Paris to Normandy

Day 20-25; Aug 9-14, 2022

We are publishing this post today, Nov 11, 2022, with thoughts of all military veterans.

To all the veterans out there… we salute you! Thank you for your service and sacrifice!

Our flight from Stockholm to Paris was fairly smooth, that is after we spent an hour standing in line at the ticket counter to check our luggage in. Remember the chaos at airports last summer? At least the Viking representative showed up to take us to the ship this time!

This segment of our travels was the replacement for our canceled Viking Waterways of the Tsar River Cruise in Russia. We all know what happened on Feb 23, and because of that we scrambled to find another activity to fill in the missing days. Our goal was to string these cruises together so we would only have to fly internationally once. The Waterways of the Tsar River Cruise was in the middle of the three cruises and we didn’t want to fly home after our Homelands Cruise only to go back two weeks later to catch our last cruise in Israel. With the help of Philip, our travel agent extraordinaire, we were able to snag a spot on the France’s Finest River Cruise that exactly matched the days and dates we had to fill. And since Paris has been on my bucket list for years it filled the bill perfectly.

The itinerary of two cruises making up the France’s Finest Cruise

We arrived at Viking Radgrid in the afternoon in Paris. It was almost an hour cab ride from the airport to the ship, but the “taxi” was a brand new Mercedes so we had no complaints.  We’d sailed a Viking river cruise in 2017 on a similar vessel, so it didn’t take us long to get familiar with the layout of the newer Radgrid.  By the time we finished unpacking and enjoying a typically wonderful Viking dinner we were ready for a good night’s sleep.  No excursions on this day, but cocktails were served as we watched the nearby sparkling Eiffel tower.

Viking Radgrid was conveniently docked at Pont de Grenelle, just a 15-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower

It took us a while to adjust to the environment on the river longship after being on a big ocean ship for 2 weeks.  But we also love these smaller and more intimate ships.  The food is exceptional, and cruising down rivers while passing homes, farms and castles on both sides ain’t a bad way to spend your day!

At the restaurant our chef prepares some smoked salmon for breakfast

Paris

We took two excursions the next day, and with temps in the 90’s it was a long day.  The morning tour was the included City Panorama Tour by Bus, which as usual was guided and gave us leisurely views and lots of information about the major sights of the romantic city. We were able to de-bus a couple of times for pictures and to stretch our legs:

The afternoon excursion was terrible.  The Château de Versailles was the former home of French kings, and it wasn’t that the tour itself was terrible, it was dealing with thousands of visitors there, both in the lines waiting to enter the palace and within the palace itself.  If we didn’t contract Covid on this tour we never would – we wore our masks, of course, but were jammed together with people like canned sardines for hours.  We stood in the sun in 90º heat for almost an hour as our group waited to go through security to get inside.

The palace and its sprawling gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Once inside, it was pandemonium as people were crushed together walking through the palace. The heat and crowds spoiled the atmosphere,  We couldn’t wait to fill out the comment card for this excursion! If you decide to tour this palace, try to do it first thing in the morning. They really need to somehow throttle back the crowds to make it an attractive place to visit.

Once we got back outside we took what little time was left to explore the sprawling grounds and gardens. They were beautiful and we would have liked to spend more time there:

Returning to the ship in the late afternoon, we began the first leg of our cruise by getting underway to stops at La Roche-Guyon and Vernon. We passed by the Paris Statue of Liberty, which was given to the city in 1889 by the American community in Paris to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. The statue was installed some three years after New York’s Statue of Liberty and it faces west towards its cousin in New York City.

La Roche Guyon and Vernon

We arrived at the small dock at La Roche-Guyon early in the morning.  Although there was an available short guided walk around the quaint village, we opted to take off on our own so we could cover more ground.  We walked down the only main road and it was a nice, quiet venture with a few hills to warm up our legs and lungs. The village is set between chalk cliffs and the Seine River, and La Roche Castle hangs over it from the top of a cliff:

After lunch we cruised on to a larger town called Vernon, where we took the included afternoon tour at the home and gardens of the great painter, impressionist Claude Monet. I took many pictures in the garden when I was able to, as this place was also jam-packed with people:

Steve learned that he’s not really refined enough for these artist-themed tours.  And although the palaces are awesome in their size and architecture, he’s more excited about the day-long trip to Normandy that’s coming up!

Cruising along the Siene River

We cast off early the next morning and enjoyed a relaxing cruise down the river to our next stop at Rouen:

Rouen

The proper pronunciation of the city’s name is not what you might think, it sounds more like someone getting ready to vomit. The town is in the Normandy region, and the walking tour of the city took us down cobbled streets through the center of Old Town. We saw the spectacular Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, often painted by Monet, and the famous Gros Horloge, a 16th-century astronomical clock.

The city of Rouen is where military leader and Catholic saint Joan of Arc was executed in 1431. We were guided among the half-timbered storybook buildings and passed through the 14th-century courthouse where she was sentenced to death, then the nearby market square where she was martyred:

After a couple of hours in the hot afternoon sun we were ready to head back to the ship and just hang out for the rest of the day.  We stayed here for 2 nights, spending the second day visiting the most exciting excursion on this cruise – the beaches of Normandy!

Beaches of Normandy

We arose early in the morning for our day-long excursion in the northern region of France, where Allied forces landed on June 6, 1944.  The bus trip was long at over 2 hours one-way, but this was definitely a bucket list stop for us. Our imagination of Normandy was mostly influenced by learning its history in school and watching movies, but we were pleasantly surprised that the region also offers lovely countryside, stunning coastline, picturesque harbors and elegant seaside resorts:

We drove through the towns at Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches – Sword and Utah beaches were too distant for the timeline of our tour. Seeing the terrain made us ponder what it might have been like for the men running onto the beaches while facing horrendous firepower from the Germans.

The cliffs that the heroes climbed at Gold Beach
Concrete caisson remains of the artificial floating harbor constructed in 1944

A large artificial harbor named Mulberry was constructed and used at this beach (see pic below) for six months in 1944. It was an amazing feat of engineering constructed in Arromanches near Gold Beach. We passed through there and the seaside village of Arromanches, where we saw remains of the ingenious harbors. Move the arrows left to right below to see it as it was during the war and how it is today:

Arromanches is the site of the artificial harbors that the British built to funnel machinery and fuel to Allied troops in France

We’ve watched several D-day specials/documentaries over the years. As they say, “There’s nothing like being there”.  Our guide gave us a tremendous amount of information about the history of the area, the events leading up to the invasion by Allied forces and the terrible loss of life that resulted.

A map we saw of the D-day assault

After lunch we continued our trip to the cemetery at Omaha, where we paid respect to the graves of the American heroes who fought so hard and died here – 9,389 of them.  Viking had set up a short memorial ceremony for the many passengers who were in attendance.  It was a somber time with tears shed by many folks as we walked around the multiple burial areas pondering the courage of the Allied troops. We were also mindful of the fact that there were another 9,000+ graves at the nearby British and Canadian cemeteries.

Honoring the veterans who were on our cruise

At Omaha Beach:

Omaha Beach today, thanks to the brave soldiers who fought so that we can enjoy it!

It was a profound experience and we’re so glad we made it there!

Back on the ship, another feast awaited us:

Relaxing on the top deck after a sumptuous dinner

I decided to cut my post here, realizing it’s getting too long. We have one more port stop to make before cruising back to the City of Love for much more fun!


Up next: Cruising back to Paris

9 comments

  1. What a GREAT blog post!!! My husband’s dad was there on D-Day….so I loved that part of the blog best! I am so thankful to all of our veterans!
    Also loved the travel tips. We are just going to have to say no next time we are in that situation. It happened when we went to tour inside the Biltmore. WAY too crowded and it was a hot day. So we have to remember to go EARLY to such places!
    Looks like we are still sort of following your lifestyle. Although, we are still determined to just travel in the USA. We didn’t see enough while living in our RV.
    Anyway, you made this look so inviting. So maybe one day when we are comfortable things won’t shut down again and be stranded overseas. I had some personal dealings with that on 9/11….
    You both look great. Now I have to go back and see what other posts I’ve missed. Somehow, all my WordPress emails were spammed. I cleared that up and up popped this post.

  2. River cruising is wonderful, but having experienced exactly what you described at Versailles 25 years ago, we have learned to avoid the crowded places. One would think 25 years later, improvements in how the tour works at Versailles would have been made.
    So glad you got to Normandy, such an incredible experience! Hopefully you also saw Point du Hoc and the village of St. Mare Eglise and its church. If you saw the classic movie, the Longest Day, you will know what I mean.
    Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip.

  3. Temps in the 90s and being stuck in crowds sounds absolutely terrible. I would love to see the landscapes that inspired Monet, but only if I wasn’t there with ten million other people…and that may not be possible. So I’ll just enjoy his paintings in museums. 🙂 I love that you two are so honest about your experiences. All of your cruising is inspiring us!

  4. Oh, dang, such beautiful sights to see, but spoiled by heat and the masses, even in the gardens! Sorry it wasn’t all you’d hoped. It’s always so jarring to see places that are pretty and imagine them in wartime. I’ve done that often during our travels, wondering how it must’ve been as a soldier instead of a hiker. Sobering to say the least! As always, the ships, the food, and the hospitality look outstanding.

  5. What a very appropriate post for Veterans Day. Sorry you were stuck with so very many people doing the same event you were. Sounds terrible and hot. Ugh! Visiting Normandy is on many bucket lists. Glad you were able to check this off. So many beautiful photos, ML.

  6. The good and the bad of touring famous and popular places! Your photos were spectacular and we enjoyed cruising along with you two. Neat photo effect to help us visualize “then and now” at Arromanches!

  7. We had the exact same experience when we visited the Vatican many years ago. Wall to wall people, all moving as one mass. We couldn’t stop to actually look at anything. Just chaos and totally unenjoyable. So, I feel for ya. I’m glad your visit to Normandy was more along the lines of what you expected and it sounds like Viking did a good job respectfully honoring the veterans on your trip and paying tribute to the soldiers who were lost that fateful day.

  8. A great summary of what you saw. Normandy Beaches is a bucket list for us as well.

    We were going to do a day trip ourselves to Versailles … now I am doubly glad as the summer crowds would have made it just as miserable experience as yours was. I’m glad I visited Versailles once back when I had just graduated from high school … so few people back then at the Palace.

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