Normandy and Paris 2016

Old Jul 5th, 2016, 01:20 PM
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Normandy and Paris 2016

The Party: DW and I on our 4th trip to France since 2006, and beginning on DW’s birthday, along with friends JM and LM, on their first trip to Europe, and their 40th Wedding Anniversary!

The trip: Tuesday, May 24 to Tuesday June 7 from MCI to CDG, with stays in Port En Bessin-Huppain, Rouen, and Paris and one day trip to London.

The pre-trip part of our trip: I find that trip reports, for whatever reason, focus on just the day to day, restaurant to hotel part of the trip. In this report, I’ve decided to begin with what, to me, is an integral part of any trip to France – the pre-trip planning. A few details about our itinerary, the carry-on v. checked baggage, flight selections, time of the season decisions and other miscellaneous minutiae of getting ready for a trip. Sorry for the length of these segments but I’m hopeful that I’ll keep them titled and organized so that you can skip through those parts you are not interested in and focus on those that interest you.
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 01:21 PM
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The Planning

The concept of this trip began with an invitation to dinner from family of some of our closest friends. They followed our Facebook page created for our vacations to France as an easy method of getting the photos posted immediately. We had just returned from our March-April trip in 2015. As a result of that dinner, I spent a substantial amount of time identifying dates that would work with all four of our work and life schedules. Based upon that, we selected the ultimate dates we used. From the dates, we then began the planning process. That began with providing them with guidebooks we had for all aspects of France. The most interesting part for me is that JM (the husband) was the son of a 2nd Bn. Army Ranger who was in on the D-day invasion. The trip then included some days in the Normandy area to see the D-day sites. Given my prior experiences, that also meant it would be the first part of the trip.
The second aspect of the trip related to DW and my 2015 trip where we day-tripped to Rouen. Our friends were completely willing to allow me the latitude to plan the rest of the trip, as long as it included Normandy and Paris! As such, I included one day in Rouen to the schedule, and the remaining time in Paris. From there, I began with locking in an apartment well in advance that had two bedrooms and bathrooms in Paris. Since I knew it would be high season, I felt it was important to get that locked in first.
After a short meeting to show the amenities of several apartments, we decided on an apartment in the Palais Royal let by Paris Vacation Apartments. Given all the discussion of apartments and legal apartments and getting left out in the cold, I did inquire specifically about that issue. Based upon the fact that this was a company based in Paris, with its address on Blvd. Clichy conspicuously present on their website, and their assurances, we leased the Palais Royal Elegant two bedroom. With that now locked, I began searching for both the housing in Normandy and Rouen as well as the best flights.
I knew we were flying American (FF program) so I limited my search using both the site, as well as Seat guru. Since we splurged on the plane tickets in 2015 and flew business class, we also knew we were flying business class again. We had angle-flat seats in 2015 in a 3-class plane, so I tried to focus on routes that included only two class planes (business/economy) and didn’t have a first class. Those flights initially were only on the US Airways legacy routes connecting through CLT, PHL and JFK. Later in the year, AA updated some of their planes to the two class configuration, but we’d already selected the CLT route. We ultimately found a wonderful sale price that was only $300.00 more than the Main Cabin Extra seat price, for fully flat suites in Business. Done deal.
With Paris lodging and airfare locked up, I finalized the hotel reservations in Port-En-Bessin and Rouen, and then only had train tickets to address. I’ve used various sites over the years to purchase tickets, but I followed recommendations here to try Captain Train for all our ticket needs. I wholly recommend the Captain Train site. I used the mobile app myself, and bought Prem’s for each train leg we planned. I liked the feature that the mobile app gave, which was to have the tickets available on the phone itself in a QR code format. Only one of our trips (Caen to Rouen) was not able to be ticketed in advance, so it simply gave me a passcode to pick up tickets at the station, which we did.
The remainder of my planning involved setting up various daily itinerary possibilities for Paris that would leave us complete flexibility based upon weather, etc. This turned out perfect for us, given that the Seine flooded during our stay and the Louvre, Orangerie and Orsay being closed for some time we were there. I also booked a private tour for all four of us with Overlord Tours for one full day in Normandy. The private tour option gave us the ability to request a “follow the footsteps” tour of JM’s fathers’ time in Normandy in the summer of ’44. Given the outfit was pretty historic, it was easy for Overlord to prepare for our tour with only the DD214 of Mr. M. We did add one day trip to the overall itinerary rather late, an Eurostar train under La Manche to London in the early am, returning on the last train. Captain train handled that transaction easy enough as well.
With all of the travel details locked down, I spent the next few months debating DW whether she should check one bag that was mostly empty so that we’d have a space for purchased items. The week before the trip, she finally relented and agreed to allow me to simply purchase another bag in Paris if we needed one. So we were prepared for everything by that time. Due to some fairly recent health related issues for both of us, we decided to purchase a slight upgrade in our medical/evacuation insurance at this time as well.
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 01:25 PM
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The trip

Since both couples live relatively close to each other, we hired a car service to pick us up, then the M’s, then to the airport. Kind of surprised to have a prom-style stretch limo come pick us up, I was expecting something slightly smaller for the 4 of us, but having room for 10 made for a relaxing space for the 45 minute drive to the airport.

Tip #1, be prepared for the TSA checks, especially with the easy off, easy on shoes (no laces) and please, remember where you packed the liquids and your camera and other electronics.

Tip #2, don’t pack any of the above items at the bottom of your bags! This little tip will prevent you completely repacking the darn thing in the gate area.

Our flight out of MCI headed to Charlotte on time and arrived on time. I was concerned with a previous airline change that left us 67 minutes to make the connection to CDG, so we moved up our flight to CLT to give us more time. Travelling Business on an international flight gave us access to the Lounge in Charlotte. I must say, if it is at all possible, pay for the business class seats. The lounge access made it unbelievably relaxing and comfortable. The only interesting thing that occurred here related to my hearing.

I HEARD my wife ask me to see if there was a place where she could get a stylist in the airport. After checking with the receptionist, the closest thing to a stylist was a spa that gave massages, but no hair styling at all. I returned and reported my findings to DW, LM and JM and laughter ensued. After it stopped, DW repeated, she wanted a STYLUS for her Ipad, not a STYLIST. Humiliated, I found a STYLUS at the next door down from the lounge. I do believe a hearing test may be in order. Maybe in a year or so.

After a 4+ hour layover, we boarded the plane, got organized with everything for the trip easily accessible, and had a glass of sparkling wine (wasn’t Champagne, so it was sparkling) and confirmed meal choices. Shortly thereafter, the Bose noise-cancelling headphones were delivered. What a plus! The meal was very good, and the personal entertainment device was perfectly situated and we had a nice choice of movies, both new and old. We finished our meals, started our movies, and we all fell asleep quickly. I personally did not wake until a few minutes before the breakfast was served. I was hopeful that this sleep would have me better prepared for the chaos I assumed was waiting for in Paris with the rail strikes that were running since we arrived on a Wednesday morning.

The sleep was perfect, but the strike was slightly more powerful! I began our walk here with a trip to ATMs for cash – as we were to pay the tour operator the next day in cash, so stopping at an ATM was vital. Our first foray resulted in a decline. Worry set in a little at that point. We then travelled a little further to a different ATM. No problem, cash in Hand! After arriving at the area for trains to catch a direct to GDN, I discovered that EVERY machine had a line that went out of sight, and the office was not only crowded, it was miserably hot with all the people. We decided to make some changes to our plans!
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 01:27 PM
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Wednesday, May 25th, Day 1 – Paris to Caen to Port en Bessin

Our plan changes became an easy choice – sent everyone back upstairs to the taxi queue. We were in a taxi and headed to Gare St. Lazare within 10 minutes. It took nearly 1 hour, but not lugging our bags through stations, and much less walking, we arrived at the front door of GSL, and entered to find MASSIVE crowds. Our particular train was also delayed. First by 10 minutes, then by 20. During the delay, we decided to purchase some jambon et fromage sandwiches to eat on the train. That became the go to snack/meal the entire trip. When in doubt, jambon et fromage!

Three later trains to different destinations departed before our Voie was identified. It was like a track meet, with everyone racing to get to their car. Apparently there were some cancelled trains that day, so it was a free for all to get seats. We leisurely walked to car 14, and got the exact seats on our tickets without a fuss. The train was uneventful, and no one even slept!
Upon arrival in Caen, we crossed the street, picked up the rental car (actually decided to upgrade to a Mercedes with GPS primarily so I didn’t have to walk all the way down to the car park and return to load the others and bags as it was out front) and headed towards the Memorial de Caen. Nobody was tired yet, no problems with jet lag, yet, so we toured the museum, and watched the movie, before heading out to the gardens in the back. We didn’t do this our first time to the museum 5 years ago due to the weather (March 3rd) but absolutely loved not only the gardens, but the german bunker area was interesting too.
We finished the tour and returned to the car, programmed the GPS to the hotel and headed out. While the GPS was working ok, we couldn’t get it to change languages to English, and I was not fully cognitive of French yet, so my Iphone was summoned to give us directions. After a bit of confusion between me and my navigator (he held my phone and would show me the map when turns and things were coming) were resolved, we became unlost. It was resolved when I discovered that he was turning the phone regularly to keep the arrow pointed one direction, while I was looking at it from the perspective that it wasn’t being spun. So I was making wrong turns, and we’d have to find a turn around each time, causing delays. Not much of a problem until you get out north and west of Bayeux, when the roads often became confused with driveways. Grass growing up in the middle of the road was my clue that we were not on a road, but a drive. A couple of quick corrections, and we arrived at the hotel, the Ibis Bayeux Port en Bessin.
The rooms here are inexpensive, clean, and comfortable. Perfect for our three nights. After a little relaxation in our rooms to unpack a few things for the next couple of days, we decided to go out for dinner. We chose Le Bistrot d’à Côté on rue Michel LeFournier. A very nice, plentiful seafood restaurant. JM, I discovered, was not a fan of seafood. Not something I planned on when preparing restaurant choices. Not really compatible with an ocean front town! But JM was absolutely flexible, and was willing to try about anything. He later explained that his biggest frustration was expecting what he ordered to appear as it would in the states, and not the French version. Luckily, LM was just as flexible, and the two often switched plates upon presentation. After dinner, we took a leisurely walk along the port area, and circled back to the hotel. By then, the sun was preparing to set, and everyone was tired. Since we had an early arriving van for a tour in the morning, we said our goodnights and headed off to our rooms and our beds.
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 01:32 PM
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Thursday, May 26th, Day 2 – Overlord Tour – Walking in the Footsteps

Day 2 began with a quick look at the breakfast offered by the Hotel, to see if we would eat here, or simply go grab something from a boulangerie we saw the night before. We were all well rested, and unanimously chose the hotel fare! Very well appointed, well organized layout and everyone enjoyed a good breakfast, including mottled eggs for myself and JM. Very good! We rose a little early for breakfast, in case we needed to walk somewhere, so finishing breakfast early at the hotel left us with about a half hour to wait until the tour van arrived. A couple of expressos for me later, I saw the van pull up in front and we went out to meet our guide, Jonathan Crowe.
I can’t really say enough about Mr. Crowe or the tour company. He was absolutely a fountain of knowledge. While he wasn’t able to obtain platoon and squad level information in significant detail for JM’s father, he knew enough to ask JM if any of the commanding officer names rang a bell with his father’s discussions. They were able to agree on the name of Leonard Lomell as his commanding officer, and that allowed Mr. Crowe to focus more information concerning JM’s fathers steps on Pointe du Hoc that day. Turns out, his father was in the group of Rangers that became isolated from the rest on D-day while searching for the ‘moved’ guns. To avoid delving into a history lesson instead of a trip report, I’ll outline the stops and sites below:
We departed Port En Bessin and headed west to the beach entry point just east of the American Cemetery. First time on the actual beach for us, we’d seen it, but hadn’t walked it. Mr. Crowe’s descriptions and tales really helped me understand the battle in a way I hadn’t seen things before. I know it has inspired me to read some of the more detailed account books on the subject in preparation of our 2019 trip for the anniversary. From the Beach, we went up the hill to the Cemetery. We started with a quick walk through the cemetery with Mr. Crowe giving us information, and showing us a couple of graves of soldiers who JM’s father certainly knew. He then directed us to the museum, and gave us directions to return to the van when we were done. We started in the museum, but I had been asked to bring a small plaque to place at the cemetery by our local American Legion Post commander, so I separated from our group to do this. I found this little task to be incredibly moving. Odd, really, as my father was not in WWII, but instead the early days of Vietnam, so no known ties in our family to D-day. Still was pretty emotional for me. When I finished, I returned to the van area to see DW, JM and LM just arriving.
From the cemetery, we continued west toward Point du Hoc, with a running narrative of the battle actions that occurred along the way. Upon arrival at Pointe du Hoc, DW chose to stay at the van and not walk the distances. We spent a considerable amount of time learning about each area, and how each area related to the beach area we had previously visited. From there, we worked our way to Grand Camp Maissy and the Ranger monument. We continued on to St. Mere Eglise and John Steele’s famous hang-up. We ate lunch here in a little shop facing the church. We weren’t sure of the protocols, but we invited Mr. Crowe to have lunch with us, our treat. He certainly helped me with menu translations for the others, and his were correct. We continued on up to Utah beach and again went onto the beach. We began our return at that time, and stopped at a couple of small churches that were military hospitals and where two medic’s received medals for their valor.
If you have any interest in the historical aspects of D-day, I cannot stress enough the benefit of having a guide. We loved Overlord, but I recommend any guide. I knew much about the various aspects of the battles involved in Omaha and Utah, and we had DIY’d the area 5 years earlier. The guided trip was absolutely a different, and much better experience for me and I recommend it highly.
We returned to the hotel a scant 5 minutes late, 5:35 pm, but we still had time to freshen up and head off to dinner. We decided upon L’Ecailler on the port. Again, seafood. Again fresh and tasty. Again JM and LM switched plates after ordering. Another short walk around the port following dinner, another hit the sheets at dusk in preparation for another long day to Mont St. Michel.
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 02:44 PM
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Friday, May 27th, Day 3 - Le Mont St. Michel and Bayeux

Day three was like day two in that we had breakfast at the hotel, and got an early start on the road. We knew it would take about 90 minutes to get to Le Mont, so leaving early was pretty important. We did that, leaving about 8:00.

It wasn’t early enough.

It wasn’t horrible at the parking lot or the lines for the trolleys, but it was not good. Luckily, the tour groups were nearly all school age children, so rather loud, they never elbowed their way in front like some tour groups often do. We arrived at the Mont, and did a little climbing, and shopping before the real stuff occurred! Again, DW chose to not take the stairs (fairly new knees) and found a comfortable spot with a nice view and agreed to wait for the rest of us to take our tour of the abbey and beyond.
This was my second time to the Mont, but the first time taking the abbey tour so we purchased audio guides for each of us to help in the descriptions of what we were seeing. They seemed to help each of us once we got ourselves on track with hitting the correct number for where we were, figured it out at #4! Overall we were pretty impressed with the overall visit. Learning the history a little more in-depth also made it more valuable to me. The trek is not for the faint of heart though, it involves many, many steps.

Mostly steps up, but there were interspersed some flights down which appeared to be designed solely to make the next up staircase longer. There were clearly some private tours available, as we often saw small groups on the other side of locked gates, or closing locked gates. They seemed to have even more steps beyond the locked gates. I am glad we didn’t choose the private tour of those staircases.

We returned down to the high point of Diagon Alley where DW was waiting. We all congratulated her on choosing to NOT climb the stairs. We then headed out to the trolley and the car for the return car ride. I intentionally took a slightly different route back to the hotel, as it was still fairly early in the day, and thought we might want to stop somewhere in the Utah beach area for lunch and maybe a museum. Turns out, we pretty much took the soon to be coming Tour De France route, by the signs anyway. As the car ride reached about 30 minutes, we decided to go ahead and fill up the car for the next morning.

After a few frightening minutes of whether we would even be able to purchase the fuel (I couldn’t figure out why none of the card readers worked on any of the four cards) I was able to determine that you filled THEN paid, not like in the US, where it is the opposite. Following our own little oil crisis, it became clear that we’d be heading straight to the hotel first, and then figure out what we would do from there.

We arrived at the hotel about 2:30. A quick freshening up, and we decided to head to Bayeux to see some of the sites and grab dinner somewhere along the way. Twenty minutes later, we were parked and walking down the hill. We decided to head towards the Tapestry museum and see what that would entail. We arrived, and it seemed deserted. That turned out to be perfect, as there were hardly any other visitors, and the audio guides were very informative of the tapestry. I found it pretty neat that we seemed to follow history throughout this entire trip.
Of course, the tapestry of William the Conqueror was kind of the beginning, but we were able to follow the conquest of the Viking Rollo (and his grave) all the way through Normandy and into London on this trip, so having the tapestry lay out the beginning was pretty lucky actually. It clearly wasn’t my plan when setting up the itinerary! By the time we finished the Tapestry tour, DW was pretty much wiped out. I knew she was tired when she began leading the pace back to the car. That meant she often was 40 to 50 feet in front of the rest of us until she found a place to sit, then would wait until we caught up. We decided dinner this evening would be something that would allow JM to have something familiar, so we chose an Italian Pizza place – Pizza Milano. It seemed as though it was a place with mainly locals. Until we were seated. I still find it amazing that when I hear French being spoken in restaurants, I can fairly easily tune the noise out, probably because I have to focus to understand conversational French.
English, on the other hand, stood out to me (and the rest of our group) rather quickly! I can tell you there was a group of ladies from the San Francisco area (5 as I recall) that must have been very close friends, as the conversation wavered upon the risqué. A mother-daughter table from St. Louis seemed a little angry or frustrated, not that I was listening!

We each had our own small pizzas, and limonades. This turned out to be a nice little respite from all of the walking. From the restaurant, we returned to the car, and to the hotel. As we had a fairly early morning return to Caen, no nightcaps were in order, nor was a walk around the port. We hit the hay immediately!
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 02:45 PM
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Saturday, May 28th, Day 4 – Rouen, Jean d’Arc, and the really big clock

Our final morning at the Ibis was like the others, except a large contingent of German tourists had arrived the night before and the breakfast area quickly filled to capacity. Gone were the days of our group and a group of US military folks preparing for the D-Day commemoration. Following another wonderful breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and loaded up the car for the return to Caen and the train station. We arrived at the car drop off and the first space in the lot was open! We then photographed the entire car for damage verification, and returned up the hill to the office where we simply returned the keys and were done. We arrived about an hour ahead of departure, so picking up the tickets from the office (only ones we couldn’t print at home or have on my phone) was simple enough!
We boarded the train when the voie was posted, and we were off to Rouen, arriving shortly before noon. As it was a Saturday, I’m guessing that was a reason why the taxi queue was non-existent. Oddly enough, not only was the queue non-existent, but so was the presence of taxis! As we approached the queueing area, a large van with a single lady departed, leaving our group of 4, with carryon bags each, to hope for a car for all of us. After waiting for approximately 20 minutes, we decided to walk to the Mercure Rouen Centre Cathedral since it was all downhill. Not a good idea. I’d done enough research to know that the hotel was less than one block from the cathedral. I’d not done enough research of the town itself to figure out which one of the many pedestrian only, tiny streets contained our lovely hotel. A short 15-20 minute walk to the hotel became a full 55 minutes of walking for me. I say for me, because after about 30 minutes of meandering, I simply had the rest of the group stop, have a seat and watch my bag while I ferreted out the location of the hotel, and HOW in God’s name you find it. After a twenty minutes search, I returned to my party and we walked the 5 minutes to the hotel straight away.
Upon arrival, we were informed that the adjoining rooms were not available, but that two rooms on the same floor were. We took the two rooms on the same floor. For perspective, the weather that day was 75 F, slightly overcast, and about 100% humidity. Or it seemed that sticky. The perspective is necessary to highlight our only issue with the hotel. Neither of the rooms’ air conditioners worked. Per the front desk, it was because they were not switched over from heat yet. Apparently the system was not such that you simply reversed the function of the heat pumps like at home to have both a heat option and a cool option without some central change to the entire system. As it was a Saturday as well, I did not anticipate it getting switched either, so we simply opened the balcony windows and got a tiny breeze. While 75 isn’t generally hot weather, when you were used to 65, it seemed hot.
All other aspects of the hotel were excellent, large bathroom, stocked fridge, nice sized bed, and an excellent mattress, well-appointed breakfast fare, if a tab on the expensive side for Sunday breakfast. The concierge was helpful to us as well, recommending and making a reservation for dinner at a nice restaurant just down the street. After a brief respite, we prepared to take a bit of the city sights. That started with DW again choosing to stay at the hotel due to her knees (and that we’d been there last year) and not wanting to slow down the group. The remaining three of us started by heading directly to the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen. The history inside this was just amazing. Amazing. We didn’t stop last year, but this was just amazing. Rollo, the first Norman King, Richard the lionheart’s heart, and of course William and Mathilda have burials or effigies in the cathedral. It tied directly to the Tapestry we visited earlier!
After touring the cathedral, we headed towards the Jean d’Arc Cathedral. On the way, we walked under the really big clock called, of course, the Big Clock (Gros Horloge). A famous clock apparently. Pretty flashy thing right in the middle of shopping central. While window shopping, I was secretly looking for a restaurant that we could return to for dinner, so much of the rest of the walk was a blur for me. We arrived at the Jean d’arc church, which is next to apparently a fresh fish market by the smell of things. Since DW wasn’t with us, and JM isn’t a fan of fish, we didn’t stop for dinner there. After a quick look back into the church itself, we took a leisurely walk back to the hotel. Upon entering, I asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation. She recommended La Petite Auberge, and made an early reservation for us. I also had her set up a taxi for us the next morning to return us UP the hill to the Gare.
At the appointed hour, we headed off to the restaurant. I believe the weather waited for us to leave the hotel before it started raining. But maybe only a minute or two before we started off. We were prepared with umbrellas and on bald pate which didn’t care if it got wet, plus I wore a hat so it didn’t both any of us too much. On the walk, we passed the Historial de Jean d’Arc museum. So close to us that if we would have seen it earlier, we would have taken the tour. But alas, it was closed and we were about to be late for our dinner reservation. The food and service at La Petite Auberge were very good. The rain apparently was causing some electrical problems in the kitchen, as three times a fuse audibly blew, and the power went out. It didn’t hinder our dinner much, other than the noise, as we had a seat by the front windows. The most interest thing for dinner was my drink selection, which was a simple Limonade. Sometimes it is Sprite, sometimes other brands. This restaurant carried the brand Pschitt. An onomatopoeia for sure, but I/we loved this drink. It actually became the brand we asked for by name for most of the rest of our trip! We all enjoyed our meals, but we were also very worn out, so following a rather short outing, we returned to get some shut eye for our train back to Paris the next day.

Next - Our return to Paris!
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 04:29 PM
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Glad you have a compatible, easy-going group.

I always find planning details interesting, so thanks for including them. I like your writing style. We've moving right along.
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 05:49 PM
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Your poor wife and her knees. I was telling my husband about your trip, we loved staying in Bayeux. The cathedral lit at night was so beautiful from our bathroom window. Wish it had been the bedroom.
Easy drop off in Caen for the car. You have us talking about going again. Nice report.
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Old Jul 5th, 2016, 10:16 PM
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thanks... enjoyed reading all the details.
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Old Jul 8th, 2016, 09:58 AM
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Thanks for posting this trip report. We are heading to Normandy in September and appreciate the details.
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Old Jul 8th, 2016, 02:21 PM
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Appreciate your report - we are heading to France in Sept; from ferry in St Malo, staying on Mont St Michel, then Bayeux before heading to Paris then south.

We are renting a car and the drop off will be in Caen, so it is nice to hear from Macross that the drop off is easy.
I hadn't thought of the details of filling up a car, so thanks for the heads up about filling before paying!
Also the GPS instructions in French... it could get interesting. I do know droit et gauche so hopefully we will manage! I'm a little more worried about driving a standard.

We have a half day tour of Canadian D Day sites with Viator and have heard good things so am looking forward to it.

Look forward to more adventures...
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Old Jul 8th, 2016, 02:50 PM
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Great report! We agree that trip pre-planning is critical, and we appreciate the account of your experience. Will continue to follow along!
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Old Jul 8th, 2016, 06:38 PM
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Loving your report - more please! ;-)
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