France – Rouen, Caen, Bayeux, the Normandy Beaches, Le Mont Saint Michel, Giverney
Rouen is where Joan of Arc was executed and there is an unusual church on the site commemorating her.
We visited that church and the rest of the old town including the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Rouen, Eglise Saint-Maclou, Abbatiale Saint-Ouen and a statue of Napoleon.
Later we had a walk along the Seine before dinner – fish and chips at Poppy’s near our hotel, Hotel Dandy.
We got to the train station to find the midday train to Caen had been cancelled and we had an almost three-hour wait ahead of us. Spent most of the time forward-booking accommodation before getting a bus and checking into an Ibis hotel near Caen Station.
We went for a short walk before having a delicious boeuf bourguignon for dinner at a nearby hotel. There were a lot of youths loitering around the area which made us feel unsafe so we returned to our hotel.
We booked a hire car to get us to Bayeux.
After breakfast the next morning we picked up the hire car and got them to set the GPS for us in English, then followed the directions to Bayeux. We meet the owner of the house we had hired for three days at the property, Le 4 holiday home. She was lovely and the home was gorgeous, with the most well-equipped kitchen I’ve ever found in our travels. On the outside it was an old building in a cobblestoned laneway behind the cathedral but the inside had been renovated into a modern, stylish, comfortable home.
The 11th century Bayeux Tapestry is the town’s main attraction and first on our list of places to visit. The tapestry is actually nine embroidered linen bands stitched together stretching 70 metres long and 50 cm wide. It recounts the story of William the Conqueror’s accession to the English throne in 1066. Visitors are issued an audio device on entry which provides commentary in their selected language as they pass the tapestry.
Bayeux also has a great selection of half-wooden buildings, manor houses and a beautiful cathedral.
Bayeux is also home to the Battle of Normandy Museum and military cemetery.
We picked a miserable wet day to visit the Normandy Beaches.
Le Mont Saint Michel
We had seen photos of Le Mont Saint Michel – the floating castle – and views of it during the television coverage of the Tour de France a few times so we had to visit since we were in the general area.
Fitting Giverney into our itinerary was a challenge but I was determined to see Claude Monet’s home and garden so we had to squeeze it in on the last afternoon the day before flying out of France.
Easier said than done! First we had to get the car back to Caen. We were supposed to return it with a full tank of fuel but we didn’t pass a single petrol station on our drive from Bayeux so had to let the car-hire firm do it and charge it to our card which they did and then some!
We got a train back to Rouen then another to Giverney. Our hotel was too far to walk to and there was no public transport so we got a taxi. We thought we would have been able to catch a bus from there to Monet’s house but we were told there was no bus service so we could either catch a taxi there, go back to the train station and get a shuttle or walk. We decided that by the time we walked back to the train station we would have covered half the distance to the house anyway so decided to walk.
We should have taken another taxi! The footpath was in a very bad state of repair. Half-way into the very long walk it started bucketing down. When we eventually reached Monet’s place the reception was as bleak as the weather. The staff were curt and officious and not a smile between them.
Whenever I had thought about visiting Monet’s garden I’d imagined entering a low-fenced garden in the centre of a small town and strolling through the flower gardens in the warmth of the Spring sunshine, then relaxing over afternoon tea on the terrace of a ground-level dwelling. Then in bursts reality – a five-kilometre trudge in the pouring rain out of town to a two-storey house without a terrace in a walled garden and not a drop of tea in sight!
Inside the house was interesting. If it wasn’t for all the people traipsing through, you could easily imagine Monet living here having just popped out to the shop for more art supplies.
We caught the shuttle back to Giverney and had a walk around the town then back to our hotel along the riverbank.
We had intended going to an Indian restaurant we had passed earlier in the day for dinner but the riverbank walk bypassed it so we ended up buying some salads from the supermarket nextdoor instead.
So we settled in for the night. Brian found some footy to watch on the iPad while I wrote the postcards I’d bought earlier in the day. Before going to bed I checked the emails, only to find there was one from French Rail telling us that due to a rail strike the train we were booked on the next day to get us to the airport was cancelled!!!
The contact phone number French Rail provided went to a recording in French naturally, so there was nothing we could do until the morning except go to bed and try to get some sleep. That proved to be impossible. We knew were completely stranded. No trains were running in the region and the town we were in wasn’t on a bus route to the city. Another guest Brian talked to checked his iPhone and found that trains wouldn’t be running the next day either.
The knock-on effect if we couldn’t get to Charles de Gaulle airport by that afternoon meant we’d not only miss our flight back to Ireland but, by the time we rescheduled, we could miss our flight from there to Australia!
The weather deteriorated overnight with torrential rain causing road and highway closures and delays. It was so bad that when, after hours trying to get through and as a last resort, we tried to get a taxi to take us all the way to the airport, we were told they wouldn’t let their drivers attempt the drive.
Trying to book a hire car online proved to be impossible. There were two firms in the area so we left our luggage at the hotel and walked in the rain to the nearest one, due to open at 9.00 am. There were five other people in the tiny office when we got there just after opening, but no receptionist. The guy in charge came in from the garage, said something in French to the waiting group, then got on his mobile and after a lot of gesticulating drove out.
From what we could gather, the receptionist had been held up by the weather and we thought he’d gone to pick her up. Instead, an older lady arrived, possibly his mother, and she proceeded to get the office under way – slowly. Murphy’s Law was in full swing – everything that could go wrong did: the calculator ran out of batteries, the printer ran out of paper, the couple from America didn’t have their passports with them. At this point we realised we didn’t have ours either. They were back at the hotel with our luggage. So, when it was eventually our turn and we got to that stage of the process, I pleaded in what I could remember of my best high-school French for her to continue processing our application while Brian walked back to our hotel. The garage guy overheard this and gesticulating again impatiently indicated that he’d drive Brian to the hotel. It seemed to take forever. Every possible catastrophe ran through my mind. Apparently it was worse for Brian. The guy drove like a rally driver and, in trying to avoid a traffic jam, took a shortcut and hit roadworks instead! Murphy’s Law continued to rule when they got back and we resumed the hire process. When we reached the last stage in the process, payment, the system rejected our credit card even though it was the same one we used just hours earlier to pay the hotel bill. Fortunately we were able to use another one which the system did accept but it meant she had to go back and change the details in the system. All the time, precious minutes are ticking by! My nerves are stretched to breaking point. Finally, she hands over the keys. Then, before we could even get up from the desk, CRUNCH!!! A truck had backed into the entrance and was wedged in the doorway.
Luckily they managed to free the truck quite quickly and we were able to get underway using the GPS the garage guy had set up so we avoided the hold-ups caused by the overnight weather. We needed help to find fuel near the airport, but we eventually made it in plenty of time to catch our flight and subsequently made it home to Australia, with a brief stopover in Singapore on the way.
We stayed at Changi Village and had a day trip to the island of Pulau Ubin.
Well that was the end of our trip. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the pictorial journey. Until next time …