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Trip Report: Normandy and Paris

Old Jun 27th, 2007, 06:45 AM
  #1  
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Trip Report: Normandy and Paris

We have just returned from our long-awaited trip to Normandy and Paris. First, thank you to everyone on this board who has ever posted information on these areas. Believe me, if you wrote it, I read it! And I learned from you! We started planning this trip about one year ago. If we had it to do over again, I do not think we would change a thing!!

Background information: We are two couples, all in early 60's, celebrating 40th weding anniversaries. One couple is from South Carolina, we are from Kansas. So, here is my report..........

We met our friends at EWR (Newark) to fly Continental to CDG. Supposed to leave at 10pm but sat on runway for several hours. Left about 12:45am. Landed at CDG at 2:10pm instead of 11:25am. A hot, hot line for passport control. All our bags were waiting for us and we are off to find National/Alamo to pick up our rental car. We had ordered a Mercedes something or other, but got a Citroen. It was roomy and had a very large trunk. We were very pleased with it. Our friends, Chuck and Mary Sue, (C and MS from now on) had borrowed a GPS from a friend who had already programmed in all of our hotels, etc. The car also had a GPS system. How could we go wrong!! Easily, let me tell you! For some reason, the borrowed GPS would not work. It was always looking for service. When it would talk to us, it would pipe up "You have arrived at your destination." In a tunnel, going around a round-about for the third time, no matter! "You have arrived at your destination," Great. The car GPS worked fine. It always let us know where we were. However, it had no intention of helping us get where we wanted to go. The directions in the glove box where only in French. My French is very, very basic. Not the kind that can understand an owner's manual. So, we always knew where we were. We could tell if we were not on the right road. So, getting on the right road sometimes involved a lot of "trial and error" and u-turns and backing up. It also provided us with many laughs during the next 8 days. So: if you rent a car with GPS make sure you know how to program it! That is my first advice on this report. Even so, the GPS was a life saver. I would not do a trip like this without it.

When we first got to the rental car, we were tired, not thinking clearly. Threw all the bags into the trunk. The only bag that was in the car was my husband's carry-on. So, with us in the car we have his (Peter, P from now on) carry on which contains numerous gluten-free snacks (he has celiac disease-can eat no wheat products). And lots of his clean underwear. All of our maps are in the trunk. We are a very sharp foursome, indeed!

The first potential crisis came at the first toll booth. Too late we realized it was unmanned. C tried to feed the machine a 5e note. Did not work. He is starting to sweat. Suddenly I notice credit card logos on the back side of the machine. I quickly hand him my Visa and somehow he got the card in right the first time and we are off and running. Crisis averted!

We are heading to Les Andelys for our first two nights. The Alamo guy has given us directions towards Rouen. When I see signs for Vernon, I suggest heading that way. C takes my suggestion. A much prettier drive immediately. We stop in Vernon for 4 coke lights. I remember reading on this board about parking tickets. We park and then find a machine that gives us a free ticket for 15 minutes of parking. Good information to have. You get the permit(you pay some euros for longer parking...we had no coins yet, just bills, so could only park for the free 15 minutes). Put the permit on the dashboard and you are all set.

We also retrieve our maps from the trunk at this point. We find La Chaine d'Or easily. It is now 6:30pm. They gave us our room keys and told us dinner was at 7:30.

La Chaine d'Or is wonderful. We have room #5. C and MS have room #11. Heed the advice printed in the room to keep the windows closed when lights are on because of gnats. c and MS left a window open and they were sorry! The dinner was excellent. The dining room absolutely lovely. We took a walk after dinner to the church across the street and then walked along the Seine for a few minutes. Back to our rooms a little before 11:00pm.

Wednesday, June 13th:

Breakfast at La Chaine d'Or. This is probably the best breakfast served for the whole trip. Juice, pastries, fruit, cheese. We have a leisurely breakfast. While we are sitting there, an old lady is knocking on the door that leads to the river. Being ever so helpful, my husband tries to open the door to let her in. Luckily, he was unable to open it. One of the dining room staff came in and said, "Oh, no monsieur. Un fou! Un fou!" then made that "crazy sign" by circling her finger on the side of her head.

P's turn to drive today. Started with Giverney. A beautiful sunny day, not to hot Just right for enjoying the beautiful gardens. After Giverney, we headed for Rouen. We parked near a Church we thought was Notre Dame. It was not - it was St Ouen Abbey. We walked and walked till we found Notre Dame, the Grand Horloge and Vieux Marche. Stopped at a cafe for drinks. Then went into the church dedicated to Joan of Arc. A very different church. Roof resembles the hull of an upside down boat. Saw the spot where she was burned at the stake. Back to the parking garage and we try to figure out how to pay. You put your ticket into a machine before you go back to your car. It tells you how many euros you owe. Put the money in, and then you insert the ticket at the gate as you leave.

Then back to Le Petit Andelys and our hotel. We take a quick drive through Le Brand Andelys, too. Dinner at 7:30. As someone said on this board, the demi-board menu is somewhat limited. You can order off the regular menu, but there is an extra charge. MS and I decide to be somewhat daring and order the lapin (rabbit). We were glad we did. It was truly delicous. Stuffed with onions. Back to our rooms at 10pm. Starting to get ready to leave in the morning. Next stop: Honfleur.
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Old Jun 27th, 2007, 07:09 AM
  #2  
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It's me again...

I tried to edit this message. But my changes did not take. I previewed it, then hit edit. I made the changes. Then previewed again. The changes did not take. Am I doing something wrong?
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Old Jun 27th, 2007, 07:14 AM
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Looking forward to more. We loved La Chaine d'Or also. My husband liked it because the windows WOULD open. Maybe there were no gnats because it was a bit drizzly when we were there.
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Old Jun 27th, 2007, 08:26 AM
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Hi, kansas. I'm enjoying your trip report and looking forward to the rest.

I had a similar problem editing when doing my recent report. Here's what I posted earlier: <I've discovered something about editing here. If you copy and paste from a Word document and then try to change something here, it won't "take." You have to go back to the original, change it there, and recopy & repaste the whole thing! At least that's how it seems to work for me.>

Just curious, where in SC are C & MS from? I'm from Spartanburg.
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Old Jun 27th, 2007, 09:38 AM
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Really enjoying your report. So far my trip in September is a mirror of your trip so am anxious to hear more.

We are two couples early 60's and this is our 40th anniversary too. Congratulations to us!!

Did you have trouble finding the National car booth at CDG? Was your car right there at the airport or did you have to take a shuttle to another location? Was it difficult to get out of the airport and onto the autoroute? What route did you take?

Sorry for all the questions, but I'm anxious about the rental pickup and getting out of the airport.

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Old Jun 27th, 2007, 12:09 PM
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I am taking a break from laundry and ironing to add more to my report.

Betty, MS and C are from Salem, SC. Not too far from Clemson, I believe.

Eurogals, when we got to the airport, I was in charge of watching all the luggage, while the others went up to the rental car counter. MS said the man was "darling" and she wanted to bring him with us. In retrospect we should have! He could have figured out the GPS thing. Anyway, the car was fairly close to the counter. We were in somewhat of a fog, but I do not recall having very far to walk at all. And we hit the roads about 3:30, when I would imagine traffic to be picking up. It was not awful at all. We were nervous, because this was a first for us, but it really was not too bad. The man at Alamo gave us a map and was patient with trying to explain the best way out of the airport and on to our destination. I had been to Giverney before, so that is why I suggested taking the road to Vernon. I figured it would be closer and less traffic. It was a good call.

So........

Thursday, June 14th

We have breakfast at the hotel and check out. Then go to the post office in Les Andelys to get some stamps for our postcards. We then head for Chateau Gaillard. Richard the Lion Hearted's Castle and fortress. It was a beautiful view. But we decided not to make the trek all the way across the expanse to see it "up close and personal." Took pictures instead.

We now head for the town of Lyon-La-Foret. Market day. A nice drive through the woods. It was market day. And it is starting to sprinkle. The town was fine, but I am not sure any of us thought it was worth going out of our way for. We have some drinks at a cafe and then head for the Abbey Route.

This is where the story gets ugly.....

We are trying to bypass Rouen. For some reason, we do not seem to be able to do this. We have a devil of a time finding the way. It was a nightmare. We must have gone around Rouen three times. We finally stop at a gas station to ask for help. With two men in the front seat, both agreeing that we need help - you can only imagine how frustrated they were. MS and I go in. Everyone thinks my French will help. Luckily, we find some men from Australia in the gas station, on their way to La Mans with their Porsche's. They were funny and tried to be helpful. We bought better maps. You need very detailed maps to survive, in my opinion! I had mistakenly thought we could get by with GPS and stuff I had printed out from mappy.com and michelin.com. And the maps that MS got from her friends. Wrong! We finally found our way out of Rouen. Took a ferry to get to Jumieges. Saw the ruins. It was very interesting. We missed the last ferry back right before the operator's break.. We had to sit in the car in a line waiting for him to get back. We have no time for any other abbeys. The skies also open up and it is torrential rain. Fitting end to the day! We head for Honfleur. A busy harbor town. The way we came into town, the streets were very narrow. When we finally park our car at Hotel L'Ecrin, we are convinced we will never have enough courage to move it again. We are (jokingly) talking about calling Alamo and tell them that if they want to see their Citroen again, they will have to come and get it!

We check into the Hotel L'Ecrin. A lovely hotel. We have room #21 and MS and C have #13. These rooms used to be part of the stables to this wonderful old house. I loved the bathroom. A great shower. Nice breakfast room, friendly, very nice people.

We met for dinner. Walked to the Harbor and had drinks at a harborside bar. MS and I had a peche kir. Yummy. Honfleur is a lovely, lovely town. Then walked to a restaurant I had read about here on Fodor's. Au Petit Mareyeur. We were either going to try for a table for tonight, or make a reservation for tomorrow night. Our timing was good. We got a table. I like to think that my asking if they had a table for four in French was the deal clincher. Everyone after us was turned away. The meal was fabulous. We all had the set menu for 24 euros apiece. Started with an amuse bouche-a fried wonton filled with salmon mousse. Crispy and delicious. Every plate was a work of art. Beautifully presented. Dots, stripes, whatever decorating the plates. The potatoes looked like sailboats with crispy thin "sails" sticking out of them. Our half of the bill was 69e which included wine. It was a wonderful meal. On the way back to the hotel, we made reservations at L'Ancrage for dinner the next night.

Tomorrow: We enjoy Honfleur.
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Old Jun 27th, 2007, 01:30 PM
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I'm enjoying your report. I made the same trip in May, staying at the same hotels you did, so far. I was solo, and had various car problems, got lost, etc. You may have read my report. I feel much better now, reading about your problems, with 2 men and 2 GPS's in the car yet! I'm looking forward to the rest.
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Old Jun 27th, 2007, 05:26 PM
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Yes, Sue, we had all read your report! During our 8 days in Normandy we often mentioned that if Sue4 could do it alone, by gum, we should be able to! The further into the week we got, the more we appreciated your story! You hinted at your age, but left us guessing. Are you younger than we are? I hope so! Then I can tell myself that it was just because we were over 60. I still cannot imagine doing this alone. My husband and I were glad we had our friends with us. We do not think we could have done it without them. You are an inspiration.

Honfleur....After yesterday's driving episode, we have decided to not move our car today, Friday June 15th. We will just enjoy Honfleur. Etretat will have to wait for another trip. P and I got up earlier than we needed to meet for breakfast, so we walked down to the Vieux Bassin. Took a few pictures and came back to the hotel. We met MS and C for breakfast. The nice man in the office at the hotel let us e-mail our kids so they know that we are OK.

Then off - first to Naturscope - a Butterfly Garden. All sorts of tropical plants and butterflies flitting around. Some very big ones. Several school field trips are there, too. We enjoyed it. On the walk back to the middle of town, we stopped in at Maison Eric Satie. Weird, weird but interesting! Eric Satie was a composer, a writer and an artist.

MS and I had supposedly been starving our husbands. They decided they were not going to go another day without lunch. So we stopped at the same place he had had drinks the night before. MS and I had croque monsieurs, They were great. Met two cute couples while we sat outside having lunch. One from Australia and one from Scotland. We had a nice visit. Then we walked around a bit more. We took a break back at the hotel. We sat out in the back yard and plotted out our route on the map for the next day. Then off again to find Eglise St. Catherine and Musee Eugene Boudin. Loved the church. Especially the charming hand-embroidered life of St. Therese de Lisieux.

Dinner this night at L'Ancrage. Very fun place. 2 men working the whole place, never slowing down. The men were very friendly and it was an enjoyable evening.

After our walk today, we had scoped out a safe, easy route to exit Honfleur in the morning. We will head uphill when leaving the hotel instead of back where we came from.

Saturday, June 16th

We left Honfleur. We were right, it was an easy way to get out of town. We headed toward Caen, driving through Trouville and Deaville. Got to Caen. Had some drinks. Visited Eglise St. Pierre, then walked to Abbeye aux Dames. It is raining pretty good. Lunched at a little place on the Vieux Quartier on Rue de Vaugny, Miam Miam Glou Glou. For some reason, most of the places are not open. It is lunch time....we are pleased with the spot we chose. It is often difficult to find a good spot for a gluten-free lunch. Especially a gluten-free person who does not like salads. P often just closes his menu and tells me to find him something he can eat. Amazingly, I do not beat him over the head with a menu once during the two week trip! Before we return to the car, we check out Chateau Ducal, William the Conqueror's fortress. We take a pass on Abbeye Aux Hommes. Think it is a mistake, but the clock is ticking...Back to the car and head for Bayeux. We get to Bayeux and see the tapestry movie and then got the headsets to see the tapestry. It is amazing! Then off to find our hotel for the next two nights. Chateau Vouilly. About 30 minutes further away from Bayeux. It is an old, old chateau. Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney had stayed there as war correspondents. James Hamel, the owner, is very personable. Speaks little or no English. So, I am able to converse a little with him. I wish I had had more time to work on my French before the trip. But, I do OK. Our rooms are huge, with fireplaces, huge bathrooms. A moat is still around the back of the chateau. A huge, beautiful back yard. He recommends a place for dinner in a small town called Isigny-sur-Mer. La Flambee. There are three young girls who wait on the tables and then cook the meat in a big fireplace in the main dining room. It was fun to watch them.

Back to the chateau. It is 10:30, still not dark, but we have to get to bed. An early morning tomorrow. 7:30 breakfast. James Hamel is going into Isigny earlier than usual to get us our breakfast pastries. We need to be in Bayeux in the morning for our 8:30 Battlebus Tour.

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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 08:16 AM
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Sunday, June 17th

Today is our Battlebus Tour. The full day American Highlights tour. Our guide was Stuart. There were 4 other people on the tour with us. It was a very moving day. Stuart was interesting and extremely knowledgable. The weather held out until we got to the American Cemetery. The skies absolutely opened up. Even with raincoats and umbrellas, we were drenched. Very windy, too.

After the excellent tour, we go back into Bayeux to look for a place for dinner. We are thinking that every place is closed on Sunday. We finally realize that they are not all closed for Sunday, they just are not yet open for dinner. Because we are drenched and not looking the best, (our chateau is too far away to go back and dry off) we veto some of the suggestions we have in our notes. We go into a place called La Fringale. Looks almost empty except for one table. This turns out to be a great choice. The place did fill up with other diners, too. The owners were very friendly, the food was delicious. Helped my husband with his gluten free order. They made a special gf sauce for his pork chops. A very nice place, for sure.

Back to Vouilly and to bed.

Monday, June 18th

We had breakfast and checked out of the chateau. We are now heading for Mont-St-Michel and the Chateau de Bouceel (where we will spend two nights.) There is a beautiful square around the Cathedral. Had cokes and checked out an amazing produce store.

Now we head for Granville. It has an upper and lower town. The skinniest streets you could ever imagine. We have what I like to refer to as a "Seinfeld" moment which produces many laughs in the days to come. We had driven down a two-way street that is barely big enough for one car. P parks the car, we get out and look over the ramparts. Take some pics. How do I put this politely - there is a big pile of dog p**p that we carefully avoid. We now decide we better get the car the heck out of this dead end narrow alley before someone else comes along and we have to back up. Besides, we are hungry and need to find a place to eat. So, we manuever the car back up this ridiculously narrow street. Drive around some more. Spot a creperie for lunch. We park the car. We notice "Les Toilettes" at the corner. We decide to make use of them. (These toilettes are a whole other story). C takes his turn, and then while waiting for us, decides to look over the wall to see this view. He walks around Les Toilettes. Sees the big pile of dog p**p! We have been gone for 15 minutes, and are back not 20 feet from the first time we had parked the car...just on the other side of Les Toilettes. We have lunch at the creperie and dine with a big dog sitting under our table. We decide he is the dog that left us the "mile marker!" Maybe you had to be there, but this caused may laughing fits over the next few days!

On to Avranches. Hugh Church, of course. Went to Jardin des Plantes to get the good views of MSM across the bay. On to our next two night overnight stay: Chateau de Bouceel. We refer to this place as the "hidden gem." This is not easy to find! 23 u-turns, 11 times around the round-abouts, we finally zero in on it. Worth seeking out. A fabulous place. Count Regis and Countess Nicolle. 600 acres. Home was occupied by the Germans in the war. The estate has been in the family since the 1200's. The chateau was built in the 1700's. We are made to feel very welcome in this wonderful home. It feels like you are in the home of good friends. The count suggests wa have dinner at Auberge de Terroir in Servon. A lovely little place. After dinner, we go to see MSM at night. Quite a spectacular sight. Now back to Bouceel. Sounds fairly straight forward, doesn't it? Well, we have no idea where it is. Here come the u-turns, the round abouts, backing up on dark country roads. If our kids could see us, they would take our car keys away and never let us leave home! We begin to wonder how much luggage the count and countess get to keep. People that check in and never find their way back! We are thinking we will have to sleep in the Citroen. Somehow, I think it was just plain dumb luck, we find the right road. Absolutely no skill involved in it whatsoever. We get back around midnight. The rooms are huge, lavishly decorated. MS was particularly happy about sleeping on sheets embrodiered with a crown! I was just happy to be sleeping in a bed nd not in the car!

Tomorrow: Mont-St-Michel.
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 09:25 AM
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I am enjoying this, but am also curious. Since we don't usually travel with another couple, do you think the "getting lost" occurences were made worse by having four of you giving input to decisions.

Remember the old study about how one person sees smoke coming from under the door and acts immediately. A group of people will sit and watch the smoke come under the door, and watch.....
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 10:06 AM
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bookmarking for some more good laughs...
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 12:33 PM
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Nice report...enjoying Normandy all over again!

Betty, we might be neighbors. I live in the Hub City, also.
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 01:39 PM
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Kansas, I'm still laughing at your story! Your report is great - I'm reliving my trip.

Since you asked, I'm older than you, by about 10 years. And yes, I'm courageous!
I could have definitely used a navigator on that trip, or a driver. Although I'm a better driver than navigator. My lack of navigational skills usually lead me to stay in places that have their own dining room, if I can't WALK to a restaurant!

The Chateau de Bouceel sounds beautiful, but I never would have found it for sure.
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 02:34 PM
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I'm still enjoying your report, kansas. I'll have to check out the Chateau de Bouceel as I may be going back to Normandy next year. One recommendation for your next trip to France: the yellow Michelin Road Atlas 1:200,000. I'd never drive in France without it!

Your friends live about 60-70 miles from me. Small world. And smaller yet, bmillersc! Don't want to post my address here, but e-mail me if you like at [email protected]. Had no idea there was someone else here from Sparkle City!
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 05:32 PM
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After rereading this - I left out the name of the city with the pretty square around the Church - Coutances. That was our first stop on Monday, June 18th.

Hoping to Travel: We were not all piping in with directions to the driver. And really, we did OK except for trying to get around Rouen and finding Chateau de Bouceel. (But you have not heard the part about returning the car to Orly yet!) And maybe I exaggerated the number of u-turns and times around the round-abouts just a bit!!

However, I was driving today to meet my daughter and her kids at a Starbucks I have been to many times, got thinking and laughing about this trip, and went about one mile too far. Forgot what I was doing. So, how could I be expected to find my way around France if I can get lost in my own hometown.........

Tuesday, June 19th

We met in the huge dining room for breakfast at 8:30. We are planning to leave by 9:00 for MSM. Regis comes in and chats with us. He has lots of stories, and is truly a delight. He suggests Dinan after MSM.

We get to the Mont. The tide is way out. And it is not too crowded. I had heard so many stories about the hordes of people, I was pleasantly surprised. It is about 10:30am by the time we get up to the entrance. We enjoy the walk up. It is a beautiful day. This is truly an architectural wonder! We are all amazed by the size and wonder of it all.

Now we head for Dinan. We park the car in an underground lot. C is driving and the first spot he tries, he darn near snapped the driver's side mirror off. The spot was small with big posts all around. So he gives up on that spot and finds another. We are now ready to see Dinan.

We had a nice lunch and then walked all around. Along the ramparts. Got great pictures of the Rance Valley. Enjoyed walking around this lovely city.

Back to Chateau Bouceel. Regis made us dinner reservations at a cute place where we could watch the sunset behind MSM. It was called the Manoir de la Roche Torin. A bed and breakfast. A spectacular view. Sheep grazing in the salt marshes, MSM, the sunset. Back to Bouceel to start to organize our things. We leave Normandy and head for Paris tomorrow, via Chartres.

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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 06:09 PM
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Just kidding about everyone piping in with directions! I think we know bossy people.

We must have driven back and forth past CDG 10 times before I realized that the word "gare" referred not only to a train station.

I was aware I needed to look for "voiture" to turn in the car, but had forgotten that CDG, like Heathrow, had several terminals.
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 07:42 PM
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Kansas and company:

I know the problem all too well with a large Citroen especially in the villages and cities of France....this is from my trip report last year"Barge-ing in on Cote d'azur...etc.")


>>>Not wishing to kill any more time, we sauntered over to National, two doors away , and they, too, had an uexplained shortage. No compacts, which we prefer in France and Italy, but only a full-sized Citroen which they offered us for only $40 more than the $275 for eight days we had with Budget. With it, we took the 1600 kms. rather than the more expensive free unlimited kms, calculating we would beat that with kms to spare. Eagerly, we took it ...for seasoned, world-wide travelers like the two of us, we should have remembered that the reason we always order compacts for certain European countries was precisely the size!! The full size Citroen, with only 1200 kms on it, was a gorgeous hunk of metal...if only we didn't have to maneuver it through pencil-narrow village streets and parking venues!! <<<

I know the drill! Love your report...Normandy is so beautiful!

Stu T.
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 08:03 PM
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Oh! How lovely to find someone else who stayed at the Chateau de Bouceel! We stayed there maybe 5 years ago and loved it. Regis was so friendly, and our room (I think it was Oncle or somesuch thing) was beautiful. We also ate at the place in Servon... and therein lies a tale.

We'd returned late from Bayeaux and went to Servon for dinner, leaving at about 10:30pm, so of course it was dark already. My husband said to me (the navigator), "Tell me the big roads to get back, none of those little ones". Right. There ARE no big roads, only little tiny ones. Thank God for the 1:200,000 map. We were going through fields, little villages with no lights on...but we got there!

Thank you for your trp report! It sounds like a wonderful time.
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Old Jun 28th, 2007, 08:44 PM
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"Every thing is up to date in Kansas City."
Thank you. you brought memeries of on trip . We stopped in Coutances, and there we had lunch and looked at a war exhibit *an anniversary), we bought a stamp that was special for this exhibit and mailed it to our dog and cat
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Old Jun 29th, 2007, 12:50 AM
  #20  
bdj
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
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kansas...you noted that you successfully used a visa card at an unmanned toll booth in france. i take it you did not use the standard american-style credit card with the magnetic strip that is swiped--for the admonitions on this site are aplenty that such cards will not work.

thanks in advance for the feedback...
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