Oh, Paris. You were so beautiful last August! Who am I kidding? I’m sure Paris is beautiful every August. London was our first stop and the The City of Light was our second.
Day 4: Tour de Eiffel and River Seine Cruise
On the fourth day of our trip, Cale and I took a train from London to Paris. Depending on how well you know me, you may know that I need my sleep and I am very sensitive to sound. So when I tell you that a 3 hour train ride in a train car filled with French middle schoolers is painful… Believe me. We dozed and read books and made it to Paris. A few metro stops later and we arrived just outside of our hotel in Paris. Our hotel was very quaint and in a great location! The Hotel de Madeleine was adorable, pretty spacious, and had great breakfasts each morning. I posted about our cute room on Insta if you care to see how super cute it was. We had about an hour or two to get settled, get cleaned up, and get ready for our evening plans.
Dinner at the Eiffel Tower
A driver picked us up at our hotel and dropped us off outside THE Eiffel Tower. I was a little surprised by how busy and central the area was (amateur hour) and was really bummed when we didn’t have much time to get a picture of Cale and I in front of the famous landmark. Also surprising was the amount of “Beware Pickpockets” signs plastered everywhere – we gathered that if there were signs acknowledging the problem, it must be pretty bad. We kept our heads on straight and my purse zipped and locked up, but it’s still kind of a weird feeling to be on high alert. We literally crammed into the elevator, shoulder to shoulder, with many other tourists to the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.
The view was incredible and the food was good, too. It was very much tailored to guests from different areas of the world. For example, Cale and my meals were very different from the couple from Spain sitting next to us. And the restaurant staff keeps you moving through the courses pretty quickly. Overall, it was a great experience and something we can say we did, but it was very obviously a super touristy thing to do. Also, if you think you want to dine at Restaurant 57, you’ll need to make reservations way, way in advance.
River Seine Cruise
This leisurely float on the River Seine was a little rainy and a lot relaxing. The boat was wide and flat with rows and rows of seats. Cale and I were able to snag two edge seats so we were up against the side of the boat and had great views of the highlights. The tour guides were pretty hard to hear and switched between languages to accommodate the many tourists (seriously impressive) so we didn’t catch the name or back story for each highlight on the tour, but I firmly believe you can just enjoy sitting on a boat cruising through Paris without needing to know every detail. Perhaps my favorite part was rounding the bend to see the Eiffel Tower all light up and beautiful as it got dark. It was one of those moments where you have to say aloud, “We are on a cruise. In Paris. Right Now. This is happening.”
After the boat cruise, our guide picked us up, along with another American family of 4, and was kind enough to drive us right up to a handful of Paris hot spots before taking us back to our hotels. We stopped by the Louvre Palace and Pyramid for a photo, enjoyed the sparkling Eiffel Tower light show, watched the traffic pass by on Champs-Élysées, and walked around the Luxor Obelisk.
Day 5: Tour de Normandie
When you marry a man whose Bachelor’s degree was in History, you just know there are going to be some “educational” experiences in your future. This day was one such experience and it was unforgettable! When we booked this trip and were figuring out the route, a tour of Normandy and a stop in Germany were Musts for Cale. Our tour guide, Rupert, picked us up bright and early at our hotel around 6:30am. We picked up another American couple, who were from Utah, and started the 3 hour drive north to Normandy from Paris. The drive to northern France looked very much like a drive through the Midwest – trees, hills, crops, small towns. The difference, however, was the centuries-old churches, gates, and barns dotting the countryside. Some structures dated back to 900 AD.
The first stop was Pointe du Hoc overlooking the English Channel. Looking out from the edge of the cliff you can see Utah Beach to the left and Omaha Beach to the right.
I’ve seen it movies and read it books… the description of D-Day always describes how steep the cliffs were, how heavy the soaked ropes were, how absolutely impossible the climb must have seemed. 100 feet high and straight down to the water. Incredible, humbling, I don’t know how else to explain it.
The whole scene is really quite overwhelming. There are massive German concrete casemates and underground bunkers. Huge chunks of concrete lie scattered all over the area, it’s like someone haphazardly tossed concrete slabs around. (Someone/something really huge capable of lifting concrete structures). There are deep bomb craters everywhere and large circular slabs where cannons and guns once sat.
At the tip of the cliff is an underground observation post, still intact. Inside the sturdy concrete post is a small viewfinder opening that allows you a perfect view out over the Channel.
Our tour continued to Omaha, Juno, and Gold beaches were walked in the sand on the beaches and admired the monuments. The next destination was the American WWII cemetery.
After the cemetery stop, we drove a little further southeast along the coast to a little French tourist town, named Arromanches, where our group split for an hour to take a lunch break at a little cafe. We walked through the little shops and found a hilarious “American” postcard… We were dying laughing thinking about how the United States is portrayed. I suppose I do like each item pictured…
The last (and sleepiest) stop of the day was a former German bunker. It’s a thick, several-story deep concrete building dug into a hill… so a bunker. You get the idea. It’s a museum now and the ground floor of the museum is a timeline of the war as you walk through the old rooms and offices that comprised the bunker. Uniforms, supplies, technology of the time, and so many other wartime artifacts were included. In the front entry part of the museum is another timeline walkway (very cool wayfinding and ‘experience’ design throughout) which focused a lot on the geography of the war and the destruction in France. Homes and churches and main streets were absolutely destroyed and the pictures were jarring. It was crazy to think about these quiet little coastal towns in France that turned into strategic locations during WWII. One espresso and another two-hour drive and were delivered back to our adorable little hotel.
After a day of history, it was time for Date Night Paris Style. We got cleaned up, changed clothes and walked to a very adorable restaurant a couple blocks from our hotel. The staff was very kind and accommodating (trying to explain and communicate in English). The food and wine were excellent – duck confit and grilled bar commun (European seabass). Obviously we got dessert: an order of chocoloate mousse and creme brulee coming right up!
Day 6: Love the Louvre
On our last full day in Paris, Cale and I ate breakfast and walked around the city. We walked through the Tulleries Garden and bought tickets to the Louvre. Holy cow, the Louvre is huge! And just massively packed with people (Europe in August is high holiday and tourist season).
The big draw was obviously Mona Lisa so we strolled through to make our way there. The size and variety and sheer volume of the paintings is amazing. All I could think was, “Man, really wish I could I recall all of those Art History flashcards!” If you’re not aware, the Mona Lisa is not big. And it lives in a secure glass case behind a velvet rope. There was a huge crowd of people just inching their way towards the front to get close. And to be honest, the entire crowd was taking selfie after selfie. It was kind of a bummer that, here we all are in a famous museum standing in front of arguably one of the most famous paintings in history, and the still the phones and cameras were out. I just waded to the front of the crowd and stood. I don’t have a photo, I didn’t take one, and I’m really okay with that. Cale and I tried to be as “present” as possible – take a few pictures then put the camera away and enjoy.
After the Louvre, we enjoyed a walk along the River Seine and enjoyed espresso and crepes at a sidewalk cafe. It was so fun to take in the bridge full of locks and sidewalks full of artists and vendors! We also ventured toward Notre Dame, waited in the long snaking line and made it in before they closed! It was absolutely gorgeous. We didn’t do the full tour up to the bell tower or anything, just the main floor walking tour. The stained glass, the level of detail of the interior… Just amazing. An unintentional detour on our walk back to the hotel left us (me) worn out and hangry. Not a good look for me. A shoe change later, we walked to an outdoor cafe and enjoyed the best looking charcuterie board, sandwiches, and salads. A couple beers and a glass of wine closed out our jam-packed Paris stop.
Stop back soon for the next chapter of #KasselsInEurope. Au revior, ma chérie!