For some time Gennie and I have been talking about returning to London, England to see a few sights we had not seen during previous visits. We would then take the Eurostar under the English Channel across northern France to Paris. We would stay in Paris for a few days to see some historical locations and then we would go to Mont-Saint-Michel.
In our search through all the travel companies we knew and in our research on Google we could not find a company that we would see most of the areas we wanted to visit. We then began to think about what it would take for us to travel to our bucket list. We spent many hours discussing our options and created a spreadsheet that showed the fourteen days and places we could visit.
In London we wanted to see the London Eye and take a Thames River Tour. The next day we would take the train to Paris via the Chunnel and then spend three days in Paris. While there we would take the SNFC train to Chartres to spend the day visiting this beautiful city. We were hoping to take a TVG high-speed train to Chambord. Then from Paris we would rent a car to drive to Mont-Saint-Michel to visit this abbey and then the area of Brittany.
With the help of Dan at Highlands Ranch Travel, we were able to reserve hotels with breakfast in London and Paris. We did our own reservation for the B&B in Beauvoir. Dan organized our day trips in London to the Thames and London Eye. We needed to rent a car in Paris and Dan facilitated this. We then reserved our own seats on the Eurostar and SNFC train to Chartres.
Prior to leaving home we downloaded detailed maps from Google Maps and Michelin. We also did our own research on the many beautiful places to visit in Brittany while we stayed the seven days in Beauvoir.
Being on our own in both England and France allowed us to be flexible in our schedule. We could control our daily activities, our meals, and our sleep. We were able to plan each day after we spoke to people at the hotels and B&B. We walked and took the subway/underground to visit different locations in both countries. It was very relaxing and rewarding as we could do things that were for best for us.
There was a certain level of stress in planning and going on this trip as it was our first trip where we had to plan all aspects of the adventure. On the other hand, knowing what we had experienced in our tour trips, we were able to adjust our schedule and our days to best do what WE WANTED TO DO. We could go to markets, soccer/football stadiums, grocery stores, and just take the subway to visit different parts of the city we had not seen before. We were not controlled by the company schedule or tour guide.
When we had the rental car we could program the GPS to take the scenic route to our destination and then return to our B&B by the quickest way possible. We had not thought about a couple of issues - parking and gasoline prices. Being that we visited many historical locations, we had to work at finding parking spaces. We drove close to 1,500 miles we had to fill the gas tank of our VW Passat three times at a little over $5.50 per gallon - our biggest expense next to our hotel fee. France also has tolls on their high-speed roads. Those Euros added up quickly!
We could choose our daily meals as we wished. In many of our tours they are known for long sit-down meals with very large individual meals. On this trip if we were hungry we ate a nice meal, if we were not, many times, we purchased small meals or sandwiches and ate them where we wished.
We found all our hotels had very professional and helpful front desks/receptions. If we had a question, they helped us. If we had a concern, they always solved them. They went out of their way to help us. At the B&B, Danielle and her staff were exceptional. Danielle took the time to suggest places for us to visit in Brittany and even in Normandy. Once we chose an area she would tell us things to do and see. They were all fabulous. At Mont Saint-Michel she told us how to photograph and then see the special places within the abbey. Thank you Danielle - you were GREAT.
AFTER 1500 MILES OF DRIVING
As we traveled through France we began to note some interesting aspects in comparing it with the USA.
• Upkeep of homes is superb everywhere even in little town with less than 20 homes
• Country villages homes are well kept - do not see any run down homes or abandoned
• Population of country people much older
• Main highways well-maintained - even single lane have no potholes
• Roadways, exits and towns very well marked - lots of information for the driver
• Traffic completely controlled by roundabouts
• One-lane backcountry roads with no markings
• On multilane roads, once people pass, they move back to the right lane
• No trash on roads or sides
• Few American cars - Ford only
• Vehicles carrying bicycles, many motorcycles out for a weekend drive
• Many people smoking, young and old
• Beautiful city gardens
• Meals are late - lunch to 2 PM and dinner from 7 to 9 PM
• Significant part of the population date, marry outside their ethnic group
• French are worse than US on speaking other languages
We must note that a trip such as this is possible in Europe. Even with all of our other trips to all parts of the world, we would not attempt this with the possible exception of the USA and Europe. The safety factor being the major issue in traveling in other areas.
• Riding the London Eye and the River Thames Boat Cruise – neither are ever included in group tours
• Taking the Eurostar from London to Paris – the European trains systems are delightful and easy to book
• Spending a leisurely time in Paris – no set schedule, lots of walking, and great opportunities for delicious local food
• Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel – getting to see the island in the rain, morning light, and in the evening at sunset
• Visiting Chartres, not only the Cathedral as in most tours, but walking through the small town and exploring the half timber homes
• The fishing villages of Brittany – walking the streets, tasting the fresh sea food, and meeting the local people who always took time to talk with us
• Les Vieilles Digues B&B and Danielle - great hospitality and support
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