Paris to Normandy Trip Report
We were docked at Port de Javel Bas, Pier Quai Andre Citroen, by Citroen Park with it's tethered balloon ride (good landmark). I arrived at the River Baroness at 10 am and since check in was 1:00 - 1:30, I headed out walking along the Seine until I reached the Eiffel Tower - 40 minutes with photo stops. The first part of the walk is a little commercial, but the rest is very pretty. You walk right by the French Statue of Liberty and get a great close-up of the statuary on the bridges. From the Eiffel Tower I walked through the Parc du Champs de Mars until I was in front of Ecole Militaire, and then headed left for a few blocks until I came to Rue Cler. This is a fantastic pedestrian area - oh the smells of cheese and pastries. A man was playing delightful music on a hand organ and the sidewalk cafes were full. After a few blocks I made a left on Rue St. Dominique, right on Avenue Bosquet, and came to Pont de l'Alma. I crossed the bridge on the left hand side and came to the torch (replica of Statue of Liberty's) which is situated over the tunnel where Princess Di was killed. On the wall around the little plaza where the torch is, folks have written their sentiments. Back over the bridge and back to the ship - 3 hours in all.
Let me mention that if I had been too tired for the walk back there is an RER station right at the beginning of the bridge, and a ticket agent there where you can buy metro tickets if you haven't purchased them from reception on the ship. Take the RER to Blvd. Victor and you will be very close to the riverboat. It's the C line. Very easy - we did it the last day from the Musee d'Orsay station.
Checked in and found we were upgraded to cabin 137- our original "least expensive category" cabin (109) was being used as an adjunct to the laundry room. The cabins have three small drawers in the closet, a huge drawer under each bed, shelves next to the beds and over them. You get rather cumbersome, heavy keys for the room. The safe is a combination requiring 4 numbers. There were two bottles of water, and a large glass carafe to refill them, but to refill the carafe cost 2 Euros, so we just filled the bottles from the "patio" where there was coffee of all kinds, including cappuccino, hot water for tea, hot chocolate, an ice machine, and water. Also there were always pitchers of water and sweet and unsweetened iced tea. Those up before the scheduled time for breakfast were invited to help themselves to a beverage and pastries. Across from this area was the one computer. Since something went askew with their billing on the computer, we could use it or personal laptops free all week. Usually costs 5 Euro an hour! I headed for the deck and 74 degree sunny weather where the friendly passengers for this cruise were already meeting each other and toasting our good fortune to be on this fabulous trip!
Our wonderful cruise manager named Tony held briefings every night, gave us the predicted temperature for the next day, organized everything, wrote up everything for the bulletin board, etc. After the embarkation talk on deck there was a briefing in the lounge describing our next day in Les Andelys. There would be 4 groups walking the 20 minutes uphill to the ruins of Chateau-Guillard and one bus for those with difficulty walking. This company utilizes Vox technology, so you take a unit every time you get off the ship, attach it to the earpiece which you keep, and you can hear the tour guide beautifully, even when wandering away to take pictures. You turn the units back in along with the boarding card given when you leave the ship, at the end of every tour. The boarding cards have cabin numbers on them, so they know everyone is back onboard.
Evenings we had either local entertainment or Laszlo who took the whole trip with us and played piano for tea and most evenings. We didn't get French lessons or play French trivia as mentioned by another poster. They must have had another Cruise Manager. There is a game and book section of the lounge and I saw many take advantage of that, although we felt we were kept busy enough! Also small newsletters for USA, British, Australian and Canadian passengers.
I had difficulty sleeping that first night. The twin beds are narrow, and the duvet was heavy and kept falling off the bed! You can request a regular sheet and blanket if it bothers you, but I stuck with it for the week. Then, finally asleep, at 4:30 the alarm in the room went off - apparently left on by the previous inhabitants. After pushing all the buttons and finally getting it to shut off, in five minutes on it came again - I must have pushed the snooze - so out came the batteries, and I was never able to set it correctly since the clock didn't match the instructions in the info in the room. I had a travel alarm with me though, and one particularly early start we had a wake-up call, too.
So that misty first morning I was on deck at 7:30. We were docked right in the town and the Chateau was easily visible at the top of the cliff. I took a delightful stroll through the charming little town of Petit Andely taking pictures, and got back as the groups were forming for the tour. After a short tour of the little village including the old church, Eglise Saint Sauveur built in 1202, and the half-timbered houses, we started up. It was a tough uphill climb, but we stopped frequently to catch our breath. Unfortunately a woman in another group badly broke her leg coming down, and the ambulance and first aid workers had to take her to a hospital.
Lunch was 12:30 - 2:00 in the restaurant, or you could have a light lunch in the lounge with live piano music by Laszlo the very talented pianist. Took another walk in town and then attended a lecture at 2 o'clock on the Impressionists by a guest speaker. We enjoyed time on the deck as we sailed for Rouen. Every day there was tea time around 4 o'clock with piano music, but we only stopped by a few times for a tiny sandwich or dessert. We were having such nice weather we preferred to be on deck and have a drink there. Such a different experience from a riverboat trip I took in May one year when, because of rain, I only got to sit out once, and it was cool and drizzly at that!
We dressed up a little since this was the Captain's Welcome dinner. All the men I saw had on jackets and ties, and the women were very nicely dressed, including some long skirts. On this ship everyone dressed nicely for dinner every night! At 6:30 was the welcome drink (champagne) in the lounge, followed by a Port talk and crew introduction. By 7:00 we were seated at the Captain's Table, an unexpected treat. We had a delicious dinner followed by an after-dinner drink courtesy of the captain, of Calvados, a rather strong brandy-like drink made from cider. By then we were docked in Rouen. We left the ship, turned right and up the steps and straight across the street. Within a few blocks we came across the Cathedral bathed in light, although the light show that had been going on all summer had ended several days before. This is a breathtaking sight. No wonder Monet was entranced by this Cathedral of Rouen. We walked around for awhile before making our way back to the ship and music and dancing in the lounge.
The next morning after a great buffet breakfast (specials each morning included such treats as a pancake, a waffle, eggs Benedict, etc.), and always omelets made to order, we picked up our Vox unit and found our tour leader. Up the steps and across the street, and we were back at the Cathedral of Notre Dame for a thorough tour inside. There was bombing damage both from the Germans and the Allies, but one chapel survived intact. Inside are 16th century stained glass windows, 14th century statues. Richard the Lionheart has his heart in a tomb there. Outside we saw the carving of the apparently famous "Philosophical Sow". This Cathedral has the highest spire in France. We then walked through the streets admiring the half-timbered houses, some houses leaning, some windows crooked! We learned that for tax reasons houses were built with an overhanging construction because they were only taxed on the size of the house at street level. Unfortunately, the city caught on and they were outlawed after 1520. We then entered what was the fortified city of Rouen under a big astronomic clock. From there we walked through the old market square where fresh fruits, vegetables and meat were being sold. Beyond that was Joan of Arc Church fronted by the Cross of Rehabilitation erected after her exoneration.
We headed back to the ship for lunch, and then we walked back into Rouen on our own. Unfortunately we didn't turn left when we should have, and wandered for hours outside of the old city. Eventually though we found the area around Joan of Arc. We bought scarves along the way, and two bottles of wine from a grocery store. Important: take the map provided at the reception desk for each city!
We made it back in time for Tony's lecture on Normandy and a tour overview at 4:30. At 6:30 he continued with a Port Talk about the beaches of Normandy. All the Canadians on board were asked to be on Bus 3 because they would have a stop at Juno. We had a French dinner that evening complete with escargots and Beef Bourguignon. The other entrEe choices were mussels from Normandy and as always a vegetarian dish. If nothing appealed, every night there was also steak or chicken. In the lounge that night was a local entertainer Monsieur Philippe de Nemours who sang and played keyboard.
The Normandy day starts early - we were to be on the buses at 8 am. After 1 ½ hour ride and one comfort stop, we were at Gold Beach where the British invaded. We could see the Mulberries (breakwaters) there that were towed in to form a harbor. Next stop was Arromanches for lunch. We ate at a table next to a stand - I had a ham & cheese (jambon and fromage) baguette and a cider. Money wasn't provided for this lunch, although other posters mentioned it was. Guess that changed.
Then it was on to the American Cemetery which is a U.S. territory. At the entrance, we were each given a flower to lie at a grave of our choice. We walked through and picked our graves and then walked to the Memorial Chapel. Beyond it is the other half of the cemetery - so many young lives. We then walked along and at the bluff, saw where the soldiers who landed at Omaha Beach finally made their way up to land. Steep! From there I went to the Museum and saw the film and then went to the Wall of the Missing.
Next stop was Omaha beach which is only 1/3 of the size it was on D-Day. I walked on the beach and filled three small bottles with sand. There is a beautiful steel sculpture there. The final stop was Pont du Hoc where the Texas Rangers climbed the steep cliffs to get the German gunners. You could see the bunkers and the bomb craters. It was suggested we go to the far viewing platform and notice the curve of the land. Apparently, the cliffs are deteriorating and falling into the sea.
We drove directly back to the ship arriving at 6:30 to hot chocolate and warm face towels, and the ship sailed at 6:45 for Caudebec. The weather wasn't the usual cold and windy at the beaches, but beautifully warm with very little breeze. So although the hot chocolate was delicious, cold iced tea might have been better that day!
At 7:00 Tony held a port talk in the lounge and at 7:30 dinner was served. I had the roasted lamb for dinner that night, although everything, including the vegetarian, was tempting. The desserts were wonderful, too! We had a good time in the lounge after dinner with Laszlo at the keyboard.
Coaches left for Honfleur at 8:30 and it took about an hour. Interesting ride past thatched roofed houses with irises planted on top. After the walking tour that included Sainte-Catherine church we had a choice of staying there and going back by bus at 3:15. We opted to stay although it was the only misty, drizzly day. It's a charming town, often painted by the Impressionists, and still populated by many artists painting along the banks. We enjoyed just walking around. First we headed for the Eugene Boudin museum because everything closes from 12 - 2 there - I guess in most of the towns. Found a sidewalk cafe called Le Marin along the Vieux Bassin and fortuitously took a table against the restaurant. When the rain came we stayed dry! My friend had the best mussels she has ever had. They came in a big pot, and were in a cream sauce. I had a Croque Monsieur . By the way, your ticket to the Musee Eugene-Boudin also entitles you to go into the Clock Tower of Sainte-Catherine.
We were back early enough to check out Notre Dame de Caudebec before the 6 pm sail-away to Vernon. After a drink of the day (White Russian) and Tony's port talk about Giverny, we went to dinner and were joined by two couples from Australia. More great choices - desserts: Normandy style apple tart with Calvados custard, bourbon vanilla ice cream and whipped cream OR Chocolate and Mocha ice cream with eggnog, caramelized walnuts and whipped cream. Decisions, decisions!
Left for Giverny at 9 am Friday. Seems like the schedule changed, unfortunately, and instead of the Riverboat heading to Port of Mantes la Jolie where the Giverny tours would return for lunch onboard, the ship stayed in Vernon. That meant sailing to Mantes after lunch, the Versailles group meeting us there, no time to spend in Conflans-Ste-Honorine as indicated in the tour itinerary, and a very long sail to Paris, arriving too late to stay up to see the lights of the City. I loved seeing the small towns, and had really looked forward to time in Conflans. As it was, I got 30 minutes in Vernon - just time for a church visit and a little bit of shopping.
But Giverny. . . what a beautiful place. We started in the water garden where the famous bridge over the lily pond is. Then walked to the gardens surrounding the house. The gardens were reconstructed from Monet's paintings, and with the advice of a gardener who was still alive when the renovation was being done. This was only done in the 1980's. After touring the house on our own we could spend an hour in the gardens, go back to the water garden, go to the gift shop, or walk up the street to the Impressionist Museum. If you make a left on the Rue de Monet outside the gift shop exit you will come to a cafe for a coffee, and a few gift shops. Further along is the Impressionist Museum which also has lovely gardens. You get a discount with the Monet House ticket, but I just enjoyed being among the flowers and the sunshine! Then it was back to the bus, and to Vernon and lunch onboard
After the folks going to Versailles left at 1:30, we left Vernon for a lovely, long afternoon on the ship, spent mostly on the deck, with some commentary by Tony, until we reached the Port of Mantes la Jolie. We weren't permitted off the boat and just waited there for the buses to come in from Versailles. Then it was off for Paris and the Captain's farewell reception followed by the disembarkation briefing and port talk. Dinner was served at 7:00 pm and we had French entertainment with Jean-Louis and Marie in the Lounge. Everyone enjoyed them, and there was a lot of dancing!
Saturday morning after breakfast the City Tour started around 9 am. We had two stops, one at the Place du Tracadero to view the Eiffel Tower, and the second at Jardin du Luxembourg a huge park with a lot of activity, children's playground, tennis courts, bocce courts, etc. It was also a rest stop. We saw a great deal of Paris from the bus and it was a good orientation for those who hadn't been before or were staying on for a few days. Tickets for the Musee d'Orsay were available at the reception desk of the ship, and in the interest of time, we bought them as well as metro tickets. The bus made one stop at the d'Orsay before going back to the ship for lunch. We had a quick bite at a little cafe by the museum, and then were able to skip the line and go right in the entrance for those with tickets. Well worth the 1 Euro surcharge.
After an hour exploring mostly the Impressionist collection, we left and went over the nearby pedestrian bridge to the Right Bank. We walked through the Tuileries Garden another lovely park. Following Cruise Critic advice, we tried to find the Arc du Carrousel entrance to the Louvre, but no luck - maybe we should have tried it from the Rue de Rivoli. We did go downstairs and were under the pyramid. Following billet signs we bought our entrance tickets at the Virgin store, and paid a surcharge. But, still, we were pressed for time, so I guess it was worth not waiting on the line outside. Once inside, there are signs pointing the direction to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Winged Victory is in front of you as you actually get into the museum. Confusing, but if you go in downstairs, look for the salon you want (I had the Rick Steve's map from the internet) and take that escalator. We spent an hour there, of course seeing a lot of art on our way to both masterpieces.
From there we walked through Ile de la Cite having crossed a pedestrian bridge to get there, stopped at a cafe for a soda, and then came upon Notre Dame. The line looks long to get in, but it only takes 5 - 10 minutes and is free. After walking around inside, we walked around the back to see the buttresses and more gargoyles. We crossed the bridge to the Left Bank, and got Line C of the RER at the Musee d'Orsay stop in the direction of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. I hadn't noticed the flyer at reception giving very good instructions on using the Paris Metro to get to the River Baroness. It may not have been out in the morning. Do take their map of Paris which will be at reception in the morning.
There were two optional excursions in the afternoon, one to the Louvre, and the second put together by Cruise Manager, Tony for a Seine Cruise. He arranged for a bus to take folks to the boat for a ride on the Seine past all the major sights. Tickets for the boat were available for 10 Euro, cash only for the boat. Since we were trying to see more of Paris, and particularly the d'Orsay I thought we'd buy the tickets later and use the RER or Metro to get there for a night cruise, but that didn't work out as I had worn my friend out running around Paris all afternoon! We did go on deck for the Eiffel Tower "show" at 9:00 pm.
Overall this was one of the best trips I've ever been on in terms of itinerary, fellow passengers, tour leaders, Uniworld staff, and food. Tony confirmed all our flights for us, arranged for the transfers to the airport. We had early afternoon flights so our van left a 10:00 o'clock. Our bags had to be out by 8 am and we had to be out of the cabin by then. But we were free to stay aboard, use any public room, plus the deck, and of course eat breakfast. I'd recommend this cruise to anyone, and envy those 50 or so from our cruise that were on the Grand France tour and headed out Sunday morning for a cruise of Southern France. Maybe next time!