Road Trip 2018: Bruges, Normandy, and Paris
Personal recommendations or unbeatable tickets prices have helped us to narrow down on many of our travel destinations. However, there are a few bucket-list locations that we moved to Spain determined to experience. Normandy, France, is one such location, being a long-time bucket item of our own, as well as of my dad. In July, after months of strategizing, we reunited with family for the long-awaited road trip.
Over the course of this trip, we moved around a good bit. We limited the driving each day to around three hours, and this allowed us to see all of the highlights of Normandy, as well as some real gems in Belgium and Paris. This was a sightseeing adventure, not a relaxing beach vacation, though there was nothing we would have cut out of the itinerary.
With that said, our girls were both running fevers the day that we arrived in Belgium. While we had been assured by the doctors they were fine, and Henry had already quickly bounced back from the short virus, Cora struggled to fight it off. On the third night of the trip, we ended up in a hospital in Bayeux, France. They determined she had a virus and an ear infection. After 18 hours of IV fluids, she had bounced back considerably and we were sent on our way. All this to say that we would have cut that out of the trip. But, you can never plan perfectly. We are just so thankful for her health, modern medicine, amazing insurance, and the help and comfort of our family.
This trip took us to sights we’ve dreamed of seeing our whole lives (as in Charlotte and the Eiffel Tower) and places in history that are so profound but moved even the youngest of us to prayer. We filled our stomachs over and over again with cheese and pears and chocolate. We filled our banks of hugs and kisses and “I love yous,” and left with memories that will last us a lifetime.
I’ll dig into highlights in separate posts, but wanted to quickly cover the itinerary on this grand adventure.
Day 1: Bruges Belgium.
We flew from Seville into Brussels Charleroi Airport, and from there drove to Bruges, Belgium. We reunited with several members of the White (and Schmidt) Family for a night in a beautiful and well-located AirBnB. We spent the afternoon eating waffles, listening to bells ring, and searching for swans. Dennis and I also went out after bedtime with my sister and her husband for more meanderings through the streets and a drink in a Trappist cellar. Oh, and Belgium had a World Cup Match that night, so that was a special treat.
We played on the beach in Ostend before exploring the impressive World War I and World War II bunkers and trenches at the Atlantic Wall Museum. After lunch at this open air museum, we drove to the outskirts of Rouen, France, where we stopped for the second night.
Day 3: Rouen, France and Pegasus Bridge.
Leading up to this trip, I was so concerned about driving in Paris. As it turned out, I should have been more worried about Rouen, France. This was not my favorite spot of the trip. The Cathedrale of Notre Dame was beautiful, and the timber frame architecture charming. However, the more modern buildings they used to fill in the streets really took away from the city, in my eyes, and it paled in comparison to our trip to Alsace.
After Rouen, we drove to the Pegasus Bridge Museum in Ranville, which was well-done and a great start to the D-Day sites of the coming days. We then opted to head to our amazing AirBnB in Arromanches-les-Bains.
Day 4: Bayeux and Arromanches-les-Bains.
This was the day that Cora and I spent in the Bayeux Hospital. Dennis and the kids explored Arromanches, waiting for our discharge. Originally our plan was to join the rest of the family on a private tour of the D-Day Paratrooper section. The family was impressed, but I will also say that a day relaxing in Arromanches is well-spent. There was a carousel on the beach, a handful of cute shops, and an amazingly unique view of the English Channel dotted with concrete remains of the Mulberry Harbor that was built to enable the landing of cargo immediately following D-Day.
Day 5: American Cemetery and Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument.
The morning started off leisurely as my mom and I rested with Cora to make sure she was hydrated and peppy. The rest of the gang took in the small but well done Disembarkment Museum right down the street.
Our main morning destination was the American Cemetery. Nothing prepares you for the immensity of being there, surrounded by perfectly manicured row after row of white headstones. To look out over Omaha Beach. To reflect on the profound lose in defense of life and peace. To know it was a proud fight worth fighting, but also one that resulted in such sacrifice. My littlest soldier was moved to tears, and kept kneeling in prayer and saying he didn’t want soldiers to die. And isn’t that how we should all be moved to feel.
Our afternoon was spent at Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument, the very spot where American Rangers scaled a seaside cliff to overtake strategic German guns. The walk along the cliff takes you through bunkers and past crater after crater that pock mark the landscape. It is almost impossible to imagine the chaos and heroism of those days.
Day 6: Mont Saint-Michel, drive through Failaise Valley to tiny Villegats.
Much has been said about pilgrimages to picturesque Mont Saint-Michel, the Abbey that rises almost magically on an island in the tides. Our main takeaway was to get an early start before masses of tourists overcome the island. So, we stayed the night before at Hotel Vert within the Mont Saint Michel bay compound. I recommend the hotel for its prime location, a strong breakfast, and decent sized, simple rooms. We were able to take the first shuttle to the island, beating the rush to wander through the same narrow streets as pilgrims past to reach the Abbey founded by St. Michael the Archangel.
With an early start, we were able to see the Abbey in just a few short hours and spent the next few hours driving through the Failaise Valley until we reached our country home in tiny Villegats. This night was one of my favorites, as we adults got to sit around outside talking for hours over glasses of wine. It was what my heart needed.
Day 7: Versailles.
Versailles. Isn’t this just one of those places that you feel you should see? My mom, who had already checked this site off her list, was wonderfully kind to stay behind with our kids so they could rest and recuperate. Ultimately, I can say that I’m glad I saw this grand palace, but it left me uninspired and unlikely to seek out a return.
Day 8: Giverny, Chateau of La Roche-Guyon, Paris.
This was most likely my favorite complete day of the trip. It started with a visit to Monet’s home in tiny Giverny, which is the opposite of Versailles. It’s natural and livable and colorful and totally made me want to stay. We wandered through the gardens, and then had my favorite meal of the trip at Les Nympheas Restaurant.
After lunch, we headed to the Chateau of La Roche-Guyon, in search of Rommel’s headquarters. We were so pleasantly surprised with all that we found, making it the perfect detour before heading to Paris. Once in Paris, we checked into Hotel 34B, which was just perfect for our family with large rooms, a welcoming staff, and free afternoon refreshments.
Day 9: Paris.
Charlotte claims that she has spent our whole life waiting to see Eiffel’s famous tower, and so all of her wishes have finally come true. But first, we spent the morning following Rick Steve’s Historic Paris Walk, with stops at Notre Dame, the Deportation Memorial, and various Left Bank Booksellers. We also made sure to grab ice cream on Ile St. Louis. I will say I was far more impressed by Notre Dame than I expected, and underwhelmed by the book sellers. We then grabbed sandwiches and headed to the Eiffel Tower for a picnic lunch. The afternoon led the gentlemen in our group to the Musee de l’Armee (Army Museum) and Napoleon’s Tomb, and in search of monuments to American Patriots. The ladies wandered through the streets in search of miniature Eiffel Tower souvenirs and macaroons. We then got to enjoy the crazy atmosphere surrounding France’s victory in the World Cup’s semifinals. And did I mention that my hotel room had a balcony, where I got to sit and talk with my sister while little travelers slept inside. Well, Charlotte got to stay up late with her papa to cheer on the French.
Day 10: Paris, and flight home to Spain.
In the morning we said our sad goodbyes as my family headed in their own separate directions. With the morning to fill, our little family of five headed to Musee de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s famous water lilies. While the kids did honestly enjoy seeing the paintings, we were done at this point, a bit broken hearted, and ready to head back to the home we know in Spain. All trips should leave you inspired, and appreciative of the places you call home.