Paris isn’t the only must see destination in France! There are many beautiful cities in southern France and fascinating attractions in northern France. Keep in mind that the French are very big on politeness. Even though most people speak basic English in the bigger cities never assume. Always start by saying “bonjour” (hello) then you can ask if they speak English. Also, try to remember to say “merci” (thank you) and “au revoir” (goodbye) when you leave a store/restaurant.
After leaving Paris we made our way to Normandy, France. Our original plan was to try to visit Mont. St. Michel and Omaha Beach in Normandy all in one day. However, it was not possible because of a lack of transportation options. If you are wanting to visit one or both of these places we would advise you to look into your transportation options well in advance because there were limited options with the bus/train schedule. We had already bought Eurorail passes ahead of time, so we decided to take the train and then a bus. The ride to Mont. St. Michel Abbey from Paris took about three hours one-way. There is no direct train to the abbey, so we took the train to Rennes and then took a bus from Rennes that dropped us off close to the tourist center a few miles away from the Abby. Keep in mind if you have luggage that the center does not always have lockers available, (this was the case when we went.) You will first want to see what the day’s transport schedule is like so you have an idea what time to get back to the tourist center. You can either walk to the Abby or wait to take the free bus located in the parking lot it is called “le Passeur”. Since we all had our big backpacks we decided to wait for the bus. You will be doing a lot of walking here, we got very lucky and one of the hotels (yes this place it pretty much a small village) allowed us to leave our backpacks there for free. Tickets to visit the Abby cost 10 euros and for an extra 3 you can get an audio guide. The history of Mont. St. Michel is truly amazing and the place itself is breathtaking. Be careful not to come close to high tide because it actually becomes an island. The abbey survived both the Hundred Years War and the French Wars of Religion. It has served as a religious symbol, a military stronghold, and a prison throughout history. Besides the abbey there are is a lot to see including shops, restaurants, and the surrounding bay. If you decided that you want to walk the bay it is best to go with a guide because there a quite a few pockets of quicksand throughout the area. We decided to eat lunch before making our way through the abbey. There is a range of food places from La Mere Poulard with its 30 euro omelets to Au Pelerin which has 6-10 euro combinations of things like sausage and fries.
As I mentioned earlier we were not able to fit Omaha Beach in because of our tight schedule. However, many people recommend you either go visit Mont. St. Michel, stay the night there and then travel the next day to one of the D-Day beaches or vise versa (spend the night near Omaha and then travel to the abbey the next day.) For anyone that doesn’t know Omaha Beach was one of the WWll D-Day invasion sites. When visiting today you can still see some of the remaining bunkers, a sculpture commemorating those who lost their lives, and several nearby museums. Not being able to fit this site into our schedule was probably our biggest regret of the trip. So make sure you plan ahead as much as possible.
The last city we visited in France was Nimes. Nimes was actually a city that we went to in October, almost a month and a half after Paris. The French Riviera has both beautiful cities and beaches. After leaving the train station the first thing we saw was Esplanade Charles De Gaulle, which is a park/plaza area. The walking path has small waterways on either side that light up at night. There are also fountains, benches, and gardens. This city is very heavily influenced by Roman culture. The Arenes De Nimes is a Roman Colosseum located within walking distance from the station. Once used for bullfighting and Colosseum fights, you can now see live music performed or reenactments on occasion. You can check out the museum for 10 euros. Next, we visited the Nimes Cathedral, which is a Romanesque and gothic style church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We also stopped by the Eglise Saint Baudiule, which is another church with amazing stained glass windows. In the middle of the old town square, you can find the Place de l’Horloge (clock tower). Another must see in Nimes is the Maison Carree. This is one of the most well-preserved Roman temples still around. You can go inside the temple and watch a movie about Roman times for about 7 euros. The next stop on our list was the Jardin De La Fontaine. It is considered one of the most amazing gardens in Europe. You can find several really cool thing things inside the gardens, like a Roman temple, statues, and the Temple De Diane. This temple is another piece of well-preserved Roman architecture. If you continue all the way through the garden you can get to La Tour Magne. This tower is originally used in the Hundred Years War to fend off the English. It is located at the highest point in the city and for around 4 euros you can go up to the top and get a great view. Keep in mind if you plan on visiting the Arenes De Nimes, Maison Carree, and La Tour Magne you can actually save money by getting the ticket for all 3 sites for 13 euros (you will purchase this ticket at Arenes De Nimes). Eglise Saint Paul was the last church we visited. Like most churches in this city, it is free to enter, but donations are accepted. Finally, we took a bus to Le Grau du Roi, an amazing seaside town with a great beach to end the day and end our say there before traveling to the next destination.