April 12, 2012
Our final day in Europe and we are full of anticipation as we board our bus to continue our tour of Normandy. We visited a small church in the village of Angoville au Plain that was used as a military hospital during the invasion. We heard the story of two young men who set up a makeshift clinic in this small church, and at one point, had over 80 patients. The young soldiers, with only the most basic of first-aid training, only lost 3 patients that day, a tribute to their dedication. One of them, a young man with deep spiritual convictions, disobeyed orders by treating German soldiers as well as Allied soldiers. At one point, a German officer, furious that the church was being used as a hospital, came barging in with his weapon to drive everyone out. When he saw that the young medics were also treating German soldiers, his heart softened, and he thanked the Americans, and then had his men bring some more of the German wounded into the church.
The church at Sainte-Mère-Église
Our next stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, a crucial town that the allies needed to take from the Germans forces early on in order to secure a route inland from the beaches. In this famous village, Allied Paratroopers were dropped off target and landed in the village square while German soldiers began shooting them as they come down in their parachutes. One soldier ended up hanging from one of the spires of the church steeple, but managed to survive the slaughter by feigning death. If you look carefully at the photo above, you can see a mannequin on a parachute placed their by the French to commemorate the event. The Allies did eventually take the village despite the problems with the drop. Our next stop was the Causeway and bridge at La Fière, another important battle for control of the routes west from the beaches. There we heard the story of two best friends who thought they had each been killed in Normandy, only to discover sixty years later they each was alive, and they were reunited in an emotional moment arranged by their families.
The Odyssey Team on Utah Beach
Next stop was lunch, and then a stroll down Utah Beach, probably one of the more successful beach assaults of the war. Utah Beach has better access to the inland routes over sand dunes. Because the shape of the beach is convex, rather than concave, and without high cliffs above, it was harder for the Germans to defend than Omaha.
Our final stop of the day was Pointe-Du-Hoc, a heavily fortified cliff location assaulted by Allied troops on D-Day. The massive gun bunkers and deep craters created by extensive Allied bombing attacks prior to D-Day gives us a hint of how much military action this otherwise beautiful location experienced on June 6, 1944. We all left with a sense of wonder at what an incredible feat was accomplished for our freedom by young men not much older than the students on this trip. What a privilege it has been to participate in this Odyssey!
We began our coldest day yet with temperatures in the low 50′s, wind and drizzle, but with a deep sense of anticipation for what we would see today. After a nice French continental breakfast, we jumped into the bus with our tour guide, Dale, and headed for the beaches. Dale is British, but lives in Normandy, and is a gifted speaker, with a passion for the history and the stories of what happened here 67 years ago.
Gold beach was assigned to the British forces on D-Day, and we started there. As we stepped off the bus and saw the German gun bunkers, we only just began to get a feel for what the allied forces were up against during the invasion. The Germans had spent many months preparing for what they knew would be an attack. All together, they had placed over 11,000 gun bunkers across the shores of the northern reaches of the empire of the Third Reich. A vast number of those were right here in France. Some of those big guns had a Range of 10-12 miles, and of course numerous machine guns were in place to strafe the beaches as men were coming ashore. In addition, low level clouds, tide and undulating beaches were all against the allies. Yet, somehow, we prevailed and were eventually able to take the shores and penetrate up to six miles inland on that day.
Gun bunkers on Gold Beach
Being here, seeing and hearing first-hand about what happened, gave everyone a sense of awe at the sacrifice that was made. One couldn’t help but see the hand of God in bringing victory at a battle in which all the odds were against us. We made a short stop a British cemetery, which is unique in that the stones have room for personal inscriptions, many of which spoke of the their families’ deep affection for these young men, many of whom were only 16 or 17 years old. We learned even today, that they are still finding bodies of soldiers and interning them here. Just early last year a pilot was discovered in his submerged aircraft, and his body was buried with full honors on this spot.
After lunch, we arrived at Pegasus bridge, a crossing point over a canal, whose successful taking was crucial to success in the invasion. We learned about how three British glider units took the bridge by stealth by landing within 50 yards of the bridge in the middle of the night, and completely astonishing the German sentries there. Next, Omaha beach, and the American sector. By far, the Americans were given the toughest job in the invasion, a concave-shaped beach with high cliffs and only narrow exit points completely defended with German machine gun strongholds. By the end of the initial attack, some 11,000 Americans lay dead on the beach and the waters ran red with blood on the receding tide when the battle was over some 7 hours later.
Omaha Beach, now peaceful on a dreary day
As tears welled up in my eyes, my own thoughts began to focus on the high cost of sin in this world, and our desperate need for a Savior. If men can do this to one another, what is to become of our world? What a contrast to what we learned about the efforts of Paul, John, and others to spread the message of love from our Creator during the early days of the first century church at Corinth, Ephesus, Patmos, and other places we visited last week. What a contrast with the intense evil that took place here. Yet somehow I felt as if I was walking on holy ground as I walked along Omaha beach, which was cleansed of the evil by the blood of our young men. Freedom is unbelievably expensive! Let us never forget that.
Our final stop of the day was the Normandy American Cemetery. This is the second most visited cemetery on the planet, second only to Arlington. The amazing thing is that Arlington has over a quarter of a million graves, while this cemetery has a mere 10,000. About two-thirds of the 30,000 total US casualties in Normandy were repatriated back to the US a number of years ago. Another amazing fact is that French visitors outnumber visitors from every other country combined, including Americans! This speaks of the deep appreciation and admiration the French have for what was done to free them from the Nazis 67 years ago. What a testimony!
The sun was shining brightly this morning as we headed out around 9:30 for the Easter Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We left the bulk of our luggage at the hotel and trekked out with day packs prepped for two nights’ stay in Normandy. At Notre Dame, we were met by our guide for the day, Kermit Horne, a US missionary to Paris since the 80′s. Of course there was a line to get into the church, but our patience paid off, and soon we were pressed and squeezed into the beautiful medieval cathedral.
The service was lovely and very moving, complete with vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, a pipe organ, a choir, holy water, incense, and communion. It is not hard to see how many people can get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of religion and miss the entire point that Christianity is essentially about relationship, with life flowing out of that relationship. Religion is man’s (futile) efforts to reach God. True Christianity is God’s reaching out to mankind, beckoning him to come to the water and drink! Despite multiple warnings that no photos are allowed, I think many of us managed to snap off a few!
By the time the service was over, lunch was in order, so we headed to a nearby Greek section of Paris and scattered for lunch. Most cafes are not able to comfortably accommodate 29 hungry tourists at one time, so scattering is for practical reasons, plus, the kids seem to enjoy discovering things on their own.
A view of the Pantheon in Paris
After lunch, we had the talking walk of the old university district of Paris where many of the philosophers, scientists and theologians have debated the merits of faith versus “reason” for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Kermit gave us an excellent perspective on the positions of men like Blaise Pascal, Descartes, Calvin, Russo, and others, showing us how human reason apart from faith leads to apostasy. It’s incredible to learn about how much Christian history has been made on these very streets where we are walking now.
We said our goodbyes to Kermit, and were back on the subway headed for the station for our train to Normandy. Everyone was pretty much walked out, so there was always a free moment to stop for a nice Nutella crepe or a hot chocolate! The train to Normandy was a brisk (topping 125 mph, according to Mr. L’s GPS!) 2 hour run west toward the coast, arriving around 9:15 pm. Fortunately, Ilona had arranged for a bus to pick us up at the station to take us to the hotel, a very pleasant end to a great Easter Sunday.
After our first taste of Paris yesterday, we are all anxious to get started on our tour today. First stop: the Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums. Let me just say that 2 1/2 hours in a museum this big can be overwhelming. According to the boat tour information, the Louvre is so big that if you stopped just one minute at each piece of artwork, it would take you four months to see everything. Plus, on this Easter weekend, the Louvre was packed! The Mona Lisa was being mobbed by people from all over the world, each trying to take a picture of her…. Poor lady, she must be exhausted!
Mobbing the Mona Lisa
Nevertheless, we had a great time in the Louvre, and the experience left many of us wanting for more time and less people. One frustration is that each exhibit information card is only in French. Seems like the French didn’t get the memo that there are people from all over the world visiting this museum!
Enjoying the Paris Metro
On and off several subways and a brisk walk and we made it to the tallest hill on Paris, hosting the church of the Sacred Heart with the artists’ square adjacent, and great panoramic views of the city. We turned the kids loose to find lunch, and the adults piled into a restaurant for the 10 Euro tourist special lunch.
“Adult” lunch on the hill
After lunch, we spent sometime walking around he shops on the hill. Afterwards, we headed back to the Eiffel Tower, as our plan was to take the elevator up (we had reservations). Unfortunately, with the massive crowds and one broken elevator, the tower authorities pushed our reservation to later, which would have trampled on our dinner reservations. So, we made the decision to leave the tower and head for the Champs Eliseè.
The Arc de Triomphe
The Champs Eliseè is like 5th Avenue in New York, with lots of expensive shops (Fifi and Aimee were in heaven!), nice restaurants and theaters. It has something New York does not have, the Arc de Triomphe. This is one of the world’s largest arches, built to commemorate victories in the Napoleonic wars. After a brief picture-taking stop we enjoyed a nice dinner before heading back to the hotel for the evening, putting the wraps on a very busy day!
A nice way to end the day, dinner on the Champs Eliseè!
April 8, 2012
Day Seven- Off to Paris!
We were the first ones off the boat this morning in Athens, as Ilona had arranged for us to have priority disembarkation. The bus was waiting when we arrived, and soon we were on our way to the airport for our flight to Paris. One variable in the mix was whether or not Aimee (the young lady whose purse and passport were stolen in Athens) would be able to board the flight without an EU visa in her “travel document”. We were all soon relieved when the check-in agent didn’t even check for a visa, handed her a boarding pass with a smile, and said “have a nice flight!”
Upon landing in Paris, the bus took us straight to the d’Orsay museum where we had a couple of hours to explore. Our guide did a great job explaining the artwork, and showing us the artistic transition from realist to impressionist to expressionist. I think many of us gained a new appreciation for 18th and 19th century art during our tour. After a quick stop at a sidewalk cafe, we were off to the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine. For many of us, seeing the Eiffel tower for the first time was magic! It is bigger than life, and really means “Paris” to everyone who sees it.
The Odyssey Team visits the Eiffel Tower
For dinner, we jumped aboard a boat for a cruise up and down the Seine river. Many of the sights and history of Paris are along the river, including the cathedral of Notre Dame. We had a “snack” lunch on board as we viewed the sights from the vantage point of the river.
Dinner on the boat
We wrapped up the evening (exhausted) with a brisk walk back to the subway and to views of the Eiffel tower at night!
April 8, 2012
View of the harbor at Harakleion, Crete
Today is our final day of the cruise, so we are all excited about the amazing things we will see today, but sad to know that our time in the Mediterranean is drawing to a close. Our ship pulled into Herakleion, Crete, early this morning, and nearly everyone was off the ship as soon as possible to explore this seaside town on their own. There is an ancient fortress on the breakwater in front of the marina dating back about 1500 years. From the marina area, many of us followed a recommended path up through town passing by street vendors, seafood markets, and souvenir shops. It was great for everyone to have some time on their own, without a guide, just to browse the shops, or just sit and have a greek coffee and watch all the people pass by.
Looking at 3500-year-old artifacts!
The path wound its way past an open square, and some of us ended up at the Archeological Museum of Crete where we could see artifacts collected from the island, many of which have been dated to about 1800 B.C! Then, it was all aboard by 11:30 am for our 4 hour cruise up to the island of Santorini. According to the Greeks, Santorini is the largest volcanic crater in the world, partially submerged, and the towns that make up the island dot the rim of the crater like white icing drizzled on a bundt cake. The volcano blew up with a tremendous explosion in 1640 B.C., apparently producing a tsunami 700 feet high, which headed right for Crete, virtually wiping out the inhabitants of the island that lived there at that time. Santorini is now considered to be one of the most beautiful and exotic of the Greek islands, and now we can see why. The sights and vistas are awe-inspiring!
Aimee and Fifi on Santorini
Breathtaking views on Santorini
We disembarked by tender and were shuttled to shore, where we took a cable car up to the rim of the island. A bus met our team and soon we were off to the village of Ai. The white buildings, blue roofs and marble streets, against a backdrop of the emerald ocean make this a very special place indeed! As we say goodbye to the Greek Islands, we look forward to continuing our journey in Paris and Normandy starting tomorrow.
Walking the streets of the village of Ai
April 4, 2012
The village of Lindos
A few of us had trouble getting out of the bunk this morning, including Mr. Liverance, who was sound asleep when Dr. Thomas banged on his cabin door at 8:30. Today we toured Rhodes, however, the official tour guides were on strike protesting the austerity measures (translation: higher taxes) being imposed on them by the government. Ilona is so capable, she arranged for a another guide, and soon we were winding our way on yhe bus over to the village of Lindos, a quaint seaside village with its own “acropolis”. We spent the morning playing in fields of daisies, visiting the beach, riding donkeys, and visiting the castle fortification on the cliffs above the village. It was great to have several hours of free time without a formal guide, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed this typical Greek village. On the way back to our ship for lunch, we stopped at a pottery shop and had a demonstration of the skill of the potter as he created a vase before our very eyes in mere minutes!
This afternoon, we all had some free time to wander the streets of the ancient city of Rhodes, completely enclosed within fortified walls. Many of the colorful shops and cafes that line the ancient streets are set up in thousand-year-old stone buildings, which add to the charm of this place. Rhodes has a proper medieval castle, with a mote, a no mans land, and huge gates. Some of the sites within the city walls date to before Christ, such as the site of the temple of Afrodite. The bible records that Paul visited Rhodes briefly in Acts 21, but we don’t know if he ever preached here. As we say goodbye to a great day, we look forward to our stops in Crete and Santorini tomorrow.
The ancient walls of Rhodes
April 4, 2012
Touring the ruins of Ephesus
Our weather has been perfect! Cool mornings, but warm days with lots of sun and great pictures. Today we visited the ancient city of Ephesus. The Apostle Paul spent time here on both his second and third missionary journeys, and it is said to be probably the best preserved ancient ruins in the world. Ephesus was a capital of trade and commerce in the first century, and was probably the second largest city in the Roman empire after Rome itself. We jumped off the boat and onto our tour bus for our first stop “Mary’s House”. Although there is good evidence that Mary did indeed live in Ephesus after the crucifixion of Jesus, only tradition has placed her home on the hill above the city. The house is more of a “shrine” than anything else, but it was interesting nevertheless.
The library of Celsus
Our guide then took us through the ruins of Ephesus. The only way to understand the scale of the city is to walk through it’s streets. One can only imagine the luxury and majesty of what was once one of the regions largest cities. Apparently, several factors lead to the downfall of this costal seaport 1) the harbor began silting up, this lead to marshy land, which lead to 2) mosquitos and malaria, and finally 3) an earthquake destroyed many of the majestic buildings. At the end of our tour we gathered at the 24,000 seat stadium where Mr. Liverance shared some facts about Ephesus, and the spiritual warning given to the Ephesian church in the book of Revelation. As Christians, we are never to be found to have lost our first love!
Learning about Ephesus
After a few minutes of shopping, we were back on the boat and headed to Patmos. Patmos is perhaps best known for the place where the Apostle John was exiled by the Roman emperor Domitius. It was here, in a cave on the side of the mountain, that God revealed himself to John and told him what to write to each of the seven churches of Asia, as well as many other prophecies contained in the final book of the bible. We visited the monastery at the top of the mountain, which contains a museum holding many ancient bibles and artwork dating back more than 1000 years. No pictures were allowed either here, nor at our next stop, John’s “grotto”. Both sites have been turned into shrines, are considered holy, and are protected by UNESCO. Our guide skillfully explained the rich history of the island, and we sat in John’s grotto and read from the first chapter of Revelation. It was all very surreal, imagining we were standing in the very spot where John wrote Revelation, and everyone was filled with a sense of wonder as we descended the mountainside for the village near the Harbour. This was indeed both a day of learning and a day to reflect on our rich Christian heritage, and what a privilege it is to be called sons and daughters of the most high God!
Our ship in Patmos harbour
April 4, 2012
Everyone was excited as we left our luxury hotel this morning. Today is the start of our “Footsteps of Paul” cruise. While Howard, Aimee, and Fifi stayed in Athens for an involuntary tour of the embassies of China and USA to sort out Aimee’s passport problems, the rest of us boarded the Louis Cristal and soon we were on our way to our first stop, Mykonos. The cruise was a bit rough and I heard some of the students complain of “wooziness”. However, everyone was able to shake it off and readily jumped off the boat in Mykonos. To the Greeks, Mykonos is known as the island of windmills for the many windmills that dot the landscape. Because of its’ proximity to Athens, many mainland Greeks come here for the weekend. It was also a popular spot for the likes of Jackie O. and Nicolas Cage. as far as we know, the Apostle Paul never visited this island, but that didn’t stop the Odyssey team from conquering it in force! Some hiked up to the top of the hill behind the town; others just strolled the streets and ducked into shops and cafes.
The windmills of Mykonos
In the meantime, everyone was praying hard for our lost contingent, hoping they would be given the grace to obtain the necessary paperwork for Aimee to all fly to Mykonos and meet us. Sure enough, they were able to board a 6:30 pm flight to Mykonos and meet us before the ship sailed to Ephesus. Everyone sends their love and they want you to know this is a fantastic trip… All grateful for the opportunity to be here. The kids have been a tremendous example of God’s grace and are excellent ambassadors from Providence and witnesses for Christ!
April 1, 2012
Our second gorgeous day started at 7:30 am with breakfast at a nearby cafe. We all piled onto our bus and headed for the Acropolis for our tour of the Parthenon and surrounding buildings. Our guide, Doula, is doing a great job sharing about the history and culture of Greece, and how it relates to biblical history. We then pointed our bus for the Pelopenesus peninsula, following the route Paul took when he left Athens (he walked the whole way), arriving in Corinth in time for lunch. The weather is beautiful, a sunny day with a cool breeze coming off the bay of Corinth. As I write this, everyone is enjoying a nice Greek lunch near the site of the ancient city that inspired Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
Touring Corinth with the temple of Apollos in the Background
We spent the afternoon touring the ruins of Corinth and discovered what a key city this was in the district of Achaia, and why it was imperative for Paul to preach the gospel here. We stood in the very spot (at the Bema – judgement seat) where Paul was hauled before the proconsul Gallio by a mob of angry Jews, who then turned on Sosthenes and beat him up before an angry crowd (see Acts 18:12-17). You could almost see, hear and smell the bustling streets of first-century Corinth, and we began to comprehend the desperate need for the the gospel here, with the temple of Aphrodite (do I need to go into details?) on a nearby mountaintop, and two seaports on adjacent bodies of water, with all the sailors, merchants and fishermen coming and going.
Erastus was the city commissioner of Corinth and was a convert, disciple and fellow Christian worker of Paul (see Acts 19:22, Romans 16:23, and 2 Timothy 4:20). Imagine how excited archeologists (at least the Christian ones) were when they dug up this inscription bearing the name of Erastus, which proves the biblical record!
We stopped at the canal of Corinth (completed in 1896 to facilitate passage of shipping between the North and South Aegean) for pictures and a snack before heading back to Athens for the changing of the guard at the Hall of Congress. We topped off the evening with Mousaka and Souvlaki (traditional Greek dishes, NOT a musical duo!) at a sidewalk restaurant, followed by window shopping, and a brisk walk back to the hotel. What a day! The kids are having a great time and have been very good. Everyone is looking forward to starting our cruise tomorrow. First stop: Mykonos. More on that later!