An adventure along the Seine River and heart of Normandy
Jacob finished his last full semester of college and what better way to celebrate than an adventure to Normandy. Jacob is a WWII genius and has a passion for learning history, so my Mom and grandmother thought it would be an educational experience of a lifetime for him to step foot on the D-Day landing beaches. Luckily, they let me tag along! We spent 3 days in Paris and boarded the Viking Rolf for a week long adventure.
Thursday May 10
We arrived in Paris jet lagged x 100 but we were so happy to be there. You could’ve found me in a lobby lounger with a blank stare and crazy looking smile. We checked in to the Marriott Paris Opera Ambassador hotel and that evening our guide, Fatima, gave us a brief 30 min walking tour around the area. My favorite building we passed was the opera house, or Palais Garnier. Interestingly enough, this opera house is the one that inspired the creation of The Phantom of the Opera. When the opera house was being built, they discovered the groundwater to be unexpectedly high. Long story short, they tried constantly to dry up the site but repeatedly failed until they incorporated an enormous concrete cistern. Hence, many said the opera house was built over a subterranean lake. If you ever have seen Phantom of the Opera, you know that the phantom lives under an opera house by a lake.
Friday May 11
After breakfast, we met in the lobby around 9am and jetted off to the subway with our guide for a walking tour. We walked through the different areas nearby & received ALOT of history.
My favorite was the cathedral, Paroisse Saint Paul Saint Louis, which at the time was first of many to come. It was constructed from 1627 to 1641 by the orders of Louis XIII.
We also came across an old city wall that dated back to the 12th century!
After the walking tour we ventured out and somehow found our way to the Seine river. It was at this moment that I realized how crippling it was for a millennial to be swiped of google maps & have to read an ACTUAL map. Thankfully, super mom rose to the challenge and figured it out. What would we do without moms. In the midst of this adventure, we passed a chocolatier shop and didn’t think twice about going in when the smell reached our nose. It was called Chocolot Macaron Auzou. My mom bought a few “Succès” pastries, which based off my tasting experience was meringue with some type of flavored cream on it. Were they good? By that night they were all eaten. Once we approached the Seine, we bought tickets (good for 24 hours) to ride the BatoBus, which is basically a river boat taxi that made multiple stops along the Seine’s most popular spots.
We rode it all the way to the other end and got off at the Eiffel tower stop. We admired the Eiffel tower from a distance and waited in line for about 30 minutes to get in under it. Our original plan was to go up into the tower but that soon changed when we saw the lines. I was told that the best time to go up into the Eiffel tower is early in the morning (8am-ish) before the mass crowds. So that’s on the list for next time! We then walked right down the street to Brasserie de la Tour Eiffel for a late lunch.
We then walked along the Seine until we reached the Pont Alexandre III bridge. It is one of the most ornate bridges in Paris. It is named after Tsar Alexander III. His son, Nicholas II (Anastasia Romanov’s father!!), laid the foundation stone in October 1896.
After this stop, we trekked back to the hotel. We definitely got our steps in.
Saturday May 12
We awoke and prepared for a walking tour of Montemartre which was probably one of my most favorite walking tours. We took the subway to Abbesses and walked down the street to the funicular (basically an elevator that by passed hundreds of inclined steps). Once at the top, we explored Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur and walked throughout the neighborhood and to the market where we had lunch and explored.
It was here that we bought our French macaroons at Biscuiterie de Montmartre!
When we arrived back to the hotel, we made our way to the mall just down the street called Galeries Lafayette. The mall had a wonderful city view terrace on the top floor.
Sunday May 13
We boarded our ship, Viking Rolf, on the Seine river in La Pecq. After we unpacked, we enjoyed a walking tour in the western suburbs of Paris known as St. Germain en Laye and throughout a castle that has undergone restoration, Chateau de St. Germain en Laye. This castle was built in 1122 and has gone through the hands of Louis VI, Louis IX, Charles V, Louis IX, Francois 1st, Henri II, Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Jacques II, Napoleon 1st…. I’ll stop here because it was early on that I realized I’m in need of a major French history lesson.
Monday May 14
We did another excursion in Paris with a guide. We went to the Louvre and saw highlights like the Mona Lisa and Leonardo da Vinci paintings.
We also saw ancient Greek antiquities from BC years!
We then went to Notre Dame, it was as breathtaking as you’d imagine. The only disappointment was not meeting Quasimodo.
After walking through, we snuck into a small café nearby, Les Euros Notre Dam, for some amazing hot chocolate. It was perfect for that cold and rainy day.
We quickly walked to our meeting spot to join the rest of our tour group and we all went to a restaurant for lunch called Flottes. We weren’t sure what we were being served exactly but we concluded it was similar to a burgundy beef type recipe with potatoes.
After lunch, we stopped by the Eiffel tower one more time for a photo op. On the way there we passed by Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb in Dome des Invalides. We didn’t have a chance to walk around inside but that is on the list for next time!
Tuesday May 15
We arrived in Vernon, a small village in the Normandy region in northern France. It also happens to be near Claude Monet’s house and famous Japanese gardens in Giverny. We took a quick 10 minute bus ride to the Foundation Claude Monet and walked around his restored gardens and home.
Later that day we took a walking tour through the city of Vernon. We saw another amazing gothic cathedral built between the 11th and 17th century.
Wednesday May 16
We enjoyed some morning cruising on the Seine. It was nice to take a moment and soak up the country side of Normandy. We arrived in Rouen around 1pm and took a walking tour through the city. There was alot of sight seeing revolving around Joan of Arc, a french heroine, burned at the stake in Rouen for heresy and perjury.
Thursday May 17
This was the day that we had all been waiting for, the opportunity to step foot on the D-Day Landing beaches. During the trip, I had the privilege to meet 2 women whose fathers stormed Omaha beach and I felt so lucky to have just done that. We started off the morning early (the bus trip to the beaches was about 2 hours) and arrived at the D-Day Museum on Gold beach. It was a great museum with so many interesting artifacts from the times of WWII. It was also in this area were we could view Mulberry Harbor remains.
We then took a bus over to a German battery. The picture below provides more details.
We then headed over to Omaha beach. It was emotional as soon as you looked out the window of the bus as it drove along the shoreline highway. After we parked, we were able to go down to the beach and look out at the rolling waves. The US 1st and 29th division together suffered around 2,000 casualties at Omaha beach and though it was referred to as bloody Omaha afterwards, it now has a beaming memorial known as “Les Braves”. This experience will always remind me of the high price and sacrifice young men and women have paid for our freedom.
Friday May 18th
We arrived in Les Andelys which was probably my favorite “little village” in Normandy. The big attraction was Richard the Lion Heart’s castle known as Chateau Gaillard, built in the 12th-century.
My favorite part was the view.
Saturday May 19th
We arrived back in Paris. We took a walking tour of the Palace of Versailles. My favorite part was the Hall of Mirrors and amazing garden. We were lucky enough to arrive on a day when they turned on the fountains!
Later that day, we went to Château de Malmaison, which was a house bought in 1799 by Joséphine and Napoléon Bonaparte. We toured the interior of the home as well as the gardens which had black swans!
Sunday May 20th
Time to head to the airport and back to Texas! (little did we know our flight would be cancelled due to a mechanical issue that could only be fixed by a part stored in the US… but we made it home Monday and were eternally thankful to arrive into the San Antonio airport.)
Below are some pictures taken from the ship along our voyage as well as the interior of the ship–
This was Jacob & my first trip to Europe. We are so thankful that we got to go & look forward to another trip some time in the future. France is rich in history and seems as though its truly another world. Maybe next time we’ll know a little more French.
Until next time!
Things for me to remember next time:
- Try to book a flight back to the U.S. as early in the morning as possible (last flights leave around 1-2pmish)
- Seats behind the bulk head are worth the extra $$ if you’re tall!!
- Fill out the US Customs form if its offered to you so that you can bypass the kiosks.
- If you book flights months in advance, follow up with it around 3 months before your trip (ours changed & we never got an email).
- Make sure to bring an outlet adapter! The outlets are not the same as the outlets in the US. Heat products used on hair need to be dual voltage.
- Make sure to have snacks on hand when you get to Europe. (Jacob woke up around 2am starving bc his body wasn’t used to the time change and there was not a single vending machine in the hotel.)
- Before you leave the airport get your euros!
- Be prepared to pay euros for taxi rides (they don’t like cards)
- Take cross body bags to avoid pickpocketers.
- Always have a plan B if you’re are doing transportation on your own, there are frequent French rail strikes.