We took the renfe – AVE fast train from Barcelona to Paris which takes a little over 6 hours. The train is comfortable and clean, as you would expect from most European train services. Once we arrived in Paris we caught the Metro (subway) which runs all over the city. It is cheap, efficient, and the easiest way to travel around. We settled into our accommodation and hit the hay early.
Day 1 – The Eiffel Tower & Arc de Triomphe
Every visitor to Paris has to visit these standard landmarks. The ever imposing Eiffel Tower was constructed in 1889, and at 324 metres (1,063 ft) it is the tallest building in Paris. It was also the tallest man-made structure in the world for 41 years! Sarah, Scott, and I ascended the tower via the stairs, while Karen and Frank took the elevator. Betsy wasn’t feeling up to joining us, so she had a nice coffee and a cake at a local café while we were gone.
The Eiffel Tower is a wrought iron masterpiece. More than ~6.5 million people visit it annually, and it is instantly recognizable against the Parisian skyline. Not wanting to go all the way to the top, we stopped at the 2nd viewing level.
This is the main stop for most people. We took took photos of the skyline before heading back to the 1st level. Here we got some Gløgg (For those that don’t know, Sarah adores Gløgg – hot mulled wine), watched people attempt to ice-skate, and took a few selfies.
From there we walked to the Arc de Triomphe. This monument stands at one end of the Champs-Élysées in the Place de Charles de Gaulle. It is a magnificent monument to the soldiers who fought in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
To round out our day we walked to Place de la Concorde to see the Roue de Paris and the Louvre exterior by night. The Roue de Paris is a 60m / 200ft tall transportable ferris wheel that travels the world for 3/4 of each year. What a great first day!
Day 2 – Normandy, D-Day & Omaha beach
Our reason for visiting Normandy was simple; Operation Overload or The Battle of Normandy. The Allied invasion of German occupied Western Europe was a key part of World War II. It gave the Allied forces their first foothold to begin pushing the Germans back and it is a part of world history that should not be ignored. We took the fast train from Paris to Caen early in the morning, as Betsy had arranged a group tour for the 6 of us. (This trip was about 3 hours)
Pointe du Hoc
We started off by visiting Pointe du Hoc. This was the location of 6 German guns, that could attack both Utah and Omaha beaches. The (American) 2nd Ranger Battalion sent 225 soldiers to climb 30m / 100ft cliffs and neutralise these positions before the invasion started. They succeeded, and then defended this place for 2 days before reinforcements arrived. Only 40 soldiers remained. The aerial photo shows the extent of the shelling performed by Allied forces in an attempt to weaken their position, and it is borrowed from hamptonroadsnavalmuseum.blogspot.in
This was the site of more than 4,400 Allied, and more than 1,200 German casualties. It is (to us), a large, wide open space, with seemingly easy terrain. During the war, however, there were 4 lines of defenses. Personnel mines, anti-tank and anti-landing craft mines, multiple placements of flanked machine guns, and small-arms artillery camps. This was also one of the rare occasions when the Allied intelligence was incorrect on the strength of the forces stationed here. All of these factors led to this being a very bloody point of attack.
The American War Cemetery
Here, 9,387 white marble gravestones overlook Omaha beach from the 70ha site, and the names of another 1,557 soldiers whose bodies were never found are engraved on the wall in The Garden of The Missing. The experience is one of serene remembrance. For those that remember our visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., the experience is very similar.
Our last stop was at Arromanches. This was the site of the artificial port that was created during D-Day to aid the Allies in unloading supplies and material.
From here we drove back to Caen, and returned to Paris on the train.
Day 3 – Palais Garnier, Montmartre, Sacré-Cœur & Moulin Rouge
Further exploring the city, the famous Palais Garnier Opera House was our first destination. Following the pamphlet guide through the 141-year old building, we ascended the Grand Staircase; Strolled through the Grand Foyer, and entered the 1,979-seat auditorium.
The space imparts a sense of grandeur. Oh to have seen and heard the music and high-society types that came through this building 100 years ago. The Grand Foyer is so aptly named. At 154m / 505ft long, 18m / 60ft high, and 13m / 43ft wide, the space draws you in. Look up to the highly decorated ceilings, and marvel at the bright colours and intricate details.
Montmartre & Sacré-Cœur
Montmartre is the name of a hill and its surrounding district in Paris. From the base of the hill, you walk through a lovely Parisian park, up some stairs, and past many souvenir sellers. Ignore them, politely decline their haggling, and (as always) be aware of pickpockets! The stairs can be uneven and slippery and as a result, this could be a challenging walk for some.
Perched atop Montmartre, is the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (or just Sacré-Cœur to most). The hilltop gives you a commanding view of the city, and is a great place to watch the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower!
As with many exhausting climbs, it’s always reasonable to have a reward once you reach the summit.
At the bottom of the hill, in the middle of the Montmartre district, is the famed Moulin Rouge. Sarah, Scott and Betsy grabbed tickets for the dinner show to see what the fuss was about. When asked to describe it, Sarah said that it was exactly as she imagined it would be. Copious amounts of glitter, topless and semi-nude dancing women and men (wearing thongs), feats of wonder and crazy high can-can kicks. Her face lights up as she explains this to me, and small fits of giggles interrupt her descriptions.
Day 4 – The Louvre & Notre Dame de Paris
First of all, The Louvre is perhaps most notable as the world’s largest museum, and the second most visited museum in the world! It houses more than 35,000 pieces spanning Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Near-Eastern, Islāmic, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, Prints, Drawings and Paintings.
The collection is so large, that it would take you days (weeks or years) to fully appreciate the number of works, and by the time you have seen everything, it’s likely that new pieces will have been installed. Scott and I spent the better part of the day wandering the halls viewing pieces like; The Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, The Wedding at Cana, Michelangelo’s Dying Slave and paintings by Vermeer, Anthony Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci.
I have a few photos, but this is one of those places that everyone should experience themselves.
Notre Dame de Paris
We rendezvoused with the rest of the family at a local restaurant by the River Seine. No snails (escargot) or frogs legs available (unfortunately), but a good choice of wine 😉 Following lunch we crossed the river and (after checking for hunchbacks) we entered Notre Dame Cathedral. It is a very dark, very French Gothic Catholic Church building whose construction began in 1163, and finished in 1345.
Notre Dame de Paris
Back outside, we followed the Seine along to the Place de la Concorde and the Roue de Paris (that we had visited earlier in the week). Sarah and Scott took the opportunity to ride the Ferris Wheel and get a few shots of Paris at night, while we watched from below.
This was our last day together in Europe. Scott and Betsy were heading back to the US the following day and our whirlwind joint-family trip was finished 🙁
Sarah and I are very thankful for the opportunity to meet up with both our families for a Christmas and New Year experience halfway around the world. While travelling with family can be stressful (this is for you, Betsy), it’s an experience that we wouldn’t trade for anything.
Also published on Medium.