French Road Trip Series

Normandy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” – some inspirational meme on Facebook.

Oh, God. I certainly hope not. Because our journey to Normandy from Brussels bordered on torture. Brussels = nice. Normandy = nice. Journey ≠ nice. Things we learned:

  1. France has tolls. All the tolls. How much does each toll cost? You never know! It’s a surprise! Sometimes €3, sometimes €15! If you guess correctly you still have to pay.
  2. Take the proper exit. If you miss your exit there may not be another one for an hour (I’m not exaggerating) which means that you just added two hours to your trip. Yay!
  3. Bring food. There were very few places to stop in this part of France.
  4. Bring money for bathrooms at rest stops (we already knew this one because you pay for bathrooms in Germany too, but I figured to throw it in just in case you were not aware).
  5. Add an hour to anything Google Maps tells you. There’s always traffic somewhere. It was supposed to take five hours to get to Normandy. Add the hour and it’s six. Add the two hour detour and it’s now eight.
  6. Eight hours is too long for kids to be in a car.

Can we invent teleportation already? Or maybe the wizards can let us muggles in on their portkey travel. #nerdalert

Despite our not-so-fun day in the car, we did eventually make it to Normandy. While there we stayed at a campsite right across the street from the beach and it was awesome! They had bounce houses, a pool, a petting zoo, an arcade, pizzeria, nice showers and bathrooms, playground and of course you could just walk across the street to the beach!

Our first night there we pitched our tent, started dinner and explored the camp site. When I planned on camping I think I had imagined something a little more rustic than you get at European camp sites. All the camp sites we stayed at had some sort of restaurant or small convenient store. I had packed a cooler of camping food and brought a camp stove, but I really wish I would have just skipped all of that and got food locally. Even if the convenient store didn’t have what I wanted, we drove, and so we easily could have taken our car and gone into a town to a grocery store or a restaurant to eat. It would have saved us a lot of space in the car and time trying to cook food and wash dishes.

The other thing that we learned pretty quickly was that we should have tested our equipment ahead of time. As it turned out, our battery operated pump for our air mattress did not work. This meant we had to use a lot of lung power every time we moved camp sites. Perhaps if I weren’t pregnant at this time, or it we hadn’t just driven eight hours this might not have frustrated us so much, but as things were it made my husband and I very grumpy.

Once we realized and got over our mistakes, we really enjoyed Normandy. The kids had a blast at the campsite and the sea breezes kept it from being too hot. I love the ocean and, even though it was to windy and chilly to swim, listening to the waves and watching our kids run around on the beach as the sun set over the water is an experience that is hard to beat.

Our second and only full day in Normandy we went to go see Omaha beach and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. The whole coastline is speckled with memorials and monuments to those who fought on the beaches. It seems so peaceful and beautiful and without these large reminders jutting up out of the sandy shores, I’m sure it would be easy to just forget what happened in this location during WWII.

The American Cemetery contains the graves of men from the American Armed Forces, most of whom lost their lives on D-Day. It is a beautiful and somber place. There is a small museum which reviews WWII history and outlines the D-Day invasions. It really was worth the trip although I think this may have been better if our children were a little older as it was really hard for them to be quiet and respectful. After touring the historic sites we drove around and admired some of the small villages along the coast and made our way back to our campsite so the kids could play.

On our third day in Normandy we packed up and headed out toward Paris to go to Euro Disney. If we had more time in Normandy I would have loved to take a trip to Mont St. Michel. Oh well, now I have an excuse to go back again sometime!

Have you been to Normandy? What are your must sees in Northern France? Let me know in the comments below!

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” – some inspirational meme on Facebook. Oh, God. I certainly hope not. Because our journey to Normandy from Brussels bordered on torture. Brussels = nice. Normandy = nice. Journey ≠ nice. Things we learned:



A Night in Brussels

Two years ago, while stationed in Germany, we took our first trip out of Bavaria and headed to France. I keep putting off writing about it because it was a two-week trip and so much happened that writing about it is going to be a massive effort. However, if I don’t write about it now I may never get around to it so it’s time to buckle down and get to typing!

The problem with writing about something two years after it happens are that things start to get fuzzy. I can’t remember what day of the week we left home – probably Friday or Saturday. I can’t remember if it was before or after my son’s second birthday – he was some age very close to two. I wanted to be really informative and describe how in the heck we fit all of our stuff into our car, but I can’t – we shoved it all in there somehow.

Anyway, sometime about two years ago, when I had a five-year-old and a twoish-year-old and I was not-too-hugely pregnant with our third child, we decided it would be a good time to take a summer vacation to France. We had the brilliant idea to try camping. It was a little bit because we’re adventurous. It was mostly because I’m cheap. Actually, camping was not absolutely horrible. It had its moments, but overall it was a good way to save money and I would do it again with a few tweaks.

We chose to start at the top of France and work our way down. We went through Belgium and stayed the night in Brussels on our way up to Normandy. We stayed in Normandy a few days and then headed down to Euro Disney in Paris. I also wanted to see the city of Paris so we stayed a few more nights in a campsite in Paris before heading down to Canes for a few nights. On our way back we drove up through the French Alps, through part of Italy and stopped for a night in Liechtenstein before finally arriving back home in Bavaria.

After all plans and reservations were made, the day finally came to load up the car and head out. Between the camping gear, suitcases and children our car was filled to max capacity (who really needs to see out the rear-view mirror anyway?) and we were on our way to our first destination: Brussels, Belgium.

We arrived in Brussels late afternoon and checked into our hotel (if I were a better blogger I would have a link to the hotel here. Sorry. I don’t remember the hotel we stayed at, but really it was nothing too fantastic, I promise). Even though we had our tent and everything, we didn’t want to camp since we knew we really were just stopping to sleep and walk around down town a little bit before getting up to drive the rest of the way to Normandy in the morning. I do remember that parking was difficult – remember to search for a hotel or room that has a parking spot included.

 

After getting settled in, our evening was spent walking past sights like the European Union headquarters, The Royal Palace of Brussels and The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula. The streets

were pretty empty and quiet (oh, hey! It must have been a Saturday! Look at me! Memory like a steel trap!) and it was nice to walk around without crowds. After touring the cathedral we got our obligatory Belgian waffles from a street vendor and then headed over to a playground to let the boys get their energy out.

I do remember that Brussels seemed to me much more like an American city than anything we’d seen in Germany. Not only did it seem like many of the buildings were newer buildings, but it was a much more culturally diverse place than the places we’d seen in Germany. In our experiences of small-town Germany almost everybody looked German and spoke German, but in Brussels we saw people that looked like they were from all over the world and heard many different languages.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the first restaurant that looked appealing (pretty sure it was an Irish or British pub?) and then made our way back to the hotel for the night.

In the morning we woke up, got ready and started out to France. The rest of the short drive through Belgium was nice from what I remember. Lots of green, quaint villages and a castle here and there, and then we were in France! An evening really is not enough time to fully experience a city, let alone a country. To do it real justice, I’m sure we should have at least spent three or four days in Brussels alone. Instead of just walking past the palace, we could

have taken tours and instead of just settling for the first restaurant we came across we could have tried real local cuisine. If you are only staying in Belgium for a night, it might be nicer to go to a smaller village so you really could see the whole town rather than a big city like Brussels where you can only get a tiny taste before you have to leave. Either way, we had to stop for the night somewhere and we got to see a country we had never seen before in the process. That’s a win in my book.

If you want to know more fun activities to do in Brussels with kids check out this post from Mom Aboard or this post from Travel With 2 of Us. Check back in a few days for the story of the next leg of our trip – Normandy!