Normandy Trip recommendations.

Old Sep 10th, 2008, 10:18 AM
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Normandy Trip recommendations.

We are in Normandy now, and just wanted to jot down some notes that may help someone deciding to come:

1. Les Andelys: A nice small town to visit on the way to Rouen. Right on the river, and an old castle on top of the hills, with a terrific view of the valleys below: Chateau Gaillard. Very good food at : La Chaine d'Or (not cheap though). Another Hotel and restaurant we went to is: Le Moulin de Connelles- very nice.

2. Rouen: Home to a memorial to Joan d'Arc (nothing exciting) and also a beautiful Cathedral modelled after the one in Chartes. I had higher expectations for Rouen, and personally did not enjoy the visit that much. The old town was OK, but nothing spectacular. I would NOT go out of my way to go there.

3.Honfleur: I loved this town, and will change my plans to go back for another night or two. It is a small and quaint fishing town, sort of like a small and nicer Villefrance in Nice. I loved the sidewalk cafes next to the wharf/quai, and the town was small and compact. Part of the reason I like this place is the Hotel, a very nice family run hotel located on a hill just a few blocks above the hustle and bustle of the tourists below. It is called LA MAISON DE LUCIE, and could not recommend it enough. In the late afternoon, when most tourists leave, the town is peaceful and tranquil.

4. Bayeux: This town is a bit larger, but still pretty nice. Its claim to fame is the Bayeux Tapestry. We had low expectations for this, but thoroughly enjoyed it. The Churchill Hotel was OK as well, nothing to write home about, but I met the most fantastic D-Day veteran there. The restaurant Le Pommier is absolutely fantastic, worth a detour to this town, and their apple tart is something special, the best I have ever had, and I have had ALOT.

5. D-Day Beaches: Visited all the U.S. beaches, and liked Omaha the best, now its like an ideal seaside vacation spot- go figure! Utah beach was so-so. The site at Ad-Hoc (sp?) was very interesting and recommended. The artificial port at Arromanches was so-so, as was the Omni Theater movie of D-Day. If you had to pass this site up, I personally would not have missed it.
The German cemetary was nice, with kids as young as 17!, all buried 2 to a plot. The highlight of the trip was the U.S. cemetary, I was awed at its beauty. A nice tribute to the fallen soldiers there. They keep it IMMACULATE, it is run by a US association that overlooks most if not all foreign cemetaries of US soldiers. It is moving, and not to be missed. The son of Roosevelt is there, alongside his brother who died in WW1, I think one of the only exceptions there, as our the brothers of Saving Private R yan fame.

6. St Mer Eglise: Again I was dissappointed by this town. Other than a museum of 101st memorabilia, and the Church with the stuck parachutist, there was not much more there. I understand the significance of the town, but as far as a tourist destination, I am not sure. They are for sure hurting big time from the loss of US visitors due to the Euro exchange. As far as food there- NOthing interesting or very good.

7. Mont St Michel: On another post I put down my impressions, other than the Abbey , which is spectacular, and the site itself (mont in the middle of water), I found it too touristy, and 2 hours will be sufficient to cover it all, if done in the morning (9am). I did not stay for the night, we were going to, but could not figure what to do for the remaining 8-9 hours!

8. Caen - Did not really appreciate Caen. Pass on this town for ME.

Recommedation: Do not take the train in from Paris, just too much hassle, much easier renting a car. The way out of Paris COULD NOT be easier, with the use of a GPS, and getting back in, was easier than in my hometown at rush hour. The trip is faster than by train, car rental at AVIS was a breeze, in and out in 5 minutes, and the roads perfect- NO TRAFFIC at all, and this is Sept. High Season. I would not go to Normandy without a car- period.

Disclaimer: To those that will argue with all I have said, these are only my opinions, not law, but I think are all valid recommendations.

As for the balance of the towns visited, I have not gotten the chance to oput them down yet. Also, what is up with the cider we had in Normandy? Either we tasted a bad brew, or it has a very strange taste?
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 10:59 AM
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I'm very surprised you didn't enjoy Rouen. It's a favorite of mine, not least for the great selection of restaurants and museums. It was, of course, flattened in WWII, and the old medieval quarter completely destroyed, so the area around the Gros Horloge, which has replaced the old quarter, isn't really even the original city center. Still, it's hard not to appreciate those half-timbered houses that do remain.

Caen, which was also heavily bombarded, has been pretty much completely rebuilt and is a pretty ugly hodge-podge of architecture. However, IMO no one should miss the Mémorial museum there.

Le Mont St-Michel has been overtouristed since its inception. That's what it's all about - a huge (the biggest in France, and I believe in Europe) pilgrimage site. Pilgrims throng. They arrive en masse. Locals take advantage of them by hawking cheap trinkets and selling them bad food and mediocre housing. It's been going on for thousands of years!

Norman cider is certainly an acquired taste. It's better for cooking than for drinking, IMO.
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 11:25 AM
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I really liked the cider; had some every night in Normandy, and it was different each time. Ditto for tarte tatin!
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 11:49 AM
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I think Intex meant Pointe du Hoc where many craters remain and the American Rangers scaled the cliffs on a mission to find and destroy German guns that were no longer there when they arrived. We also enjoyed the German Battery at Longues-sur-mer. We watched The Longest Day just before going and some of the film was actually filmed at this spot. Absolutely love Normandy and the cider! We've always enjoyed our stay at Hotel La Marine right on the beach at Arromanches.
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 12:45 PM
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Yes, U are right, it was Pointe du Hoc, I stand corrected.

I still did not warm up to Rouen. I have seen more and nicer timber buildings in other cities, one of which is Tours, and did not get that warm and fuzzy feeling there- dont know why.

As to cider, I should have tried others. We were set to visit a cider plant or whatever it is called, but after tasting the first one, we said that if this is what it is like, we'll pass- my mistake maybe.

Other than that I absolutely loved Normandy and the people there. One spot where the warmth for Americans has not diminished.
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 02:29 PM
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We also loved Normandy and spent 5 nights in Bayeux and could have easily spent more. We toured the area but included the british cemetery as well - there are english roses planted throughout with little rememberances on each headstone beyond the usual name and dates. Our guide knew the area so well and was able to point out many unique things; the roses are planted so that those fallen will always lay under the shadow of an english rose. very touching! I agree the German cemetery was a little spooky and the American cemetery literally brought me to my knees. Did you walk out to the overlook of the beach that has remained untouched since June 1944 there??
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 03:00 PM
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Nice to read about your trip We too loved the area. We had two rooms at the Churchill and while not luxury, we really liked it and the owners/staff were great. Our first trip we had a private driver, but for our trip last summer we took the train from Paris (very easy, BTW, a straight shot and exactly 2 hours) and then did a tour with Battlebus which was excellent. Did you go to the museum in Caen? That is a must see, IMO. I too tried the cider and it was too strong for me. Course that was only one tasting, lol!
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 09:48 PM
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We did not take the Battlebus tour, we took the D-Day tours, and unfortunately did not visit the British cemetary. I will put on the list for the next visit.

Did not visit the Museum in Caen. Unfortunately after two months of travelling to museums, we were sort of puttered out. Did make it to the Bayeux Tapestry museum though.
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 11:14 PM
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"The restaurant Le Pommier is absolutely fantastic, worth a detour to this town, and their apple tart is something special, the best I have ever had, and I have had ALOT."

I agree with you. Their apple tart is the BEST! My husband wants to know if you tried their goat cheese salad with ham. He can't stop thinking about this dish, he said it was the goat cheese salad.

Have a good time, you put a smile on my face, bacause I love Normandy and you mentioned a lot of my favorites.
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Old Sep 11th, 2008, 01:51 AM
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From your report I guess you didn't have a guide for any of your visits. Whereas one can drink in the atmosphere of Honfleur or Mont St Michel, you can't appreciate Utah beach, Ste Mere Eglise, and the d-day zone unless you have a guide. You were just looking at 2008 Ste Mere Eglise with the dummy on the church steeple. You missed the drama of the fire fought by the bucket chain, the second paratrooper on the roof who's life was saved by another in his death throes, the POW camp, the cemeteries, Brecourt manor, the Meehan memorial, La fiere 3 day battle, Captain Mabry on Utah, the Perrogory memorial, the hidden guns at Point du Hoc, the first exit from Omaha, etc...
There are private guides available through the CDT (tourist board) at Caen, or minibus tours or d-day audio guide for use in your car.

At Caen a guide would have taken you to the Abbeys built by Wiliam the conqueror and his chateau which is the largest fortress in Europe, and the old part of town which is as it was before the war with narrow streets borded by 16th century houses. He would have explained how the town was captured and how the town has been well rebuilt with those wide boulevards faced off with caen stone which was used to build Westminter abbey and faces off the Empire state building.

To avoid the crowds at Mont St Michel a guide would have taken you up the easy way and explained about the tides , the salt marsh sheep, the stages of the the town fortifications, and the significance of the canons and the clam shaped fountain at the town entrance. You did follow a guide in the Abbey I hope.

At Rouen did see the macabre 16th cemetery cloister behind St Maclou which had an amazing gothic embroidery decoration on its facade.
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Old Sep 11th, 2008, 02:48 AM
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Cafegoddess, Due to your previous recommendation we both had the goat cheese salad. It was great, especially the ham, warm cheese in philo wrap, and another cold goat cheese disc. I will always remember the apple tart though.

CPMac: As far as guides, we did have a guide throughout the D-day beaches, but only the audio guide in Mt St Michel. I don't care what guide you would have in Mt St Michel, if you come late in the day, you still have to work your way around the throngs. As much as I did like many parts of Normandy, St Mer Eglise and Caen did not "do it" for me. Thats just my personal opinion. Thanks for the mention of the other sites to visit.
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Old Sep 11th, 2008, 03:54 AM
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Now I lead a private cider tasting in the UK a few back with three types of cider (24 different actual names).

UK volume
UK scrumpy
Normany Cidre

We concluded that the bottom two were the best and that Cidre must have a proportion of cooked (not cooking) apple juice in it
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Old Sep 11th, 2008, 05:06 AM
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Our Battlebus guide took us to the little church at Angoville-au-Plain, and that was an unexpected (and unknown to us prior to that) and moving visit.

I wonder what you were expecting at St. Mere Eglise? It's "popularity" has to do with the parachutist on the roof; what else to do?
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Old Sep 11th, 2008, 06:22 AM
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grandmere--We went to that church as well on our tour. Amazing, and it truly leaves you speechless.
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Old Sep 11th, 2008, 07:15 AM
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<<you can't appreciate Utah beach, Ste Mere Eglise, and the d-day zone unless you have a guide>>

While I think a good guide is worth his weight in gold, I think it's patently ridiculous to say you can't appreciate a place without one. I do agree that Intex seems to have visited certain places without having much contextual understanding, but with the wealth of guidebooks and historical references and internet sources available, no one needs to go ANYWHERE these days without enough information to appreciate and understand a place.
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Old Sep 11th, 2008, 05:26 PM
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Re: the 'Roosevelt son buried there'. There is quite a story behind that. If I'm not mistaken it's Teddy Roosevelt's son -- not Franklin's, right?

At Utah Beach, when it was discovered the forces had been dropped some distance from where it was planned, Roosevelt came out and said "We'll start the war from right here" (or something like that). Perhaps he was so fearless because he had a heart condition.
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Old Sep 12th, 2008, 01:09 AM
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It was Teddy Roosevelt Jr., who was the son of Teddy roosevelt, 26th president . He was buried next to Quentin Roosevelt, or vica versa.

With all the same names, I got mixed up.

I did have a guide for the D-Day sites, but even with a guide, there are some sites that move you and some that do not.

The most memorable part of the trip was meeting a 91 year old veteran on his first trip back to France in 63 years. This gentleman, has stories that would put all tour guides to shame!
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Old Sep 12th, 2008, 02:42 AM
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Hi, Intex. I like your report. Easy to follow and succinct. You shared your impressions. I loved that you liked Honfleur enough to change your plans to stay there longer. It's one of my 6 or 7 favorite places anywhere. Also nice to hear that you were at Connelles. We stayed there and enjoyed the lovely peace and quiet and the elegant dining room. The rooms were small and not as nice as the public rooms, but all in a all, a good hotel with excellent service.
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Old Sep 12th, 2008, 03:02 AM
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Julie, Funny how we found it, while we were approaching St Andelyts, we opunched in Restuarants on the GPS, and it guided us there. A bit off the beaten track, but nice and tranquil.
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Old Sep 12th, 2008, 03:51 AM
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Hi Intex, glad you enjoyed Les Andelys and Honfleur. The latter surprised us - it is a 'tourist town' to be sure, but a very nicely done one.

I think the key to remember when visiting D-Day sites is that there are two aspects to this massive military operation: the emotive and the technical. The technical can be fascinating: just how does one get tens of thousands of people landed on a relatively narrow stretch of land in such a short time, given the technology of the day? How was the operation coded (given that notwithstanding the huge size of the operation, the Allies were obviously striving for secrecy.) This is the key to finding the museum at Arromanches interesting, even though many of the exhibits are 'low tech' by current museum standards.

We found a copy of "Major and Mrs Holt's Guide to the DD beaches" or some similar title in our BandB and borrowed it for part of our visit. As much as we enjoyed our Battlebus tour, it wasn't cheap! So if you go back, consider the Holts as a DIY alternative.
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