Paris – The City of Light
One of the first places that comes to mind when thinking about personal travel to France. It is a beautiful city drawing thousands of tourist daily. One could spend days visiting its top sites; Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre Museum (most visited museum in the world with its world-famous Mona Lisa), Catacombs, etc. The list goes on and on. Another way to visit and experience Paris is to explore the less-known but every bit as enjoyable sites by simply strolling the passages and alleyways in many of its 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods). The Latin Quarter, Ile de la Cite and Ile Saint Louis, Saint Germain and many more. Shopping the markets and browsing the booksellers along the Seine gives you a feel for the real Paris neighborhoods where locals live and shop. There are quaint passages with homes, shops and markets to explore; each unique in its own way. You can catch the Bateaux Mouches (boat with commentary – stops at top sites and near each neighborhood). This is a great way to explore Paris on the River Seine and to see the “real” Paris.
Most know of Normandy as the site of the D-Day Landings; Allied Invasion on June 6, 1944, along sixty miles of coastline divided into five now well-known beaches; Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah. The number of allied and German lives lost in the invasion was more than 400,000. Between 80,000 and 160,000 French civilians died and more than 300,000 were left homeless by the bombings and advancing forces. While Normandy was made famous for the invasion it is so much more with many historic and beautiful towns and villages bordering the coast. You can spend days visiting the battle sites, museums and cemeteries, all of which are beautifully maintained. You should also take time to visit Arromanches, Avranches, Bayeux, Caen, Honfleur, Lion-sur- Mer, Point du Hoc and Sainte-Mere-Eglise; all very pretty and history-filled towns and villages. Saint-Mere-Eglise is a quaint town with friendly locals, delicious bakeries and an 11th century church; Church of St. Mary. The town was one of the first liberated in the invasion when on June 7, 1944 members of the 82nd, 101st and 505th Airborne parachuted into Sainte-Mere-Eglise. The movie The Longest Day depicts the town and church, where John Steele of the 505th hung by his parachute from the church steeple, surviving by pretending to be dead. These towns and villages are on or near the coast and bordered by farmland and beautiful yellow flower fields of rapeseed (used to make cooking oils).
The small village is best known for the impressionist painter Claude Monet who lived in Giverny 1840 – 1926 and is buried in its small cemetery. In addition to painting he created the famous Monet’s Gardens on his property. A tour of the house and gardens is lovely and crowded but well worth a visit. The small rowboat used by Monet and featured in some of his paintings still floats in the pond and is utilized to this day by caretakers. The garden is open year round with flowers changing with the seasons. The village itself can be walked from end to end in 15 minutes on its one main single lane road. At the far end is the Church of Giverny (Eglise Saint-Radegonde de Giverny) with its small cemetery. This is where Claude Monet and members of his family are buried. More impressive is the memorial to seven British airmen who died when their plane was shot down June 7th or 8th, 1944. The memorial at the entrance to the cemetery includes a propeller from the downed plane along with an inscribed tribute. The combined gravesite of the airmen is farther into the cemetery. Surprisingly, fresh flowers were on that grave but not on Monet’s. This site is continuously maintained by the residents (under 600) of Giverny.
Mont Saint Michel –
This Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the five top destinations in France is near Avranches (Normandy). It is a 240-acre island with about 50 full-time residents. Approximately 9,000 people visit each day during the summer. It boast the highest spring tide in the world with a tide speed of a galloping horse. On top of the rock is a Benedictine Abbey built 1000 years ago. While the abbey itself is simple, its placement on the island and view from below and from the mainland is unbeatable. Until 2014 you could reach the island by a causeway during the hours the tide was low. There is now a bridge that allows the water to flow underneath so that you can visit any time. Parking is approximately 1-1/2 miles from the abbey but shuttle service is available. There are a few small hotels on the island along with numerous shops and restaurants. To be on the island at night after the crowds leave, to experience the tide change and to walk out on the foot bridge for a look back at the view is incredible. A beautiful and unique site.
Paris – The City of Light