D-Day Archives - Paris with Scott
D-Day Beaches in One Day

D-Day Beaches in One Day

On a January visit to Paris, three of us wanted to take a day trip to visit the D-Day beaches.  In our planning, we were limited because of the number of daylight hours during January and because of the train schedule.  We also wanted a private tour in English to see the beaches, hear the history again, see the American Cemetery, ask questions easily and be where U.S. troops had been during WWII.

The middle of January may not be the ideal time to visit the windy beaches of Normandy, but I was lucky enough to find Sabrina Pitois of Normandy Excursions & Tours. We exchanged emails and she was ready to take us on a tour. She and I arranged everything with train times and what we wanted to see.

And, as our visit got closer, she looked at the weather and wrote advising us to wear waterproof shoes/boots. (Thank goodness we took her advice!) Once more, before we left the United States, she wrote confirming our details along with a wish for a good flight.  Her attention to detail and concern really made us feel comfortable and happy with choosing her to guide us.

Train Travel (and an odd delay)

Gare Saint-Lazare 3 Story Station
Waiting for the big board to show the track for the train to Caen.

One day after arrival to Paris, we went to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station to travel to Caen, switch trains, then travel to Bayeux.  The train from Paris was late.  After some time, I heard an announcement that we were late because of a malfunctioning door.  We finally left Paris and Sabrina called and texted to let me know that she had checked at the Bayeux station and found out about our delay.

Gare Saint Lazare Station
Gare Saint-Lazare;
go take a look at the Monet painting of the same view.

Our ticketed train from Caen to Bayeux had left the station, but, Sabrina had called the Caen station, found out the time for the next train, and explained all of it to me.  (She would have driven to Caen to pick us up, but it was a 45 minute drive and the train only takes about 12 minutes, so her picking us up would have created even more of a delay.)  Again, it was reassuring for her to check on us, advise us of the time of the next train and explain what we needed to do.

Since we did not have a ticket for the next train, I took our tickets to the ticket station and asked the representative for help.  He turned over my printed ticket and wrote a note on the back and stamped it.  We were ready for the next leg of our journey!

What About Lunch?

But, another change of plans was lunch.  We were going to eat along the way with Sabrina, but decided we should eat at the Caen train station to save time.  No real old-time café in the station, but we found a kind of pop-up stand and grabbed baguette sandwiches and waters.  When we were on the quick train ride from Caen to Bayeux, we made a little picnic as the countryside whizzed by us.  (Sabrina had also texted me to find some food there, but I had turned my phone off so didn’t get her message until we arrived in Bayeux.)

Bayeux Station

When we arrived at the Bayeux station, Sabrina was there to meet us – smiling on the platform, in the gusting wind, with a sign with my name on it.  She greeted us as friends, then we hopped in her van and immediately took off toward Pointe du Hoc.

Soaked in History

During our drives and while visiting, Sabrina explained so much history, answered questions, pointed out interesting sights along the way, and told the story of D-Day: from how it was planned to what actually happened, to the outcome on those days at the beginning of the liberation of France.  We were late to start with, but Sabrina got us going and gave us plenty of time at each stop.

Pointe du Hoc

Pointe du Hoc Monument
Memorial to the U.S. Rangers at Pointe du Hoc.

First, we visited Pointe du Hoc, where the first Rangers came into Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944.  The battlefield above the beach has been left as it was except for erecting a monument.  Craters are all over the area as well as giant bombed casemates that were built to house the German big guns aimed on the Allies.  Visitors can also walk in and around a dormitory/command post built by the Germans for their defense of Normandy.

German Command Post/Dormitory at Pointe du Hoc
German bunker/dormitory at Pointe du Hoc.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach; D-Day Beaches
Look way in the distance;
5 miles of beach (from this point)
for the Americans to assault on D-Day.

Next, we went to Omaha Beach.  Sabrina explained how Operation Neptune was the largest naval assault in history while showing us how the beach stretched for miles down the coast.  She explained the tides and how important those and the moon phase was to the military operation.  She had great enlarged photos that provided a great overview and she even told stories of some of the people in the photos.

American Cemetery

American Cemetery with Memorial
Headstones with Memorial in the distance at the American Cemetery.

Then, Sabrina drove us above Omaha Beach to the American Cemetery.  The entire cemetery inspires reverence.  White crosses and Stars of David stretch across the acres of lawn.  A memorial and chapel on either ends are dedicated to Americans who lost their lives.  American flags fly over head.  From the edge of the bluff, you can see how easy the Germans had it for picking off American soldiers trying to scurry from the beach to the bluff.  We happened to be at the cemetery when they lowered the American flag while playing a recorded version of taps. Here is the video of lowering the U.S. Flag at the American Cemetery. A truly memorable visit.

Gold Beach

Gold Beach Destroyed German Guns
Casemate and remains of German
gun blasted by artillery from a ship, far offshore.

After quietly leaving the American Cemetery, we went on some back roads to Gold Beach.  Road construction was blocking two of the main roads, but no problem for Sabrina!  She grew up near here and knew how to easily navigate alternate routes on very narrow, one-lane roads.  (No GPS required!)

At Gold Beach, we could see the giant German guns inside their casemates.  From these sites in France, the Germans could fire shots targeting Allied ships.  Amazing to hear the story and see it in person at the same time.

Return to Paris

Sadly, our train back to Paris would soon depart. So Sabrina drove us back to the Bayeux station telling stories of the countryside on the way.  She even went into the station with us to make sure our train was on time.  Then, Sabrina told us goodbye and bon voyage.

On a lighter note, Sabrina showed us some big, old mansions along the way and also told us about Normande cattle.  The Normande is a local dairy (or beef) cow that has red or brown spots on a white coat as well as patches of color around its eyes.  They dot the countryside and produce excellent milk.  Normande cattle are beautiful on the green fields with their mottled white and brown colors.  It was sweet to see a little calm country atmosphere while on such a somber visit to battlefields.

Normandy dairy cow
Normandy cow; vache Normande

Sabrina’s attention to detail, her knowledge, her care for us (and her driving skills) are unsurpassed!  Unless you want to spend a couple of days going to all of the beaches, this was more than enough to really get a feel for D-Day.  If you go, do not skip the American Cemetery.  It was my second visit and it is definitely worth a visit or two in your lifetime.  Again, although it is a somber day, no one could have made our trip more enjoyable or memorable than Sabrina.

If you go to Paris and want to go to Normandy, I highly recommend Sabrina at Normandy Excursions & Tours.  Make arrangements well in advance.

Sabrina Pitois
Normandy Excursions & Tours
Guided Group and Private Tours in Normandy
Email: [email protected]
Tél.: +33 6 16 45 32 14

Official website:  https://www.normandy-excursions-and-tours.com/

Normandy Excursion & Tours
Recent Observations Visiting Paris

Recent Observations Visiting Paris

Each trip to Paris brings new insights into traveling.  Both for traveling in general and for traveling specifically to Paris.  This recent January trip was perfect!  How could it not be?  It is Paris, after all.

We were greeted with snow, then with rain on and off for a few days.  The nights were chilly with low clouds, but then the sun shone through at times making the city sparkle.  Generally, the weather does not affect my enjoyment of Paris, but it does determine how to pack and how to plan.

In addition to all of the information on traveling to Paris on this site, such as this packing list, here are a few recent observations.  Also, a little tattle on myself for not following my own suggestions!

Work on Paris Sidewalk
Interesting observation – work on the sidewalk.

Map and Guidebook for Traveling

I forgot a map of Paris!!!  And, a guidebook.  I always bring them.  Not this time.  I completely forgot them while I was trying to get the dog to camp before starting to pack (so she wouldn’t be stressed).  I always pack the night before or the day of the flight (not suggested), but I have always done it that way.  As the trip approaches, I usually make a pile of things to put in my suitcase.  But this time, I just forgot a map and guidebook.  It is on the list I use to pack – but I misplaced my list the day before leaving!  Not a good idea.  Keep your list for packing with your suitcase!

Hotel Choices

In Paris, we stayed in a more reasonably priced hotel so that we could splurge on a few specials.  Like the day trip to the Normandy D-Day Beaches, a show at the Lido, a food tour of the Marais, and of course, a special ride with Champagne in Guillaume’s Citroën DS!!

Taxis and Ride Hailing Services

G7 is a taxi service in Paris.  A little while back, I downloaded the G7 app.  It was terrific.  It is quick and easy to enter the destination.  Meaning no fumbling with using the wrong number in French or mispronouncing street names – all while the taxi driver speaks faster and faster French to you.  Besides, it explained, in English, what kind of car was coming with contact information.  Then, I could see the car on its way with an estimated time of arrival and more.  Just like popular ride sharing apps.

G7 app
G7 App gives the love to Paris travelers.

One of my friends tried Uber and it was a 30 minute wait.  Same when I tried it.  In the past it has worked well, but not so great this time.  Do not know the reasons why, but it is great to have options.  Also, if you link the G7 app to a credit card that doesn’t charge a foreign exchange fee, even better.   (Lyft is not in Paris yet.)

Paris Métro

The Métro is always easy and super-efficient transport.  As you work your way through the underground maze, make sure to look for the signs leading you in the right direction at each intersection.  And, double check yourself each time.  I missed a sign at one cross path, but Jennifer caught it.  Of course, it wouldn’t have been terrible, but catching the right one saved time and kept us on track to our next destination.

Metro Chatelet Station
Fast and efficient transport.

Read more on getting around in Paris here.

Map App

Without my hard copy of a map, I used a map application on my phone a couple of times.  I needed to confirm we were going in the correct direction.  (I felt like I was cheating, but it was pretty useful!)

Credit Cards

Although I advised my bank that I would be in France ahead of time, I still got a fraud call after using my debit card.  Plus, I wasted time and had a lot of aggravation talking to a fraud person who was not really connected to my local bank.  The big banks did not have these problems.  And of course, American Express already knows you are there (somehow??) and knows you are spending money – so no problems with AmEx.

Poncho in Your Satchel

It rained on this visit, but it is Paris, so who really cares?  I had ponchos in my satchel for everyone.  One time it was really raining hard by Parisian standards so I broke out the ponchos.  BUT, make sure the poncho in the little bitty sack from the drugstore is big enough to fit over you!!!  Each of us had on a coat, some with sweaters underneath, and I was carrying my satchel.  None of the ponchos fit over me.  Another was so flimsy, and the wind was so strong, that it was constantly being turned inside out!  Anyway, I was glad to have a little cover, but will be restocking with a little higher quality and checking the sizes before purchasing more.

Hiking Boots – Who Knew?

I was very happy that I brought lightweight, waterproof, hiking boots.  I have never thought of bringing hiking  boots to Paris before.  But, it is lots of walking, sometimes on cobblestones, sometimes in the rain, and sometimes with a little slush on the ground.  They were excellent.  I even wore them when it wasn’t raining.  So, I was very happy to have them.

Paris cobblestones
Look what hiking boots can be good for….

Walk a Mile

Jennifer left her iPhone connected to internet service the entire time.  And, if it is correct, we walked 7-8 miles each day.  I was really surprised by that number!  If it was a long way to dinner, we took a taxi.  Most of this was really just walking in the day from Métro stops and in and around neighborhoods and a few museums.  No wonder Parisians are fit looking!  

Now, THIS is an Observation

Kohei Nawa, Throne
Absolutely off-the-hook-incredible. An eye-popper that is perfectly suited for the Louvre and I.M. Pei’s Pyramid. Kohei Nawa’s, Throne.
Kohei Nawa, Throne; at night
At night it glistens. Lusciousness. Kohei Nawa’s, Throne.

And, one more….

Kohei Nawa, Throne; from the window of the Louvre
Cannot get enough of this. From the windows of the Louvre, no less.

Know When to Rest ‘Em

Everyone else took a rest in the afternoon, but I went to see more and walk around more.  I have a hard time sitting still in Paris.  However, the important part of this is that they NEEDED a rest so that the rest of their day would be enjoyable.  IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND WHEN TO REST.  On this trip, I was fortunate to need only about 15 minutes with my feet up before changing clothes for dinner.  And, for all the places we ate dinner, I wore jeans, collared shirt and a sports jacket.  Also, an outer coat and scarf for traveling to and from dinner.

Louvre Museum Shop Moved

louvre-book-store

The Louvre moved its ticket stations from right under the pyramid into the space where the gift shop used to be.  Now, the museum shop is on the same underground level as before, but two parts, one either side of the wide hall leading to the inverted pyramid.  It still has all of the great books, interesting gifts and walls of post cards.

Angelina on rue de Rivoli

Anghelina on rue de Rivoli

Angelina has an outpost on the rue de Rivoli, next door to Hotel Le Meurice. The line was about 75 people long waiting to get in on a drizzly and cold afternoon.  (Hint:  Go to Café de Flore, instead.  Or try practically any café with seating and you may be surprised by the hot chocolate.)

Stand Up Cafés Disappearing?

Cafés where one stands at the bar and orders coffee and a croissant in the morning seem to be fewer and farther between. Don’t know for sure, but we were having trouble finding them so we could duck in quickly for a shot of espresso.  Will have to research more on this and be more observant.  Maybe it is only the tourist areas that are filled with to-go shops.

Walk and Drink and Eat

Meanwhile on the streets of Paris, more and more Parisians seem to be walking around with cups of coffee in their hands.  Quelle horreur!  That is so un-Parisian to walk on the street and drink coffee.  And, certainly completely unacceptable to eat while walking.  Neither of these used to ever be seen.

Exercise Fanatics – In Style

Exercise in Style
Look – there is one down at the bottom right.
All the others were so fast they ran out of the photo.

Another interesting observation is that more and more joggers are all over the place – another sight that used to never be seen.  They thought I was from the moon when I jogged in the mornings back in the 90s.  Of course, Parisians have on matching running outfits (not just shorts and t-shirts) so they look good while jogging.  The runners are everywhere, especially through the gardens and along the quais of the Seine.

January = Fashion Weeks

No wonder the hotels were not at a deep discount in January.  Paris Fashion Week, both womens’ and mens’ are in January.  Back-to-back.  And, mens fashion week was happening when we were there.  Another time to put on the calendar to check before booking.

Organ Concerts

Saint Severin Grand Organ
Grand Organ at Saint-Séverin.

Organ concerts at historic churches are an absolute must.  They only last an hour and you don’t have to stay for the whole thing. They are a great opportunity to see magnificent architecture, and the sound from the organs can rattle your bones and the rafters.  I saw/heard them at Saint-Sulpice, Saint Séverin and Saint Eustache.  (I wrote more on awe-inspiring churches here.)

All incredible, but Saint Eustache may be a little more fun because the keyboard is on the ground floor.  That means you can see the organist perform while listening to the music.  At the others, the keyboard and the organist are way up by the pipes.  At the end of the performance, they kind of peep out from the organ for their final applause.  Choir organs, which are also beautiful, are played during many church services.  But do not mistake them for the grand organs.  The grand organs are the ones where you see the massive pipes above the main doors to the church.

Jet Lag

For jet lag, I kind of tried the “not eating on the flights” way of thinking.  On the way to Paris, the meal on the plane leaving Atlanta was at about the time I would normally have dinner, so I ate.  I did not eat again until lunch in Paris at Cafe Nouvelle Saint Marie.  On the way back, I ate a baguette sandwich at the airport terminal that I had bought near the hotel.  Then, not again until dinner in Atlanta.  Generally, my jetlag is really bad coming back from Paris.  But this time, it was practically non-existent.  Will try the not eating on flights again in a few months and report back.

A Few More Visual Observations

Postcard wall at Picasso Museum
Wall of postcards at the Picasso Museum; don’t forget the ones you left at home.
Sainte-Chapelle door locks on the interior
Door locks on Sainte-Chapelle – keeping the faithful in?
Samothrace Winged Victory from Afar
And, YES, Audrey, Paris IS ALWAYS a good idea!