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France September 2015 (Normandy and Paris) Trip Report

I'll be writing this in sections and will follow up with more as I get it written. I journaled every day (so proud of myself!) so I have pretty good notes. Takes me a while to get through everything though. FWIW, I ended up buying an iPad and used DayOne to journal. I had gotten lots of advice on here from folks on what to buy and it worked well for me.

DH and I are in our early 30s. I actually turned 32 on this trip. :) This is our 3rd trip to Europe together, and I had backpacked in college for about a month. We're learning more and more as we go, and this trip was no exception. All we know is we've been bit hard by the travel bug and each trip we take leaves us wanting more!

I'm still dreaming of frambois pastries, croissants, and all the other delicious foods. I wasn't sure what to expect from France and all I know coming back is that France was fabulous and far exceeded my expectations. It's been hard writing this trip report knowing that it's all over and we're back. I look forward to going back sometime and seeing different areas of the countryside and more of Paris.

Every single French person we met and interacted with was courteous and kind. We tried our best with our horrible attempts with speaking the language; almost everyone spoke English but we still tried to speak our little phrases. It seemed to us that, for the most part, everyone is reserved but very kind and friendly. On our other travels we typically chum around with locals since we are very outgoing; that's a little hard to do in France. Cultural differences.

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Don't read this if you don't like a lengthy report, I guess I'm a detailed kind of person. :)

Day 1: Our trip started a little roughly with a friend in the hospital, technical problems with my cellphone (never do an update the night before a big trip!), an upset stomach, and American Airlines grounded flights due to computer problems. We were tired, which is not how I like to start a trip, but circumstances were what they were. We finally arrived CDG and navigated our way to St. Lazare where we boarded the train to Caen. It was a pleasant, quiet ride. We then picked up our rental car and drove to Bayeux. Our B&B there was lovely and set us up with some great information pamphlets for exploring the area. These pamphlets had information that I had not found in my pre-trip trip planning. We set out on foot and toured the cathedral, which was beautiful. We then visited the tapestry museum using the audioguide. The tapestry and story it told was very interesting. Some of the images were graphic and a little shocking (I was thinking everything back then was prim and proper but someone had a sense of humor I think! Or maybe they didn't get uptight about stuff back then...either way, I was entertained). We finished our day with a nice galette at Moulin Galette at a table in the corner overlooking the beautiful little creek. The view was better than the food, IMO. Quite stunning and romantic.

Day 2: We didn't really have any plans for the next day, just ideas. We set out for Chateau de Colombieres; we saw it in the pamphlet and thought it looked beautiful. And it was! The picturesque scene is complete with a moat and lovely grounds. Unfortunately for us, the guided tour wasn't until 2:30 so we could only see the grounds. Side note: I found the timing of the sights in the Normandy area a little frustrating. Many things don't open until the afternoon making it difficult for travelers like us who plan full days to see several sights. If we had unlimited time, it wouldn't be a problem, but we just adapted and pick and chose our priorities. We then decided to visit the German cemetery at La Cambe. I find both it and the American Cemetery hard to write about. Suffice it to say that it is a beautiful place and very moving, definitely an emotional place to visit and very worthwhile. When we had our DDay tour the next day, our guide pointed out that the entry to the cemetery is small, only one person can enter or leave at a time. It is symbolic for the visitor to think of everyone as an individual, not as a group. Next stop, Chateau de Pirou. This was a trip highlight for me. I love ruins and this chateau very beautiful. A nice estate with great examples of different, historical structures. We then decided to drive on to Mont Saint Michel. Seeing it in the distance as you approach is quite spectacular. I almost think it's better from a distance than from the inside. We missed the tour of the church itself by just a couple of minutes, which was disappointing, but the show went on. We still enjoyed seeing it and walking around the town itself. There were still a lot of people there but there were not so many that it wasn't enjoyable. Do note that you need to pay your parking permit behind the tourist station. There are no notices for this and some other guests at our B&B made the mistake of thinking you could pay as you leave the park and had to walk all the way back to pay. It was kind of them to let us know. We drove back to Bayeux after leaving MSM and had a nice dinner with fantastic wine at Cave Le Volet Qui Penche. Very friendly owner with good food and great wine. Definitely recommend it.

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Thanks for this. I like your can-do approach to travel and the combination of planning and flexibility.

The Bayeux Tapestry was a highlight of our last trip to France. They have displayed it beautifully, so you can see it up close, well lit, even with a lot of other people. Fascinating story (winner's propaganda of course) and it was amazing to examine the individual stitches someone did almost a thousand years ago!

Looking forward to days 3 and beyond.

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Whoops! Hopefully one of the webmasters will see this and get it moved over. I've seen Laura on here, perhaps I should message her.

Glad you all are enjoying it. Writing is fun -- I still need to get through my pictures. I haven't dared to see how many I took, ha! Dick, yes, they do have the tapestry displayed beautifully. It's a marvel how large it is, and how it has survived. I have to say I immensely enjoyed the unicorn tapestries at the Cluny Museum. I really enjoyed the birth of the sixth sense and how it was communicated in the tapestry. So interesting!

Day 3: We spent this day with a private tour of the WWII D-Day sites. The weather was absolutely perfect, cool and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Strangely, I found myself almost wishing that the weather would have been cloudy and rainy. So many of the beaches and sites were beautiful in their own right. The perfect weather made the atrocities of the war seem even more distant, so far from present day. Sean, our guide, did a wonderful job of bringing the stories to life and giving the background and the facts. It was a full day. We visited Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, Saint Mere Eglise, some hedgerows, Utah Beach, and Pointe du Hoc. While visiting the American Cemetery, I asked Sean about Billie Harris. If you don't know his story, I urge you to take a moment and look it up. There is a wonderful video interviewing his widow. It's a remarkable story. Sean knew exactly where his grave was. I don't know what it was about seeing his grave, but it was very emotional for me. I think it was because I knew his story, I could connect with him on a personal level, in some way, if that makes sense? The cemetery was very beautiful, hard to believe it was so old as it is so well taken care of it looks new. I don't know if there is much to say about the other places as you can read about them by someone who knows more than me. I do have to say that Saint Mere Eglise felt amost like a tourist trap. We didn't spend much time there, but it did feel a little strange. We ended our day with our guide at Point du Hoc. The scale of the craters in the earth was astounding. After dropping our guide off, we visited Longues sur Mer and the battlements there on our own. Most of them were very intact with guns so it helped give scale to the scene. All in all, it was a very good day. We are by no means WWII buffs by any stretch of the imagination, but I could easily see spending more than a day for visiting the sites. There is simply SO much to see. In retrospect, I think I could have also used more "down" time in the day just to mentally digest what we were seeing. It's hard to fathom/understand everything you are looking at and process it. We ended the day on a light note with beer and fare at an English pub in Bayeux, enjoying a rugby match on the tube. We needed something easy after a heavy day.

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Day 4: This day was also "unplanned". We decided to visit Manoir d'Argouges, another stop shown in the pamphlet. It is the oldest chateau in Normandy and sat empty since the 1600s. The owner had a dream to purchase it and repair it, which he has been doing since the 1980s. It was interesting and enjoyable, but the visit was a little strange since the owner came on a little strong with how much it costs to repair it. I was particularly fascinated with a huge dovecote on the property that held somewhere from 5,000-6,000 pigeons! Leaving the area, we attempted to explore the Route du Cidre. We stopped for lunch in the picturesque town of Beauvron-en-Auge. Disappointingly, many shops were closed since it was Monday. I had read about this, and we found it to be true. Things were slow on Monday. We also stopped in at Pierre Huet for a tasting of cidres, which were delicious. I found the pear cider really delicious. We drove on through some other towns of the Route du Cidre. The Route wasn't quite what we were expecting. I guess I felt a little out of my comfort zone to pull up to places that weren't well known like Pierre Huet. The Pays d'Auge area was very beautiful and interesting. After our fill of exploring, we drove onto Honfleur. After a somewhat frustrating settling in at our B&B, we set out to explore Honfleur a little bit. It was cloudy, so we missed all the brilliant light everyone speaks of. We did, however, still enjoy the harbor and found it beautiful, clouds or not. We particularly enjoyed touring the replica of the Nao Victoria. Living in the midwest, it was so interesting to see an old boat, let alone one which had sailed around the world. As it was my actual birthday, we had made dinner reservations at a nicer place, Maisons de Lea. The atmosphere was very romantic with beautiful furnishings; they seated us adjacent to the wood-burning fireplace which was perfect. The food was beyond delicious, tied with another restaurant in Paris for my favorite meals in Frane. We did have to laugh at ourselves since we didn't know how to use all the silverware they gave us. I guess we're not so refined. Ha! A memorable meal and a perfect way to end my birthday, complete with a solitary candle in my poached peach dessert. :)

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Julie:

TY for your detailed & wonderful travelogue.

I was in the same regions as you were in late September. My first to Europe, let alone France. Truly a Trip of a Lifetime!

I'll try to get my travelogue posted in the next week or so.

JM

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So, I just remembered I never finished my trip report. I got so busy at work that I haven't had a chance to get back to it. Here's more:

Day 5: Started the day with a nice breakfast of a croissant and amazingly delicious cheesy scrambled eggs at the B&B. It was raining. Evidently it was good sleeping in weather because I did not wake up with my husband thought he woke me up. So we started off about an hour later than we wanted to. On our bucket list was Jumieges Abbey. Too many beautiful pictures on the Internet to not check it out, especially since I love ruins. We took a few wrong turns, no help from the GPS, but we made it. Had to take a ferry across a river to get there. The abbey itself was large and beautiful. It was so sad that it had been sold after the revolution to a man who piece-mealed out parts of it for profit. We were told that it' scattered around Europe, adorning the homes of the wealthy. A kind couple from New York obliged us with a picture and let us listen to a portion of their guided tour. The guide had an amazing app that you could use to "hover" over portions of the abbey and it would show you what it would have looked like originally. It was incredible. And devastating to realize what a beauty the world has lost. The cloudy skies cleared for a few minutes and we were able to get some great pictures. A fantastic place to not miss if ruins are your kind of thing.

We then drove on to Paris. Uneventful except for the portion of the drive off the highway to the rental car park. We missed the turn in and had to drive around Paris for a few minutes. Which was high-stress for my husband, understandably. We eventually made it into the car park, thank God! We opted to take a taxi to our hotel, which was about 20€, which was crazy convenient and well worth it, in our opinion. Our hotel, Hotel Atmospheres, was absolutely wonderful.

We decided to explore Paris and walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower, which was a little bit of a mistake since we ended up walking all over Paris on our walking tour that evening, with Paris by Martin. Martin was very nice and has an incredible grasp of the English/American language. We started with a lovely little picnic with four cheeses, baguettes, wine and two delicious tarts. The cheeses were goat with ash, comte, camembert, and roquefort. I liked all but the camembert. Martin was full of stories of Paris. We learned about the man who scammed people by “selling” the Eiffel Tower and other odd things. We took the metro to the Opera where we learned there really are lakes under the famous opera houses. We then walked by a bar called Harry's Bar which is famous for inventing the Bloody Mary, and it's an American bar. He told us that there are four sparkling water fountains in the city! Which seemed absolutely CRAZY! We didn't have a chance to find any of them but that's on my list for a return trip. We walked by one of two stones left in Paris that are the original stones for measuring the metric system when they first invented the system. We walked through the Louvre area – might be able to use the Porte des Lions entry he said was very rarely used. We saw a shoe shop that has been making hand-made shoes for years. Lots of restaurant tips. Information overload! My feet started killing me by the time all of our walking was done. We really enjoyed our tour but with a few caveats. One, we already had a thoroughly planned Paris trip, so many of the tips and suggestions he gave us weren't very helpful. Two, I think we could have made better use of his suggestions if he would have given us the list ahead of time. But, for him, who knows how many people would cancel their tour reservation if they had the list ahead of time. I would recommend it to a first time visitor who doesn't have a detailed plan for their time in the city.

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Day 6: Started the day with a nice breakfast at the B&B. DH was excited about the hot meat and eggs and full spread in general.

We had our walking tour of Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame this morning, which was very informative and interesting. We really got a nice overview of the history of Paris. I found it really sad that they destroyed all of the old architecture in the 1800s with new. It makes sense since the city was so crowded and flammable with all the wood structures, but I found it sad that all of the really old stuff is gone. It's surprising to me that people in some forums say Madrid is a "new" city of Europe, but really, Paris is too. From what I learned in the tour, many of the city's buildings are "relatively" really new. At the end of our tour we were given skip-the-line access to climb the ND towers. We climbed all 700 some steps. When we got up there, I was disappointed that we couldn't take really good pictures of the gargoyles because they were netted off. Not sure how some photographers have achieved some of those incredible pictures. Really beautiful views of the city though, I think I preferred these views over those from the Eiffel Tower.

Had a very nice break and lunch at Cafe Hugo in Marais off the famous square, Places des Voges. Found out that the Croque Mademoiselle is so named because the cooked egg looks like a breast. Now, I will never forget how to order my croques (Monsieur/Madame). We stopped at the Harley Davidson shop for our obligatory t-shirts.

We used the metro and connected to the Jardin Tuilleries. There were so many people sitting around and practicing the art of enjoying life and doing nothing. I really enjoyed the long pavilion of trees on the walk to the Orangerie Museum. The lines were long, even with the pass, and we talked with some disgruntled tourists who had not been able to get into the Orsay Museum for the past couple of days due to strikes. We eventually got in the Orangerie and very much enjoyed the art, both by Monet and the other impressionists.

My favorite stop of the day was the Louvre. Considering the miles of walking we had in the day before, we were starting to get a little tired at that point. But, what can I say, even tired, the Louvre was so special. I could spend hours upon hours there and I've never really considered myself a huge "art person". The Louvre audio tour on my phone worked fabulously and took us around the museum for the highlights, even giving us directions on which path to take. We saw so many wonderful things, and barely scratched the surface. It was a wonderful day. It would be even better without all the people...ha! I'll keep dreaming. Since the Orsay museum was on strike during our visit, I suspect it increased the crowd at the Louvre and the Orangerie, but I could be wrong.

We tried going to Harry's Bar that Martin recommended but at 14€ a drink, it was a little stiff for our taste, so we decided to find a drink and meal elsewhere. It was a big day and we were tired, so we decided to ride the metro to our neighborhood and find a place to eat there. As luck would have it, the streets we chose to walk down were mostly empty. We ended up settling on Pescatore, close to our hotel, and it was satisfactory. Nothing special, but it suited us. 15€ menu for two courses. The wine hit the spot.

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Day 7: We hit the metro to go up to Montmartre. Sacre Couer was humming with tourists. We enjoyed the views of the city from up high. I decided today would be my pastry day, so we hit the cobblestone roads for small shops and pastries. Lots of cute eye-candy. I started the pastry extravaganza with a raspberry pastry. Followed up with a chocolate eclair with a gold flake on it, from a different shop. We browsed the art at Place du Tertre. I was very tempted by some French kitty cats but none of them had quite the right composition for me so I passed on them. I ended up buying three little Paris-themed paintings. It was here that I had my only rude experience of the entire trip -- I was clearly looking at different paintings on the seller's easel and a woman came up to my side, and grabbed one and said she'd buy it. I said, "excuse me, I was looking at that" -- she ignored me, the seller was happy to sell, and I was miffed. I couldn't believe how rude she was, but I shook it off, didn't want that to ruin my day. I always thought it was rude to just hold onto art while browsing, but maybe that's the only way to ensure it will be yours if you want it? Or maybe she was just rude. I'd love to know the proper etiquette for buying art in the future.

Next stop, the Rodin museum. It was still under construction for our visit, but that did not stop the sculpture from being wonderful. We took lunch at the cafe in the gardens. I loved the atmosphere and scenery here. I feel like it will be "our spot" for other visits to Paris. The salads were decent and the raspberry dessert was wonderful. I had a cup of tea and DH had a couple of beers. We relaxed and laughed over a renegade pigeon who walked in and out of the cafe, through the open doors. His mission: walking to a booth, picking it over for tasty tidbits, and then walking back out, all without being seen. Mission, accomplished. We finished our visit with a stroll through the gardens.

We had pre-booked tickets for the Eiffel Tower, so we made our way on foot to it. We walked all around it, and underneath it. It was gorgeous and romantic and everything I had imagined, even on a cloudy, brisk day. Eventually, it was our turn to go up. Side note: DH needed to use the restroom. The public ones at the ET on the ground were closed for cleaning, so we stepped out of the line to go up to the third level so he could go to the ones on the second level. We asked an employee where to go, and she said to go down the stairs. In hindsight, I should have went with him. Not but two minutes later, the same employee roped off those stairs so we became separated. I tried to explain to her that we were now separated, and she most pointedly didn't care (in her defense, I'm sure she deals with lots of annoying tourists and is tired of us and our "problems"). I decided to follow the rule to stay in the last place that he knew I would be at. Come to find out, DH bypassed the rope and went up the stairs to get back to me. This was very stressful for both us. Lesson learned, stay together. Since we had gotten out of line, we had to wait in a really long line to go up to the top. Once we got there, it was gorgeous. We ended up getting a glass of champagne each and enjoying ourselves.

We had dinner reservations at Au Bon Accueil. It was absolutely fantastic -- we could see the Eiffel Tower from our outside table. Although it was chilly (no outside heaters at this restaurant), it was so lovely and romantic. Our food and wine were delicious, the service was great. The view was amazing. One of the highlights of our trip, to eat dinner with a view of the Eiffel Tower.

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Day 8: Today was dedicated to the Palace of Versailles and its grounds. I unfortunately underestimated the time it would take to get there, both walking in the city and on the train. We ended up about 15 minutes late. So…we did not take the Private Apartments of the King tour at 9:30 that I had pre-booked. The lines for the palace were already long. So, instead, we walked around the gardens and had them all to ourselves. Which was lovely. We strolled through them and enjoyed the hidden fountains and statues around the turns of the tall hedgerows. We thought about renting bikes to the Trianon but found out that bikes weren't available for rent until 12. So, we decided to walk to the Petite Trianon. The small-scale home was lovely (small-scale for Versailles! LOL). Marie Antoinette's hamlet was charming. Lots of beautiful houses. And then you think she had a mini palace with a medium size palace and a huge palace and a hamlet...no wonder the peasants revolted. The hamlet area was completely scenic and picturesque. The grounds were mind-blowingly large. It's hard to get a grasp of the scale of everything. We wanted to hop on the little train that run around the estate but they wouldn't let us since we didn't have a ticket. In hindsight, I would have bought tickets since it was a good 40 minute walk back up to the chateau.

I got on my phone and rebooked tickets for the Private Apartments tour at 2:15 pm (thought I might have been able to buy them in the guided tour office, should have tried). The tour was WONDERFUL and a complete highlight of the day. We started with a small room that the king kept his dogs in. Then we moved around to various other rooms. Political planning room, office, spy room, dining room, real bedroom (as opposed to the fake bedroom that he fake woke up in for the tradition of the people helping the king wake up), a drawing room for games, a chapel, and lastly, an opera room. The opera room was movingly beautiful. Of particular interest was the “third” floor seats – they are an illusion created with mirrors to make the room feel bigger. I loved staying a little behind the group so I could enjoy and photograph the rooms without anyone in them. It really made the royalty seem a little more real and down to human-size to see the rooms that they really lived in. Can't recommend the tour enough. Some of the fabrics in some of the rooms in Versailles have been restored using the original weaving methods. One square metre of fabric took 3 months to create. So, one room, 20 years. I imagine that would take an obscene amount of money, both back in the day and now.

Ready to leave, we walked to the train station and got on our train. We sat and sat, waiting for it to take off. A nice young French woman tipped us off that the train was broken and recommended we walk to Versailles Chantiers station and get to Paris from there. It was about a 10-15 minute fast walk to there. Got a new ticket and went to wait for our train. As luck would have it, the RER C line was not running there, either. We saw the same girl and she and another local helped us on to a train that went directly to Gare Montparnasse. It was jam-packed full of people. But, we were back on track! We got to that station and it was insanely busy but we walked through all the crowds and made it to our metro line, and then made it to our hotel after another good long walk. It was a full day of walking! We took a break in our room and then went out for some wine and food. We decided on a cafe called Le Comptoir du Pantheon, which I found on Tripadvisor. It had views of the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon, full of people and lively with great people-watching. I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried duck foie gras. We capped our day off with a walk up Rue Mouffetard, where I procured a tasty nutella and coconut crepe. Mmmmm!!!

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Day 9: We had a fantastic last day in Paris. Started our day with the Cluny Museum. It was very nice and the highlight was the unicorn tapestries. They were completed at the end of the middle ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. Each tapestry illustrated one of the five senses, plus the sixth sense. It was interesting that they were thinking of the matters of the heart back then and putting them down so poetically in a beautiful art form.

We hopped on the RER A to go to the Foire du Chatou, a special traditional flea market that happens twice a year in a suburb of Paris. A little shuttle train arrived at the train station to take us to the actual market. It was very big! And so full of wonderful treasures! I felt like I had died and gone to collector's heaven. DH was so kind to indulge me in my favorite pastime without complaint, as antiquing really isn't his thing. It was every bit as amazing as I'd thought it would be. All of the booths were so very-well curated, full of wonderful items and very, very little junk. I cruised the market and decided to purchase a seltzer bottle, an enamel pitcher, and an awesome champagne bucket. So happy I took the gamble to wait to find my souvenirs of our trip at the market. I was very tempted by some larger items (like a gorgeous wooden trunk with hammered metal trim), but those souvenirs will have to wait for another trip when I have a deeper pocketbook. Maybe I could stow wine in a trunk next trip! Hee hee! The market is famous for food as well, focusing on jambon (ham) which DH gladly partook of. We also noticed how some of the sellers had fabulous "picnics" set up for themselves and friends. Wine, wine, wine and breads, cheeses, meats, etc. What a spread! I wanted to be a friend so I could join them. The French really know how to make the most of anything and enjoy the moment.

We headed back to Paris and decided to explore the Ile St Louis island and eat some authentic Berthillon ice cream that I had read so much about. I had the Salted Butter Caramel, the Framboise, and the Coconut. All three were delicious. DH didn't care for the caramel, but I thought it was fantastic. Back to the hotel we went where I packed up our luggage and organized my flea market purchases. I like to have everything ready to go ahead of time for an early morning flight. After getting everything packed up, we went to catch our boat ride on the Seine that we had pre-paid for to get a discounted rate. We didn't catch the 5:30 but that was just as well since we went on the 6:00 and we could get our pick of the seats. The views of Paris from the Seine were lovely, albeit slightly brisk when positioned into the wind on the top deck. Had one last up-close view of the Eiffel Tower. Le sigh. I was not ready to leave Paris I was loving her so much!

We then made a fast walk back to the Latin Quartier to join our friends from Switzerland for dinner at the La Table Genevieve. The food was unremarkable but the company was fantastic. We had met them by chance at a small sandwich bar in our town in Kansas. We've stayed in touch and hope to keep meeting up when we have a chance.

We took the advice from other travelers and booked a taxi to the airport in the morning. It was hassle-free and easy, though a little pricey. I enjoyed France tremendously and Paris even more than I thought I would. I was worried I would get "citied" out. I can laugh at myself now knowing what I know about Paris. I would go back in a heartbeat and not hesitate to spend several days in that wonderful city. France was wonderful and I hope to go back someday to see more of her.

Thank you all for the wonderful tips and advice, and answers to questions. It's a wonderful community here and I wanted to give back with a detailed report that I hope will help others.

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I have already posted the following details on a different post, but I thought I'd repost to get it all together as one concise trip report.

Transportation

  1. We decided to take advice of others and pick up our rental car in Caen. We used the RER and metro to get from Charles De Gaulle to the St. Lazare train station. We found the Paris by Train (http://parisbytrain.com/paris-airport-terminal-2-train-photo-tour/) website incredibly helpful for spelling out the process.

  2. We used Capitaine Train to pre-book our train tickets to Caen, which worked well and saved us money.

  3. Rental car - we rented through Europcar and opted for full insurance. We still had a 100€ deposit charged to our card for any incidentals. I'll be watching our credit card statement to make sure it gets applied back. We dropped our car at the Porte de Saint Cloud location in Paris. It was an easy drive into Paris and right off the Peripherique. You have to think quick and pull into the curved portion of the building immediately to the right as you exit. It's also a gas station so it is a little confusing, especially due to the lack of good signage. We missed the turn-in on the first try and had to drive on the busy streets of Paris for a second shot. It was a little nerve-wracking but we survived. We taxied to our hotel instead of taking the metro. It only cost around 24€ and we thought it was well worth it for the convenience.

Gear

  1. GPS - Garmin Nuvi 2559LMT. The maps were mostly up-to-date and we only ran into a few locations that it wasn't current. It's still good to have a paper copy but the GPS was so convenient. It alerted you to speed limits, which was handy as well.

  2. Luggage - my old carry-on was shot from several trips over the years and being treated roughly. I bought an Eagle Creek Tarmac 22 and also used the pack-it cubes. I absolutely love this new bag; the storage is great and the pocket locations are well thought out. The jacket holder was especially convenient. First time for traveling carry-on only and it worked like a dream.

  3. Personal storage - I carried both a very small cross-body purse and a small backpack when I needed it. The purse was perfect for cash and metro tickets, cellphone, etc. The backpack was good for guidebooks, water bottles, etc. I kept a combination lock on the backpack for security. No problems. Much easier on my back than the large, heavy cross-body purse I carried in Ireland. And more flexible for options as I needed them, especially for carrying souvenirs on our last day in Paris.

Lodging

  1. Bayeux - Hotel Particulier Poppa. Absolutely lovely decor and breakfast with very gracious proprietors. We stayed in the smallest room which was an absolute bargain at 90€ a night. The bed was very comfortable and the rain-style shower was refreshing. Easy walk to everything we needed in town, and public parking in the street since it's adjacent to the park. Can't recommend it highly enough.

  2. Honfleur - Le Fond de la Cour. We found this accommodation less than satisfying. I think this was mostly due to the fact the owner was not there (which we did not know would be the case until about a week or so before our trip). Most of our disappointments stemmed from communication problems. I'm guessing this B&B would be fine if the owner was present during your stay.

  3. Paris - Hotel Atmospheres. This place was fantastic. We chose a classic room (queen bed). Sound-proofed and modern. Even had a mini-fridge. Again, a very comfortable bed. Ample European breakfast. Great location in the Latin Quarter and easy walking distance to pretty much everything. And close to the RER C station.

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Apps

  1. We used Ulmon City Maps 2 Go for walking around Paris. You simply download the Paris map and it works offline. Before you leave, you can save several locations (museums, restaurants, etc) so you'll know where things are. It also shows the metro stops, public toilets, etc around town. You can search for either addresses or location names while offline and it finds most of them. Fantastic app.

  2. We used the Louvre's museum app to do their "highlights" tour. It not only tells you about the art you are looking at, it gives you pictures and verbal instructions of where to walk through the museum to keep you from getting lost. Another great app! I believe some of the other museums have apps, so those could be worth looking into.

  3. I used Day One on my iPad for journaling. I'm using it on a day-to-day normal life basis, too. Love it as well.

  4. We didn't personally use this app, but I believe there is an app for Jumieges Abbey. There was a couple with a guide and the guide had an app, I think. She hovered her iPad over the building's imagery and it would show what the Abbey used to look like before its destruction. Very cool!

  5. Google translate. Download the entire language package. You can turn the camera portion on and it will "read" text back to you in English (or chosen language). Menus, signs, etc. Very, very handy.

Tours

  1. Sean Claxton (Normandy Insight Tours) - we hired Sean for a full day's tour of the Normandy sights. He is very knowledgeable and presents the information in a personable way. Great guide who made our day. We drove our rental car and drove where he told us to go. He was telling stories and giving us information the entire day, both at the sights and in the car. Highly recommend his services.

  2. Paris by Martin - we signed up for an evening group tour with Martin. I think his tours are fantastic for first-time travelers to get acquainted with Paris and find some things off the beaten path. He has an entire list of "secret" places for food, etc that he sends his clients after the tour. I would have found the list much more helpful before the trip, but that's not how it works. If you are an experienced traveler, you may still find it interesting, but probably not as beneficial. Or, if you are a more detailed planner, you may already know much of what he share with you since you've done your research.

  3. City Wonders Notre Dame / Ile de la Cite tour. Nicely done and informative. We enjoyed this tour. The skip-the-line access for the tower climb was completely worth it.

  4. Versailles Private Apartment of the Kings tour. In my opinion, this is the only way to see Versailles. The tour is very affordable and you get to visit some incredibly interesting rooms with a very small number of people. At the end, they let you out to see the main rooms in Versailles with the rest of the throngs. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Posted by
2252 posts

Julie, I love reading trip reports and especially enjoyed yours. It sounds like it was a wonderfully well-planned, fun and satisfying trip for you and your husband. Paris is one of my favorite cities and I go back every chance I get! Thank you for posting here.

Posted by
3341 posts

Sean Claxton was our guide in Normandy when he was working for Battlebus. The 2-Day American Experience tour he gave us was fantastic. This was in 2010 - I'm glad he's still at it. Thanks for this great trip report.

Posted by
767 posts

Julie,

You are one terrific writer! I really enjoyed your report - thanks for taking the time to share.

Posted by
2744 posts

Wonderful report, Julie. It was fun revisiting Paris and Normandy through your eyes. It's great that you can roll with the punches.

Posted by
1395 posts

Enjoyed the report, took some notes as well from them. When I went to Paris in Oct 2014 I knew I would be back within 2-years. Taking the girlfriend on 27 May 16 for 8-nights, w/1-night in Colmar, can't wait. 136-days and counting.....

Posted by
9436 posts

Julie, what a great report, thanks! Loved reading it. The more detail, the better, and yours was wonderful. Paris is my all-time favorite place to be, and no matter how long I'm there, I hate leaving... and I always dream of my next visit.

Next time you go, try to spend some time in the Luxembourg Gardens, my favorite place of all.

Posted by
677 posts

Thank you all for your kind words -- so glad you enjoyed my report. We had such a wonderful time.

Susan, I wish we would have had time for the Luxembourg gardens. They sound lovely. There is so much there to do! I forgot this in my report, but they had JUST (literally, like a day or two before we got there) closed the archaeological museum. So we missed that, too, and will have to see it on our second trip.

Brushtim, hope you and your girlfriend have an amazing time in Paris. :)

Trayla, yes, we felt lucky to have Sean. Thoroughly enjoyed our tour with him.

Posted by
90 posts

What a wonderful report. I've already bookmarked some of your tips for planning our upcoming Paris trip. We too will be in Paris in September (late Sept.) How were the crowds when you there?

Posted by
486 posts

Glad I found your post. I love reading TR. It gives us so many ideas for our trip. Thank you.

Posted by
13 posts

Hi Julie

Loved reading your trip report. We are heading to France in May/June so you have given me more info to research. Loved the summary at the end of what apps, tours you used. One thing, do you advise buying 'Skip the Line' Eiffel Tower tickets?
Thanks
Jeanette

Posted by
346 posts

Thank you, thank you for so much detail! Loved the bit at the end with the specifics.

Posted by
677 posts

Hsico, we found Paris to be very busy, but I'm sure it probably always is. The Palace of Versailles was super busy inside, not shoulder to shoulder busy, but very crowded. That was the most crowded spot we saw.

Jeanette, I'm sorry I didn't see this in time to respond! Hope you're having a great time! :)

Posted by
128 posts

I have to echo all the thankful posts for your wonderful trip report. We are headed to Paris for our first visit this September and reading about your trip is not only helpful, but raising my "excitement" level. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

Posted by
211 posts

Headed to Normandy and Paris for first time in October. Thanks for taking the time for this report.
Very helpful for us first timers!

Posted by
14580 posts

@ Julie....Thanks for the detailed report...great reading, superb. Your reports confirms all the reasons I have for wanting to go to Paris and France again and again.

Posted by
231 posts

Your report was just what future travelers to France need and past travelers can enjoy. You captured the "feel" of the places you visited and also provided details that prospective visitors can use. When we went to Paris for a week over 30 years ago, I had no desire to visit and went because my husband wanted to go and I absolutely loved it, as I did again last year when we visited again as part of a 24-day drive around France. I wish you many more years of happy travel!