By Jenny Katz

Day 1: First Impressions of Rouen

Today was a whirlwind as we finally landed in Rouen, a city brimming with history and culture. The moment I stepped out of the airport, the scent of freshly baked croissants seemed to fill the air, mingling with the unique aroma of rain-soaked cobblestones. You know that feeling when you’re opening a new book, and you’re not sure what adventures lie ahead? That was me, stepping into Rouen.

We drove to our cozy little hotel, and I couldn’t help but press my face against the car window, trying to take in all the charming medieval buildings. Tom was convinced he saw a real-life knight, but it turned out to be a man in a period costume giving guided tours.

Dad immediately got into action mode, prepping his camera for the day’s shoot for his YouTube channel. It’s fascinating to see him transform into this charismatic host. Mom, on the other hand, took a few minutes to capture some candid moments with her phone, possibly gathering material for her next novel on mindfulness.

Rouen
Rouen

Our first stop was the majestic Rouen Cathedral. As we walked towards it, I was struck by how the spires seemed to touch the sky, standing tall as if narrating stories of days gone by. It felt surreal, like a setting from a fairy tale. I could almost picture Anne of Green Gables wandering in the corridors, marveling at the intricate Gothic architecture.

While Dad was busy interviewing the cathedral’s guide, Tom took it upon himself to lighten the mood. “Do you think there’s a dragon hiding up there?” he pointed to the tallest spire. He was met with a warm, chuckling “Non” from the guide, which had us all laughing.

We ended the day at a traditional Normandy restaurant, enjoying a sumptuous dinner featuring duck 脿 la Rouennaise. Tom, as expected, made everyone chuckle by asking the waiter if the duck could “quack en fran莽ais.”

As I jot down these thoughts in my journal, I’m already looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure. Rouen, you have charmed us all on day one!

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I can’t wait to share these adventures with my friends back in Cumming, Georgia. I bet they would love to know what it’s like to explore a French city with so much history!

Day 2: A Day at Monet鈥檚 Gardens

If I had to describe Giverny in one word, it would be ‘magical.’ As soon as we arrived, it was like stepping into one of Claude Monet鈥檚 dreamy paintings. The garden was a kaleidoscope of colors, each flower and leaf meticulously placed yet appearing wild and free. I wondered if this is what inspired Monet to pick up his brush and immortalize this beauty on canvas.

We started off by wandering around the Clos Normand, the upper garden. Everywhere you looked, it was a sea of colors鈥攑ink peonies, vibrant irises, and glowing marigolds. Tom, ever the explorer, decided to go on a ‘bug safari.’ “These must be artist bugs,” he mused, as he observed a ladybug crawl up a leaf.

Jardin de Monet, Giverny, France
Jardin de Monet, Giverny, France

Dad was doing what he does best: talking to the camera and narrating the history of Monet’s Gardens. I’ve got to say, his channel will have some seriously colorful footage. Mom was equally engrossed, jotting down notes鈥攏o doubt thinking about how she could incorporate the serene beauty of Giverny into her writings.

Our next stop was the Water Garden, which is the real scene-stealer of Giverny. The pond, adorned with water lilies, was like a mirror reflecting the sky. Mom explained that this place was a perfect example of living in the moment, encouraging us to close our eyes for a minute and breathe deeply. Tom, however, had other plans and decided to make a game out of counting the lilies. “Sixty-seven鈥o, sixty-eight鈥h, I lost count!”

We had a picnic by the pond, and it was just like a scene from a movie鈥攃heese, baguettes, fresh fruit, and the occasional croak from what Tom insisted were ‘French frogs.’

As we packed up to head back to Rouen, I felt this profound sense of contentment. Giverny had filled my eyes with beauty, my lungs with fresh air, and my journal with impressions that I’ll cherish forever.

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As I lay down my pen for the day, I feel like I’m beginning to understand why artists like Monet were so captivated by Normandy. And even though I’m just 11, I get this sense that these experiences are making me grow in ways I never knew I could.

Day 3: Learning History at Bayeux & Omaha Beach

Today felt like taking a step back in time, but it was also an emotional journey for all of us. Our first stop was Bayeux, home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The museum was well-curated, and the tapestry itself was astonishing. It felt like reading a comic strip, but this one was embroidered nearly a thousand years ago. The scenes depicted the Norman conquest of England, and there were so many details鈥攈orses, soldiers, and even celestial bodies.

Dad was engrossed in capturing all the intricate details for his channel, explaining the historical significance as he went along. Mom took this opportunity to teach Tom and me about empathy and understanding perspectives, a theme she often writes about. She explained how history has multiple viewpoints and how it’s crucial to appreciate the complexity.

Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach

From the artistic tapestry of Bayeux, we moved to the somber sands of Omaha Beach. It was strange to stand there, knowing that it was a place where many lost their lives during WWII. The atmosphere was heavy, almost as if the beach remembered the past. We visited the Omaha Beach Memorial as well, a beautiful but heartbreaking tribute to those who fought for freedom.

While Mom and Dad were paying their respects, Tom lightened the mood in his unique way. Using his toy soldiers, he built a little sand fortress and named it ‘Fort Tom.’ “This is a peace fort,” he said, a gentle reminder of the importance of peace in our world today.

We concluded the day with a quiet dinner at a local restaurant, reflecting on the emotional rollercoaster of a day we had. Tom broke the silence by declaring his “peace fort” would protect us from bad dreams tonight. I think we all found comfort in that innocent notion.

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As I write this entry, I find myself wrestling with mixed emotions. I miss my friends back home, but I also feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for this unique learning experience. Today was a lesson in history, but it was also a lesson in humanity, something that I’ll carry with me forever.

Day 4: Mont Saint-Michel, Where History Meets Fantasy

As soon as I caught my first glimpse of Mont Saint-Michel rising out of the mist, I felt like I had stepped into a fairy tale. This island commune in Normandy is simply otherworldly. Its stunning medieval architecture, crowned by the abbey at the very top, left me awe-struck.

Our journey started with a walk across the long bridge that leads to the island. I felt like we were walking on water, especially when Tom asked if this was “Cinderella’s castle but for real.” He had his toy wand out, pretending to cast spells, and I couldn鈥檛 help but laugh.

Once on the island, Dad was busy setting up his tripod and camera for the day鈥檚 shoot on his YouTube channel. Meanwhile, Mom took out her notebook and began jotting down thoughts and observations, perhaps contemplating how the serenity of Mont Saint-Michel could fit into her next book.

Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel

Our first stop was the Abbey. I have never seen anything quite like it鈥攖he majestic spires, the delicate flying buttresses, and the panoramic view from the top were amazing. While wandering through the labyrinthine passages, I felt like Anne of Green Gables lost in her imaginings, with each stone and stained glass telling its own story.

As we descended from the Abbey, we walked through the island鈥檚 one and only street, lined with quaint shops and eateries. Tom found a store selling medieval knick-knacks and got himself a miniature knight鈥檚 helmet. 鈥淣ow I鈥檓 ready for dragon-fighting!鈥 he declared, making all of us chuckle.

For lunch, we had to try the famous omelettes at La M猫re Poulard, a restaurant that has been around since 1888. Tom had a kids’ version and found it amusing that the omelette was ‘fluffier than a cloud,’ according to him.

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As the sun began to set, painting the sky with hues of orange and pink, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. I closed my journal for the day, relishing the sensation that each day here in Normandy adds another layer to my understanding of the world. It鈥檚 these experiences that make me grow, and for that, I鈥檓 truly thankful.

Day 5: Apple Orchards and Cider

If yesterday was all about artistic inspiration, today was a delightful sensory experience at a local apple orchard in Normandy. The moment we stepped out of the car, the air was filled with the sweet fragrance of ripe apples, instantly putting everyone in high spirits.

Dad had his camera gear ready to capture the whole process of how cider is made, from picking the apples to the brewing stage. He was thrilled about sharing this authentic Normandy experience with his followers. Meanwhile, Mom had her notebook in hand, jotting down observations and even chatting with the orchard owner about the history of cider-making. I can already tell that this experience will find its way into one of her new novels.

But the real stars of the day were Tom and me. Armed with baskets, we were let loose in the orchard. The trees were heavy with apples of all kinds鈥攃rimson reds, sunny yellows, and even some with a lovely blush of both. Tom decided to try juggling them, saying he was “performing for the apples to thank them for being so tasty.” But, alas, his circus career was short-lived as he dropped one, causing all of us to burst into laughter.

We also got a chance to see the cider-making process up close. Massive wooden presses, copper vats, and a delightful bubbling sound that seemed to sing of the alchemy turning apples into liquid gold.

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As the day drew to a close, I felt immensely grateful for this simple yet enriching experience. Sometimes it’s not the grand historical sites or the famous artworks that make a journey special, but the simple joys like picking apples and sharing a laugh with your family. This day will be a cherished page in my ever-expanding travel journal.

Day 6: Deauville Beach Day

Beach days are always special, but today was extra memorable as we landed in Deauville, often referred to as the “Parisian Riviera.” I could see why the moment we arrived; the place had an undeniable air of glamour. Celebrities often visit here, and it’s a major destination for film festivals. However, today, the beach was bustling with people just looking to soak up the late summer sun, and the atmosphere was electric with laughter, chatter, and the distant cries of seagulls.

Tom was ecstatic the moment he saw the vast stretch of golden sand. Breaking into a run, he bolted toward the water, his face glowing with anticipation. But just as quickly, he turned around and raced back, yelling, “It’s cold! It’s really cold!” Dad caught this hilarious moment on camera, already planning how to fit it into his next video.

Mom, always the mindful one, said the sea鈥檚 chilliness serves as an invitation to be fully present in the moment. “Feel the cold, feel the wind, feel the sand beneath your feet, and just be,” she said.

Deauville Beach
Deauville Beach

As for me, I couldn’t help but be “present” in my thoughts about eating more French pastries! Specifically, the ones we saw at the charming patisserie near the Deauville Market. Rows of 茅clairs, tarts, and the most delicate madeleines had caught my eye, and I had promised myself a second visit.

In the afternoon, we decided to explore more of Deauville, including its famous Les Planches boardwalk. Lined with beach cabins named after film stars and directors, it felt like walking through Hollywood history.

We also visited the Deauville Marina, filled with impressive yachts and boats. Tom was so fascinated he temporarily shifted his career aspirations from knight to sailor.

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As the sun began to set, casting its golden glow over the sea, I reflected on our day. It was a blend of simple joys鈥攍ike Tom’s comedic encounter with the cold sea鈥攁nd the more grandiose elements that make Deauville a beloved destination. The cultural richness, the natural beauty, and the mouth-watering pastries鈥攅ach had its place in today’s adventure, and I couldn’t wait to jot down every detail in my journal.

Day 7: Le Havre and Modern Art

Today was all about contrasts. After spending days exploring historic sites and natural landscapes, we headed to Le Havre, a city that stands as a testament to modernity and resilience. Known for its contemporary architecture, the city was rebuilt by Auguste Perret after World War II and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We started our day at the MuMa – Andr茅 Malraux Museum of Modern Art. Walking into the museum felt like entering a different world. Its glass walls flooded the space with light, making the artworks even more striking. I was especially captivated by the collection of Impressionist paintings. Dad, who usually focuses on natural landscapes, found himself engrossed in the abstract world of modern art. I could see the gears turning in his head, contemplating how to capture these visual sensations on video.

Tom, true to form, had his own interpretation of the art. Looking at a Cubist painting, he quipped, “It looks like the artist was playing Tetris and lost.” We all erupted into laughter, and even some nearby visitors chuckled. Mom noted how his unique worldview makes everything more interesting.

Lunch was a modern affair too. We ate at Le Havre Gourmet, a restaurant specializing in nouvelle cuisine. It was a real departure from the hearty stews and baguettes we’d been eating. Tom was skeptical of his “tiny meal” but changed his tune after tasting how flavorful it was.

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After lunch, we took a stroll around the city, marveling at the innovative use of concrete in the architecture. I was particularly fascinated by St. Joseph’s Church, a towering structure that stood out in the city’s skyline. Its unique design made me ponder about how places can rebuild and redefine themselves, much like people do.

As I write this entry, I’m reminded of the sheer diversity of experiences we’re encountering on this journey. From apple orchards to modern art, every day feels like a chapter from a different book, and I couldn鈥檛 be more excited to see what story tomorrow will tell.

Day 8: Caen and William the Conqueror

If the days before were about exploring nature, art, and modernity, today was a leap back into history鈥攚ay back to the 11th century, to be precise. The city of Caen, with its rich historical background, was our chosen destination. Most notably, it’s the city where William the Conqueror built his castle and his legacy.

Our first stop was the Ch芒teau de Caen, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe. The castle’s stone walls seemed almost eternal, and it was thrilling to think that they’ve stood through centuries of history. Dad was particularly excited about capturing panoramic views of the city from the castle walls.

Inside the castle, we visited the Mus茅e de Normandie, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the region’s history and culture. From ancient artifacts to traditional costumes, the exhibits were like pages from a storybook. Tom got especially excited about the armor displays, proclaiming, “See, knights are the coolest!”

Lunch was a quick affair at a quaint caf茅 near the Abbey of Saint-脡tienne, another masterpiece founded by William the Conqueror. While the adults had local dishes, Tom and I were more than happy to gobble down some sandwiches and more French pastries鈥攎y continued culinary exploration!

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In the afternoon, we visited the Memorial Museum for Peace, which shifted our focus to more recent history, specifically World War II. Though a heavy topic, it was essential to understand the sacrifices that brought us the freedom we enjoy today. Mom talked about the importance of acknowledging the struggles of the past to appreciate our present.

Today was a mix of the old and the new, of medieval times and modern wars. I learned that history isn’t just a thing of the past; it’s an ongoing narrative that shapes our world and us as individuals. Writing down today’s experiences, I can’t help but feel like a small but significant part of this grand story. And I can’t wait to see what new chapters tomorrow will bring.

Day 9: Honfleur, The Artists’ Paradise

Today was like stepping into a living postcard at Honfleur, a picturesque harbor town in Normandy. I couldn’t believe how vibrant the colors were鈥攖he blue of the sky, the shimmering water, and the pastel-colored buildings lining the port. I could instantly see why this town has been a muse for so many artists, including Monet and Courbet.

Our first stop was the Vieux Bassin, the old dock at the heart of the town. Even Tom, who usually prefers action over scenery, stood in awe of the boats bobbing gently in the harbor. “They look like toy boats in a giant bathtub,” he observed. Dad quickly took out his camera and started capturing the beauty, enthusiastically.

A visit to Honfleur wouldn鈥檛 be complete without checking out the Sainte-Catherine Church. The church is unique because it’s made entirely of wood, resembling an upside-down ship. Inside, the scent of aged timber filled the air, which Mom said was grounding and connected us to the earth, a topic she often touches upon in her mindfulness writings.

Honfleur
Honfleur

During our walk around town, we stumbled upon a local art gallery showcasing contemporary artists inspired by Honfleur’s natural beauty. Mom couldn’t resist buying a small painting, saying it would be a memento of our day and a constant source of inspiration.

For lunch, we decided on a small caf茅 overlooking the harbor. We feasted on fresh seafood, and I tried moules-frites (mussels and fries) for the first time. Tom found it funny how you use empty mussel shells to eat the other mussels, calling it “shell-on-shell action.”

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As the day wrapped up, I felt grateful for these experiences, adding yet another colorful page to my journal. It’s days like this that remind me why we’re on this incredible journey. The diversity of places, the fusion of history, and the tapestry of human creativity鈥擨 get to witness all of this at just 11 years old. I can’t help but think how these memories will shape the person I’m growing up to be.

Day 10: Farewell Normandy

Time has a funny way of slipping through your fingers, especially when you’re fully engrossed in exploring new lands. Today marked our last day in Normandy, and we decided to spend it soaking up the sights and sounds of Rouen one last time.

We started the day with a leisurely walk around the city, savoring the small details: the cobbled streets, the half-timbered houses, and the lively buzz of the Rouen Market. Dad was busy capturing all these moments on his channel, perhaps as a digital keepsake of our adventures here.

The highlight of my day came when I stumbled upon a small bookshop tucked away in a quiet corner of the city. The smell of old paper and ink drew me in, and I ended up buying a French novel. I can’t read French yet, but I thought it would be a wonderful challenge. Maybe Mom will help me translate it, making it another bonding experience for us.

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As I sit down to write this final journal entry about Normandy, I find myself grappling with a whirlwind of emotions. I’m only 11, yet I’ve had the privilege to see and experience so much. I do miss my friends and the tranquil life we had in Cumming, Georgia, where the most exciting outing was probably a trip to the local park. But the tapestry of experiences I’ve gained from this trip is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

This journey has given me a wealth of stories, memories, and learning experiences that I couldn’t have gained in any classroom. From understanding the resilience of cities like Le Havre to delving into the depths of history in Caen, from appreciating art to savoring culinary delights, this trip has been an odyssey in the truest sense of the word.

I also realized that, as much as I’m exploring the world, I’m also learning about my family. Like Tom’s comical antics that lighten even the most solemn moments, or my Dad’s artistic eye that captures the beauty in the most mundane things, or Mom’s insightful perspectives that make any experience tenfold richer. These are the things that make this journey invaluable to me.

As I close this chapter on Normandy, I can’t help but feel excited about the unknown adventures that lie ahead. Until then, au revoir, Normandy. You will always hold a special place in my heart and my journal.

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