I recently had an opportunity to visit France. France has something for everyone from history, art, architecture, food, wine, chocolate, beaches and even Disneyland! The United States and France have been friends and allies for hundreds of year which is evident in the memorials and monuments that dot both countries such as our Statue of Liberty to the monuments, cemeteries and memorials in Normandy.
My recent visit to France took me from Paris to Normandy and then to the south of France. My purpose for the first week was history, art and architecture. My purpose for the second week was a Uniworld Cruise on the Rhone and Saone Rivers.
Time is too short for the many museums and monuments of the city. Prioritize and go early. I chose quality time in specific locations over trying to see everything. I did spend time at Notre Dame including hiking to the top, which commands an amazing view of Paris and listening to the bells. I spent a full day at the Louvre. In one day you cannot even walk through the entire museum,. One evening I took a tour of the Eiffel Tour and went to the summit. My guide pointed out the Paris view and 1,000 years of history as your eye travels from Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arch de Triumph to the modern city of La Defense. I also visited The Medieval Museum to view beautiful tapestries, and St Chappelle to appreciate the stained glass windows.
After a few, but very packed days in Paris, I took the train to Rouen. Rouen is famous as the historical site for Joan of Arc and they have a very fascinating visitor's center to learn more about her life. With a rental car and today's phone technology I navigated toward Caen, my base for the next few days. My purpose in Normandy was to view more art, more cathedrals, and World War II history. My discovery of Normandy began at Mont St Michel. This is an incredible building achievement which began on the top of a rock. It is often surrounded by water as the tides arrive. It has evolved into an amazing romanesque cathedral with a gothic chapel. Due to its precarious position it has lost sections over the years and been re-built and re-purposed. What an incredible adventure walking the narrow cobblestone street of the town to arrive at the top.
Following this visit to Mont St Michele, I returned toward Caen by way of Bayeux. Here is the home of the Bayeux Tapestry. This is a 1,000 year old piece of embroidered history telling the story of William the Conqueror on fabric. It stretches an amazing 125 feet long and has a miraculous history of survival. It is currently displayed in a very state of art method allowing viewability but also protecting its fragile structure.
The next day was a drive to Omaha Beach. I arrived early so stopped at a monument above the beach itself. Hiking down to the beach you pass WWII German pillboxes used to protect the Germans as they attacked the Allied Forces storming the beach. It was a very emotional experience thinking of all that happened here nearly 80 years ago. The American Cemetery has nearly 10,000 gravesites and markers and the Memorial has an incredible and detailed account of local events and people. It was so worth the visit. I appreciated the tribute to the American Soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of France and I appreciated the French for the memorial and their desire to not forget, for the families bringing their children there to learn about the history and appreciate the sacrifice of others for them. I returned to Caen where there is another large memorial/museum for WWII. This was also very comprehensive and educational, including an IMAX film.
This was the end of my Normandy visit. I then traveled back to Paris by train, then on to Marseille in southern France. Marseille has a history that is 2,600 years old and includes being settled by the Greeks, then was overtaken by the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages and on to current history. I had an opportunity to travel up the Rhone River on a Uniworld Cruise and view the beautiful vineyards, lavender fields, and historical cities. This area was home to artists such as Van Gogh who stayed for the peace and the beauty of the country.
I would encourage anyone to visit France, it has so much to offer. It is easy to navigate and I was treated with kindness everywhere I went. A friendly bonjour and merci were helpful as we worked together to communicate. Enjoy the history, the culture, the food and the people.