Mont St. Michel & Omaha Beach

For our final day in Normandy, we spent a magical morning at Mont St. Michel, and ended with some time at Omaha Beach.

Mont St. Michel is a rocky tidal island in Normandy, and a truly magical place. When the tide comes in, the road connecting Mont St. Michel to the mainland is buried beneath the water at which point it becomes disconnected from the mainland!

While the island has been a strategic point in holding fortifications, it is also well known for the Saint-Michel monastery. You have to climb on top of the island to get to the monastery, which is just massive.  You don’t expect something of this size on what is literally an island for half the day. One of my favourite experiences (I tend to say that a lot, but I swear I mean it!)

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Omaha Beach was really different from Juno. While there were families and children playing at both Juno and Omaha, Omaha has a lot more physical marks from the war. After climbing up the hill we found some trenches, and being up on the cliff and looking down, it wasn’t hard to picture the terror the soldier’s must have felt before rushing to shore. The cliff is very intimidating, and there is a very clear view from the top.

We made time for the Omaha War Museum, but it was disappointing after having seeing all the care put into the Juno Beach Museum (and run by Canadians).

 And with that we returned to Paris for one last night, before catching a flight out in the morning.

Honfleur, Trouville-sur-Mer, Caen & Juno Beach

Our second day in Normany consisted of spending time in Honfleur, Trouville-sur-Mer, Caen and ending with Juno Beach and the Canadian cemetery. It was a day of mixed emotions.

While I did not enjoy Honfleur in the pitch black the night before, it was a lovely town during the day.  Sometime during this trip I picked up a nasty cold, and of course no one spoke English in Normandy.  So I wandered to the pharmacy with my friend Kate who spoke passable French, and was given the best pills I’ve ever taken for a cold.  One of my greatest regrets is not finding out what I took. Literally the minute I took them my nose cleared and my throat stopped hurting. I could finally stop blowing my nose every minute in the car. Anyways, back to Honfleur.

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From Honfleur we drove to Trouville-sur-Mer. I’ve been told that this is the rich seaside town where celebrities purchase their summer homes.  Obviously, I will live here one day as well.

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It’s hard writing upside down!

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And the beach had a great playground we couldn’t resist giving a try!

We didn’t stay here too long, as we had an actual city to go to! In Caen the girls and guys split, and we had a fantastic time. It’s a large, vibrant town with a ton to see! I went to a chapel, an abbey and climbed the castle walls that they have in the center of the town. This was my first real window shopping day as I walked from one side of town to the other. We didn’t have too much time here, as we had to make it to Juno Beach, but the time that was spent here was spent well.

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Our last stop of the day was at Juno Beach and the Canadian Cemetery. Juno Beach was were the Canadians landed on D-Day during WWII, and was one of the most successful operations carried out on the day. This part of the day was sobering, to say the least. We stayed until the sun set and we were forced.

 

 

 

 

 

Château Gaillard, Étretat & Fécamp

After 3 full days in Paris it was time to move on … or in this case, north.  At one point in the planning process, it was suggested that we rent a car and drive around Normandy.  It took very little convincing to get everyone to agree.

There were 6 of us going, so we needed a mini-van, which we obviously named The Beast.

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THE BEAST.  Cam and Aidan were our driver and navigator respectively.  Matt and Kate took the middle, and Janetta and I squeezed in the back.

Our first stop was Château Gaillard, otherwise known as Richard the Lionheart’s Castle. All that’s left now is in ruins, but it’s very easy to see why he choose this spot to build. It’s at the top of a hill, and you’d be able to see your enemies coming from a mile a way.

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Our next stop was the town of Étretat.  It’s famous for the Elephant’s Tusk rock formation, which was absolutely one of my favourite parts of this trip. There’s a path you can walk that will take you to the other side of the tusk, and provides great close up shots, as well a view of the town.

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Our third stop of the day was at Fécamp, a very cute beach town, with a wonderful beach, boardwalk and waterfall.  What isn’t to love!

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From here we drove to Honfleur in the pitch black.  The problem with country roads is that there are no lights.  What should have taken no time at all took 2 hours to finally find our accommodation.  Thank god for Cam and his cool head, as we were forced to turn back in the dark on the side of a hill, where we almost got stuck.  He got us there safely, and I was most thankful not to be the driver.

There was an incident in the shower that night involving a wine bottle and a knife, but that’s all I’ll go into on that topic.

 

Paris, Day 3

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The majority of my third day in Paris was spent at the Louvre. The Louvre is big. In fact, I think it rivals the Palace of Versaille in size, what with both originally being palaces. I hadn’t expected to see all of it, but was pleasantly surprised when I left and discovered I had gone through most of it.

As an added bonus I got in for free! The first Sunday of every month is free museum day, and what would you know, I was in Paris the first Sunday of March. Even though I’m not a huge museum person, I knew I had to go to the Louvre, and getting in free just made it even better!

At the time of my visit, these exhibitions were on:
Egyptian, Oriental, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquites, Islamic, African, Asian, Oceanic and North and South American arts.

From the Louvre we went to a few other art galleries, including the Musee D’Orsay where I saw Monet’s Water Lilies (no pictures were allowed).  But my favourite part of the Musee D’Orsay was the very plentiful seating provided in the middle of the first floor of the gallery. When half the group decided we had seen enough (myself included) we were able to hang out together in the gallery while waiting for our friends to finish.

That took up most of the day, but instead of returning to our hostel in Montmartre, we  took a walk along the Seine to the Statue of Liberty, and hung around in order to see the sights light up at night.

Side note: Gustave Eiffel, the man who designed the Eiffel tower, also built and transported the Statue of Liberty. As such, Paris also has a small statue of liberty.

Paris, Day 2

Our second full day in Paris was when we saw most of the city. We walked from Notre-Dame to Cleopatra’s Needle, the Arc de Triumph and the Eiffel Tower, with the most delicious bakery stops on the way. And I when I say walked, I mean walked.  The metro was great, but we wanted to be out and wander the streets of Paris. Plus the weather was lovely, so why not be outside.

The day started with some fresh bread and cheese (yum!), and then off we went to Notre-Dame.

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The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world.  The architectural detail was unbelievable.

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We then took to wondering the streets, and picked up some food and pastries to enjoy on the walk.

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A Parisian hot dog (2 hot dogs in a baguette covered in melted cheese)

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One large and very delicious raspberry macaroon

We eventually made it to Cleopatra’s Needle. Cleopatra’s Needle is a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. The ruler of Egypt and Sudan, Muhammad Ali, presented the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk to France in 1826. King Louis-Philippe had it placed in the centre of Place de la Concorde in 1833 near the spot where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had been guillotined in 1793. Given the technical limitations of the day, transporting it was difficult — on the pedestal are diagrams explaining the machinery used for its transportation. The red granite column rises 23 metres high, including the base, and weighs over 250 tonnes. Missing its original cap, believed stolen in the 6th century BC, in 1998 the government of France added a gold-leafed pyramid cap to the top of the obelisk. The obelisk is flanked by two fountains constructed at the time of its erection on the Place.

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I also had a much closer view of the Eiffel Tower, which we’d be visiting later in the day.

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Not to far away was the Arc de Triomphe. It’s one of the most famous monuments in Paris and honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. You can climb approximately 206 steps to go to the top to see views but I didn’t feel like paying the 6 euroes or climbing that many steps. There’s a lot of detail on the arch itself, so I was able to keep myself occupied on ground level.

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The car is there for scale.

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And then it happened.  The moment I had always been waiting for.  I was going at the Eiffel Tower!

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The view from the various levels.  As we got higher it got progressively colder, so more and more layers were added as necessary.

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From seeing the sites to getting lost wondering the streets of Paris to spending time in Sephora’s flagship store (sorry Ryan and Cam!), it was just the perfect day.

Paris, Day 1

Our first full day in paris started with a visit to the catacombs, and ended with a trip to the Palace of Versailles. Two very different experiences.

Paris Catacombs
The catacombs holds the remains of about 6 million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris’ stone mines. When they first started using the mine as a tomb, they had just threw the bones and skulls anywhere.Once it became consecrated ground, the priests thought the remains should be treated better and thus they were piled as they are seen now. It was a bit disturbing to see be surrounded by human skulls and bones, so I’m okay not going back … ever.

Palace of Versailles
On the other hand, I’d love to spend a lot more time at Palace of Versailles.  From wondering around inside to exploring the grounds, there is so much to see and do.  Probably a bit too big for me to comfortably live in (probably), and at times a bit too gaudy, but perfect to see and admire.

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When we first got off the metro, I thought this was our destination.

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I then turned around and saw this. My mistake.

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We eventually made it inside, where I got to take in the overwhelming amount of gold everywhere, and get my first glimpse of the grounds.

There was a throne exhibit while I was there, which was remarkable to see.

And then we made it to the grounds, with lots of time left to explore.

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From Versailles, we took the metro back to the city.  But as we neared the hostel, we realized this day deserved one more thing – wine!  Thankfully there was a corner store nearby that had lots available, along with cups, corkscrews, and a handy cashier who wanted to commemorate the moment.

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Paris

We got a two week break from school in March and decided to use this to our advantage.  To start things off, I went to the continent for the first time! We spent three and a half days in Paris, and made sure to see as much as possible.  We’d be out of the hostel as early as possible each morning, and stay our as late as we could, in order to try and see all the things Paris at to offer.  It was exhausting, but there we all wanted to see as much as possible.

We were staying near Sacré-Cœur Basilica, so started our trip with a visit there, and explored the area. There wasn’t much else we had time for that first day, but we made up for it in the days to come.