Published: March 29th 2007March 29th 2007
Since the English pound was killing our feeble attempt at a budget we decided to get out of England as quickly as possible. We looked at several options but the cheapest and easiest way was by bus from London to either Calais or straight into Paris. We have decided to rent a car rather than purchase a Eurail pass because of the remote sites we wish to see in such a short time. The cost of the car is less than the 15 day train ticket for two people even if we spend fifty dollars a day on gas. The bus left London at 8:00 p.m. and was due to arrive in Paris between six and seven the next morning. Since we had taken several overnight buses in South America we felt confident we could handle the trip. We really got spoiled by the quality of coaches in South America compared to this one. We chose Paris because we thought it would be a better place to drop off the rental car and allow us a couple of days in the city before we head to Rome. Our mistake was booking the rental through Ryan air. The low cost airline
uses a separate terminal in Beauvais. We realized the terminal may be outside of the city since it was listed as Paris Beauvais but we didn't realize how far. We stepped off the coach in Paris and went looking for a way to the rental place. Our hearts sank when we looked at the huge map on the subway wall and couldn't find the terminal. We asked a fellow tourist where it might be and he used his Lonely Planet guide to inform us it was 38 km from the far northern edge of the city. We would have known this if we hadn't made another mistake earlier in buying our not so wonderful guidebook. In our search for knowledgeable guide books we have found three main publications. The most common and often jokingly referred to as the traveler's bible is the Lonely Planet series. These are good but not our favorite. The second series is Frommer's guide books. We feel these are excellent because of they are easier to read and understand. The last series is Rough Guide. We decided to take a chance because they were on sale and Frommer's wasn't available. This is possibly the worst guide
I've read. Hard to read, poor maps if any and lacking several top sites listed numerous times by others sources we regret purchasing the book. Enough complaining. We walked from the bus station to the metro and asked if the subway or a coach bus (no one at the bus station that early to ask) went near the Beauvais terminal. The metro ticketer was helpful and we jumped on a subway train to the north of Paris where a coach line made trips to the terminal. From the metro we walked two blocks to a bus stand where we were informed that the next bus would leave in two hours and cost €13 each. Sam didn't want to wait for two hours so we hailed a cab. On our way to the bus stand we were offered a ride for €20 each so we thought that a cab would be in the same range. €110 later we realized we were taken for a ride. In the middle of the country-side there was little we could do. We rented the car from Hertz and inquired about dropping the car off in Paris and were informed that since we used the Ryan
air discount we must return it to the Beauvais terminal. This time we will take the bus!
Leaving Beauvais we decided to head north to the Normandy Beach area. Our first stop was in the town of Caen where one of the largest and referred to as the best war memorial stands. The memorial is not only for D-Day but other wars up to today but W.W.II and D-Day make up the majority of the exhibit. The memorial is excellent. Entering the memorial we were greeted by an amazing movie of some actual footage of the events of D-Day. They also have a large selection of letters and diaries of D-Day participants that are incredibly insightful. After spending a couple of hours at the memorial we headed further north in search of the beaches. We reached Omaha and stopped at the cemetery for the American soldiers killed in the assault. The cemetery contains the remains of 9387 servicemen and women along with 307 "unknown" soldiers. There is also semi-circular wall that contains the names of 1557 servicemen whose remains have not been recovered. This is just one of fourteen W.W.II cemeteries dedicated to American armed forces on foreign soil. The
sight of thousands of marble head stones in perfect lines marking the lives lost is extremely powerful. A log book at the visitor’s information desk lists the many thoughts of guests seeing this sight. Majority of the comments are the same simple two words. Thank you.
Following the coast road west we went in search of Pont-de-hoc. This point that overlooks Omaha beach and Utah beach stands on a cliff. Heavily fortified guns looked out into the waters protecting the beaches. Being high on a cliff the Germans felt confident they were well defended from attack. These guns had to be eliminated for the beach landings. The job was handed to LTC James Rudder and his 2nd Ranger Battalion. A squad of 235 soldiers scaled the 100 ft cliff, took the point and held it for several days until reinforcements arrived. The original reinforcements actually landed on Omaha beach because they never received confirmation of the assault and feared it was unsuccessful. Of the 235 soldiers in the assault only 90 survived. What is extremely impressive with this site is that the 30 acre area has been left virtually untouched. Riddled with huge craters spanning twenty feet wide the site
also has the shelled battlements in rubbles. For any W.W.II buff this is a must see.
We continued west along the coast to the picturesque Le Mont Saint Michel. This town has the beautiful Mont Saint Michel abbey. The abbey occupies a small peninsula that at one time twice a day became an island during high tide. Over hundreds of years the silt brought in to the bay from the ocean has slowly created a permanent land bridge to the island that rarely becomes flooded. Prior to this tidal flats at low tide tempted many to cross only to be carried away when the tides came back in. Created mostly in the 11th and 12th century this abbey dominates the island while smaller buildings are jigsaw puzzled into the remaining plots of land.
Continuing south we started the long drive to Spain. We realize there is a lot to see in France but we intend to hit them on the way back up to Paris. We're heading south to warmer climates first. Since we have a car we decided that we will try and save some money by buying a cooler for food and car camp in truck stops and
rest areas. After several hours of driving we finally pulled off the road around 2:30 am just outside of Bayonne, close to the Spanish border. Wrapped in our sleeping bags the night wasn't that bad considering we are in a compact car and we awoke somewhat rested for the drive to Bilbao.
There are more photos below