My husband and I are traveling to Paris on Sept. 8 arriving at 8 am. We are meeting other family members in the Avignon train station at 5:30 on Saturday, Sept. 11. We would like to visit Giverny, Rouen, Bayeux, seeing the D-day beaches. When I looked on trainline.org I can take a train on Saturday from Rouen but now I realize that I would have to change train stations in Paris. So how would you design an itinerary visiting Giverny, Bayeux, D-day Beaches and Rouen if time. Is it necessary to go back to Paris to get the fastest train and easiest ride? Help!
Paris trains operate by a spoke and hub through Paris -- pretty much all the TGVs go through Paris. We were looking at doing something in the southwest and then southeast this fall and we pretty much would have had to go back through Paris to get to the SE destinations so we dropped the western itinerary.
It makes sense to do Normandy beaches and then Rouen and then Giverny and then back to Paris depending of course on the train times for all these options. The train from Vernon to Paris is pretty quick but you then have to get from St. Lazare to Gare du Lyon for the train to Avignon. A cab across town can be incredibly slow -- so plan to make this transfer by train. The 14 metro goes from St. Lazare to Gare du Lyon. I would probably do Giverny the afternoon before and then get a hotel near Gare du Lyon for the night rather than trying to come from Rouen or Vernon on the day of the trip south.
You could pick one destination in Normandie and have an enjoyable day trip by train, like Giverny as the previous post suggests or maybe even a night in one of your destinations before returning to Paris. Seeing Giverny, Rouen, Bayeux and the D-Day beacheads in 1 1/2 to 2 days just isn’t reasonable. The D-Day beaches alone cover 60 miles and are not directly served by train. Limited local bus service at best is available to some D-Day sites.
You do have time for a good one destination trip in Normandie and have a nice time doing it. Check on the French railways OUI App (available in English) for designing a trip to some of your destinations.
Note that perhaps Alsace pairs better with Avignon than Normandy. If this is your only chance in your life to see the D-Day sites, then you have to go the wrong way (northwest) before you head to Avignon. There are actually a lot of TGV trains. They can get expensive, but you can save with advance purchase (non-changeable, like an air ticket), or the newer discount high speed trains in no-frills equipment.
In my opinion you have too much to do in too little time. Giverny is easy to visit from a base in Paris. As much as I like trains, it's much harder to more than one city in a day by train. (And a car is not a magic passport for speed, especially where city destinations are involved.) Do you ever, every use public transportation at home? I ask to see if you understand the limitations (I grew up without a car.) I know I sound annoying to you, but I don't personally object to changing trains or going back to Paris if it's the fastest route. The problem is the amount of ground you want to cover, not so much the train track locations!
In my opinion there is absolutely no way you could see the places on your list between your arrival on September 8 and your appointment in Avignon on September 11.
You could go to a grand total of maybe two places on your list before returning to Paris to get a TGV to Avignon. Since most Americans find the D-Day tours the most interesting, you might be better off booking a (long) day tour from Paris. If that doesn't kill you with the jet lag, you could take a train to Rouen the next day. The train to Rouen takes about an hour and a half from Paris and there are 31 trains a day.
Or go to Bayeux and book an all day tour with Overlord or some similar tour -- this is efficient and we found the tour very interesting (and we generally avoid tours -- we did this for the transport ease but the descriptions were useful.
Keep in mind that tour dates and times will be considerably more sparse until further notice due to the very low number of American tourists. Take what you can get.