Paris and Normandy 2019

When hubby asked me if I’d like to go to Paris this September for a belated anniversary trip, I was all ears. We had been in 2006 for ten days and I loved it then and I knew I would love it now. Leaving three kids while mom travels overseas is no easy task and gave me some anxiety but my dear in-laws were up to the challenge and were most agreeable to staying with the kids for 7 days. David left for Paris a week earlier and I would be joining him at the tail end of his work trip. I traveled on a Wednesday and arrived in Paris Thursday around 3:00 p.m. local time. I took this bus from the airport and it was just steps from the Airbnb that hubby was already staying in, close to the Arc de Triomphe. The night I arrived, we went to dinner with his colleagues and then headed up to the Arc de Triomphe to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up.

Paris: Day One

Friday was a day to myself since hubby was working. The original plan was to meet my friend from Germany for the day but those plans changed about a week or so before my trip. I was not too keen about being all by myself touring a museum so I booked a food and wine tour with Paris by Mouth and it ended up being a delicious day! I rode the Metro(!!) and found my tour guide along with 7 other tourists waiting for me (I was the last one to arrive, oops!) in the Saint-Germaine neighborhood of the Left Bank. My tour guide is an American, married to a Frenchman and lives in Paris. She was very knowledgeable and I was envious of how well she spoke French with the locals. Our tour started at La Maison d’Isabelle, a boulangerie owned by a baker in her 30s who has won the award for the best croissant au beurre (croissant made with butter, apparently some are made with margarine. Gasp.) in the city of Paris for 2018. Her pastries and bread looked delectable but we sampled her croissants au beurre, baguette and pavé chocolat (chocolate brick, they do not make this daily so this was a treat). We then meandered next door to the fromagerie, Laurent Dubois who has earned the prestigious honor of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), a unique title that translates as the best craftsman in France. Here is a brief synopsis on what it means to earn this highly sought after award. At Laurent Dubois, we tasted 3 cow cheeses and 3 goat cheeses, all made with raw milk. One of the cheeses was washed in a walnut liqueur and was originally made by some nuns in an abbey. Next we headed to the charcuterie (next door!) where we tasted pork sausage with peppercorn, pâte de volailles à l’estragon (pork pâté with pistachios layered with chicken pâté with tarragon); mousse de canard (duck mousse); and rillettes a l’oie (shredded slow-cooked goose).

We then walked through the neighborhood, saw the Pantheon, and walked to our next stop, Patrick Roger, another MOF award winner in his specialty and another one of my favorites, chocolate. Here we witnessed some really unique creations in chocolate art and tasted  “le Rocher” (dark chocolate ganache with hazelnut praline) and my personal favorite, “le Delhi” (dark chocolate with basil and lime). It sounded like an odd combination but it tasted great!

After the chocolate samplings, we walked to our next stop, a patisserie that is tucked away in an alley. We also found the oldest café in Paris ( Café Procope, since 1686), visited by Ben Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte and Victor Hugo.

I was reminded by our tour guide to look up while walking in this neighborhood 🙂

Our last stop on the food tour was La Cave du Senat, a wine shop that had a small room in the basement for us to sample wines and the foods we had brought along from our tour. We sampled a white wine from the French Loire region, a red Burgundy and another red wine from the southwest region. Each of us got a whole baguette (!!) and we sampled all the foods mentioned above. Truly, une journée délicieuse!

That night, after a late dinner and dessert, we hopped on the Metro to try and find the accommodations we stayed in while we visited Paris in 2006. I have a very poor sense of direction but hubby found it, no problem.

Day Two and Three: Mont St. Michel and D-Day Beaches

One of the places I really wanted to visit on this particular trip was Normandy, about a 3-hour car ride northwest of Paris. On Saturday morning, we packed up our belongings and left our Airbnb and walked to a local car rental place to inquire about renting a car for 24 hours. We probably should have done this in advance since our only options this late were luxury cars. We scored a sweet ride and hubby got to live out all his fast car dreams while trying to navigate Paris traffic. 🙂 We went through lots of tunnels, paid lots of high tolls, filled up with very expensive Diesel gas and three hours later, found ourselves in the town of Genêts in the Normandy region. We wanted to stay here so that we could visit Mont St. Michel, an island that holds a medieval abbey. The abbey is surrounded by water and if at high tide, the Mont St. Michel looks like it is rising out of the water. Sadly, the tides were low that day but equally as beautiful and lots of brave souls walked on the sand surrounding Mont St. Michel. (You are supposed to have a guide help you in case the tide unexpectedly rises while you’re on the sand)

We arrived at 4:00 p.m. and were able to get into the abbey for free. We did the self-guided tour of the abbey with the help of our tour book. The climb up the stairs was considerable, narrow cobblestoned-stairs plus navigating through all the people made it a little challenging.

We made the mistake of not packing food into Mont St. Michel and the food on the island was très cher! We found that all of the little towns in this area were minimally populated and finding restaurants in general was really difficult. In the end, we ate dinner at a pub in Avranches, a small town close to Mont St.-Michel. We also walked around the square and climbed to the top of a church for some pictures in Avranches.

Mont St. Michel was our only planned sight for Normandy but due to a car-free day in Paris (no cars allowed in the city, only pedestrians) on Sunday, September 22, we would not be able to return our car into Paris until 6 p.m. So we decided we’d try and see the D-Day (the French call it Jour J) beaches of Normandy. We woke up early on Sunday and drove two hours from Genêts to Arromanches-les-bains. Our first stop was the Arromanches 360 Degree Theater. This theater shows a powerful 20-minute film called Normandy’s 100 Days. There are 9 screens that surround the viewer and show archived footage and photographs of the work that went into liberating Normandy 75 years ago. The film was very powerful and I will not forget the French woman behind us in the theater weeping openly through the entire film.

After the film, we drove west of Arromanches to visit the American D-Day sector, divided between Omaha and Utah beaches. Omaha Beach is the most familiar to Americans and where US troops suffered the most casualties. We visited three stops in this area: the German gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer, the American Cemetery and Omaha Beach itself.

Four of these German enclosed guns lie in an open field near Omaha Beach.
Walking down into the gun battery
Inside the gun battery, each gun was managed by seven soldiers and could be loaded and fired six times per minute.

After the walk around the gun battery, we drove to the WWII Normandy American Cemetery. Here there are close to 10,000 tombstones honoring the Americans who gave their lives during WWII. The visitors center was very well done and we could have easily spent more time inside. The most moving part for me was as you exit the visitor center, a voice reads the names of each of the deceased at the cemetery on a continuous loop.

After a quick stop for lunch, we headed to Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach was the most difficult to assault and nearly half of all the D-Day casualties were suffered here. It is nicknamed “Bloody Omaha.”

By this time it was close to 5 p.m. and as much as we wanted to see Utah Beach and other D-Day historical sites, we needed to head back to Paris. Traffic into Paris was horrendous and it took us over 5 hours to get back into the city. We finally found our hotel and a place for dinner at 10:30 p.m.

Day Four: Back in Paris

We returned the car 😦 and had to return to public transportation. It was a beautiful day and so we decided to purchase tickets for the Batobus , a hop-on, hop-off boat tour that stops at 9 popular locations along the Seine River. We hopped off at the Eiffel Tower stop, tried to escape all the vendors selling you their trinkets and snapped a few pictures as close as you could get to the tower without having to tour it. We stopped for lunch and I almost didn’t ask the couple next to us take our picture but I am so glad I did, it’s my favorite one of the trip.

Waiting for the Batobus at the Notre Dame stop
On the Batobus
My favorite picture.
I had the omelette avec jambon et fromage, hubby had boeuf bourguignon…with spaghetti. Who knew?

After lunch we went on a really long walk into the 7th Arrondissement to find a famous American’s apartment in Paris. I finished reading her biography right before the trip and knew I’d like to try and see her apartment while we were in Paris. Do you have any ideas on who it might be? Sadly, there were no plaques or markers on the wall commemorating her life there but I was really glad we found it. Hint: She would have turned 107 this past August.

We then walked to Notre-Dame and got to see some of the progress on the cathedral post-fire. We also walked to the Pantheon, grabbed a light dinner to go and headed to the Luxembourg Gardens to people watch and watch a storm roll in. The end to a perfect day.

Notre Dame behind us
Notre Dame
Notre Dame
Flower shop
Pantheon
The Pantheon
Luxembourg Gardens
Luxembourg Gardens
Clouds rolling in at Luxembourg Gardens

Day Five: Last Day in Paris

Our last day in Paris was cold and wet. I had one more food-related stop before we left and that was La Grande Epicerie, a gourmet food store where I wanted to purchase a few edible gifts (my favorite kind of souvenir!). It’s also highly recommended by Ina Garten so of course I had to go! 🙂

The weather really determined what we did on this day and a museum sounded like a good idea. We had done most of the big museums in 2006 so we wanted to go to a museum we hadn’t been to before so we went to La Conciergerie. It was a palace for the monarchy and during the Revolution was a prison with Marie Antoinette being its most famous prisoner before she was beheaded. I didn’t take many pictures here and I wish we had done the combined tour of La Conciergerie with Sainte-Chappelle , a chapel that houses many Christian relics, including Christ’s crown of thorns but we were running out of time.

And that brings us to the end of our trip! I found the French people to be warm and congenial this trip, even more so than last time; everyone was very polite and helpful and did not mind my weak attempts at conversing in French. 🙂 I found almost everyone spoke English really well (note to self: learn how to be fluent in more than one language) and were genuinely interested in why we were in France.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include that our trip would not have been possible without the help of my in-laws who came out for the week to watch our kids while we went away. They did the weekly shuffle of school, homework, piano, troop meetings, church and even managed to get a few fun activities in as well. They also fixed leaky faucets and cleaned out both of my freezers while we were away! We are so thankful for them!

J’aime beaucoup la France!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Steve says:

    Is the famous American Julia Child?

    Like

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