The feelings of being in Paris never die…never dull. At the end of June, we made what would be my 3rd trip to Paris, Trev’s 5th, and it captivated our senses as if it were the first. We arrived late on a Wed night, after another quick and peaceful 2-hr ride on the Eurostar, and although we worked from the Paris EMC office Thursday/Friday, we managed to spend two wonderful, long evenings in the city.
This is one of the things I’ve come to love most about Paris; that no matter the time of day, or how many hours you have available, it’s effortless to have a good time here. Set out on a walk from anywhere in the city, and you are sure to come across architecture, museums, parks, eateries, and sights you’ve not seen before. That Thursday evening, we took a long walk from our hotel, down past the Eifel Tower where we popped into a corner store for a bottle of Rose Champaign and two plastic flutes. We spent the next couple of hours laying on the soft grass of the Esplanade de Invalides, sipping our favorite bubbly, and people watching while the sunset just after 10pm. This has become another of my favorite traditions within the city of love; it’s always easily accessible to buy a bottle of bubbly, find the nearest (sure to be picturesque) park and spend time relaxing and taking in the sounds, smells and sights of the city around you.
Not surprisingly, 3 of our 4 top favorite dining experiences have taken place in Paris (the 4th being in Boston, the week before we moved to London, at Restaurant O Ya). The gastronomical cuisine in Paris is out of this world. Friday night we made a special, celebratory trip to 114 Faubourg, and there I enjoyed the best appetizer I can remember; Artichoke soup with truffle. After a bit of persuasion, the sommelier got me a printed copy of the recipe. Unbelievable food, and incredible service overall.
** I have to take a moment to explain that I was perhaps the pickiest eater in all of the United States as a child. Through college, my diet consisted primarily of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, PJB’s, and chicken. Thanks to my move to Boston where the world of Seafood opened it’s door to me, along with marrying my incredible chef of a husband, who can and will cook every cuisine in the book, soon broke the chains that bound me. Oysters, beef carpaccio, mushrooms of all varieties, duck liver pate, and runny, delicious egg yolk are items that I would never have eaten 5 years ago, but often make their way into our dishes today (some of which I would now consider my top favorites). I tell you this, as I simply can’t imagine a life without the depth and range of variety in the food I will now eat. I can’t imagine what I would have missed here on Earth, if I hadn’t opened my mind and my pallet to the world of complex cuisines around me. I urge you, if you are a picky eater, to push your own limits and try new food groups. For me, it’s added another dimension to living.
We’d been given all kinds of advice about visiting Normandy for the first time; camp on the beaches, stay for a week, hire (“rent” for my Americans) a car and drive it all… and on our first trip over, we followed none of this advice. We only had the weekend to visit, and wanted to maximize our time, so we booked a 2 day tour through Viator.com to do the planning/driving/hotel stay for us. We’ve had incredible success using Viator, and would highly recommend using them for day trip or multi-day tours all over Europe. I feel that for two days, they did a fantastic job ensuring we stopped to see the highlights of Normandy (which is a VAST area along the west coast of France). If you only have 2-3 days to visit the area, I’d recommend following a similar route, with advised timing’s as shown below.
Day 1 .
First Stop: Rouen, France. Recommended amount of time: 2-3 hours.
Rouen is the capital of the Normandy region, and was once one of the most prosperous cities in medieval Europe. Here, our tour guide took us on an hour tour through the city where we visited the Rouen Cathedral, a beautifully gothic cathedral in which Monet painted it’s Façade over 30 times in his life, and visited the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the steak in 1431. The church of St. Joan of Arc now stands in it’s place, and a cross is erected at the execution site. Both landmarks were quite powerful places to visit within the quaint city. After the walking tour, we had 30 minutes to explore the surrounding farmer’s market and collected a couple of fresh goods for the journey onward.
Second Stop: Honfleur, Brittany, France. Recommended amount of time: 3 hours.
Our next stop was one of the most picturesque villages we’ve laid eyes on to this day. Honfleur’s harbor has been captured many times by artists such as Claude Monet. Rich with color and character, as you can see in the photo above!
We visited a beautiful church in the center of Honfleur and walked the streets lined with farmer’s market items, collecting the odd tube of spice and bucket of fresh strawberries here and there. We stopped into a french toystore and bought the sweetest Teddy for our niece, Kayla’s 1st birthday and grabbed a quick lunch at one of the cafe’s lining the cobbled streets of the town. I feel that it would have been a big miss had we not come through Honfleur while visiting the Normandy area.
This stop: D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery & Memorial. Recommended amount of time: 45 min. for the beach, and 2-3 hours for the memorial.
After lunch, we boarded our bus for the ticket item destination; the D-Day beached of Normandy, where the landings occurred during WW2. Our first stop was the American landing site of Omaha beach. Our first glance of the beach immediately sent chills up our spines, as we realized the weight of the battle that once occupied it’s space. Today, the beach could be that of any other; beautifully serene waters, children building sandcastles on its shore, remaining marks of war visible only to the trained eye. The only obvious sign of the attack is an interesting and eye-catching memorial that stands maybe 20-foot tall in a small area of the sand.
The next stop is the only one in which we felt a bit short-changed on time; the American Cemetery and Memorial. The French couldn’t have provided a more beautiful plot of land, high on a hill overlooking Omaha beach, to remember our fallen soldiers. Each soldier is marked (completely at random, as to not signify ones sacrifice as greater than another) with a cross or star of David. There is also a beautiful chapel, a wall remembering the names of the lost soldiers, and an entire history museum (which we did not have the time to visit – but is said to be incredible). The grounds of the cemetery exude peace, reflection and gratitude for our incredible country.
We made one final stop at the British D-Day beach of Arromanches, where we captured photos of a beautiful Virgin Mother statue, and learned about how this beach in particular became the epicenter of ship landings for all countries in the war.
Our group spent the night in Caen, where we had dinner together at the hotel, watched Portugal vs. Croatia in the Euro finals, and hit the bed early for a full day ahead.
First stop: Saint Malo, Brittany, France. Recommended time to visit: 2 hours
Saint Malo is a walled, old port city, in the heart of Brittany. The top of the wall has a walkway leading nearly all the way around the city, giving stunning views of the ocean and island scenery. Here, we stopped for an early lunch at a café on the edge of the old city wall, where we discovered a delicious treat; the elegant galette. Similar to a crepe, I found that the galette was just a bit more crispy and thin, allowing a more full flavor to come through from your selected filling. I went for a sweet filling (surprise surprise) and Trev a savory; both were absolutely delicious and unique.
Second (and last) stop: Mont St. Michel
Being the second bucket list item of the trip, we were thrilled to visit this iconic, UNESCO World Heritage site. This historic 8th century Benedictine-abbey sits on what appears to be an island (although it just depends on the tide), seemingly out in the middle of nowhere. After taking the 5-minute shuttle, we stopped on the edge of the bridge on the far side, for the famous photo in front of Mont St. Michel. Our tour guide then walked us through the abbey, speaking to its beautiful architecture and it’s many uses over the decades including a castle, a prison, a fortification, and a pilgrimage center. The inside of the abbey is quite beautiful, but fair WARNING: the narrow, cobble-stoned street in which you exit (and the only way out of the abbey) and touristy and jam-packed with people. I did feel that it took a bit away from the site, having to end it with this walk of cheap, take-away items, but overall it was worth it, at least for the awesome photos. 😉
From there, we boarded a bus bound back to Paris. 5 hours later, we arrived home extremely satisfied of all that we were able to pack into 2 days in Normandy. We plan to visit again, for a longer period of time, hitting the places we enjoyed the most (and of course, another trip to the American Cemetery for our chance to visit the museum).