by what is happening in America these days and watches CNN regularly to follow the Trump presidency. He's also a loyal fan of the Liverpool football team (that's what soccer is called here) and he's helped me understand the leagues and games.
I caught train on Friday from Glasgow to England, where am spending the weekend with my nephew Shaun Graham and his family. We're going to the West Brom versus Stoke City match on Sunday. I can't wait.