First time posting a trip report, so here goes:
This was DW and my second trip to France, first for our neice and nephew. DW, Niece, Nephew and I flew out of Kansas City to ORD for a connecting flight to CDG on Thursday March 3 and arrived Friday morning in Paris. The international leg was surprising full, so finding an extra seat or two to lay down and get some sleep was impossible. Arrived 25 minutes early in Paris, was in and out of customs and baggage claim in 40 minutes, and we headed downstairs to the train station, bought 4 tickets to St. Lazare and got on the first train out. Bad idea. I should have waited longer for one of the trains that had fewer stops, as by the time we reached Stade de France, the RER B was packed, and we had all our luggage with us. Transfered to the RER E line to St. Lazare (with luggage) to Lazare for our 12:08 train to Caen.
One tip I can make definitively now, if you buy your train tickets online ahead of time, "splurge" for the refundable/changeable tickets. I purchased non-changeable tickets on the 12:08 train just in case the flight was delayed, or had other problems in customs and baggage retrieval and it would have been worth the extra 50 euros for the changeable tickets - Because we got to Lazare in time for the earlier train and had to sit and wait in the brisk weather for another 1:45 minutes until our train arrived. We boarded first class for the trip up in the event someone, including myself needed a brief nap as we were renting our car in Caen. The train ride was soothing to all, and the rest of my family actually got about an hour and a half of sleep. I spent the time reorganizing our backpacks so that the rest of the day would be easier.
Arrived in Caen on time, got the car with no problems but it was a bit confusing on how to get next to the station (reasonably close, anyway) to pick-up the rest of the family and the luggage. Hint: when you come out of the station, make sure the family goes right, not left to the curb, as directly in front and to the left (as you leave the station) is a lane for cabs and buses only. After these minor snafu's, we got the car loaded and headed immediately to the Caen Peace Museum.
Peace Museum: This was originally primarily for my, and nephew's benefit as we're both history and WWII enthusiasts. I found myself near tears several times (a recurring theme in Normandy). Turned out that my wife and niece actually enjoyed it as much or more than we did. We watched nearly all of the films presented throughout the museum, the staff were extremely nice and helpful, and all thoroughly enjoyed the museum. P.S. I put the museum into the schedule immediately, as I wanted to avoid the temptation to take a longer nap at the hotel and prolong jet lag for the rest of the trip! It worked.
From the museum, we headed out to Port En Bessin for the hotel. As a first time driver in France, I did as much research as I could so that there wouldn't be any wrong turns, backtracking or otherwise getting lost. While my printed directions ultimately worked out perfectly, trying to find the street signs and highway numbers certainly elevated my stress level, as it was so significantly different than in the U.S. My recommendation: don't worry about your directions so much, the French tourist industry did a fine job of actually giving you directions to each city on the signs along the way, it just didn't occur to me or my nephew until mid-day Saturday how to understand them. Drove right to the wharf across from the Ibis in Port en Bessin, checked in, got directions to the car park in the rear, and we were in the room by 6:45p.m. My wife, niece and nephew began unpacking their clothes and things for the next couple of days. I decided the quad room was only big enough for three people to unpack at the same time, so I went for a short walk.
I did a little reconnoitering of the local restaurants. I came back after about 30 minutes and everyone was unpacked and ready to go to dinner. After I unpacked we headed out. We ate at the Marie du Port on the wharf. For the price, we thought the meals were just okay. We walked around the port itself, back to the hotel and went to bed fairly early - 9:45, for our long day on Saturday.
Saturday March 5
We got up fairly early, with little jet lag (except Niece who in notoriously not a morning person) and headed out. Our original plan was to head immediately out to Mont St. Michel in the morning via the autoroute, then return on smaller roads through St. Lo, then up by Pointe du Hoc and the American Cemetery. One missed turn and those wonderful tourist road signs resulted in a change. We started at the American Cemetery, which was only 9 or 10 miles from the hotel (by the way I drove it anyway) for a morning visit. The small museum was really poignant, and once again, I'm nearly in tears several times. We went to the cemetery and the weather was brisk (windy) but otherwise fairly sunny and great for photos. Once we got too cold, we made it back to the car and headed out towards Pointe du Hoc.
Pointe du Hoc was even colder and windier than the cemetery. The battery emplacements, although made entirely of cold concrete were our only respite from the winds, so we took several pictures from inside looking out over the channel. I explained to my niece that most of the men who died here, both german and allied were near her age - 19 - which put it into perspective for her a little too much, as she was fairly quiet the rest of the visit. From here we headed to Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel was definitely worth the trip, IMO. My wife did not bring her inhaler with her from the car, and the cool breezes and climbing stopped her just below the abbaye itself. She found a nice comfortable bench with some views and people watched while the rest of the family went further up. After about 20 minutes or so more, I excused myself from my niece and nephew by telling them I was concerned about their aunt. They bought it. I was absolutely out of breath and weak kneed myself and decided I'd had enough, so I gave my niece my camera and asked that they take plenty of pictures for us for the album. They continued the climb. After about 45 minutes they returned, telling us the funny stories of things they saw other tourists doing, and gave us a blow by blow (with a digital review of the pictures) at our resting spot. We each picked up a crepe and drink on the walk back down to the car. We headed back, but stopped at the little store just off the causeway, it had the name The in it, but I don't recall if it was Cafe du The or what. We wanted to pick up some sandwiches for the return drive, but ended up just sitting and eating them there. The drive back was uneventful, except for the realization by my nephew and I of how to read the signs, which was a revelation! It made the rest of the day and next morning much less stressful.
We returned to Port En Bessin and the hotel for a brief rest, then headed down to a small Pizza place near the first restaurant. We were all pleased, and rated this place the second/third best meal the entire trip! We once again walked around the town a bit, then got back in the car for a drive all around the town, as we were all a little leg weary from all the walking done during the day. We returned back to the hotel for some drinks at the little bar and went to bed, as we had a 10:08 train to Paris to catch from Caen in the morning. We got up early, got dressed, checked out and headed back to Caen for the train ride into Paris. Nephew and I we confident about our newly discover sign reading skills, and the earlier departure from the hotel would give us plenty of time for corrections. We followed the signs for Caen, then Caen City Centre. I stopped at a small fuel station on the way to fill up the rental car (and to check directions to the station) and found that we were about 4 km from the station, and on the right route. I drove right to the station, dropped of the rest of the family and then returned the rental car at the drop-off point. We were early enough that we had to wait about 45 minutes for the train to Paris.
The train ride back on Sunday morning was in 2nd class, but the train was nearly empty. We all got a little nap on the way back to Paris.
Coming soon: buying metro passes (navigo decouverte), using them, and navigating train stations in Paris to our apartment.
Normandy, Paris & overnight in London
First time posting a trip report, so here goes:
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