Last September, we visited Arromanches-les-Bains in Normandy. This tiny town sits between what was called Omaha Beach, by the Americans, and Gold Beach, by the Brits. Farms stretch inland and the nearest city is Caen. 
There were 500 people living in Arromanches on June 6, 1944, and there are 500 there today, most involved with some aspect of tourism. 
We went to the beach, the museum and then up the hill to lookout points and a viewing of an incredible 360-degree film, made from news footage and new video of some of the same sites. There is no narration, just natural sounds. It was a harrowing experience just watching and listening. I can't even imagine how horrible it must have been to have been there on that day. 
The story of how the Brits made Mulberry Harbor was new to both of us. First, they sank old ships off the coast the create a breakwater. Then, they brought in landing platforms and created floating roads to move men and tanks onto the beach. Oddly enough, they met little resistance from the Germans, probably because they were otherwise engaged down the road at Omaha and Utah beaches. The sunken ships are still there, and so are a few landing structures. 
What amazed me in Arromanches was not only the bravery of the soldiers but that of the civilians trapped in this little town, with no way to escape the horror. A memorial stood across from where we stayed, listing civilians killed and local citizens sent to concentration camps. The streets are named for D Day heroes and civilians executed for spying on the Germans. Most were age 19 or 20. 
A very moving experience.

Our plan for exploring France was to follow Vincent Van Gogh's path south from Amsterdam to the Mediterranean, with important stops along the way. It didn't turn out exactly like that. Nonetheless, we saw Holland and France through the painter's eyes. .  
I hope you enjoy this jaunt through the mountains and small towns of southern France. Bask in the sun by the pool at a bed & breakfast set in the middle of a working vineyard, with mountains as backdrop.
Be sure to turn up the music -- Don McLean's Vincent (also known as Starry Starry Night), a paean to the Dutch artist, including some of his more recognizable Provence landscapes. 

Like everyone else in the Free World, we knew this campaign season was coming and planned our getaway accordingly. There's no level of campaign craziness that three weeks offline in Europe can't cure. Now we've decided to share our beautiful memories of The Netherlands and France with you. Get comfy, uncork a bottle of wine and enjoy! 

La Marseillaise 

La Marseillaise
 was composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792, and named the French national anthem in 1795. It's bloodier than the Star Spangled Banner, but not by much. 

Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé !
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes,
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes !

Aux armes, citoyens !
Formez vos bataillons !
Marchons ! Marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !

Que veut cette horde d'esclaves,
De traîtres, de rois conjurés ?
Pour qui ces ignobles entraves,
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés ? 
Français ! pour nous, ah ! quel outrage !
Quels transports il doit exciter !
C'est nous qu'on ose méditer
De rendre à l'antique esclavage !

Quoi ! ces cohortes étrangères
Feraient la loi dans nos foyers !
Quoi ! ces phalanges mercenaires
Terrasseraient nos fiers guerriers ! 
Grand Dieu ! par des mains enchaînées
Nos fronts sous le joug se ploiraient !
De vils despotes deviendraient
Les maîtres de nos destinées !

Tremblez, tyrans ! et vous, perfides,
L'opprobre de tous les partis,
Tremblez ! vos projets parricides
Vont enfin recevoir leur prix !
Tout est soldat pour vous combattre,
S'ils tombent, nos jeunes héros,
La France en produit de nouveaux,
Contre vous tout prêts à se battre !

Français, en guerriers magnanimes,
Portez ou retenez vos coups !
Épargnez ces tristes victimes,
A regret s'armant contre nous. (bis)
Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !

Amour sacré de la patrie,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs !
Liberté, Liberté chérie,
Combats avec tes défenseurs ! 
Sous nos drapeaux, que la victoire
Accoure à tes mâles accents !
Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire !

Nous entrerons dans la carrière
Quand nos aînés n'y seront plus ;
Nous y trouverons leur poussière
Et la trace de leurs vertus. 
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivre
Que de partager leur cercueil,
Nous aurons le sublime orgueil
De les venger ou de les suivre !

Is she the epitome of the chanteuse Française, ou non? 

Here are a few blogs I follow and would recommend to other Francophiles:
French Letters  -- a gourmande's delight. Beautiful writing/photos/story 
Montpellier Daily Photo -- just what it sounds like
Paris Breakfasts --  an artist's view of France and French culture
Lost in Cheeseland -- musings on food, love, live & struggles in Paris
French Word A Day – much, much more than it sounds like 

For a look at the festivities in Paris, see the BBC report here.