March, 6th to 21st, 2008
Thursday, march 6’Th
Actually, the trip from Billund to Rouen was a bit of a hassle. First I take a bus from Vejle to Billund. Then I take a plane to Paris. Then I take an RER B to Gare du Nord, where I change to a RER for St. Lazere. From there I take a train to Le Havre. I get off the train in Rouen in Normandy. Even though the trip is a bit complex, I arrive in Rouen 2 hours ahead of my own schedule for the trip.
I have picked Hotel Andersen because of the name. It’s pretty close to the railway-station in Rouen. The host can hardly believe me when I say I have arrived early. He thinks that’s impossible when French railways are part of the journey.
I get the key to my room. The room doesn’t have a number, but there’s a yellow string on the doorknob telling me that it’s mine.
After some unpacking, I head for the city of Rouen. Rouen is placed at the Seine-river, and is a very old city with lots of half-timbered houses. There’s supposed to be around 2.000 of them. I don’t count them, but it might be true. There are 100.000 people living in the city of Rouen, so that makes one half-timbered house per 50 inhabitants. I make a walk around town for a few hours. It’s not only fine houses around – there’s certainly also some ugly buildings around. But my main sightseeing is for tomorrow.
After dinner, which around here is at 8 or 9, I head back for my yellow room. There’s a football match on at channel 6, which I watch before going to bed.
Friday, March 7’Th
The hotel has given me a fine map of Rouen with all the sight numbered from 1 to 10. So after breakfast, I head out.
No. 1: The Tourist office – no – I skip that.
No. 2: The Cathedral. That’s huge. The first church was built at this spot in the 4’the century. The one that is here today was built in the 12’Th. It’s a gothic church. There are high ceilings, some huge towers and the doors are black and enormous. Richard the Lionheart is buried here.
No. 3: St. Maclau’s church – closed
No. 4: Aitre St. Maclau. A nice yard surrounded by half-timbered houses. They’ve cut some strange figures in the wood. You can find skeletons, skulls and other stuff. The place was build as a cemetery in 1348, where 3 out of 4 people died due to the plague. Now they’ve got an art-academy at the buildings.
No. 5: St. Queens Abbey – closed.
No. 6: Palace of justice. That’s another building with lots of spires.
No. 7: The Old Market. Now it’s mainly restaurants for the tourists. Jeanne d’Arc was burned to death here in 1431.
No. 8: Jeanne d’Arc church. This is a strange phenomenon at these places – a modern church. It’s supposed to look like a ship upside down from outside. I just think it’s ugly. From the inside it’s very nice, with some nice mosaic-windows taken from the Saint-Vincent church, which stood on this spot, but was destroyed during WW2.
No. 9: Hôtel de Bougtheroude. I can’t find it….
No. 10: Gros Horloge. This is an old tower with an old clock. Back in the old days it was a fine thing for any city to be allowed its own clock-tower. This one is from the beginning of the 16’Th century. There’s an audio guided tour around the tower, which tells you the story. On the top there’s a fine view across the city and towards the cathedral.
Saturday, March 8’Th
Most Rouen-sights were done yesterday, so today is a little more off the beaten track.
I start the day with a semi-sight. It’s the Jeanne d’Arc tower dating back to the 13’Th century. There’s a small Jeanne d’Arc exhibition inside.
Then I move around the local area. It’s a nice neighborhood. There are plenty of half-timbered houses and small alleys. As I keep on I head for the city-center. I get the chance to see two sights that I missed yesterday – no. 5 and no. 3. No 5 is huge, cold, empty and almost threatening. No. 3 is smaller with a nice tower. No 3 was reopened in 1980, after being totally destroyed during WW2. Inside there are pictures of how it looked.
Then I continue down towards the river Seine. In the middle there’s a small island with apartments and a sports-complex. When you watch inside during the windows you can see that the ice hockey-practice is on the way. You could also take a look at the world youth championships in synchronic swimming. That’s probably why there are so many young girls in track-suits and with weird hair walking around the city.
Back to the city-center and a walk along the river, that is not at all used for touristic purposes. Then I head along some avenues to my hotel for a break.
My evening-walk is for the city-center. It’s shopping-time in Rouen on a Saturday evening.
Sunday, March 9'Th
I’m leaving Rouen at 11 in rainy weather, on a small train to Caen, where I change for another one to Bayeux.
In Bayeux I check in at Hotel Tardiff, a very fine place in the city-center. My room is huge – almost like an apartment. I have only booked a small room, but because of an reservation-error I’ll have to settle with this one for a few days.
Then it’s time to go and have a look at the sight of Bayeux – the Bayeux tapestry. It’s a 70 m long tapestry telling the story of William the Emperor and his trip to Normandy between 1066 and 1082. You’ll get an audio-guide at the entrance that tells the whole story.
The rest of the day is a little more sightseeing in Bayuex. That will be the Notre Dame Cathedral from the 13’Th century. Some kind of scout-service has just finished, so the place is full of young scouts.
The rest of Bayuex is a sleepy tourist-town. Today it’s more sleepy than tourist. That’s mainly because it’s a Sunday outside season. This also makes it hard to find a decent place for dinner, but finally I succeed.
Monday, March 10’Th
”It’s been raining before – it’s been cold before – and it’s been windy before, but never all three things at the same time” was the welcome from the guide at Battlebus on today’s trip to the British invasion-coast. We were only 4 on board today’s tour. That was me and 3 patriotic Englishmen. British Highlights Tour was the name, and it took us to the British invasion-coast at Sword and Gold.
Among all the places we went to was the British cemetery at Ranville and the Pegasus-bridge across River Orne, which was a major strategic point. The bridge was taken by a very few troopers, who landed in 3 gliders less than 50 m. from the German troops, who didn’t notice before it was to late. Now there’s a museum at the place, which we visit as well.
Then we head on for Sword Beach. It’s hard to see the beach today, because it’s so windy and the tide is high, so the water level is almost at the road.
Then we cross the Canadian sector Juno before we reach Gold Beach. This was the second British sector. The guide Dale is telling more British hero-stories. Among other things we visit the backyard of a local farmer, where a special heroic performance was made. Finally we reach Arromanches, where the British built an artificial harbour, where you still can see the remains.
The final stop is at the German defence-positions at Longues-Sur-Mer. Here they have bunkers overlooking the beach.
This has been a fantastic trip. 9 hours of intense sightseeing and information, in windy and rainy condition. But it has been so interesting, that you’ve almost forget the terrible weather.
Tuesday, March 11’Th
It’s another day with rain, storm and Battlebus. This time it’s together with 7 Canadians on the American Highlight Tour. First stop is Sainte-Mère-Eglise. This was the first town to be liberated by American paratroopers. On the top of the church there’s a replica of a paratrooper hanging from the tower. That’s a bit bizarre to my opinion. We get to hear the story, see the church and the museum nearby.
Then it’s on to another church. It worked as a field hospital. The guide can tell you why there still are marks on the benches. That’s from the blood of the soldiers. There are marks on all benches. The church was used by both sides at the same time.
Then it’s on to Utah Beach. The guide draws the front with a stick in the sand, while the audience is soaked in water. Now it’s further on to Pointe-de-Hoc, where the rain has stopped. Pointe-de-Hoc was a very strategic important place, which was taken by American rangers before the actual invasion.
Next stop is Omaha Beach. This was the place where everything went wrong. About 4.000 soldiers died here.
Last stop is the American cemetery at Colleville. 9.000 people is buried here.
Battlebus is back in Bayeux at 5. It’s been another day full of impressions
Wednesday, March 12’Th
I have given myself a resting-day after 2 days on Battlebus.
So today is just walking around the town of Bayuex. The morning is spent at the invasion-museum in Bayuex. These museums are clustered all over the area. This one is nice. Especially I like all the photos from D-day and the time after.
Second tour is another walk around the city. It’s easy to get around. No maps are needed. I end at the British cemetery in Bayeux. This is the largest British cemetery in the area. 4.000 people are buried here.
My final Bayeux dinner is at a nice restaurant. Even though half of the restaurants are closed because we are out of season, there’s still plenty to choose from, as long as it is not a Sunday evening.
Thursday, March 13’Th
I get up very early to catch a train from Bayeux towards Rennes. After 2 hours I jump of, just to jump on another one going to St. Malo.
St. Malo is in Brittany, and a nice and strange place. The old St. Malo which is also called the closed city – or “Intro Muros” – has a gigantic wall around it. It used to be an island, but is now a part of the mainland. But it is pretty strange to cross the city-harbor on the walk from the railway-station to the city-center.
I check in at Hotel de L’Univers. Not as fancy as my accommodation I Bayuex, but very nice anyway.
Then it’s time for my first walk around St. Malo. This will be a walk through the city-center, and then half the way around on top of the walls before it is lunchtime.
Later a visit to the Casino in St. Malo before I head along the beach to the rich part of St. Malo called Sillon. St. Malo is a major resort for rich Parisian’s during summer. After some time I turn around to head back. The tide is low so you can walk pretty far out on the beach called Grand Plagne on the way back. The difference between high tide and low tide is enormous at this place. At the end I also visit the old Fort National from the 17’Th century. At high tide it’s in the middle of the sea, and at low tides you can walk out there.
Friday, March 14’Th
It’s a halfdaytrip to Dinan today. First a 1 hour trip by bus – then 3 hours in Dinan – and then back with the bus.
Dinan is a nice old town. Just like St. Malo, it’s surrounded by a city-wall. At the bottom of the city the river La Rance is running, and there’s a very idyllic part of the town called Port de Dinan. It was some monks that established the town back in the 9’Th century.
I get a map at the tourist-office that gives you 3 different walks around town. I choose to combine them, and therefore start with half of the city-wall, before heading down a trail to the river and the “port”, which only consist of small yachts. From down there it’s uphill via Rue de Jeruzel, with old houses and a cobblestoned road. It looks like a place that is hell during season, but is pretty nice right now. Uphill you are back in Dinan center, with the usual number of huge churches and more alleys.
Finally I take the last part of the wall, before heading for the bus terminal and the bus heading back for St. Malo.
The second trip of the day is a afternoon-walk in St. Malo. I’m heading through the small streets, seeing the usual cathedral and end up by walking to the small island of Ile de Grand Be about 100 meters of the beach at St. Malo. You can walk to the island because the tide is low. When the tide is high, the road out there is under water, and if caught out there, you’ve got a 6 hour wait before you can return. Thankfully they’ve put up a sign telling when it’s ok to go there – and when it’s not. The locals use the island for their afternoon stroll as well, and for walking those thousands of dogs they all seem to have. By the way – the famous writer Chateaubriand is buried at Ile de Grand Be.
The last walk of the day is less touristy. It’s a walk around the busy harbor of St. Malo. Here you’ll find ships and cranes unloading them – and no tourists at all.
Saturday, March 15’Th
My plans were to take a bus to Mont St-Michel today, but the weather-forecast is nasty, so that will be tomorrow instead.
The weather in the morning is nice though, so I head for a long walk to the suburb of St-Servan south of St. Malo. There’s a large marina and a huge fort – Fort de La Cité – from the middle of the 18’Th century. It Germans built some bunkers there as well during WW2, as part of the Atlantic-wall.
There’s also a nice tower from the 14’Th century – Tour Solidor – but unfortunately it is closed today. But anyway it’s a nice part of the city, very good for a walk among the locals.
At noon the sky gets darker, so I head back for the center. When I get there it’s pouring down.
So the next thing will be indoors. St. Malo’s city-museum is placed in Chateau de St. Malo, just opposite my hotel. The museum is pretty boring, but the castle is nice, and seeing the museum is the only way to get inside the castle. From the top there’s a great view of the city – and you’ve got a roof above you, so you don’t get wet. People that are walking down on the plaza in front of the castle certainly do.
The rain continues, so all I can do is to cross the plaza to my hotel, and find some rugby on the TV.
At 5 it stops, and I can take a small walk around town, before heading back to the hotel just to find out it has been invaded by the Americans. There’s a huge number of Americans all with extremely large suitcases waiting for check-in.
Sunday, March 16’Th
The bus leaves at 10 to 9 for Pontorson. That takes about an hour. From there it’s a 15 minutes bus ride with another one to Mont St-Michel, which is where I will spend this day.
Mont St-Michel has got a long history. It all started in 708 where Aubert, the Bishop in Avranches, build a small church on the top of Mont-Tombe. Over the years this was a primary target for the pilgrims, and in the 10’Th century some Benedictine monks settled at the place. At the same time they started to build a small village at the bottom of the hill. Since the place has grown bigger, and today Mont St-Michel is one of the tourist-highlights in the whole of France.
The walk uphill is at tourist-hell. Souvenir-shops and restaurants, where there is no reasonably mix between quality and price. But when you get to the top you must be impressed. I’m here on a Sunday – Palm Sunday – so at 11.30 there’s a service run by the monks and nuns at the place.
Afterwards I take a walk around the whole complex. There are cloisters, crypts and chapels. There’s also a huge treadmill, where some prisoners worked in the old days, to move all the huge stones up the hill for building the place even bigger.
I spend a few exiting hours up here, before going back to the souvenir-hell at the bottom. As it starts to rain, I decide to take a bus back to Pontorson a little before schedule. That gives me an hour to kill in Pontorson before heading back to St-Malo at 4.30 – and arriving there at 5.30.
Monday, March 17’Th
Farewell to St-Malo. The weather is dry, but it’s freezing cold today.
My TGV-train takes me to Paris at 12.13. It’s fast, but for some reason the seats in TGV’s are pretty uncomfortable. I arrive at Paris Montparnasse 3 hours later.
From there it’s a 10 minute walk to my Hotel Petit Palace. It’s chosen because it’s close to Montparnasse where my train arrives, and because there’s a good connection from a local RER-station when I have to go to the airport.
Well – this is not my first visit to Paris – so I have seen most of the sights. So I’ve made no particularly plans for the next few days.
I start by going downtown to Les Halles, just to feel the city. From here I take a walk around, before heading for Ile de La Cité, for at least seeing one sight today.
In the Notre Dame Cathedral the 6 o’clock show is underway. The congregation doesn’t seem to mind all the tourist walking around. And the tourist sees this as an extra bonus to their visit.
After this I cross to the left bank, walks along Boulevard St. Michel, and some small streets behind Jardin de Luxembourg, before I find myself in a nice neighborhood at Rue Vavin. From there I cross some avenues before I’m back at Avenue de Maine, where my hotel is located. Dinner is at a local, empty but pretty nice Chinese restaurant, just beside my hotel.
Tuesday, March 18’Th
I spend this day at Versailles. That’s a major mistake.
I’m leaving by train from Montparnasse at 9.30. It only takes about 15 minutes on a local train to Versailles, so I’m at the castle at about 10.
There’s a long line at the ticket-office, so it takes about ½ an hour before I get my ticket to the castle. But that’s not enough. Now you have to wait in line for the castle. And that line is even longer, and is not moving at all, since it is overtaken by the tour-groups that pass on the inside.
So I skip this for the moment and head for the park instead. The park is very nice. The huge Grand Canal is in the middle. It is 1.6 km long. I head for the north side of the park, and the smaller castles of Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon. The latter was Marie-Antoinettes. She was a bit on the eccentric side, and also had a replica of a small village called Hameau de La Reine in her backyard. She used to dress up as a milk-maid when going there.
Now it’s back to the castle then. It was built in the 17’Th Century by Louis XIV – The Sun king. It’s very luxurious. There were about 30.000 people called in to build it. But it has to be huge, since the king had to employ 6.000 people in order to live a decent life. Later Louis XVI and Marie took over, until they lost their heads in 1789.
The queue is still long, but at least it is moving now. But inside the castle it’s all hell. There are way too many people for not enough space. There’s no chance of seeing anything. And you have paid 13.50 Euro to see nothing. So I head out again as quickly as I can and head back for Montparnasse as soon as possible. This has been the worst tourist-trap ever.
Montparnasse is the target for the second tour of the day. Tour de Montparnasse is 210 m high, and from the top there’s a great view across Paris, and especially the Eiffeltower. Here at sunset it’s very nice.
Wednesday, March 19’Th
There are 2 nice walks today. The first is partly inspired by a famous book.
I start at the Madeleine-church. From there I head over for Place Vendome and Hotel Ritz, where the book starts as well. It’s a filthy rich neighborhood. There are no price-tags in the jewel-shops around here. As the main character in the book – who stayed at Ritz – I then head for the Tuilleri-gardens and Louvre. I don’t get inside, even though it is open. That means that I can’t jump out the windows to Quai de Louvre, but have to take a route round the museum instead. But we can follow each other across the Seine – on Pont de Arts.
From here I walk through an artist-area with galleries etc. before finding the old church of St. Germain. What part it played in the book I can’t recall. From here it’s a short walk to one of the most important places in the book the church of St. Sulpice. I can’t get inside today, since a funeral is going on, so I don’t have the chance to meet Silas or find the rose line.
Enough with this book-thing, as I head for one of my Paris favorites – the Luxembourg-garden. Unfortunately it’s to cold to sit outside, so I take a RER B further on to Denfert-Rochereau. Here I will try to visit the catacombs, but they are closed for repair.
Instead I take a good lunch at a local brasserie, before walking back to my hotel via the nice Rue Daguerre.
After a few hours rest, it’s time for my second trip of the day. First I take the metro for Arc de Triomphe. It’s not even closed, but we get kicked out after 20 minutes because some celebrities are coming because of the anniversary of the French retreat for Algeria.
Then I continue down Champs Elysees. Here you find Cartier side by side with McD. I turn left at the Elysee-palace hoping to get a glimpse of Monsieur Sarkozy and Mademoiselle Bruno. But I don’t. Instead I continue towards the Opera, before taking a RER back to Denfert-Rochereau and a short walk to the hotel.
Thursday, March 20’Th
As usual – 2 walks today.
First I take a metro to La Defense to see Le Grande Arche. It’s almost in line with its brother at Champs Elyssee and the tiny one at Louvre. The trip to the top is spectacular in a elevator made of glass. The view from the top is nice as well, and they show a nice little movie about the making of the Arche. After that I take a walk around La Defense, before heading back to the hotel.
I’m pretty tired of being a tourist, but I still have metro-tickets to use, so I have to continue. Second tour is a kind of weird figures tour. First the weird figures at the fountain right beside Centre Pompidou. I always try to visit this place when I’m in Paris. The next figures are the one placed on Pont Neuf, which is crossing the Seine and has done so since 1607. These are pretty dramatic and quite funny. There are barbers, dentists, pocket thieves etc.
But now I’ve had enough. I’m heading back to my hotel, only with a stop for a good dinner on the way.
Friday, March 21’St.
It’s time for my last cup of coffee and my last baguette at the hotel. Then I check out – walk to Denfert-Rochereau – take a RER to Charles de Gaulle – check in – get on board my Sterling-plane – flies to Billund – wait a little – and take 907X to Vejle.