Last Friday Kevin and I embarked on our long-envisioned trip to
France. Kevin had mentioned wanting to go to Normandy to check out the
beaches and museums and whatnot to appease his self-proclaimed "WW2
geek" self; I figured it would be a cool trip, and said "what the
hell." So after not mentioning it for a few months we decided a
post-finals trip was in order. In typical Alec fashion, I organized
the logistics for the trip: transportation, accomodation. We would
both use rail passes and stay in cheap hotels/hostels. After
discussing the matter with our French friends, we decided to stay in
Caen, probably the largest city in Normandy, and then stay a couple
nights in Paris. After all, you can’t go to France without visiting
Unfortunately we had to take separate trains, since my rail pass didn’t include Benelux (Belgium + the Netherlands + Luxembourg).
He booked a night train, while I couldn’t since I had to go way the
hell down to Frankfurt and then cut over so I wouldn’t go through
Belgium. This added an extra four hours to the trip, which sucked.
Thirteen hours on three separate trains wastes a good chunk of a day.
At around four PM we rendezvoused in our hotel in Caen, then promptly
took off to check out this castle in the middle of the city. It was
pretty sweet, and enormous. The walls were fully intact and the (dry)
moat remained. Soon thereafter it got dark so we started wandering the
city scouting out restaurants. After walking around a corner, we saw
in case you had any doubt as to the heritage of my name. Oh, and a
Brasserie is a type of Restaurant (actually we never quite figured out
what the distinguishment meant). It even had the space after "La" like
I was taught to spell it. However it was too expensive for our
tastes so we ended up having dinner near the castle, an exquisitely
delicious three-course meal complete with wine. I had this
potato-ground sausage concoction and Kevin tried the duck. Both were
fantastic. My escargot and sorbet were equally delicious; in fact, I
have never had a finer sorbet in my life. The hostess even called up a
friend who spoke English so we could have the menu translated. I
didn’t see this as necessary but Kevin actually wanted to know what he
was eating. I just assumed anything I ordered would be fantastic. I
think I would have been right.
The next day we got up early and headed to the car rental place down
the block. After 20 minutes we were cruising around Caen in a Renault
Twingo. It was a very basic car, but sufficient. We had a couple
pastries at a nearby bakery (you haven’t had a real croissant until
you’ve tried a French one, they are amazing). Afterwards we went to a
WW2 museum, and then took to the highway to the beaches. Unfortunately
speed limits exist in France so I only pushed the Twingo up to 160 or
so, briefly. Not driving for four months made me giddy. It was fun.
So we went beach-hopping for the rest of the afternoon. It was really
interesting; remnants of most parts of D-Day had been preserved, from
bombed-out fields to German artillery to the artificial port and
bridges constructed by the allies. Pictures are abound in the photo
album at left.
The next day we took off for Paris. Our amazing streak of good weather
came to end that day (I had been 4 for 4 with weather in France) and it
ended up being rainy and/or cloudy the entire time we were in Paris.
After adeptly navigating the Metro we found our hostel and checked in.
The hostel was tiny with about 5 floors of rooms, but only 2-3 rooms
per floor. It was noticeably cramped and our room hadn’t even been
cleaned before we got it. Whatever, it was cheap. So we took off for
lunch and to do some sightseeing. First stop was the Louvre.
The Louvre is one of the, if not the most well-known museum in
the world, and for a reason. The place is absolutely gigantic. It
takes up about five city blocks. However, I wasn’t really that
impressed. I can only see depictions of Jesus so many times before I’m
bored to tears. And there was so much to see it was rather
overwhelming. Somehow I wandered into the Italian wing, which was
noticeably more popular. I didn’t even know the Mona Lisa was there
until I saw the crowd of people gawking at it. I was unimpressed: it’s
about the size of a pillow and I had seen a million prints beforehand.
Not sure what the big deal is with that painting.
Afterwards we checked out the Arc d’Triumphe, this enormous arch built
to celebrate the French revolution. Surrounding it is the largest
traffic circle I have even seen, with room for about 15 lanes of cars.
Watching the traffic was hilarious since there aren’t any lanes for
cars and about 10 exits on the outside; we witnessed about five
near-accidents in as many minutes.
Next was the Eiffel Tower. We approached it from the Metro so it
really snuck up on us; when turning a corner it just presented itself
about 100 yards away. By this time it was dark and the Tower was lit
up spectacularly. We declined to go up to the top since it costed
11€. Friggin tourist attractions anyway. We only basked in the glow
of the Tower for a few minutes since it was cold and raining, and
subsequently headed back to the hostel to watch the Olympics over a few
Having already seen the main things we wanted to see, we slept in on
Monday. At around 10 we went to a bakery for some breakfast goodies,
and in the process of ordering I left my wallet on the counter. I
didn’t notice this until we had left, and started freaking out. After
a quick deduction of possibilities as to where the hell I had left it,
we went back to the bakery, where the cashier had seen it and
graciously placed it behind the counter. A string of "Merci"s later,
we hit the Metro again. First stop: cemetery. "Why the hell would you
go to a cemetery" you ask? Why, to pay my respects to Jim. Morrison.
And apparently the guy’s still quite popular, because there were a
couple dozen bouquets of flowers on his grave. Afterwards we trained
over to the Notre Dame. It was remarkably similar to the other large
churches I have visited throughout Westerm Europe: large, ornate, and
swarming with tourists. We didn’t stay long, and after lunch, walked
about 50 blocks to the Musee d’Orsay. This was actually the museum I
had had in mind when we went to the Louvre, since it has more of the
stuff I’m interested in. Unfortunately it’s closed on Mondays. This
pissed me off quite a bit since we had walked for about 40 minutes to
get there, and instead resumed wandering the streets of Paris. I tired
of this after a few hours and we headed back to the hostel to shoot the
shit with the French bartender and watch more Olypics. That night
Kevin took off on his night train back to Osna and I hung out with a
few backpacking Aussies and Canadians down at the bar.
I wasn’t really impressed with Paris; in fact, I enjoyed Caen more.
Maybe it was the weather, maybe the fact that I got to drive a car, or
maybe because it was cheaper and less touristy. In a broader sense, though, I really liked France, and solidified my outlook on it’s people, cuisine, and appreciation of the finer things in life. And I can’t get enough of that super sexy French accent. Yum.