Part 3 – trip to France podcast trip report

France trip report part 3

And now for part 3 of this France trip report – our last 3 places we visited before Paris! If you haven’t read parts 1 and parts 2 yet, they cover our pre-France travels and the first few places we visited in France.

Bernières-sur-Mer – on the northern coast of France

We were now headed to Normandy – and our place was going to be RIGHT on the beach. As in, look at the window in the morning and watch the tide come in or out! It was a tiny little beach bungalow, but perfect for just the two of us. Zbyszek is a huge fan of the ocean, so I picked this place for him.

We didn’t really have any plans for our 3 days in Normandy, so this was more of a time to relax than to sightsee. We’ve both visited the cemetery and D-Day beaches and the Caen Peace Memorial (well worth a visit!), so we were perfectly happy to just chill for a few days and enjoy the more relaxing side of France.

We did make a short stop at Bayeux along the way.  We didn’t see the tapestry (the wait was too long) but we did visit the cathedral.  I’ve seen quite a few different cathedrals, but Bayeux was nice in that you could see everything without having to buy special tickets.  Usually you can’t go down in the crypt, but you can at Bayeux.  It’s a pleasant little town and I definitely wouldn’t mind going back someday if I’m in this part of France!

Bernières-sur-Mer is one of those tiny towns on the coast of France that has pretty much everything you need to enjoy a vacation. We had a pizza place downstairs and a large grocery store, bakery and pharmacy just a couple of blocks away. We were right next door to the Canada house and there were many markers of events from World War 2 around the area. We took walks up and down the coast and happened to see that President Macron was near us for the memorial ceremony for a D-Day hero!

At this point, we were realizing that our bags may or may not ever make it to us as we were moving around France a bit too much. I had put half of my medication in my carry-on and the other half in the suitcase. I know you’re not supposed to put vital things in a checked bag, but I like to split things in case something happens to one, I’ll still have the other. If you have all of your medication in your carry-on and it gets lost or stolen along the way, you won’t have anything!

I went to the pharmacy expecting a hassle to get more meds, but I just showed the pharmacist the pill bottle and explained the situation and she gave me a box of pills. Total cost? 5 Euros. This is less than I currently pay each month with health insurance in the US and it only took a couple of minutes. The pharmacy system in France is definitely more helpful than the dental system!

At one point during our stay, I got notification that my bag had been delivered at 2 AM. This was odd, since I hadn’t received any communication and there wasn’t any place for them to leave the bag – other than on the sidewalk or outside the building! It also isn’t typical for France that anything gets done at 2 AM, so I really doubted that it was true.

I ran downstairs in a panic to find that no, no bags had been delivered. I sent an email to them asking for clarification and they said that they were going to be shipping my bag via France Post and asked to confirm the delivery address. We would be gone by the time they would deliver it, so I gave them the address in Champagne.

Fontaine-sur-Ay

So far, Bordeaux was the only new thing on the trip for me. But today that was going to change – we were going to Champagne! We also had another sort of weird thing planned – since we had to go around Paris anyway, I decided to make a little detour to stop at one of the two Costcos in France. I knew we wouldn’t be stocking up on anything, but maybe they’d have a book or something cool to take home. At the very least, we could try the food court!

The Costco was…exactly what you would expect. They had a lot of the same products as in the US, but some French things as well. Baguettes, croissants, of course. I would have loved to be able to buy some things but we really didn’t NEED large quantities of anything. We did go to the food court and tried salad and a pizza. They tasted just like the ones in the US. We did notice that the clientele at Costco looked more American than usual. I’m sure most of the customers were French, but they just seemed more casual than the typical French person.

We headed out of the Paris region and got stuck in a little traffic on the péripherique – there was an accident on our route, but the GPS was able to find something slightly better. As we drove, the scenery changed a bit and we started seeing vineyards. We pulled over from time to time to take photos and we even found a little baguette vending machine in the middle of nowhere.

When we arrived at our rental, we had a pleasant surprise – one of our bags had arrived! Sadly, it wasn’t mine. Zbyszek now had his clothing and toiletries, so his wardrobe choices were much expanded for the rest of our trip. My suitcase was still sitting at the Bordeaux airport baggage area. But for the first time since we had arrived in France, we felt “normal” with access to some of our clothing and belongings.

Our home in Champagne was a hamlet – no facilities or stores, just houses. It was a pretty little place to stay, perfect for taking a walk but not for buying anything. It’s definitely not a very touristy part of France, and we were probably the only non-locals in the area. Our hostess had a cute little dog who had us all chasing her through the yard after she stole me France 2024 Olympics mascot doll. I’ll admit – it did look like a dog toy.

There was a church and a mayor’s office, but not much else. The village was interesting, with lots of markers showing the names and places of people and events involved in the French Revolution. One of the villagers was guillotined during the terror, and there was a placard about the event on display. Something I really enjoy when travelling in France is seeing the nods towards history in every town and city.

Our AirBNB hostess gave us some excellent information about a local champagne house and suggested we visit them. We went to the neighboring village and the owner came out and greeted us. He then spent a good hour taking us on a tour of the cellar and telling us about how the business runs and the history of the company. He was so friendly and welcoming – but he didn’t speak English, so it wouldn’t really work for non-Francophones.

After our tour another small group from Belgium had arrived. We sat around the kitchen table and shared samples of the different drinks on offer. I’m not really a drinker, but Zbyszek LOVED several of the things he tried.

We ended up leaving with 3 small bottles at a very reasonable price. He brought them home to Arizona and is saving them for a special occasion. While in Champagne, we also took a day trip to Reims. I’d never been there, although Zbyszek had. I wanted to see the cathedral, as it’s so important to the history of France – it’s where the kings were coronated. It was a Sunday, so most of the stores in town were closed and it was a quiet, drizzly day. The cathedral was amazing and we enjoyed walking around.

Strasbourg

On the road to Strasbourg we planned to go through the World War 1 area of France – specifically Verdun. It’s really off the beaten path and I was surprised at the route the GPS had us take. We thought we were not on the right road, but it turns out that we were – the cemetery is just a bit out of the way and not on a big autoroute. It’s a very different feeling than the things in Normandy, but still worth visiting.

Our hostess in Champagne had given us the name/location of her grandfather’s grave, but we weren’t able to locate it. We stopped at one of the villages that was obliterated during the war and walked a bit in the forest. There are still quite a few signs of the battles – trenches and run-down buildings. It seems so long ago, and I suppose it was.

There were definitely fewer people there than at the Normandy memorials, likely because it was more of a French thing than a coalition of countries thing – there are many tourists from Canada, Great Britain and the US who visit the D-Day memorials, but not so much Verdun. We saw quite a few people from France, but not so many from other places.

As we got closer to the German border, the architecture and trees started to change a bit. We found our apartment in Strasbourg and met our hostess who showed us around the apartment. It was perfect – comfortable, modern and quiet! There was a hypermarché within walking distance, so Zbyszek was thrilled – he fell in love with the French hypermarchés and loved just walking around in them looking for interesting things to try. We had a tram stop right outside the apartment, so we wouldn’t need to drive much – perfect!

We headed into Strasbourg the next morning to visit the city. I was there in 2018 with the kids, so I already knew my way around. We visited the cathedral and walked around a bit taking pictures and enjoying the Germanic atmosphere. And since Germany is right across the way, why not visit? Usually it’s a pretty simple thing to cross over to the city of Kehl on the German side.

Unfortunately, there were repairs on the tram line and we had to get off the tram, take a bus, then get back on the tram to get there. It wasn’t horribly inconvenient, but that didn’t stop Zbyszek from complaining. I haven’t really mentioned it much, but he loves to complain. If there is anything annoying, inconvenient, or just not the way he prefers, I get to hear about it.

We arrived in Kehl and took a nice look around. I went into the local supermarket and found some fun things to take home to my daughter, who minored in German. We got some chocolate and candy that I haven’t seen in France and headed back towards the train. But first – lunch!

We got a doner and sat outside to enjoy the nice weather. On the way back to the train station, we stopped to check out where the rental car return was. I would be returning it the next day and it can be tricky figuring out where exactly to go. The agency was undergoing renovations, and they had a desk in the hotel next door.

We got the info we needed and prepared to leave when a Japanese woman came in, very upset. She had rented an electric car but couldn’t charge it. Her French wasn’t great, but her English was better. I helped her to sign up for the app she would need and I hope she was able to charge her car and enjoy her trip after this! The EV charging system in France relies on a hodge-podge of different chargers and apps, so unless you drive a Tesla it can be tricky.

We returned our car the next day and headed over to the train station. When I booked our trip from Strasbourg to Paris, there was the question of ongoing strikes across France. So I didn’t book the TGV, instead I booked the German ICE. Now I know that that the TGV would have been much better!

The German trains sell tickets, but you don’t have a reserved seat. You have to pay extra for that. We had, so we had two reserved seats but the train was FULL. People were sitting in the aisles, in between cars, etc. It made it impossible to use the restroom or move around easily.

Our train trip was pretty uneventful. I found out later that Zbyszek was having issues with motion sickness and that’s why he wasn’t looking out the window. I enjoyed watching the fields go by. He did watch the screen that showed the current speed, and was very impressed as we got faster and faster. We both agreed that from now on, we will definitely choose the TGV when we have a choice.

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