Normandy (France) Trip Nov 2011
We decided as it was yet another 3 day weekend…(they never seem to work here)….we would try heading out of Paris. So we went to Normandy…It runs along the coast on the French coast at on the English Channel. First off since we live in Paris we do not need a car and have not gotten one so we rented one….ok just a note here…. if you are in France and are going to rent a car book it through the UK or Canada or the US as if you book it through France they limit your miles but outside bookings are unlimited miles for the same price…also get the GPS….I cannot stress this too much! If you do not you will just wander around wondering what the signs say. So Jeff got the car in Massy next to his office and then drove it home….it took 3 hours to get home when on the train it takes 45min….ummmmm there is some traffic in Paris….also parking is an issue….but we knew that. The real problem was we could not figure out how to pay for parking….and the ever helpful car rental guy had no idea as he did not drive…..ummm ok. Anyway after about 2 hours of trying to find out online in English how to park I found out you have to buy a parking card for 10 or 30 euro from a place called a TABAC…they sell tobacco and parking cards and stuff like that… only who knows where those are…. you are supposed to just wander around looking for a sign that says TABAC on it….we never found one…..but I did find out it is 6 euro and hour to park on the street in our area….WOW! But it is free between 7pm and 9am and on weekends. So we were cool….now just to find a place to park….and please note that parking in Paris is sport taken very seriously. There are cars parked everywhere….half on sidewalks…in the medians on roads…nose in at corners between crosswalks you get the idea…so after Jeff got home it took another 45 min to find a place to park and then later he went and moved the car and made Tristan stand in a parking spot until he got there. The other problem is that there are not really lines and if there were they would just be ignored anyway…so getting blocked in is very common…and they just do not seem to have a problem with doing it. But luckily when we were leaving the next morning we were able to get out and then we were off on our first drive in Paris. Once we got out of Paris the roads are very similar to the US and Canada with toll roads and such. The Norman countryside is very picturesque with trees, hills, cows, horses and towns. So the drive was pretty easy except for the traffic at the multiple toll plazas and they have without a doubt the stupidest amounts for tolls and the highest prices ever…so to go 150km we stopped 4 times to pay tolls and they were….2.30 euro…5.10 euro….3.40 euro…and 4.10 euro……ummm that is a lot….anyway on we went and it was very very very nice to get out of Paris and the noise. We went to Le Mont Saint Michel and to the D-day Memorial and American cemetery at the D-day Omaha Beach landing site.
First we went to the UNESCO site of Le Mont Saint Michel and village. It is an ancient stronghold on a small island (really small). The St Michel Gothic Abbey was built in the 13th century to replace the destroyed original abbey that was built in 708 by Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches. In medieval times the island was 5 km out from the mainland but now due to natural changes in the coast it would only be inaccessible during high tide. It is surrounded by a brackish estuary area and a causeway was built in 1875 to connect the island to the mainland…but the village itself is not accessible to motorised vehicles.
The legend is that the Archangel Michael appeared to Bishop Aubert of Avranches and told him to build an abbey on the island but the bishop ignored him. However after several contacts the Archangel Michael got annoyed and burned a whole into the bishops skull with his finger. This left a permanent mark and the Bishop getting the idea built an abbey. The abbey and island played a significant part in the multiple conquest of this area in fact in the 100 years war it was never taken by the enemy. Later it was used as a prison during the French revolution until 1863 when the prison was closed. In 1874 it was declared a historic monument. It has been used in many films, video games and animations and today the village is filled with hotels, restaurants and gift stores however the streets and buildings are unchanged. We walked around the battlements dodging bistro tables filled with French people drinking wine and kids on skate boards. When we go to the abbey it was empty except for the tourist and randomly placed gift shops..as it is now unused. It was very beautiful and kinda hollow feeling in the abbey but the village was very weird. Kelsey asked me if I felt like I was at the Renaissance festival. Yes, yes I did it was quite different from the other UNESCO sites we have been to…a bit like a theme park with an abbey on top of it. If you took your time and avoided the crowds at the bistros and tourist shops it was easy to see the history but you had to work at it. We all really enjoyed it as something different but when we left it was a nightmare…the parking lot is the only thing on the island outside the fortified walls and it was filled. There is one way on and one way off with a traffic light 2 km away…….so we sat in the traffic in the parking lot and road for almost 2 hours while people honked and tried to shove past each other in their cars and of course it was dark and all of the people who walked over were weaving in and out of the traffic…..organization and patience I have found is not a strong suit of the French people. The funniest part of the exit from St Michele were the signs warning you to be aware and cautious of the sheep on the roads…we did not see any sheep but I am sure they were there.
On Saturday we went to the American Cemetery and Omaha beach landing area. It was very moving and quite busy at the American Cemetery which did surprise me but it was the day after Armistice Day (a holiday to remember those killed in WW1). After we left the cemetery once again it was a bit different and a big reminder that this coastal area has seen invasion and battles for hundreds and hundreds of years. There were German battle boxes on hills between beach houses and a casino hotel backing up to a bombed out German platforms with anti tank guns in them….as I said a bit different. We ate lunch at 1 of the 2 places to eat there….the D-Day Cafe and Hotel (I am not sure about their choice of names)…. it was not great. French food and cigarette smoke….two things I am not fond of….but I am getting used to it. The decor was a bit tired but had some interesting photos of world leaders and military personnel. They had an American hamburger on the menu and Tristan decided he might have that but was not sure if it would be good…. Jeff told him how could it not be good as they have a picture of Obama on the wall. LOL Tristan had that and he said he would eat it but that is the best he would say for it…..when they brought my food and Jeff’s we both said at the same time that is not what I ordered…but well it seems it was…..my seafood pasta was basically a Lipton soup pasta side dish with about 30 unshelled muscles thrown on top…OMG… and Jeff had ordered a ham and cheese sandwich which we all still think was an omelet with a slice of meat on it… Kelsey being a bit more cautious ordered the only other American food …kids chicken nuggets which she ate 2 of as they looked a bit icky…..that and 3 sodas was 75 euro….a real bargain…but luckily they were very rude with their service so it felt like we got what we paid for. After lunch we walked the beach area and froze but it was worth it to see the cliffs and monuments that have been erected. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to see all that we wanted to see because it gets dark so early….by 5:30 it was pitch black so we will have to go back another time to see the museum in Cherbourg.
After that we headed back to Paris. Not much to see in the dark but an easy drive and of course there was the excitement of the toll booths to break it up. All was good until we got to Paris then it was crazy again. We got lost but, again GPS is ohhh so necessary here, and we got home just fine but then the parking spot hunt began….wow what a pain….an hour later we were parked a block away, half blocking a driveway and just crossing our fingers we would not get towed.
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