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Onkens enjoy visit to France

August 7, 2013

Bailey with her uncle Eric at the Louver in the evening. 
 FULDA FREE PRESS/Submitted Photo
FULDA FREE PRESS/Submitted Photo
Bailey with her uncle Eric at the Louver in the evening.
By Norma Dittman
During the days of July 12 through 21, Lisa and Bailey Onken traveled to France to see the sites of that country. Their trip there was a gift from Lisa’s dad, Fred Bailey. “This is part of a family tradition where my Dad takes only his child and their grandchild when they are in their mid-teens,” Lisa Onken explained. “The rule is that it has to be to a non-English speaking country. So we obviously went with my Dad, Fred, but also included my brother Eric and his son Zach.”

Lisa said that her father pairs up the child and the grandchild whenever he can. “This was trip number five, with one left to do with my son, Nolan,” Lisa stated. “We looked at some other countries as options trying to find one that my Dad had not gone to yet. But our options were limited. We did consider Turkey for some time, but we are glad now that we did not choose it.”

The trip began with a flight to Paris. From there, the four family members took a train to Rouen where they met Fred, as he had decided to travel earlier than the others. “In Rouen, we learned more about Joan of Arc. Rouen is where she was burned at the stake,” Lisa shared.

Their next destination was Arromaches which is in the Normandy region. “Arromaches is historically significant to the D-Day battles of World War II as it is the site where the Allied forces had to literally build a fully functional sea port out of nothing in order to supply the troops who were on the front line with the Germans. The Germans had control of all of the French Ports,” Lisa said.

From the Normandy region, the family went on to Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. They were delighted to watch fireworks on July 14th - Bastille Day.

Back in Paris, they spent four days seeing the sites of the city. They saw the Louver, went up in the Arc de Triumph, went to the Eiffel Tower and toured many other points of interest.

“Because the amazing history in Paris is concentrated on about a four mile strip along the Seine River, where we had secured housing, we walked a lot,” Lisa stated. “We took a train to visit the Versailles Palace. The Palace and its outbuildings alone were probably the size of Fulda. The main palace was amazing, but the “outbuildings” that they had built further into the gardens so that they could ‘get away from palace life’, were huge by themselves!”

The Onkens said that the weather was very hot, so the boat ride with the condensed version of the history of the buildings was great and ever so much cooler than touring on foot.

One of the sites that the family visited was that of the Paris Catacombs. “The kids truly enjoyed the Catacombs. They are about 200 meters under Paris. It is where they placed the remain of those who were killed by the Plague. They estimate that there are six million bodies down there. The structure of the Catacombs and the shear number of bones was amazing!”

The region of France that the Onkens toured was a little further north than Minnesota, but the climate was mild due to the proximity of the ocean. “It was unseasonably warm for France while we were there,” Lisa commented. “The heat made the Metro (subway) almost unbearable at times.”

The five tourist dined outdoors for almost every meal. “Renting a car and driving around Normandy was so interesting,” Lisa said. “It was fun to see their farming practices (very small) and the little town along the highway where building were set back maybe three feet from the road. That was rather nerve racking as we sped along. The age of the chateaus and manors in the country was amazing. All of these old structures were very well preserved.”

When asked about shopping experiences while in France, Lisa replied, “Bailey and I are not huge shoppers and we figured we could not afford much anyway. The conversion of the dollar has not been good at all, so we did not shop much.”

They were, however, amazed by the number of art galleries that peppered the city. “I have no idea how they make money,” Lisa stated. “IOn one city block there could easily be 10 small galleries that may have 1-10 pieces of art in them.i work in finance and I am not sure how that pencils out.”

Dining experiences were truly well worth while - especially the French pastries, according to the Onkens. “Bailey and I are HUGE fans of any pastry, so we were in heaven. I have never had a croissant like those in France. We would fight over them at breakfast,” Lisa said with a smile. “The kids did get to try some dishes that are not usually seen in our house such as Skate (that is essentially sting ray) and horse which Bailey and I refused. Less interesting to us were the meats like lamb and duck which is served there much more than here. I do have to say, though, the wine was great!”

“It was so interesting for us to see the amazing amount of luxury that was put into the monarchy over the centuries,” Lisa shared. “It made you think, ‘No wonder there was Revolution!”

Although the Onkens had prepared for what is culturally known as “French rudeness”, they really did not experience too much of that flavor of France. “I was very pleasantly surprised that it was not as bad as many people had told me. Of course, we did encounter some people who were incredibly rude, but it was not really that many. You can find rudeness anywhere, really, if you look. We had a very enjoyable trip.”

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