My sister and brother-in-law, Bev and Gord Simpson, are in France for 2 weeks, I’m living vicariously through them. I think it must be time for another trip to France!
Bev and Gord live in Toronto and are avid travelers, Gord is the photographer and Bev the writer, together they make a great team. Enjoy!
Paris Normandy Paris Sept 22- Oct 6 2015
Tuesday Sept 22
We hired an Uber to the Toronto Pearson airport for the 19:30 Air Canada flight to Paris. The Uber was less than half what we normally pay for a limo to the airport and a pleasant ride with a young Iranian-Canadian who drives between gigs as a film producer. He was very bright and knowledgeable about politics – both Iranian and Canadian – and very interesting to talk with.
We were dreading the overnight flight – we had vowed after age 65 we’d take day flights from now on but couldn’t find one this trip. We travel with our slightly oversized carry-ons. Not a word or a measurement of luggage at Air Canada on this trip, maybe because it’s overseas. Last trip home from San Francisco in June they were measuring all carry-ons.
Wednesday Sept 23
Arrival at 8:30am at CDG in Paris was a pleasure – a nice sunny day which makes all the difference after an overnight flight. Customs was really easy, hardly any line-up, no questions, just a stamp and away we went. The RoissyBus (which runs every 15 minutes from 6am – 8:45pm) was really easy to find too and a snap to buy tickets from a machine, 11 euros each one way to the Paris Opéra. I looked for a Sim card in the Relay at the airport – but didn’t buy it there – too little time and unsure of what I was buying. I found better assistance in the Orange store near the Gare St Lazare – they are the big provider in France with stores all over town.
On the way into Paris, which takes about an hour, we passed the Gare St Lazare – the station we will use to get the train to Bayeux tomorrow so that gave us a good landmark. Our pre-booked hotel – the Best Western Opéra Diamond – was an easy walk – even with luggage – from the Opéra. The women at the hotel were “superbe”, as they say en France – very friendly, helpful, charming and bilingual, which is quite unusual, as so many Parisiens can be miserable to deal with, especially the servers. Our hotel – called Le Diamond is shiny black tile everywhere: walls, floors, even some ceilings, with small sparkly lights – diamonds??? – on every surface. It’s dark and strange but very clean and the people terrific – well, they always make all the difference. I noticed it’s a Premier Best Western so they must be the better ones. Best Westerns are everywhere – the company must have linked many existing small Paris hotels into their chain – and it seems to work – they were all over the booking sites.
We slept a couple hours in the afternoon with lots of hammering happening in the hotel – they are renovating something – then wandered the streets with a couple of errands in mind – I wanted a gift certificate for au Printemps for Paris friends for their new little grand-daughter, and I wanted to visit the Uniqlo store which has the lightweight vests that fit into a very little bag – not available in Canada yet.
On our dinner walk to the Champs Élysée we passed the lovely Eglise Madeleine which so resembles the Parthenon, the Élysée Palace – beautiful with lots of security! and La Place de la Concorde. We wandered the Champs Elysée where we had a light pasta dinner with a nice Bordeaux at the Café di Roma. It was still lovely, sunny and warm at 6pm, getting cooler and darker about 7pm. Lots of people watching – cars, motorbikes, pedal bikes, and foot traffic at this hour on this iconic boulevard.
Thursday Sept 24
After a great breakfast at the Opéra Diamond we took Rail Europe at Gare St Lazare (a 5 minute walk) to Bayeux where we have rented a little car from Hertz. Car rentals pre-booked in North America provide great savings. Travel from Bayeux to Cherbourg was easy with a little help from gmaps and very good roads. We are staying in La Glacerie, a small suburb south of Cherbourg at Manoir de la Fieffe which is gorgeous and very reasonably priced – a small country inn set on 4 acres of beautiful grounds on a hill with occasional long views of the sea at Cherbourg. Fortunately friends stayed here in the spring and spoke highly of it – else we might never have found it. Dinner in Cherbourg at La Taverne, found on a wander by the ocean, was very good, although it was too cool to sit outside. Dinner is not served in town until 7pm and without lunch we were hungry.
Friday Sept 25
After a delicious French breakfast at le Manoir de la Fieffe with our charming hosts, Emmanuel and Michel, we set off for Utah Beach and Point du Hoc, which are the closest d Day sites to La Glacerie. Roads are good although fast-moving so the Navigator has to be on her toes! We’re lucky it’s late September because the number of tourists is reduced from the high season and yet it’s still beautiful weather, especially mid-day. Lunch at Le Roosevelt, the café at Utah Beach in Ste Marie du Mont. The café is full of memorabilia, and even the toilettes are made to look like bunkers.
We spent some special moments in the church in Ste Marie du Mont where there is a picture of the church service the day after the D Day landing. The church is filled with soldiers so many saying their thanks that they had made it this far when so many of their comrades had fallen. It is likely they were also feeling very apprehensive about what would happen on the next phase of their march to liberate France.
On leaving Ste Marie des Mont we were surprised to see an official-looking US Army jeep with a local man driving with his wife – le maire, perhaps?
Next stop was Pointe du Hoc (between Utah and Omaha) where 220 US Rangers had to scale a huge rock wall bombarded by Germans to begin to take the beachhead. They accomplished their mission but only 90 survived. The craters from bombers are still very visible – grass covered with handsome roaming black sheep.
Saturday Sept 26
We are off to Mont St Michel this morning and excited to see this magnificent landmark. About a 2hour drive away, it’s a lovely sunny day, roads are very good and it’s still lush and green in these valleys. Occasional wind turbines dot the coast high on green hills often in groups of 5.
First glimpses of Mont St Michel across farmers’ fields are as spectacular as you can imagine. Set in a tidal basin, the small island hosts a very large monastery that was built hundreds of years ago. The Archangel Michael sits atop the cathedral close to the heavens.
On to St Malo….
Walled old city of St Malo – Jacques Cartier left for New France from here.
Sunday Sept 27.
Juno Beach and Canadian cemetery in Beny sur mer