Book Review: West With The Night

West-with-the-NightTitle: West with the Night
Author: Beryl Markham
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 1942
Pages: 294
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: June 21, 2020

Goodreads Description: West with the Night is the story of Beryl Markham–aviator, racehorse trainer, beauty–and her life in the Kenya of the 1920s and ’30s.

My Review: I heard about this book via Jeff O’Neal on the Book Riot Podcast. Based on his description, I thought it would be an interesting travelogue. The goodreads description, as you can see above, can hardly be considered a comprehensive description. I really did not know what to expect with this book. I just really wanted to read something set in a different part of the world. Plus, Jeff O’Neal mentioned that this book was given high praise from none other than Ernest Hemingway.

I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of Beryl Markham. I have definitely been missing out. Her life was absolutely fascinating! She lived a free life, yet maybe at times a bit lonely. West With The Night has everything you could think of: descriptions of the Maasai culture, a lion attack, horse racing, malaria, World War 1, colonialism, fascism, and aviation by only maps, protractors and compasses (no navigational or radio systems).

Plus, Hemingway was absolutely correct. Beryl Markham was a beautiful writer. Her descriptions put you in another time and place beyond what may be imaginable. This book was a truly a remarkable and memorable reading experience. I highly recommend it!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

“Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday. Still I look at my yesterdays from months passed and find them as good a lot of yesterdays as anybody might want. I sit there in the firelight and see them all.”

Book Review: Midnight in Chernobyl

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham CR: Simon & Schuster

Title: Midnight in Chernobyl
Author: Adam Higginbotham
Genre: Nonfiction History
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Pages: 538
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Libby library app
Date finished reading: November 26, 2019

Goodreads Description: The definitive, dramatic untold story of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, based on original reporting and new archival research.

April 25, 1986, in Chernobyl, was a turning point in world history. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.

Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union, and, with it, the United States’ victory in the Cold War. For Moscow, it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.

The full story of the events that started that night in the control room of Reactor No.4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant has never been told—until now. Through two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Adam Higginbotham tells the full dramatic story, including Alexander Akimov and Anatoli Dyatlov, who represented the best and worst of Soviet life; denizens of a vanished world of secret policemen, internal passports, food lines, and heroic self-sacrifice for the Motherland. Midnight in Chernobyl, award-worthy nonfiction that reads like sci-fi, shows not only the final epic struggle of a dying empire but also the story of individual heroism and desperate, ingenious technical improvisation joining forces against a new kind of enemy.

My Review: I’ve been interested in learning more about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster for years. Three years ago, while temporarily living in Ukraine, I had an opportunity to visit Chernobyl (see my Chernobyl post). It was a haunting experience, but I learned a lot and got to see the building of the new sarcophagus, which was just placed over the reactor a few months ago. Earlier this year, I learned a bit more about this disaster through the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. I looked up the literature that was used to create the miniseries and saw Midnight in Chernobyl on the list and have been looking forward to reading it every since. It did not disappoint.

If you are interested in learning about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Midnight in Chernobyl is the most comprehensive work about this disaster I have come across. The character list at the beginning is very helpful and was useful throughout the book. The book begins by giving some background on the early days of the cities that surrounded the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Around the time of the nuclear disaster, a nearby town, by the name of Pripyat, had grown to a population of 50,000 people.

Midnight in Chernobyl gives you a thorough account of the disaster itself. I’ve always been amazed that officials of the surrounding cities told civilians to just go about their daily lives, while high levels of radiation polluted the air. It seemed like such a horrific and unnecessary detriment to human life. However, Adam Higginbotham does a great job of explaining life and politics in the former Soviet Union. “The traditional reflexes of secrecy and paranoia were deeply ingrained. The truth about an incidence of any kind that might undermined Soviet prestige or provoke public panic had always been suppressed.” There were other nuclear incidences before Chernobyl that were covered up. People were not evacuated during from those areas, so why should they be evacuated now? By evacuating the cities around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, that would be alerting the public and possibly the international community of the accident, which the Soviet Union did not want. Not only did they delay evacuations but they quarantined the area, so no civilians could leave even if they wanted to. However, despite their best efforts, the international community would soon be alerted to this disaster as other European countries measured high levels of radiation in their air. The US President at that time, Ronald Reagan, stated “A nuclear accident that results in contaminating a number of countries with radioactive material is not simply an internal matter. The Soviets owe the world an explanation.”

Midnight in Chernobyl continues with such extensive details related to the aftermath, including the containment, the suffering of individuals exposed to acute radiation poisoning (ars), the building of the sarcophagus to put over the reactor, and the trial to hold certain individuals responsible for this nuclear disaster. While officially only 30-60 deaths occurred due to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the UN states that 3.5 million people in multiple countries were affected. This book was the best piece of literature I have read on this event, and I highly recommend it!

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Reading Bill Bryson – July 2019

One of my reading goals for 2019 is to become more familiar with works by different authors by featuring a different author every month (see A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge). I read Bill Bryson as my July author. I thought this would be a fun author to read, as he writes a lot of travel literature and I was preparing for my own summer travels.

road to dribblingTitle: The Road to Little Dribbling
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: October 8, 2015
Pages: 380
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone (however, is a follow-up of Notes from a Small Island)
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: July 20, 2019

Goodreads Description: In 1995 Bill Bryson got into his car and took a weeks-long farewell motoring trip about England before moving his family back to the United States. The book about that trip, Notes from a Small Island, is uproarious and endlessly endearing, one of the most acute and affectionate portrayals of England in all its glorious eccentricity ever written. Two decades later, he set out again to rediscover that country, and the result is The Road to Little Dribbling. Nothing is funnier than Bill Bryson on the road—prepare for the total joy and multiple episodes of unseemly laughter.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦

Notes From A Small IslandTitle: Notes from a Small Island
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 1995
Pages: 324
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone (however, there is a follow-up called The Road to Little Dribbling)
Where I got the book: Amazon Kindle
Date finished reading: August 21, 2019

Goodreads Description: After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson – bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. (“I had recently read,” Bryson writes, “that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”) But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

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Title:
 One Summer
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: History
Publisher: DoubleDay
Publication Date: August 2013
Pages: 456
Format Read: audiobook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading: August 15, 2019

Goodreads Description: In One Summer Bill Bryson, one of our greatest and most beloved nonfiction writers, transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life.

The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record. The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.
All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My Review: I’ve read a couple of Bill Bryson’s travel memoirs in the past (A Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country) and enjoyed them immensely, so I decided to read a few more of his travel memoirs that included Notes from a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling, which was a sequel to Notes from a Small Island.

The more I read Bill Bryson, the more I discover this internal struggle. I have enjoyed his travel memoirs, and I feel that this is often because of Bryson’s humor. However, it is the humor that sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable, because most of the time he is making fun or criticizing some place, some thing or someone.

In Notes from a Small Island, Bryson wrote a whole chapter about his dislike of Oxford. His reason for this boils down to the fact that the city has a poor layout and is not pretty. He briefly mentions in The Road to Little Dribbling that Oxford has improved and even includes pedestrian only streets. I recently visited Oxford and found it a very beautiful city and wished I had had more time there to explore. I know that it is okay for me to disagree with the author, but I get turned off when an author gives a whole chapter to negative rants and later gives one paragraph to a more positive view.

This being said, Bryson’s travel memoirs are full of interesting travel notes and adventures, and there were moments that I did laugh out loud. For instance, this passage from The Road to Little Dribbling:

“Naively I pulled off my t-shirt and sprinted into the water. It was like running into liquid nitrogen. It was the only time in my life in which I have moved like someone does when a piece of film is reversed. I dived into the water and straight back out again, backwards, and have never gone into the English sea again. Since that day, I have never assumed that anything is fun just because it looks like the English are enjoying themselves doing it.”

Through Notes From a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling, the reader could really picture every part of England from the big cities of London and Manchester to smaller cities like Bradford and Wigan. You really can understand why Bill Bryson loves England so much, as it does accommodate his love of walking. I, too, have managed to walk quite a bit every time I visit England and truly appreciate the author’s love of it.

“There isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of Great Britain.” ~The Road to Little Dribbling

As I finished reading his two books about his exploration of the UK, I couldn’t help but wonder what the author might think about the impending Brexit policy.

I also read One Summer: America, 1927. It was refreshing to hear the author’s voice in something other than a travel memoir. Who knew that so many interesting events occurred in the summer of 1927, including the Mississippi Flood, Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, the premier of The Jazz Singer (which ended silent film), prohibition and the building of Mount Rushmore. This book covered many interesting characters as well, like Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Buster Keaton, Samuel Lionel “Roxy” Rothafel, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was a fascinating time in American history. However, you can see from the characters I listed, that there was little mention of women in this book.

My Overall Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

Reading David McCullough – March 2019

One of my reading goals for 2019 is to become more familiar with works by different authors by featuring a different author every month (see A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge). March was spent reading as many works by David McCullough, whom I had never read before, as I could. The following are the books I managed to complete:

The-Path-Between-the-Seas-289956
Title: 
The Path Between the Seas
Author: David McCullough
Genre: Nonfiction History
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 15, 1977
Pages: 698
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Libby Library app
Date finished reading: March 11, 2019

Goodreads Description: This book tells the story of the men and women who fought against all odds to fulfill the 400 year old dream of construction an aquatic passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – a story of astonishing engineering feats.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ 

wright-brothers-coverTitle: The Wright Brothers
Author: David McCullough
Genre: Nonfiction Biography
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Pages: 320
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Libby Library app
Date finished reading: March , 2019

Goodreads Description: Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize David McCullough tells the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly: Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot.

Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did?

David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly American story of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, and they never stopped reading.

When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no contacts in high places, never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed.

In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers’ story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

johnstown-floodTitle: The Johnstown Flood
Author: David McCullough
Genre: Nonficti0n History
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: January 15, 1987
Pages: 302
Format Read: Book
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Barnes & Noble
Date finished reading:  

Goodreads Description: At the end of the last century, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a booming coal-and-steel town filled with hardworking families striving for a piece of the nation’s burgeoning industrial prosperity. In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earth dam had been hastily rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort patronized by the tycoons of that same industrial prosperity, among them Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Andrew Mellon. Despite repeated warnings of possible danger, nothing was done about the dam. Then came May 31, 1889, when the dam burst, sending a wall of water thundering down the mountain, smashing through Johnstown, and killing more than 2,000 people. It was a tragedy that became a national scandal.

Graced by David McCullough’s remarkable gift for writing richly textured, sympathetic social history, The Johnstown Flood is an absorbing, classic portrait of life in nineteenth-century America, of overweening confidence, of energy, and of tragedy. It also offers a powerful historical lesson for our century and all times: the danger of assuming that because people are in positions of responsibility they are necessarily behaving responsibly.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The_Greater_Journey_(David_McCullough_book)_coverTitle: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
Author: David McCullough
Genre: Nonfiction History
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Pages: 558
Format Read: Audiobook
Standalone or series: Standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app
Date finished reading:  

Goodreads Description: The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring – and until now, untold – story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work.

After risking the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, these Americans embarked on a greater journey in the City of Light. Most had never left home, never experienced a different culture. None had any guarantee of success. That they achieved so much for themselves and their country profoundly altered American history. As David McCullough writes, “Not all pioneers went west.” Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, who enrolled at the Sorbonne because of a burning desire to know more about everything. There he saw black students with the same ambition he had, and when he returned home, he would become the most powerful, unyielding voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate, almost at the cost of his life.

Two staunch friends, James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse, worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Cooper writing and Morse painting what would be his masterpiece. From something he saw in France, Morse would also bring home his momentous idea for the telegraph.

Pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk from New Orleans launched his spectacular career performing in Paris at age 15. George P. A. Healy, who had almost no money and little education, took the gamble of a lifetime and with no prospects whatsoever in Paris became one of the most celebrated portrait painters of the day. His subjects included Abraham Lincoln.

Medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote home of his toil and the exhilaration in “being at the center of things” in what was then the medical capital of the world. From all they learned in Paris, Holmes and his fellow “medicals” were to exert lasting influence on the profession of medicine in the United States.

Writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Henry James were all “discovering” Paris, marveling at the treasures in the Louvre, or out with the Sunday throngs strolling the city’s boulevards and gardens. “At last I have come into a dreamland,” wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe, seeking escape from the notoriety Uncle Tom’s Cabin had brought her. Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris and even more atrocious nightmare of the Commune. His vivid account in his diary of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris (drawn on here for the first time) is one readers will never forget. The genius of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the son of an immigrant shoemaker, and of painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, three of the greatest American artists ever, would flourish in Paris, inspired by the examples of brilliant French masters, and by Paris itself.

Nearly all of these Americans, whatever their troubles learning French, their spells of homesickness, and their suffering in the raw cold winters by the Seine, spent many of the happiest days and nights of their lives in Paris. McCullough tells this sweeping, fascinating story with power and intimacy, bringing us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’s phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.” The Greater Journey is itself a masterpiece.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ 

My Review: This month I managed to read four of McCullough’s historical accounts including one biography. Here is what I thought of them:

I am going to start with my least favorite which was The Path Between the Seas, which was about the building of the Panama Canal. While I did get excited to hear Edward Herrmann’s voice (of Gilmore Girls fame) narrating for me on the audiobook version that I listened to, it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged. I learned some interesting facts of the Panama Railway; that the canal was going to be built in Nicaragua; and the issues that ensued related to funding, disease and natural disaster (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and avalanches) that shifted the earth and/or destroyed the architecture of the canal. However, in the end this was a miss for me.

The Greater Journey was about the many Americans in the 1800s and early 1900s that traveled to France (mainly Paris). I liked this one a bit more than the Panama Canal book. It begins with interesting characters from all professional backgrounds, including writers and poets like Washington Irving and James Fennimore Cooper; politicians like Charles Sumner (his was my favorite story); medical doctors like John Warren; painters like Samuel F.B. Morse; and more. I loved the telling of their first impressions of France, especially when the boat would stop in Rouen, and they would view the large gothic cathedral there. I was also interested in the things they learned about culture and society, like their views on sexuality (sometimes a lack of modesty) and views on race. This is what Senator Charles Sumner took away, as far as race, from a lecture he attended in France: “They were standing in the midst of a knot of young men and their color seemed to be no objection to them. I was glad to see this, though with American impressions, it seemed very strange. It must be then that the distance between free blacks and whites among us is derived from education, and does not exist in the nature of things.” This experience influenced him so much, that when he returned to the States, he continually spoke up against slavery. This was not always a popular view among some of his fellow politicians, one of which, Representative Preston Briggs from South Carolina, at one point repeatedly beat Senator Sumner with his cane until Sumner was knocked unconscious. I found this part of the book and the education of Americans in France fascinating, but that was a small portion at the beginning. The story dragged for me after that.

McCullough’s biography of the Wright brothers was absolutely fascinating. I was invested in the Wright family from the very beginning. I had never heard the story of Wilbur Wright’s accident during a hockey match, when a player, who would later become the infamous serial killer, Oliver Crook Haugh, hit him in the face with a hockey stick. This incident changed Wilbur’s life forever. As a reader, it was easy to follow the lives of the Wright brothers, as their interest in birds and how things like bikes work would eventually lead them to attempting to create a flying machine, focusing on solving the matter of equilibrium. I sincerely admire their persistence, and believe that was why they prevailed in creating a successful powered-glider. This book was a well-written and comprehensive biography. I especially enjoyed the story near the end of when the father got to go for a ride in his sons’ invention. That is how I want the book to end. I should never have read the epilogue. It is a bit of a downer.

My most anticipated McCullough read also turned out to be my favorite. I have had The Johnstown Flood on my bookshelf, since it was published. I just never had a chance to read it. It is a thrill ride right from the beginning, and if you don’t know anything about the Johnstown flood, it is an extremely tragic event in our nation’s history. Human error (neglecting necessary repairs to a large dam) and mother nature worked together to bring an end to thousands of lives. One of the most amazing paragraphs is the following and speaks to McCullough’s ability to engage the reader:

From where they were the men at the dam could see all this happening as the water raged through the immense gash below them. But just beyond Lamb’s Bridge the valley turns sharply to the right and disappears. So now they could only stand there, the rain beating down, and imagine, as much as that was possible, the things taking place beyond that turn.” (p.102-103)

This paragraph literally gave me chills and made it impossible to put the book down. I experienced lots of emotion throughout this book. I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation, horrified at the devastation, and sadden by the loss of life. All the personal accounts were amazing and full of vivid description. It was hard not to shed tears during the last few chapters. Through this book more than any others I read this month, I really truly saw the power in McCullough’s writing.

Most of the people in Johnstown never saw the water coming; they only heard it; and those who lived to tell about it would for years after try to describe the sound of the thing as it rushed on them.” (p. 145)

Basically, my overall opinion of David McCullough’s works, based on the four books I was able to consume during the month of March, was that I either loved them or I didn’t. However, that opinion might be based more on personal interests rather than the author’s writing/story-telling.

Recommendations:

  • If you enjoyed McCullough’s The Greater Journey, I would recommend Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.
  • If you enjoyed McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood, you can check out the documentary of the same title on Amazon Prime, which is narrated by Richard Dreyfuss.

David McCullough’s new book comes out in a couple months: The Pioneers.

Please let me know your thoughts on David McCullough’s nonfiction in the comment section below. Next month I’ll be reading Margaret Atwood.

HAPPY READING!!!

WWW Wednesdays – February 27, 2019

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What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Time for another WWW Wednesdays, which is brought to you by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words. If you too want to participate, answer the above questions and post that link on Sam’s page.

I am making some progress on my Winter Reading List my Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reads. (See my 2019 A Focus on Authors Reading Challenge).

Currently Reading

I am really close to finishing Americanah, so I should have my Adichie review up in the next couple of days!

Finished Reading

The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam – audiobook & book =
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Say Nothing by Patrick Raddon Keefe – ebook = ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson – audiobook = ♦ ♦ ♦ ½

*Click on the titles for my review.*

Reading Next

I’ve really enjoyed reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie this month and highly recommend reading her! What are y’all reading now? Please post your WWW links below in the comments if I haven’t already visited them.

HAPPY READING!!!

Book Review: The Coldest Winter

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Title: 
The Coldest Winter
Author: David Halberstam
Genre: Nonfiction, Military, History
Publisher: Hyperion (NYC)
Publication Date: January 1, 2007
Pages: 733
Format Read: audiobook & book
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: Library Libby app & bookstore
Date finished reading:  February 24, 2019

Goodreads Description: “In a grand gesture of reclamation & remembrance, Mr Halberstam has brought the war back home.”–NY Times
Halberstam’s magisterial & thrilling The Best & the Brightest was a defining book about the Vietnam conflict. More than three decades later, he used his research & journalistic skills to shed light on another pivotal moment in our history: the Korean War. He considered The Coldest Winter his most accomplished work, the culmination of 45 years of writing about America’s postwar foreign policy. He gives a masterful narrative of the political decisions & miscalculations on both sides. He charts the disastrous path that led to the massive entry of Chinese forces near the Yalu River & that caught Douglas MacArthur & his soldiers by surprise. He provides vivid & nuanced portraits of all the major figures-Eisenhower, Truman, Acheson, Kim, & Mao, & Generals MacArthur, Almond & Ridgway. At the same time, he provides us with his trademark highly evocative narrative journalism, chronicling the crucial battles with reportage of the highest order. As ever, he was concerned with the extraordinary courage & resolve of people asked to bear an extraordinary burden. The Coldest Winter is contemporary history in its most literary & luminescent form, providing crucial perspective on every war America has been involved in since. It’s a book that Halberstam first decided to write over 30 years ago that took him nearly a decade to complete. It stands as a lasting testament to one of the greatest journalists & historians of our time, & to the fighting men whose heroism it chronicles.

My Review: In school I remember studying World War I and II and also the Vietnam War, but I don’t remember discussing the Korean War at all. It is truly the “Forgotten War.” However, if there is anything that David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter taught me, it is all the lessons that can be learned by studying the Korean War. Lessons that might be as valuable in today’s world, as they were in the 1950s.

With the end of World War II, the United States was just coming to terms with its new role in the international community. We had military in Europe and Asia. The U.S. was now seen as a world leader and with that power comes great responsibility. To be honest, I don’t believe the US knew what that responsibility was, but the U.S. did feel threatened by China and Russia’s power. China and Russia both had plans to increase their power, and it was not just to spread communism. Through some coaxing of a few U.S. military individuals in the Pacific region, one being General MacArthur, President Truman decided that we needed to prevent some of China’s actions in Asia, as their forces and influence were moving into the Korean peninsula. On June 30, 1950, President Truman gave the order for ground troops in Korea.

Though these actions would have support from the United Nations, there were quite a few issues with this order. First, many military men had just fought a hard and painful (both physically and psychologically) war (World War II) and were not anxious to fight in another war, especially not in a region that they were unfamiliar with. The U.S. military was not at all prepared to fight the massive Chinese forces. Troops were ill-equipped and under-trained. The battle in Chipyong-ni in February of 1951 “was one of the decisive battles of the war, because it was where the American forces finally learned to fight the Chinese.” Prior to that, US soldiers were losing their lives at a rapid speed. They had completely underestimated their opponent. In the words of Commander T.R. Fehrenbach, they were “fighting a war they didn’t understand. They knew neither their ally nor their enemy.”

The Coldest Winter brings to light so many elements of the Korean War, one being the politics and relationships among countries at that time. Stalin and Mao both were leaders of communist countries, but that did not always mean that they were always on the same side. “To Mao, the Soviets might be communists, but they were first and foremost Russians.” They both displayed a nationalistic side that doesn’t leave a lot of room for diplomacy.

There are so many things to take away from this book, that I hope I have absorbed at least 10%. I found the insight into General MacArthur really fascinating, especially his relationship with Washington and President Truman. It was quite dramatic. In 1944, General Joseph Stilwell stated, “The problem with MacArthur was that he had been a general too long. He got his first star in 1918, and that means he has had almost 30 years as a general. 30 years of people playing to him and kissing his ass and doing what he wants.” He did not always accept the orders from Washington and in the end, President Truman did fire General MacArthur.

The Korean War was really the beginning of the Cold War, as U.S. military and political leaders realized that the Soviet Union had many powerful weapons, including nuclear weapons. This was also the beginning of a division on the Korean Peninsula that continues to this day – a conflict that does not seem to be over as North Korea continues to concern the international community.

Even though The Coldest Winter reads like a textbook, if you want a comprehensive look into the Korean War and its players, this is a must read.

My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Weekend in Columbus, OH – October 2018

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I have not had a lot of adventures this year, but I was fortunate to visit some family for a weekend getaway in Columbus, OH this Fall. We were blessed with some sun and warmish temperatures. Also, the trees were turning colors, which added to the beauty.

As a booklover, I had to visit a local independent bookstore called The Book Loft in the German Village. The charm of the outside is matched by the extensive collection in the inside. If you are looking for something specific, I would highly recommend picking up a map at the front register – yep…that is how big it is!

If you have amazing weather like we did, I would recommend a nice walk along the Scioto River (see picture at the top of the page). The Scioto Mile was developed just a few years ago with beautiful walking paths lined with trees and flowers. If you want to take a break from your walk along the river, you can stop in the COSI – Columbus’ Center of Science and Industry museum.


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Ohio is rich with Native American history. If you find yourself in Dublin, Ohio, make a stop at the Leatherlips Monument (pictured on the right). Leatherlips was a Wyandot Native American leader that was executed in the early 1800s.

There are so many great places to eat and have a few drinks in the Columbus area. A great place to get a drink and have some fun with friends is the Pins Mechanical Co. There are three locations in the Columbus area. Here you have a lot of drink choices, including a20181018_102740 large selection of draft beers, while you play a round of duck pin bowling or some pinball or other fun bar games. Some of the places we ate include Valter’s at the Maennerchor (German restaurant in the German village), which serves a nice weekend brunch, and Cap City Fine Diner, which is a wonderful diner with fantastic food and service. If you are from the Midwest or have a love of frozen custard like I do, you must stop and have some frozen custard at Whit’s Frozen Custard (see picture on the right). So amazing!

I am very fortunate to have family in Columbus now. It is a fun town with lots to do and lots of places to eat. If you are there and confused by the sea of red and white, Columbus is most well known as the home of the Buckeyes of THE Ohio State University. Don’t forget that Columbus is also the capital of Ohio (see picture of the capital building below). If you have any suggestions of things to do or places to eat in or around Columbus, feel free to let me know via the comment section below, as we hope to go back for another visit there soon.

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20 Years of Travel #7: Dubai

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with my trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This trip made my list simply because it was such a unique adventure for me that really took me out of my normal travel comfort zone. I decided to go visit a friend from grad school that lives and works in Dubai. I had never been to the UAE or anywhere in the Middle East, so I had a lot to learn about the culture. While I did travel there on my own, I was fortunate to have my friend with me for much of my time in Dubai.

Since Dubai has become a major trading and business hub between Europe and Asia, it has become an appealing travel destination for tourists because of its skyscrapers, theme parks and resorts. However, in reality Dubai is a location where women are treated as 12764762_185284661846101_4258686595052618337_oinferior to men and should always be accompanied by men. Luckily my friend informed me of this and gave me some tips for traveling by myself in Dubai, starting with my arrival at the airport. My friend was working, so I was on my own for the day and was going to be meeting her at the largest mall in the world: The Dubai Mall. I thought about taking a taxi, but my friend informed me that for my safety, to look for pink taxis. Pink taxis are for women with women drivers. I waited for a while for one to show, but didn’t see any so I decided to take their Metro train, which has a stop at the Mall. It was very convenient. At the Dubai Mall, I was able to find a baggage check on a lower level for my bag, so I could wander the mall without carrying any heavy luggage. I had a lovely meal too that afforded me the amazing view of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), which is pictured above.

When my friend and I met up, she had gotten us At the Top tickets to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa. This was high on my bucket list, as I would truly be on top of the world. It was fantastic experience. When you get to the observation deck there is a lounge and waiters passing out juices, which was a good idea, since the altitude could definitely affect people and eventually started to make me a little sick. We went outside and realized quickly that that may not be a great idea, as there was a lightning storm and we were right below the spire. It was an amazing view though. At the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Fountain, which is worth a stop. It is similar to the fountain outside of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, where at certain times there is a water and light show that follows along to a song. The show was magnificent.

DSC3932If you are looking for an interesting meal to try while you are in Dubai, I would suggest having a camel burger. As a stereotypical American, I will try anything that might look like a hamburger. It was not bad at all. I would, however, not try the camel milkshake. That was pretty disgusting.

If you are looking for a good educational and cultural experience, I would check out Sheikh Mohammed Centre for DSC3947Cultural Centre for Cultural Understanding. It is a collection of museums that contain a wide variety of historical artifacts. There is a coin museum and a pottery museum. Here you can learn a lot about the history of Dubai. It was always a huge trading port. Abu Dhabi was the big oil city, but in the 1960s a smaller amount of oil was discovered in the waters near Dubai. Prior to the discovery of oil, one of Dubai’s biggest exports were pearls. Divers would comb the floor of the waters around Dubai for mollusks that would produce these pearls. Besides history and economics, you may also find some art galleries that are worth a stop.

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When you think of animals in Dubai, you may think only of camels, but there is a huge wildlife sanctuary near the downtown area called Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. In this peaceful setting, you can view thousands of birds, including flamingos.

Another fun thing to do, which you will most likely experience if you are staying at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm is to ride the _DSC3995Palm Jumeirah Monorail. The views are stunning as you head directly for the Atlantis Hotel. Even though we were not patrons of the Atlantis Hotel, we decided to stop there to have a look around, and so I could see my very first Gold ATM (pictured on the left). I really never believed that those existed, and stood there trying to figure out if I could get a gold bar home with me – I did not attempt this.

If you are looking for additional fun family things to do in Dubai, you should check out the waterparks and Ski Dubai. Ski Dubai is located in the Mall of the Emirates and is an indoor ski resort. Even if you do not ski, it is worth checking out.DSC3906

Nighttime is stunning in Dubai. Besides checking out the Dubai Fountain at night, you can view the unique, five-star hotel: Burj Al Arab (pictured on the right). Even if you are not staying at the Burj Al Arab, you can still try to get restaurant reservations there, but you should think of doing that well in advance of your visit to Dubai. Another good evening stop is the Global Village (pictured below). It is a large outdoor world market that is lit up at night. There are places to eat and of course….camels. At the end of the evening there is a lovely firework display.

I loved Dubai and can fully understand why my friend continues to call this her home. This is also an exciting time as the city prepares to host World Expo in 2020-2021. A few side notes to new travelers to the area:

  • Be careful what you take pictures of. You can get arrested for taking pictures of planes, accidents, and other people without their consent.
  • In some local eateries, men eat on the ground floor or a special area, where women and families eat in a different designated area.
  • The division in restaurants also is applied in other areas. For example, if you are taking a bus to Abu Dhabi, women and families stand in a different line from the men.
  • Wear respectful clothing.
  • Solo female travelers, heed my friend’s warning about taking taxis with male drivers. If you are assaulted in the vehicle, the courts would say that it is your fault for getting into a male-driven taxi without a male escort. This has been such a prevalent problem in the area that taxis in Abu Dhabi now have cameras installed in them.

Find more tips before you travel to Dubai here. Dubai was not like traveling around Europe or the US, and that is part of the reason I liked it. I think it is a special and unique place in the world.

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20 Years of Travel #5: Berlin, Germany

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Next up on my 20 Years of Travel series is one of my favorite cities: Berlin. I first visited Berlin when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2006. I cannot even begin toBerlin Pictures 106Berlin Pictures 107 describe how vibrant and alive the atmosphere in Berlin was during this time. Welcoming us to Berlin as we disembarked the train at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station were crowds of Germans singing and cheering, for their team had just won their game. I knew right then that our time in Berlin was going to be a wild ride. We got to see the Brazil v Japan game, which was an amazing experience. I loved every minute from the energy of the city to all the friendly people.

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Things to see and do in Berlin:

  • Visit the Reichstag (see photo at the top of the page) – The Reichstag is the German Parliament building. On the right side of the building (if you are facing the front of it) is a moving memorial to all the political leaders who were assassinated for fighting against the Nazi party. You can reserve your visit to the Reichstag by visiting this page.
  • Berlin Wall – What remains of the Berlin Wall that divided Berlin into East and West 1780750_10151950832792986_1162444489_nBerlin after WWII has now basically become an art installation with displays of political statements, as well as statements of love and peace.
  • Brandenburg Gate – This monument was built in the 18th century and has since been the site for many historical and significant political events.

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  • Checkpoint Charlie – After WWII, Berlin was divided. The Soviet Union took control of East Berlin. This is how you can still tell if you are in East Berlin…check out the pedestrian traffic lights:
    The United States took control of West Berlin. They set up a border check called Checkpoint Charlie, which is now an outdoor museum display.

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  • Museum Island – This is a tiny island in the middle of Berlin that houses five museums, which are all worth a visit:
    • Altes Museum
    • Alte Nationalgalerie
    • Neues Museum
    • Pergamonmuseum
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  • Berliner Dom – This is a church that honors the reformationists of the 16th century, which include martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. The Dom is located near Museum Island.
  • Gemäldegalerie – This gallery houses stunning artwork by famous painters such as Raphael, Rembandt, Caravaggio and Vermeer.
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – One of the things that makes Berlin such an interesting and special place to visit is that it does not deny its horrific past. I believe the memorials, such as this one, represent a peaceful future where we learn from the evils of the past.

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  • DDR Museum – This is an interactive museum that represents life in the Soviet East Germany. It is located near Museum Island and is definitely worth a visit.Side trips from Berlin:

Day Trips from Berlin:

  • Dresden – The city of Dresden is less than 200km outside of Berlin and accessible by train. During February 13-15th in 1945, Dresden was heavily bombed and almost10830921_10152770679987986_4315638381600018905_o complete destroyed by the Allies. Almost every building was damaged or demolished. This includes the three sites we visited: the museum complex called the Zwinger, the Royal Palace (pictured below) and the Frauenkirche (pictured on the right). The Zwinger includes a picture gallery, a porcelain collection and the royal cabinet of mathematical and physical instruments. Fortunately, even though the Zwinger was destroyed, the collection was removed prior to the bombing and saved. The baroque architecture gives Dresden an ashen look, which I find fitting after the WWII bombings.

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  • Sachsenhausen – During WWII, this was the site of a concentration camp that held mostly political prisoners. During the war, this camp housed a few notableBerlin Pictures 082 individuals including Stalin’s eldest son, who ended up dying at this camp under uncertain circumstances. However, our guide leans toward the theory that Stalin was offered a trade – his son for two high-standing Nazi officials that had been captured by the Russians. The theory states that Stalin refused this deal, and his son was dead a short time later. Another individual that was held at Sachsenhausen, Martin Niemöller wrote the following quote that has been immortalized in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
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  • Potsdam – This town is a short train ride just outside of Berlin. It is home to the Sanssouci Palace. This was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, who was the King of Prussia from 1740-1786.

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As you can see, there is so much to do and see in and around Berlin. It is a city rich with culture and history. My husband and I have been to Berlin multiple times and each time we have an unique experience. This is a very special city and 100% worth a visit.

Normandy, France – October 2014

As 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, visiting Normandy and especially Omaha Beach was very high on our travel bucket list that year.

CAEN

Caen Abbaye

We made the city of Caen our base as we traveled around Normandy. Our accommodation was super affordable, and Caen was right in the middle of all the sights we wanted to see.

Day One: We explored Caen. Our first stop was the Saint-Jean Church. Inside you will find images of this church before WWII and after WWII. This church was almost completely destroyed. They did manage to save part of the crucifix which is still displayedDSC_6918 (pictured on the right). We then wandered around the Chateau de Caen, which is stunning. We were most interested in going to the Caen Memorial WWII Museum. It is quite a distance to walk, but we were blessed with wonderful weather and enjoyed a nice walk through a park, where the leaves were turning beautiful colors. I believe that Caen has one of the best WWII museums I have ever visited. While this museum does focus on the events that led up to D-Day and beyond, such as military strategies and wartime atrocities, it also has a huge section that focuses on the importance of diplomacy and peace to avoid such horrible wars. It is moving and inspirational.

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Order to his troops for D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Featured on a stone outside of the Caen Memorial WWII Museum)

We took a long walk back to our hotel, passing the grand Abbaye aux Hommes (pictured above) during sunset. Caen is a pretty big city, so you will have no problem finding plenty of restaurants and bars at which to spend your evenings.

BAYEUX

Bayeaux Cathedral

Day Two: We took a train to the town of Bayeux. I really loved this town It is smaller and more walkable than Caen. Plus, the people there were friendly and very helpful. The woman that we spoke to at the Tourist Information center helped us figure out exactlyTapestry what public transit we needed to take to get to Omaha Beach. She also called and reserved us a private tour to Mont Saint Michel (leaving from Caen, since that is where we were stationed) for our final day. While wandering the streets of Bayeux, we noticed a lot of pro-USA, Britain, and Canada propaganda, as the French people of that town view them as the ones that liberated France from the Nazis during WWII. Before catching the bus to the beach, we had enough time to check out the Bayeux Tapestry of William the Conqueror (pictured on the right). My husband was the one that wanted to see it, but I will admit that it was shockingly impressive. It is worth taking your time to look at every deal.

OMAHA BEACH

Omaha BeachThe bus from Bayeux drops you off a good distance from the Omaha Beach, but we were able to navigate our way without a problem. We climbed uphill to take a look at a monument and found this amazing view of the beach (pictured above). We descended the hill toward the beach, passing bunkers that have remained since WWII. As we walked along the beach, I felt that everything was calm and peaceful. It is hard to believe that so many lives were taken on that beautiful beach. For a final stop, we headed up to the American Cemetery (pictured on the right). When we got to the top of the hill, before entering tAmerican Cemeteryhe cemetery, we noticed that they offer guided tours. We decided to wait for a guided tour and were fortunate enough to end up having a private tour. The American Cemetery overlooks the beach. The grounds are well-maintained. You will find that the eldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt is buried there. There is also a small number of American women buried there as well. Our guide told us a story about one of the women, named Elizabeth Richardson. She worked for the Red Cross as a “donut dolly,” where she served donuts to the servicemen. She survived being in the midst of combat in France to see the end of the war. As she was flying to head home, her plane crashed into a mountain. I can’t help but feel sad that someone so caring and generous had to die when she was so close to seeing her family again. The American Cemetery is such a special place – full of so many emotions.

ROUEN

RouenDay Three: We took the train from Caen to Rouen. Rouen is famously known as the town where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. We decided to do our own self-guided Joan of Arc tour of Rouen, which began with the Joan of Arc Tower, where she was imprisoned before she was put to death. We then visited St. Ouen Cathedral. It waClocks here that we started to just wander down the streets looking at all the remarkable buildings (pictured above). There were so many wonderful shops. We stopped at the Creperie Restaurant for one of the most amazing crepes I have ever had. From there we walked by the Cathedrale Notre-Dame and the Tour du Gros-horloge. The Gros-horloge (pictured on the right) is an astronomical clock that was first constructed in the 1300s. We continued our Joan of Arc tour by visiting the Church of St. Joan of Arc. In the courtyard of this church is a cross, which stands as a memorial to Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in that spot. From this location, they deposited her remains in the Seine River, where a plaque now stands with a description of this action.

Mont Saint Michel

Mont St Michele

Day Four: On our final day, a private car and guide came to pick us up in Caen and take us to Mont Saint Michel (pictured above). While the weather was not ideal when weTrekkers arrived, it did eventually clear up for some amazing photos. Since we were visiting on a Sunday, we got to visit the abbey free-of-charge and attend a church service. Mont Saint Michel is an island that is only accessible during low-tide, so our time there was limited. Many people actually make a pilgrimage to the island by foot during low-tide. A guide has to be with you on this pilgrimage as timing and footing is very important and can be dangerous. We got to witness a group making the pilgrimage (pictured on the right). Almost made me wish I had done it myself.

Things I would do differently if I could do it all again

If I were to take another trip to Normandy to explore a little bit more, I would do a few things differently. First of all, I would stay in Bayeux. It is such an adorable little town, and it is much easier to access the beaches from there. Second, I would rent a car instead of relying on public transit. We almost got stuck at Omaha beach overnight. We were waiting for the bus to take us back to Bayeux. We were trying hard not to panic when it did not come. Luckily, someone must have been watching out for us, because a nice French couple stopped their car and offered us a ride back to Bayeux. We were very fortunate. The other benefit to having a car is being able to access Mont Saint Michele. It is quite a distance away from Caen and Bayeux. If we had had our own car, we could have saved money on the tour and guide and left earlier to have more time there. Maybe we would have seen Mont Saint Michele at high-tide. Last, we learned that while we have grown accustomed to being able to purchase train tickets at the last minute, sometimes trains fill up. We did not plan ahead and almost didn’t get on a train one night, because all the trains were full. I try to say that going with the flow can be fun, but there is something to be said for planning in advance as well.

Once again Normandy is another example of a destination that, even though we saw all the sights on our list, we would return to see other places that we learned about while we were there. The travel bucket list never gets smaller. It just changes.