Here is our trip report for June 2010.
UK part: http://tinyurl.com/295dbz2
France part below.
Wed 16 June
Awakened bright and early (like 4:45 AM) by the ship playing music (1 hour before arrival, which was 6:45 French time or 5:45 British time). You have to vacate your cabin 30 min before arrival (I’m not sure why), so we took our luggage up to the self service restaurant and had cereal and croissants for breakfast. It was surprisingly uncrowded. It was interesting to sit there watching the coast get closer and think that this is the same approach many of the D-Day landing craft took almost exactly 66 years ago. It looked very peaceful and I was very grateful no one was shooting at us. We arrived basically on time, but they unloaded the people with cars first, so we sat and waited awhile. We got off the ferry and there was a big sign for tickets for the shuttle bus to Caen which stops at the town center and at the train station. It wasn't very expensive, maybe 2-3€/person. We got off at the train station, and I bought our tickets to Bayeux for the next train that was leaving in about 20 min. I also picked up our tickets I had purchased ahead for our 2 other train journeys. We arrived in Bayeux about 8:30 and walked to our hotel which took about 30 min. We thought about taking a taxi, but I didn't see any when we came out of the station, and I had looked up the walking distance ahead of time and it didn't seem to bad. Of note, though, it was more uphill than I expected. Not a steep hill, just enough to make it more tiring to walk. We stayed at the Hotel de Sainte Croix, where we also stayed last year. Our room was not ready, but the proprietor allowed us to leave our luggage and said if we came back around noon our room would be ready. We wandered down to the Bayeux Tapestry, and went through that. We had seen it last year when we were here but were kind of short on time so it was nice to be able to take our time. After that we wandered around a little. We thought about taking the little train around but daughter decided she didn’t want to. We were going to have lunch but since it was noon decided to go back to the hotel and get settled. We were both pretty tired since we only got a few hours sleep on the ferry so decided to have a rest, and daughter slept until 17:15. After that we went and had dinner at a steak place down the street (daughter really likes steak). It was kind of amusing because they gave us an English menu, but then when I tried to order, the waiter did not really speak English, so he went and got the French version and we ordered from that. My French is adequate to order from a French menu but not good enough to order in French when the menu is in English. Anyway, the food was good. Most of the other patrons seemed to be American and didn’t seem to speak any French. I noticed that they did tend to talk louder than French people as we could hear what they were saying from the other side of the restaurant. One group was from Texas and the other from Illinois. We finished in the usual 2-3 hrs it takes to have dinner in France and then came back to the hotel with plans to go to bed early as we have to be ready for our tour by 8:30AM tomorrow when we are touring the British D-Day sites (we were in Normandy last year and saw a lot of the American sites then, so this year we were remembering that it was the Allies and not the Americans alone who fought the war)
Thurs 17 June
Had a good breakfast at the Hotel de Sainte Croix with pastries, yogurt, and some sort of mini chocolate cakes which daughter said were good. Chocolate isn’t really a breakfast food in my mind, though. Interestingly, there were 2 other guests at breakfast who turned out to be from Downer’s Grove, near Chicago, which is where we used to go to get daughter’s ice skates. Small world. After breakfast, we walked about 10 min to a parking lot behind the Churchill Hotel for our British Highlights tour with Battlebus tours. The pickup is not actually in the parking lot, but on the street out the back of it. It was a really good tour. There were only 4 of us on the tour, daughter and myself and 2 Canadians. The guide (Sean) had a lot of anecdotes about the various places. We started with a church cemetery where British and Canadians were buried before there were Commonwealth Cemeteries, and then went to a Commonwealth Cemetery, where the guide related stories to us about some of the soldiers buried there. There was also a section of German graves in the Commonwealth Cemetery which are maintained just as well as the Commonwealth ones but the gravestones were a different shape. We went by some graves of Commonwealth soldiers who survived the war but wanted to be buried in Normandy with their comrades. The military cemeteries were closed to new burials, so these soldiers were buried in a nearby churchyard. Their graves are maintained by the Normans. There was one soldier in the Commonwealth cemetery who was buried with his military dog. Apparently they were both killed at the same time by a shell and the soldier was found still holding the dog’s lead, so they were buried together. Daughter had picked a poppy from a field and left it on that grave.
After the cemeteries, we went to Pegasus Bridge. Sean took us around the site and then into the museum and to the actual bridge, which was replaced as it could not bear the weight of modern traffic. You could still see gunshot scars and things on the original bridge. He then gave us some time on our own to look around the museum. The entry fee was included in the tour price. We next went to Sword Beach and then to a hill and a field where the sole Victoria Cross was won on D-day. Apparently Victoria Crosses are all made with metal from a cannon and the Victoria Cross people were running low on the metal so they said only one would be awarded per day. The guy apparently cleared out a bunch of Germans from a house by himself and then singlehandedly rescued 2 soldiers who were pinned down by some German guns. We went to Arromanches, which is where the Mulberry Harbours were built on Gold Beach. You can still see the Mulberries. At low tide you can walk up to them (we did last year on our own), but we were there at high tide, when there is essentially no beach. We came back to Bayeux around 1730. Sean was very personable and good with my daughter, and I highly recommend this tour. The 2 men with us were nice as well, allowing us to ride in the front seat of the van, which I appreciated as daughter could not see anything from the back due to the high front seats. Daughter wanted steak again, so we went back to the same restaurant for dinner. Turned in relatively early as we were to get up early the next day for our 2nd tour.
Fri 18 June
Had breakfast alone today as the other guests did not have a tour so were sleeping in, and then made our way back to the Churchill Hotel for our Band of Brothers Tour. Our guide for this day seemed very knowledgeable, but was not as personable with my daughter. She was a little upset as he made a comment about one of the photos he was showing, saying he used to show a different one but can’t because there are kids on tour. He didn’t sound upset about it to me, but daughter felt he didn’t want to have kids on tour. The minimum age is 12. We went to many sites from Band of Brothers, and it was interesting to see the different locations where they fought. They all look very peaceful now. I do have some questions about his accuracy, as he claimed that a trench that was “L” shaped in the movie was actually straight. However, in books by 2 of the veterans, it is described as “L” shaped. This tour was not as interesting for my daughter even though she has seen the movie a couple of times because she was sitting in the back, where she couldn’t really see much and because he spent a lot of time talking about which regiment came from which direction and I think she got lost in some of the numbers. A word of warning for short people, it is really hard to see from the back of the Battlebus vans, as the front seat is a lot higher than the back seats, so you can only see out the side windows which are relatively small. Supposedly they are getting new vans, though. Interestingly, there was a family on this trip who was from Illinois and who had also lived in the same place in North Dakota that we did. Very odd.
Sat 19 June
Took a taxi to the station after breakfast for our 9:25 AM train to Caen, where we changed trains for Rouen. We had about 30 min to change, and probably only needed about 5. We did not have assigned seats on either train, but had no trouble sitting. The train to Caen only had one car. We sat on some folding seats inside the door so as not to have to deal with the luggage. There were others who just stood there with the luggage even though there were empty seats. On the train to Rouen, we put the suitcases on the overhead shelf. The train was pretty empty. We arrived in Rouen around noon and walked to the hotel, which is the DHouse Rouen. It’s very nice. It’s run by a couple of guys who live there too. It says it is ensuite, but I’m not sure it technically is, as there is a little sitting area when you come in, which the owners also walk through when they come in, and the bedroom is on one side and the bathroom on the other. It is not a shared bathroom though. The room and bathroom are both very nice. The guy who checked us in said we didn’t need to lock the bedroom, but it did have a lock and we used it as it made us feel better. Not that the men were in anyway threatening, we're just used to locking the bedroom door in hotels, etc. I never found a way to lock the bathroom yet, which is a little disconcerting. The room is also on the second floor with some old windy stairs, so not good if you have trouble with stairs. Anyway, we checked in and walked to a little restaurant for lunch. We didn’t really get going on sightseeing until 2PM, but had sufficient time. We saw the Place de Vieux Marche, which is where Joan of Arc was burned. There are ruins of the church that was there then too. We went to the Musee Jeanne d’Arc, which has some wax dioramas of Joan’s life and some things from that time, but is really fairly small and not too well maintained. It would be good if you did not know anything about Joan. Then we walked up to the Tour Jeanne d’Arc which is the tower left from the chateau where Joan was held prisoner and had her trial. There are some signs in it about Joan and a lot of stairs you can climb. I didn't go all the way to the top because I stopped to read some of the signs and daughter went to the top and came back down and said I didn't need to go up as there was nothing interesting up there (meaning she didn't want to wait for me to go up there). The rest of the chateau is gone. After this, we went to the Musee des Beaux Artes, where they are having an impressionist exhibition. There were 11 paintings of the Rouen Cathedral by Monet and many other paintings as well. We were going to go to the permanent collection too, but apparently the ticket I bought was only for the temporary exhibition, and we didn’t see where to buy the one for the permanent collection, and daughter didn’t want to wait to buy another ticket anyway. We wandered around some of the little pedestrian shopping areas but didn’t buy anything. Daughter was feeling tired so we came back to the room to rest. We actually ended up not having dinner this night because daughter said she was not hungry and didn't want to go out. We had some snacks and stuff with us that we had brought to eat during our various forms of transportation, so I just ate some of that.
Sun 20 June
Breakfast was served in the little sitting area. There were several kinds of bread, croissants, and tea. It was a typical French breakfast, I thought. The owner came down and served breakfast and let us know what time our taxi would be there and then said he was going back to sleep since it was Sunday, which was fine with us. We ate quickly and then took a taxi back to the train station for our train to Paris. We took the 8:59 train which arrived in Paris at 10:10. This was the only train where we had trouble with the seating. My daughter had read the sign on the platform telling you where your car would be, and ours was clearly going to be all the way at the end of the platform, I just couldn't tell which end. Daughter said she knew which end though, and started down there to wait. Of course, when the train came we were at the wrong end. (I had suggested waiting in the middle, but daughter didn't want to do that). I figured that all of our other trains had not been full, and I wasn't sure we could get to the other end of the train in the time it was stopped as there was a crowd of people we would have to get through, so I just walked down to the 1st car that didn't say Premiere Classe on it and we got on that one. There were little white tags marking the reserved seats, so we sat in two that didn't have those. The seats were in compartments with 3 seats facing each direction and a corridor on the side of the car. (Think the train in Harry Potter) This was the first time we had seen this arrangement. There was nothing in our compartment marking whether it was 1st or 2nd class. No one ever came to check our tickets, so I still don't know if we were in the right class, but as we were getting off, I thought I saw a sign in one of the other compartments that said Premiere Classe. On the outside of the train there was a number 1, but the other 1st class trains actually said 1re Classe (approximately, can't remember the abbreviation for sure) and had 1 seat on one side and 2 on the other side of an aisle and looked newer. Anyway, since no one checked our tickets, I guess it doesn't matter, but I was just curious whether we were in legal seats or not. Also what they would have done if they had checked our tickets. Would they have just made us move, or would I have had to pay some sort of penalty fare?
Anyway, we arrived in Paris at Gare St Lazare without incident and walked to our hotel, the Best Western Folkestone Opera. We had stayed here last year for one night on our return to Paris from Normandy as well. Our room was not ready, but we left our luggage and went out to sightsee. Most of the stuff around the hotel was closed, I guess because it was Sunday or maybe because we were a little on the early side for lunch (I'd guess about 11:00 or so by this time). We went to the first metro station we came to and bought a mobilis pass for me and a ticket jeunes weekends for my daughter. We were going to go to the Musee de l'Armee first but I couldn't remember if there was a cafeteria there or not, but I did remember that the little café across the street was closed on Sundays last year. We decided to go to La Conciergerie instead, as I figured the restaurants around Notre Dame would probably be open. I was right, so we ate a forgettable meal at one of them and then went to the Conciergerie, where there was basically no line. Daughter liked it but not as much as she expected. She wanted to be able to go around more of it, since the building is very big and you can only go in a little part of it. She was also distressed that Marie Antoinette's cell is not the real cell as that was destroyed and turned into a chapel (I think). After that we went to the l'Orangerie, where there was a significant line. We waited probably 45 min. I'm not sure it was worth it. The Water Lilies are nice, but not worth waiting in line that long for, and there isn't a whole lot else in the museum. I would guess we spent about an hour in there and that was stretching it. After that we were going to go to the Musee de l'Armee which my daughter has been saying she wanted to go back to for a year, but now she suddenly decided she didn't want to. She decided she wanted to get hot chocolate somewhere. I thought about going to Angelina's, but I couldn't remember exactly where it was (somewhere near the Tuilleries, I think) or if it was open on Sunday. Daughter decided she just wanted to get on the metro and go to somewhere and look around, so that's what we did. Since we had unlimited metro rides, I figured it didn't really matter. She went to a bunch of places where she went out of the station and decided she didn't like it and went back in and we rode some more, and then we ended up at some stop where we could walk down towards Ile St Louis, where I figured things would be open, so we walked over that way. We stopped at some other restaurant near Notre Dame that daughter liked the menu of but I can't remember the name now. Our waiter was amusing, though. He spoke English, which was nice for my daughter and you could tell he was trying to be funny. I couldn’t tell if he was really like that or if that's what he thought American tourists liked. He was much more effusive than the average French waiter. We did amuse ourselves watching him and his colleagues swoop down on anyone who stopped to read the menu on the sign and offer them a regular menu and ask if they wanted a seat. They could do it in at least English, Spanish, and French. We had steak frites. My daughter thought it was really good. I thought it was ok, but she was happy. We walked past Notre Dame, I'd guess maybe about 1700 by then and there was a long line so we decided not to go up (we had been up last year). After that daughter said she was tired so we just went back to the hotel and hung out until bed. I asked the hotel to get us an airport shuttle for the morning but the companies they use were both full. They said Monday mornings are a hard time to get a shuttle.
We got up early, about 6:30 or so to have breakfast at 7:00 when it started (was included in our room rate). They had a buffet with breads, ham, cheese, yogurt, and an egg boiling thing that I didn't use. I think you were supposed to make soft boiled eggs in it. It was fine for breakfast, but I think if it's not included you pay like 15€ for it which it wasn't really worth. After breakfast we checked out and walked to the Opera to get the Roissybus to the airport. The bus was there when we got there, so we got on and I just paid the driver on the bus. It was 9.10€ each and I paid with a 20€ bill and got change back. We just kept our luggage in front of us where our feet go, but there were overhead luggage racks that I think our 22in suitcases would have fit on. Most people just kept their luggage with them. You need to know which terminal your flight leaves from, as it announces the terminal number but not the airline. There was a huge line at American, but I had just gotten Gold frequent flyer status so we got to use the first class/business class (can't remember how it was labeled) where there were only 1 or 2 people in front of us. Way cool. We also got to use the Priority lines at security, which was nice. We were there probably about 3.5 hrs early for our 12:15 flight, so we had plenty of time. It might have been tighter though if we had had to wait through the long coach check in line. I got a sandwich and daughter got some pasta box that you heat in the microwave at the cafeteria at the airport so we had lunch. We also bought some chips and stuff for the flight. Our flight to Chicago was approximately on time, but our 18:35 flight home was cancelled due to a maintenance problem. They put us on the 2200 flight, so we hung out in Chicago for awhile. Then that flight was delayed due to not having a pilot. Then they wanted volunteers because it was overweight. Then they cancelled it completely. They gave us a hotel room at the Crowne Plaza Northbrook and a flight home the next morning at 7:40. We got maybe 5 hrs of sleep since the shuttle bus back only ran at either 5 or 6 and I was afraid 6 would be too late, so we got up for the 5 AM shuttle. We got breakfast with our vouchers from American (which they didn't volunteer but gave me without any problem when I asked) and didn’t have any problems getting that flight. In fact, we sat around awhile. In retrospect we could have taken the later shuttle, but since I didn't know what traffic or security would be like, I would do the same again.
Thanks for the enjoyable reports. You certainly got around!
Sounds like you and your daughter make excellent travel companions.
We are booked in Normandy for Sept so glad to hear the details on the BattleBus tours.
Yes, I love to travel with my daughter. I'm trying to cram it all in before she becomes a teenager and has better things to do than hang out with her mother :)
We really enjoyed the trip, but it was more tiring than just staying in one place. Ideally, I think we would have gone to Paris from Normandy and done Rouen as a day trip. However, we would probably have needed a couple more days to really make that worth it (I ran out of vacation, though. Wish I still had the summer off). This way we would have just trained to Paris and then back to Rouen. The only thing we would have saved is one more time taking luggage to and from and getting up early to get the train to Paris. For anyone interested, I think Rouen would make a great day trip from Paris.
We're thinking of a daytrip to Rouen from Paris. How much time do you think one should allow to see the all of the points of interest?
I guess it would depend on what you want to see. We were mainly interested in Joan of Arc. There is a website www.rouentourisme.com that lists all the sights (in French). There is a free audioguide at http://tinyurl.com/258bmrh
(in English) or you can get one from the Tourist Office in Rouen. We used parts of the free one, we didn't use the one from the Tourist Office. In about 2-3 hours we saw the Cathedrale de Notre Dame and Eglise Sainte Maclou (from the outside), the Place de Vieux Marche, the Joan of Arc Museum, the Tour Jeanne D'Arc, part of the Musee des Beaux Artes, and the outside of the Abbataile de Saint-Ouen. If you want to go inside all the places we didn't go into, you would need more time, but I would think if you left Paris at 8 or 9, the train takes about an hour, you could stay until dinnertime and then head back. Although dinnertime in France is later, so you might want to stay until 5 or 6, when I think most things were closing, and then head back to Paris for dinner.
great report, as was your UK one. My great-uncle is buried in the British War Cemetary in Bayeux - did you go to that one?
Alas, we did not. I've been wanting to go to that one, as well as the Battle of Normandy museum there, but daughter did not want to on this trip. She can only take so many cemeteries at a time, she says they make her sad. She was really sad about the soldier that was buried with his military dog, reportedly the only nonhuman buried in a Commonwealth cemetery. That's why he got the poppy. All the Commonwealth Cemeteries we went to were very well maintained, though. Apparently they have schoolchildren who come and put flowers on the graves and things. I don't actually have any relatives who fought in WWII that I know of. My grandfather was too old (he was an air raid warden in NY) and my father and uncles were too young. Have you been to your great-uncle's grave? The WWII cemeteries always make me wonder if anyone goes to visit the graves. I know people go in general, but to see a specific grave? There are some veterans left that go, but if you died at 18 y/o in WWII, your parents are probably gone, and you probably didn't have kids, so I wonder who goes to the graves. Especially at the American Cemetery. It's a long way for us to go to visit. I also wonder about the unknown soldiers. Does anyone visit them? Last time we went to the American Cemetery, we picked a grave from Illinois and looked up the soldier. We found his unit and where he fought, but there's not a lot of information available online to random civilians.
Your trip reports were first class, you managed to fit so much in you must have needed another holiday to get over it!
We are regular travellers to Normandy and even after several trips have only just scratched the surface. One of my favourite places is the Peace Museum in Caen, so much information its awe inspiring. We love walking the beaches imagining how it was during WW2 which does at times make you shiver! On one visit we found my step father's uncles memorial, very sad story as he had survived d day but was killed several days later and my step dad was named after him.
I thought about trying to do the Peace Museum on this trip, but as we were just passing through Caen, we would have had to do something with the luggage. It was a lot to fit in, but it actually wasn't that tiring. Just the last 2 days my daughter started to get a little tired, thus the no dinner in Rouen and aimlessly wandering in Paris. France is always a little harder for her than the UK though, since she doesn't speak French. It's not exactly a problem, but I think it does make your mind a little more tired when you're always struggling to understand signs, etc.
One of the best i have ever read, and thats a lot (:-))
Don't think i have ever seen anyone do so much in so many different places in such a short time.
You must have spent many many hours planning this amazing trip.
Thanks so much for sharing it.
Don't suppose you have any photo's from the this trip on-line, do you?.