Our adventure continues exploring Paris. Make sure to have read Part 1 and Part 2 of our travel journal for the rest of our trip and then get ready to continue into the final chapter featuring a day trip out to Normandy and visiting the top of the Eiffel Tower. Read on to learn more…
Day 5: A Step Back in History
Normandy Tour by Bus
While we were making the trip all the way to Paris, history lover Andrew’s one request was to visit Normandy to see the famous World War II sites. While these areas aren’t near the city there are tour groups that make the visit possible in a day trip. We used viator.com (a booking agency for the various tour groups in the Paris region) and selected an excursion by Paris City Vision included pick up and drop off in the city, travel by bus, a guide, entrance fees, and a very robust lunch.
The tour office was right next to the Louvre so we did have to get up super early to make it over to the pick up point by Metro that morning. The scheduled departure time was 7:00 but we departed late because the usual roads the bus takes were blocked off. We soon found that booking this tour on a Saturday ended up being perfect to escape the city as Yellow Jacket demonstrations were occurring that day. Once we were on the move, it was about a 2:30 minute ride to our first destination, which was the Musee Memorial de Caen.
The museum isn't that large but it does have some fascinating artifacts and areas to explore. Once we got off the bus, we were given a set amount of time to explore before rejoining the group for lunch in the museum cafeteria. There are multiple exhibit areas to explore along with an actual German Bunker, which the museum sits on top of. All of the signs explaining the areas and artifacts are in multiple languages, including English. There is also a decent sized gift shop where we picked up a few small things.
Lunch: At the Museum
When we heard lunch was provided by the museum cafeteria we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised. We were sat at tables together with other folks from our bus. There was quite the portion of food served and it was all very good. It was great to have a plentiful meal to last throughout the long tour day. This is what was served:
Sparkling wine before the meal and Red Wine for the table
A Salad plate course including some meats as well as bread.
A meal of beef, potatoes and green beans.
A desert plate and coffee
After lunch, we headed back to the bus for our next stop, which was Pointe-du-Hoc. This is probably the most well known landing site in Normandy. The entire area is as it was during the war. The German bunkers and underground tunnels are still there and still passable. There are bomb craters 15+ feet deep. We were given roughly 30-45 minutes to explore on our own here and the time went fast. It was just unreal to be standing in the exact same encasement's that the Germans stood and and looking over the cliff that the Allied troops had to scale. It really adds to the experience that they haven't done anything to this area since the war. Visitors are free to roam into any and all bunkers, including tunnels that were so dark that we didn't dare go in too deep.
Our next stop would be about 20-30 minutes at Omaha Beach where a large memorial is located in the sand. The structure here is simplistic yet impressive. The guide said it was to represent the troops coming out of the ocean to liberate France with flags once again speak to the parties involved. An interesting fact is the sand in this area still contains 3% of shrapnel from the war. It is incredible how long the beach is and how far the soldiers had to go to get off the beach.
The American Cemetery
One of the most sobering stops was the Cemetery where Americans were buried that died in Europe during the war. To see the number of headstones really puts into perspective what kind of effort it took to liberate France and end the war. This memorial site is managed by the U.S. parks service and features a few different areas to see. (Note: The Visitor Center was closed while we were there so we can't speak to that.) The first memorial features columns and a wall that show where exactly the various army's landed and their movements to secure the area shortly after landing. There is also a small chapel in the middle of the cemetery, which has some amazing detail inside. And of course most people also just stroll through the cemetery and taking it all in. Visitors are not allowed on the grass but you can still get close enough to read a few along the walkways.
Temporary Portable Harbour
The final stop on our tour was the location of the major port built by the allies shortly after D-Day. Just like in other locations, they left quite a bit behind here after the war. There are still quite a few floating concrete barges in the water pretty much where they were during the war. A few managed to find their way on to land and visitors are able to walk right up to them. This gives people an idea of how massive the landing operation was as these barges are enormous.
On the beach, there is a leaning stack of the smaller barges but also one larger one that people can walk right up to and inside of. This site is located in a small sea village where there was a little time for quick snack or shopping break. We stopped at an ice cream shop and Julie got to try Violet ice cream.
Ride Back and Final Thoughts
On the way back, about halfway to Paris, we stopped at what amounts to a typical rest stop you would find on a turnpike in the US. Because of driver regulations in France, the driver is required to take a 30 minute rest after so many hours of driving. We both got a sandwich and chips for dinner and ate at the rest stop. It felt like a long ride back after a long day and we made it back to their Paris in office shortly before 9:00 PM.
Andrew had been really looking forward to this since the day we booked our Paris trip and really enjoyed it. The tour was very well done and it was interesting to see historic spots in person. However, with that being said we wouldn't book this trip again. It was super long day and there was so much crammed in we felt somewhat rushed. If we were to do another Normandy trip in the future, we would rather spend more time up in the area to relax and perhaps do a smaller group tour that was more intimate. The next time in Paris we would consider another day trip as well, perhaps a wine tour.
Day 6: Saving the Best Parisian Icon for Last
The Eiffel Tower
What’s a trip to Paris without going up the iconic Eiffel Tower? While our Paris Pass included so many sights for our trip, it did not include access to the Eiffel Tower so we chose to do this on a day after our pass was expired. While doing some research, we found out that the lines for the tower can be extremely long so we decided to help mitigate that by purchasing our tickets and reserving our spot ahead of time.
They release the tickets and times roughly 2 months in advance and there are two to choose from; second floor access or summit access. We chose the summit access because why not go all the way right? After checking the Eiffel Tower website daily, we were able to purchase our tickets on April 8 for a Sunday, May 19 visit. We weren’t sure this was necessary but we had a specific day and time in mind and wanted to make sure we got it. Turned out we did the right thing as the lines to purchase tickets were quite long when we arrived.
Unfortunately for us, the weather that morning was the worst we had all week (we can’t complain as the rest of the week was amazing!) While it made for frizzy hair and foggy views we still enjoyed our visit…
Upon arriving at the base of the tower, visitors first go through security. Then we proceeded to the elevator area. The first elevator ride moves diagonally and takes guests to the main, large platform of the tower. Everyone gets off here but since we were going all the way up, we made our way to another set of elevators that go straight up to the top. It was amazing to be inside of this huge structure and be up so high. So high that some of our view was in and out of the clouds during our visit. You could walk all the way around for some views, there were some telescopes as well. The tower featured some fun facts and signs around the area and the top featured a bar for a celebratory glass of champagne!
After awhile we took the elevator back down to the middle floor, we were surprised how much room there was here to house a restaurant, shop, and more. There were some unique views including a floor with glass to see through to below. When we were done we headed all the way down to take some pictures from the ground as well. It was very cool to see this iconic building and experience it from within. Before heading back to the hotel we checked out some of the street vendors to buy some mini towers to take home as well as enjoy an authentic crepe.
Off to Our Next Destination: Disneyland Paris!
After finishing up at the Eiffel Tower, it was time to say au revoir to Paris. We headed back to the Belmont to pick up our luggage to head out of the city. The hotel was only about 3 blocks from the RER station underneath the Arc de Triumph so we decided to walk It was a little tough with our luggage but easy enough to naviagte.
Quick note: our credit cards did not work in the ticket machines because our cards (American) do not have pins. The ticket machines require a pin to purchase a ticket. Luckily, we were able to buy tickets at the booth. Once we had those in hand, we went down the escalator and followed the signs to the RER A Line to Marne-la-Vallee, which is the Disneyland Paris stop and also the end of the line.
Stay tuned to read all about our Disneyland Paris adventure!