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25th March - Caen to Paris

I'd love to give you good news but I am in Paris! Not my favourite city by any means.

We drove to Paris via Rouen. Rouen is another town with a cathedral. Pretty nice.

311 K's today, averge speed 93, highest speed 142. The GPS took us north of Paris as we parked the car at a facility just north of the airport. We got mugged 4 times on the road today, around $30 on tolls.

We were at our airport hotel around 3pm so we caught the train into Paris. 80 Euro return for the three os us, that's around $110. 

I just don't see what people see in Paris, it is crowded, dirty and I have no idea where the romance is. We caught the train to the Eiffel Tower, then a taxi to Arc de Triomphe and a walk down Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Just very tiring, we are here for Ryan and he seemed happy with what we have seen so far.

in my working career I have mostly been a cop and a bus driver. I wouldn't do either of these jobs in Paris. Certainly wouldn't drive a bus, chaos. I must not complain about driving back home.... of course we all know that I will! Ryan asked if I would prefer to drive in New York or Paris, New York easy.... at least in NYC there is mostly blocks whereas in Paris there is roads all over the place. How cars get around the Arc de Triomphe roundabout is any ones guess and how do people actually get to the Arc? There must be a tunnel because you surely couldn't cross the road.

We caught the train back to Charles De Gaulle Airport around 7:30pm and had dinner at the hotels Italian Restaurant.

Still no name for the GPS. It has to be a name we would be happy to yell at, maybe we should change it to a male voice. Plenty of male names I could yell at, Laurent and a few others I won't mention just in case!

24th March - Normandy

Le Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel

Long bloody day. Pardon my French!

We went out to Le Mont-Saint-Michel which is an island commune in Normandy, It is located approximately one kilometre off France's Northwestern coast, it is incredibly impressive and involves about 1000 steps, most of which seemed to be up. Very tiring for an old dude like me.

We parked and then caught this doubled ended bus, driver doesn't turn the bus at the end of the route but gets out and walks to the end of the bus which now becomes the front. Ideal for some drivers I know back home. Maybe an 8 minute drive across the bridge to the island, about a 400 metre walk and we have to take the centre entry as the water is blocking the other two. There is a narrow alley all the way up the abbey. There are lots of shops, souvenirs, clothes, food. Also there are tons of school kids on excursions. The teacher stops the kids to explain something and they group around and block the alley. Nobody seems to care that other people can't get through, in the end you just push your way through. You go up and up and up and finally get to the abbey - 8 euro each. more steps...... up! The abbey is nice, some good views of the surrounding countryside. You follow the directions and I guess there are some downward steps before you end up back at the narrow alley. It's nice, history everywhere. We had a late breakfast; the crepe shop had no crepes which was a pain. Upon leaving you can use the entry that was blocked before. Walk back to the bus, hottest trip in the history of the world, the driver had the air con up at stifling - hotter than a bus back home that has been sitting in the 40C sun. So uncomfortable!

So that was Le Mont-Saint-Michel, glad I did it - wouldn't do it again.

We did try to surprise Rayls with a quilt shop but all the shops close for a lunch break so she missed out.

After this we went to both Utah and Omaha beaches. Utah and Omaha was the code names for two of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, during World War II. Utah was the westernmost of the five landing beaches, Omaha linked Utah to the British landings further east. Lot of history and great honour to be here.

We drove onto Caen, parked and looked for somewhere to eat before heading home. Nothing opens till 7pm. I know the French have their customs but jeez. We walked a mile hoping that one restaurnt we liked the look of would be open but alas no. I tried to get tickets for the tram to avoid a mile walk back. Couldn't figure it out so I pushed my way into the tram anyway. The doors were just closing and I nearly left Rayls and Ryan behind but they managed to push on as well. We had an illegal free mile long trip back. Stupid public transport.

I am not a big fan of France, I know the French won't lose any sleep over this. They are friendly enough but just have strange ideas which might work fine for them but are stupid!

23rd March - Gite de la Motte

Today we drove from Reims through Amiens to Cesy-Bois-Halbout on the outskirts of Caen, Lower Normandy.

We decided to take the longer route to avoid driving through Paris, it was probably 25 K's longer but 15 minutes shorter in time, or so the GPS told us.

Once on the road we were attracted by what appeared a castle on a hilltop near the town of Laon. Turns out it was the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon, a very impressive building in the middle of a town with very narrow cobblestone roads. It's Gothic architecture dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Ryan did very well to get us up the hill and through a maze of narrow one-way streets.

We wandered the streets of Laon for a while, fascinating place - the public transport buses are quite small to allow for the narrow roads. We had lunch in a very nice bakery where the lady spoke no English but we managed.

A word or two about toll roads in France. We saw no tolls in Belgium, Netherlands or Germany but they are everywhere in France. You can avoid them by taking the back roads which we have done at times but today we took the main road and I suspect we paid somewhere around $50 in tolls. Sometimes you get a ticket and then further down the road you submit the ticket and pay the fee. Once we just had to put in 6 Euro in coin and a couple of times you just had to submit a credit card. The main roads are fine, better than back home, much better than the USA but not as good as Germany where there is no toll.

We continued onto Amiens where we stopped only for a break at a shopping centre before we headed on to Lower Normandy. We will be back in Amiens next week to check out the WWI sites.

474 K's today, highest speed 149.64.

We are staying at a small farm just outside of Caen. Nice place, fresh eggs for breakfast. Plenty of animals around.

For dinner we drove into the nearby town of Thury-Harcourt (we pronounce it Furry - I suspect we are wrong) and bought groceries and cooked dinner at the farm.

We are discussing what to call the lady in our GPS. it has to be a female name that we can yell at, something European. So far no name mentioned is one we all agree on.

22nd March - Forbach to Reims

Tree carved memorial near Our Lady of Europe Church
Tree carved memorial

Just 320 K's today as we start working across France.

We started the day in Forbach and went through Metz and Verdun to Reims.

In Metz we visted Saint-Étienne de Metz (French for "Saint-Stephen of Metz"), also known as Metz Cathedral. Awesome place, being a Sunday morning there was a service in progress. Been a long time since I have been to a Sunday service, especially a Catholic one. This place has history; the site itself goes back to the 5th century. Building started in 1220, work was completed around 1520 and the new cathedral was consecrated on 11 April 1552.

We also walked the streets of Metz, it was a very brisk 8C, very cool breeze. Rayls bought some chocolates which she seemed to enjoy.

From Metz we drove to Verdun, the site of a major battle of the First World War. One of the costliest battles of the war, it led to an enormous loss of life.

In the area of Fleury-devant-Douaumont we passed the Verdun Memorial which is undergoing major renovation. We stopped for a while at Our Lady of Europe Church. Then onto The Douaumont ossuary which is a memorial containing the remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield during the Battle of Verdun in World War I. It is located within the Verdun battlefield where approximately 230,000 men died out of a total of 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded and missing).

We moved onto the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial. The cemetery contains the largest number of American military dead in Europe, 14,246, most of whom lost their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Most of the dead seemed to die in the last month or two of the war.

For much of the day we avoided toll roads, not to save money but to keep on the smaller country roads. We saw some lovely countryside and drove throough some qualnt villages - very French.

We ended up in Reims, a nice three start hotel, has a view of a bus depot! After a rest we headed into central Reims looking for food and ended up at a really good restaurant called La Boucherie, great food and service.

A week down. a good week. Did a lot, more things to do.