We drove from Loire Valley to Versailles this morning. It was a little surprising to wake up and have the temperature be 38. It definitely feels like fall already here. Driving has been pretty easy on this trip but France does have a lot of tolls on the highways. And you have to make sure you don’t miss your exit because it is always another half an hour before your next exit. I did miss one exit yesterday which added to the toll and at least 30 minutes.
We are only in Versailles one night. Basically it is a lot closer to get to the airport tomorrow morning for the flight home instead of driving a couple of hours. Since we had the day in Versailles, we went over to the palace. The palace is only 12 miles from Paris and is one of the most visited sights in the world. We only visited the grounds and didn’t go into the palace as that would have taken a long time. We managed to walk the grounds for 4 hours and never really saw the same thing twice.
The palace was built in the 1600’s. The grounds have over 600 water features in 55 pools and fountains. On Sundays, some of the fountains are synced with classical music. To conserve water, they don’t have all the fountains on all day so you have to time when you see some of the fountains. There were a number of fountains that we never saw running.
Here is a short video of some of the fountains that are choreographed with music.
The Loire Valley is along the Loire River. It is said that Loire River divides North and South of France. The Valley is known for it’s farming, historic towns, architecture and a number of chateaus. We spent the day visiting three chateaus: Chenonceau, Villandry and D’Azay Le Rideau. I, of course, enjoyed the grounds and was amazed at how many flowers, fruits and vegetables were still in bloom in September.
The morning started off very cool which created a fog on the river. There were so many hot air balloons in the sky when I was driving to the first château. It looked like a perfect morning for a ride. Today was also European Heritage day. I thought that meant kids untidier 18 got into things for free, but the last château we visited was free to everyone today.
From Normandy, we headed to the Loire Valley. We made a little detour on the drive to visit Mont-Saint-Michael. I have seen so many photographs of the abbey that it was fun to finally see it in person. It is about a 50 minute walk from the parking lot to the entrance of the abbey. You can take a free shuttle if you prefer but it was perfect weather to walk to the abbey and we had some time. It is suggested to arrive early since it can get pretty crowded. Traveling in September has been great as there are a lot fewer groups (but there are still a lot of school groups).
The island actually has a population of 29 people. The abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and around 3 million visitors visit each year. It was first a sanctuary built in 708 that became a major focus of pilgrimage in the 10th century. Over the centuries, the abbey continued to grow. It was used as prison in the 1800’s when it wasn’t tied to a religious order. One of the most interesting things in the abbey to me was a large wheel that was used to lift heavy things up the side of the hill. They would put six people in the wheel to make it it turn.
Started off the morning by driving to Omaha beach. To get the full effect of the beach, it is best to visit during low tide. That way you can see how far the tide goes out and what the American soldiers had to get through to get to shore. The tides can go as high as 25 feet and average around 18 feet. It is hard to imagine the beach full of obstacles to either puncture the ships or kill the soldiers. It is said that the streams you can see on the beach during low tide were completely red from blood during D Day. The tide really does come all the way to the walkway along the beach.
From the beaches that the American’s arrived on, we made our way to the American Cemetery. There are thousands of American soldiers buried here. There is a museum before visiting the cemetery that explains a lot about June 6th, 1944. The cemetery is above the beaches of the Channel. We also stopped at a German cemetery that had thousands of soldiers as well. The majority of the tombstones didn’t contain a name because most of the lost lives were never identified.
Pointe du Hoc might have been the most interesting since you could still see giant craters in the ground where bombs fell. There were still a couple of German bunkers you could go in. The pictures of the ocean show how steep the cliffs were that the American soldiers climbed to get to shore. Since the cliffs were so steep, an attack wasn’t expected to come from the water.
Our last stop was to Arromanches-les-Bains. This is where the British landed. To make a harbor, they sank a lot of old ships and concrete out in water to protect their ships. Once the harbor was made, they brought in huge metal ramps to drive tons of equipment off of the boats and on to land. You can still see some of the remnants in the water.
Finally back to some reliable internet so I can try to get caught up on the last couple of days. On the way to Normandy, we stopped at Giverny, France to see Claude Monet’s house. He lived in the house for 43 years from 1883 to 1926. Really I wanted to stop there just to see the gardens and the lily pond. We took a very brief look in the house but spent most of the time wandering around the large gardens. I was surprised to see how many flowers were still blooming even though it is the middle of September.
It has been 21 years since my last visit to Paris but I don’t think the city has changed at all. You can walk for hours and still never see most of it. It really is one of the best cities for people watching. You can pick any cafe and just sit outside for hours watching thousands of people go by. The flight was pretty easy with a connection in London. It took about an hour from the time we landed in Paris to actually getting off the plane since they couldn’t get the sky bridge to work. They finally brought in stairs so we could get off the plane. From there, we had to wait in a line for an hour to get through passport control.
We arrived at the hotel around 11:00 PM Sunday night. We basically had two full days in Paris and we saw everything by foot. Almost 30 miles later, I can say our feet our tired. The first day was pretty blue skies which I think can be rare in Paris in the fall. The second day was cloudy but still warm and humid. There was one quick shower in the middle of the day but we were lucky to find an awning to shelter under.
We walked for hours which meant I took way too many pictures. The city was busy but not as bad as it would be in the middle of summer with all of the tourists. I have tried more patisseries than one really should in 48 hours. I keep telling myself that walking 30 miles means I can try all the delicious sweets and breads. It is hard to imagine Notre Dame on fire but they are working hard at rebuilding it. I took hundreds of pictures which means I really struggled trying to narrow it down to some of my favorites.
And what would be a trip to Paris without a tour of the Eiffel Tower. It was a bit overcast this evening but it still didn’t disappoint. We did a tour so we could get a ticket to the very top which is 300 meters high. The tower was originally painted red but the French people didn’t like it. It has been painted Eiffel Tower Brown since the late 1960’s. It was originally completed in 1889 for the World Fair. The tour guide said they plan on changing the color again before France hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics. They will be painting it gold. They say it is the most visited paid monument in the world with almost 25,000 visitors a day. The guide also mentioned that there are 2 rats for every inhabitant of Paris. So there are a little over 4 million rats roaming the city. Really glad I only saw one.
Good night from Paris. Tomorrow is off to Normandy.