My husband and I recently traveled to France on vacation and met up with our 26 year-old son. We really enJOYed our vacation so I thought I’d share some photos and stories.
We didn’t have a travel agent help us beyond our flights. We had a basic plan before we left for the vacation, but our plan was general and left plenty of room to go where the wind blew us.
The good thing about traveling on your own versus with a tour group is that you get to go wherever you want and whenever you want. Plans can change according to how you feel that day, and if you stumble upon something interesting you can forego the plan and experience the site that caught your attention.
Navigating Around the Cities & Country
First, I want to thank our son, Chris. If it weren’t for him, Ray and I might still be lost somewhere in France!
When you’re with a tour group, they pretty much tell you where to go, when to be there, and they handle all transportation. Since we opted to go on our own, navigation was a bit challenging for us middle-aged travelers. Thankfully Chris is a well-traveled person who had the street smarts to get us around.
Chris was a master at using technology to get where we needed to be. Google Maps was indispensable. I’ll spare the details of how to use all the features, but know that there are not street signs on every corner like in the U.S.
One feature I will mention is that Google Maps also gives you the amount of time it would take to walk, cab, bus, or train to your destination. Taking the train, bus, or walking were often less time consuming than taking an Uber or cab due to traffic.
Anyway, Chris helped me get a European sim card in my iPhone so I had easy access to data wherever we were. He had tricks to downloading maps and directions, and I attempted to learn to use Google Maps to help with navigation as we more often than not walked through the cities.
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Our trip started in Paris. We took the Eurostar high-speed train (the Chunnel) from London into France. It was an extremely relaxing ride, and when I wasn’t napping it was nice to see the more rural areas in France.
We stayed in an Airbnb that we reserved prior to our departure from home. Property in Paris is a premium, so let’s just say the apartment was quite small. Yet, it met our needs and was only a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower.
Interesting fact: The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 as part of the Paris exhibition and was only meant to be there for 20 years. It was realized how it was an important part of the city and chose to keep it there.
The Eiffel Tower was given the nickname The Iron Lady in 1925 because it was used as a commercial billboard by car company, Citroën.
We enjoyed the view and decided to not “queue” (stand in line) to get tickets to take the elevator nor steps to the top. Being so close to our Airbnb, we saw the Eiffel Tower every day we were in Paris – a perk that I very much enJOYed.
(Click on any of the photos in this post to enlarge them.)
Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the 12th century, was closed due to the fire this past April 2019. It was still good to see this amazing Paris icon. The Gothic detail is amazing. I wish we could have seen the inside.
The Louvre Museum
The History: The Louvre is considered the world’s greatest art museum. It was originally built as a fortress in 1190, but was reconstructed in the 16th century to serve as a royal palace. In 1793 it opened as a museum to display art.
There had been a workers’ strike at the museum so we had to order tickets online and go back the next day. It was huge!
Other Fun in Paris
We enjoyed lunch and dinner at the various cafes that are throughout the town. Creme Brulee was delicious, although usually we were too full for dessert (very odd for me!).
I had heard about a pretty street in Paris that wasn’t too far from the Notre Dame Cathedral, so Ray and Chris agreed to go with little fuss.
It’s a quiet residential street although there were several instagrammers getting their photos in. Their spouses/friends were so patient with photographing them as they did their perfect poses.
I just had to get one little photo on an adorable door step. 🙂
After three nights in Paris, we took a train from Paris to Bayeux. It was a short walk from the train station to our Airbnb.
As we turned the corner onto the street where we’d be staying, our eyes lit up and we knew that we were in a town that we’d enjoy! I immediately snapped this photo:
Our Airbnb was awesome. It was formerly a bank built in the early 1800’s and now has a retail store on the street level, and the upper two levels are remodeled into apartments.
There was an incredible view from our window on the back side of the Bayeux Cathedral. The church bells rang regularly which I loved!
Click this video and take a listen to the bells:
The Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux, France was GORGEOUS. I filled my camera with photos and had a hard time limiting the photos to share.
Bayeux is in the Normandy area and was the first town in France that was liberated. Bayeux was spared of any damage because the troops all went through the nearby town of Caen, which was devastated by bombings.
The guided tours of Omaha Beach and other areas were all booked, so we went on our own to the Museum of the Battle of Normandy. It was excellent and we learned so much about the war during the summer of 1944.
We left on June 4, and on June 6 was the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Many of the businesses had American (and others) flags, thank yous, and other images painted on their windows for the 75th anniversary.
We also found some other interesting places in this very quaint town of Bayeux.
The Bayeux Tapestry was an interesting museum stop. The 70 meters long embroidery depicts the conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy in 1066.
We stayed in Bayeux two nights and would have preferred to stay longer.
We rented a car in Bayeux and drove about 5 1/2 hours south to the little town of Blaye that’s located in the Bordeaux region of France. Our son drove (thank goodness!) and we were never so happy to return the rental and go back to trains and buses!
We stayed at Villa St. Simon, a Bed & Breakfast that was recommended to us by friends who had stayed there 5 years ago.
What a find! Charming, adorable, comfortable, accommodating, friendly…. so many ways to describe this wonderful place. Shout out to Lara who worked at the B&B and went above and beyond to make sure we had a great vacation while in Blaye.
We had a top level suite at the B&B that was built in 1860 and was originally a family home. It was restored and turned into a B&B in 2002-2003. We felt so much at home and loved the people and the town so much that we extended our 3-night stay to 5 nights.
Turned out that we were the only people staying at the B&B during that week, so we had a huge house to ourselves!
Each morning I always enjoyed going to the kitchen and making coffee in the large French press (that they called a plunger) or using the espresso machine. We could wake up and relax with a cup or two of coffee, just like at home.
The town was small but charming. We enjoyed having a drink at La Cave before dinner. Interesting note: all restaurants close from about 2:30pm – 7:30pm.
You can read the history in the link above, but basically there was a city within the walls! It had restaurants, stores, and pretty houses that I’m not sure what they were used for. It was a fun find!
We had lunch and enjoyed roaming the city behind the walls:
There were a few meals in Blaye that were excellent, but the most notable was our seafood fest at La Marina. We went there on our first night in Blaye and enjoyed a really good seafood meal.
But when I was talking with Lara (from Villa St. Simon) and explained we had a difficult time with the French menu and non-English speaking wait staff, she picked up the phone and ordered us SEAFOOD. We had no idea what we would have until it was served.
What a fantastic surprise! Chris and I especially devoured the massive amounts of seafood – some of which we couldn’t even identify!
All Good Vacations Must End
After our five nights in Blaye, it was time to take a bus to the Bordeaux Train Station and take the 3-hour train ride back north to Paris.
We stayed at a hotel near the airport and had our last dinner together at the hotel. We weren’t up for threading together more bus and train rides to get out of the airport area.
The next morning Chris took the shuttle with us to the airport. While Ray and I would make the trans-Atlantic flight back home, Chris was going to take a bus to Germany and meet up with a few friends he made during his year in New Zealand. (Read the New Zealand Adventure series here.)
Is France on your bucket list? I’m happy to give you tips if you’re thinking about traveling to France. Please feel free to drop a comment with your thoughts, interesting things you did on your vacation in France, or questions you might have about our France vacation.
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