Jan Fowler and David Weir at the American Cemetery, Normandy, France.

It was the most beautiful trip ever! And now I know why everyone raves about river cruises. They are elegant, fun and more intimate than large cruise ships. For example, it is easier to strike up casual conversation with others because of the informality of smaller lounges.

David and I felt fortunate to be among 122 passengers, all of whom belonged to the Military Officers Association of America, known as MOAA, who were aboard this seven-day Uniworld Boutique roundtrip river cruise from Paris to Normandy, France — not to mention the fact that there was no language barrier among us because we were all Americans!

Nearly one year ago, David had signed us up for this popular trip only to receive the disappointing news that the ship had been an overnight sellout and was already fully booked. So imagine our delight when we were later notified that Uniworld was adding a second ship. This time we made the cut.

Our journey began in San Bernardino where, a friend dropped us off at the Metrolink station before dawn and we boarded a train to Union Station in Los Angeles for a modest $10 one-way fare. Upon arriving at Union Station, we found it easier than expected to roll our suitcases along the corridor to the Fly Away Bus Depot where we boarded a bus to the LAX airport. Departures are scheduled every 30 minutes, 24 hours per day, so our wait was minimal, for the modest fare of $10 one way.

In less than 45 minutes we reached the main terminal at LAX, still feeling relaxed because we had been spared the stress of freeway and airport terminal driving, and arrived in plenty of time to board our 11-hour nonstop flight to Paris aboard Air TahitiNui.

Then for three dreamy days we toured Paris, which is romantically accented with the poetic beauty of leafy green trees that grow four to five stories high. We got by on a minimum of survival French and enjoyed excellent guided excursions — including the Paris Opera House. We also were quick to master the art of dodging zillions of electric scooters and motorcycles that whizzed by us everywhere we turned! 

Also memorable was exquisite-tasting French cuisine served at charming sidewalk cafés.

Next we boarded the elegant S.S. Joie de Vivre, our luxurious Paris-to-Paris Seine River cruise, which included such stops as Monet’s Gardens, Palace of Versailles and St. Wandrille Abby, a monastery of silent monks and monastic beer.

Then we reached Utah Beach, one of several beachheads on our first stop along the Normandy Coast, the site of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of World War II on June 6, 1944.

At first we felt as if we were stepping on holy ground. It was very moving. Then came the sobering force of unexpected freezing cold winds, which we had not been prepared for.

We struggled against blowing sand so fine it that it filled our hair, nostrils and stuck to our teeth while we climbed challenging sand dunes just to see the beach and water. We understood what our brave military warriors must have experienced as they stepped into these freezing cold waters carrying 80 pounds of gear while engaging in battle to defend our freedom.

We also visited Omaha Beach, the Airborne Museum and the American Cemetery, where more than 9,000 Americans are buried with each engraved marble cross facing west toward the United States.

A beautiful, moving ceremony was held for us on Omaha Beach which consisted of Words of Remembrance, the Pledge of Allegiance the “Star-Spangled Banner” and taps. The memory will live on in our hearts forever.

David and I appreciated this opportunity to gain a greater appreciation for those who died defending our freedoms.