Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First couple of days of France Tour

August 25th
We got to O'Hare airport early and relaxed in the United Club. The plane boarded and departed a little late. I watched "The Croods" during the early part of the flight and then tried to get some sleep after dinner was served. Janet & Zoe had difficulty sleeping on the flight but I slept ok. Janet had to wake me up when they were serving breakfast just before landing.

August 26th
We landed at CDG, cleared passport control, and collected our luggage. We were surprised that we did not need to go through any customs station, but were able to exit directly after claiming our bags. We obtained our rental car from SIXT. It is an Opel Astra. 6 speed manual transmission, diesel engine, and plenty of room for our bags.  We drove from CDG to Rouen where we stopped and toured on foot. We saw the old St Ouen abbey and cathedral, then walked to the huge Notre Dame cathedral at Rouen, famously painted more than 30 times by Monet. We had lunch in an outdoor cafe next to the cathedral, then toured the inside. After touring the cathedral we walked down Rue du Gros Horloge to see the Great Clock with one hand. From there we walked to the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.

We left Rouen and drove to Omaha beach and saw the memorial to the US forces that landed there on June 6 1944. From there we drove to La Pointe du Hoc and saw the remains of the bunkers and gun emplacements that were faced by the US Rangers who scaled the cliffs there to attack them. Then we drove to our hotel in Caen for the night. The hotel was small and the room was too, but comfortable enough.  We had a good dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant and returned to finally lay our heads down and get some sleep.

August 27th.
We got up before 7am and had breakfast at the hotel. Zoe is an organized traveller and was ready to go quickly. We drove to the American Cemetery near Omaha beach in Normandy, and toured there for a while before starting our drive to Mont Saint-Michel.  Our car has a built in navigation unit, and we allowed it to direct us to our destination. I was skeptical because instead of putting us on the major highway that Google Maps directions indicated, it kept taking us down narrow country lanes and through tiny French villages. In the end, we arrived at our destination in the same amount of time that Google had allocated, and our trip was much more entertaining.

Mont Saint Michel was very crowded. The narrow shop lined streets leading to the abbey entrance were packed with people.  There was a long line of people standing on the stairs waiting to buy tickets for the abbey tour, but it moved along fairly well, and once inside the crowd thinned out and we were able to tour at our own pace. Mont Saint Michel is very impressive viewed from the ground, and the views looking down from the upper levels are equally impressive. There are a lot of stairs to climb, and just as many to descend, so our legs were pretty tired when we finished.

We left Mont Saint Michel and drove back to CDG to return our rental car.  Most of the drive was uneventful but we started running low on gas as we neared Paris. We estimated that we had enough, and didn't want to stop twice for gas before returning the car, so we pressed on. But about 20 miles from the airport the Low Fuel warnings came on, and at the same time we encountered a traffic jam on the freeway, so we exited and started looking for a fuel station which was a small adventure in itself. I was sure we were never critically low on fuel, but I think Zoe got a little nervous. :)

We finally got our car returned, and then took the RER train from the airport into central Paris. From there we had to switch to a Metro line, and there were no elevators or escalators between the track levels which made it challenging getting all our suitcases and backpacks up and down the stairs. At one point, I had carried one suitcase down, and was headed back up the stairs to help Janet who was struggling to carry hers, when some guy started yelling at another guy who apparently had unzipped Janet's backpack and grabbed something out of it as she was struggling with her suitcase. The first guy managed to retrieve Janet's belongings from the other guy who took off running. It turned out the guy had only grabbed a pouch of nail files because Janet is a savvy packer and wouldn't have anything of value in such an accessible location. But it was unsettling to realize that she had just been nearly robbed by a pickpocket.

We made it the rest of the way to our hotel without incident, and had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. Tomorrow we begin touring Paris.

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