Updated: Mar 18
FRANCE, A COUNTRY RICH WITH HISTORY, WINE AND DELICIOUS FOOD
POPULATION OF FRANCE :
67.06 MILLION ( 2019 )
The currency of France: Euro €
1.14 euro to 1 GBP as of 06/02/2021
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Fun Facts of France
• Turning a baguette upside down is considered unlucky
• Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite is the national motto
• The French Coastline adds up to 3427km
• The French consume 11.2 Billion glasses of wine per year
• It is illegal to throw out food in France
What to do for Donnas birthday? We thought a road trip would be an idea, so put our plans together.
Its 1st July 2016, and we are driving up to Folkestone, a lovely 5 hour+ drive, but having a 7 seater thought we could sleep in a car park by the tunnel and get on the 6-am train into France, again booked a trip during a Wales sporting event, as you have probably guessed I do love my sport, Donna not so much.
It was footballs European championships being held in the place we where heading, Le France.
My team were playing Belgium in the quarter-finals, but that was on on the evening of the drive up, so listened to the game on the radio, great game and an excellent win for the Welsh which got me even more excited to get to Paris the following day as the atmosphere should be electric, it was booked for Donnas birthday...honest.
Arriving at the car park around 11 pm, we laid the seats flat in my car and settled down for a good night's sleep among all the other truckers.
However, good night sleep didn't happen, should have tested the car out previous as it was so uncomfortable, and with a blink of an eye and no more than 2 hours sleep, it was time to head off to the tunnels check-in.
Check-in was friendly and straightforward and drove onto the train on time, and off we go, amazingly within 35 minutes we were in another country.
THIEPVAL, BATTLE OF THE SOMME
After arriving in France, we drove off the train, fuelled up and headed to our first destination.
It was the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme weekend so a late change to our itinerary and instead of heading straight to Paris we decided to visit the site, which I have always wanted to do since I was a young lad.
Just under 2 hours later we arrived at the little village of Thiepval, its the place where the memorial to the missing servicemen who died in the battle of the Somme.
Unfortunately, we didn't do our research very well, only v.i.p's and media were allowed due to a televised service, we did ask if they knew who we were? The reply was a simple NON!!! 😂.
Luckily we could drive a little further down the road and park where there were other smaller memorials when we got out the place had a mixture of feelings.
There was an air of celebration with lots of people in military uniforms and musical instruments.
We stood in the fields with the iconic poppies around us and the feeling of sorrow and just disbelief of the things that happened 100 years ago.
We do think that if anyone gets the chance to visit they certainly should and try and to imagine the horrors of what these guys had to face.
It did kind of change our way of thinking, and not to worry too much about trivial things in our lives, at least we still have them.
ONWARD TO PARIS
After a little while, it started to get busier and busier, so we thought we better move on and do the 2-hour drive to Paris.
Along the way, there were so many memorials and graveyards we stopped a few times to pay our respects.
We had accidentally avoided motorways on the sat-nav, so after a few stops, we arrived in the suburbs of Paris, 4 hours later and very tired we just wanted to find our hotel as soon as possible.
I wasn't looking forward to driving into Paris as I haven't done a lot of city driving in my life.
The traffic is now getting crazy. I am currently in full concentration mode! Also have been told to make sure our doors are locked because there are many queues and traffic lights and the possibility of being carjacked or robbed, now we can't clarify that this is the case or just scaremongering but we did it anyway.
The awful thing of Paris is the refugees all standing on the roadside begging for money or food. We stopped at some traffic lights. A young boy, no older than 12 knocked on the passenger side window, Donna opened the window and gave the boy some money.
The saddest part was, he looked over to my side of the dashboard, saw a half-eaten burger I had from the English side of the tunnel, and opened his hands in a grabbing motion, I passed him the burger trying to explain to him it was old.
The young lad didn't care; he was so hungry, our hearts broke.
Further down the road were more women and children and 1 guy put his Syrian passport on our windscreen to show us what he used to look like, this wasn't the pleasant holidays we have had before but another eye-opener to the world we live in.
After a lot of circling due to roadworks, and fighting our sat nav, we found the hotel had separate parking around the corner.
At the car park entrance was a guy with a hammer sitting on the wall, nervously we drove past him and down into the building that had no lighting.
So after we parked and turned our lights off it was pitch black, my word, did our imaginations run wild at that point, a dark car park and a man with a hammer, happily just wild fantasies, as more than likely the man was working at the nearby building site .....maybe!!!.
Now it sounds like all morbid and misery so far, but the memorials and history, which we have more of, as we are heading to the D Day beaches the next day, are very humbling and things that people should remember, as for the misery trust me it gets worse!!
The hotel we booked was called Hotel Paris Villette, this is the link to the hotel direct but we usually use booking.com. It was £65 for 1 night and was a lovely room, not that we would stay in it much. We got to our room showered and changed and headed out.
We had a 7-minute walk to the subway station Crimee, ride 10 stops and 14 minutes to Opera station then change then another 6 stops we got off at La Motte-Picquet - Grenelle and 10-minute walk later turned the corner and in front of us stood the Eiffel Tower.
It is as beautiful as in the pictures, the place was bustling, and we strolled along and admired the size of the tower.
Still, it was bustling almost to the point you would step on the backs of peoples shoes, so we headed away from the tower along the river, we walked about 15 minutes and came to another memorial, to Princess Diana, it was the tunnel that she died in, in 1997.
We looked at all the lovely messages people had put there when we overheard some young girls ask who Princess Diana was? Wow! did we feel old, we thought all of the world knew who she was.
We were now starving so headed to a back street and found an expensive restaurant but worth it, then 2 minutes round the corner was the Champ Elysee, had a look in Louis Vuitton then headed straight back out, was a bit too expensive for us.
EIFFEL TOWER, SCARY MOMENT
We decided to head back to the Eiffel Tower. Evening now, behind the Tower was the grassy area, which had been turned into a supporters area with bars and giant screens for football fans from around Europe so managed to persuade Donna to go in.
You have to understand in France at that time it was the height of the terrorist attacks with one of the worst only 7 months earlier, on November 13th 2015 when 130 people were killed and 350 injured in Paris, so the security was on high alert, and the city felt nervous.
After 2 searches of ourselves and property we were in, we headed straight to the bar, but stood way back from the crowds gathered in front of the giant screen with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, great atmosphere with Italians and Germans playing.
We had a few drinks and started talking to an Icelandic guy, a lovely guy. We were having a laugh when all of a sudden our attention was taken away from our conversation and heard Crack! Crack! Crack!, the sound of gunshots and a tidal wave of people ran towards us, I shouted to Donna to run and were soon engulfed by the "tidal wave" of people.
After 30 seconds of running, I noticed Donna wasn't with me, I stopped, the gunshots were still ringing out.
I had to go back to find her, heading towards the noises, I came across her, walking and holding her head, she had been trampled by the crowds, some guy had lifted her up and told her to keep running.
I grabbed her arm and ran into the streets, this was surreal, we had seen previous attacks on t.v of people panicking, and now it was us.
We got to the other side of the Tower and started speaking to some American girls that were at the front, and they said they thought people were being stabbed and shot, we were getting out of there and going to get back to the safety of the hotel so headed to the subway.
Unfortunately, my sense of direction is relatively poor, I did get us to the subway, but got on the wrong train headed 1 stop in the wrong direction and got off, we were now in some quiet streets and thought bugger this let's get a cab back.
In our hotel's safety, we checked the news to see what happened, and after all that horror we found out someone had let off firecrackers at the front which panicked everyone to run, we had a sense of relief no one was seriously hurt.
We just spoke about how terrifying that experience was not knowing what was going to happen, but Donna was fine with an only sore head, so we got some well-deserved sleep.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zARGB_7_xzA this is a 16-second clip of the stampede
Next morning, we got coffee and breakfast and had a long drive ahead of us, we were driving to Normandy to visit Point de Hoc, Omaha beach and the war cemetery, 1st stop is a 3 and half hour journey, we are feeling pretty tired as it been quite a busy schedule so far.
Our 1st destination Point de Hoc was an area that American soldiers had to climb the cliffs and take out the German bunkers and big guns for the D Day invasion on the beaches.
When we arrived, we parked at the car park and headed to the visitors centre, all well laid out and easily accessible.
We followed the paths, reading little bits of information along the way about individual soldiers and their heroics, as we got to the cliffs, we were shocked to see the bombed-out bunkers and craters from where the allied ships bombarded them.
You can take a guided tour if you like, which is an option we chose not too. The area is fascinating and informative and should go if you can spend a good 2 hours in this area.
A short drive from Point de Hoc to Colleville sur-Mer (10 minutes) and we arrived at Omaha beach.
Had a walk along the sands, imagining the terrors the bestowed these young men all that time ago.
We decided to go into the museum just up from the beach, which holds many items left on the beach after the battle and things found many years later, which was very interesting.
We had some lunch on the beach at a lovely, Restaurant L'Omaha then headed 10 minutes in the car to the American Cemetery, which we have seen on T.V, most famously Saving Private Ryan.
As we turned the corner, it was shocking to see so many white crosses and Jewish stars. We only saw 1 field, and there were many more further on.
BACK TO CALAIS AND HOME
The day had gone fast, and before we knew it, it was 5o clock, and they were closing up.
We jumped back into our "mobile home" and headed again for another 4 hours to Calais, as the next morning we are heading back to the U.k and have to get to the place we are staying for the night which was called, Premiere Classes Calais Centre-Gare.
When we finally arrived in Calais, France had just won their football game and cars were honking their horns and people hanging out of their windows and singing....it was great fun, but to be honest, we were exhausted and wanted to sleep, which we certainly did.
July 4th, Donnas birthday, it has been an eventful weekend, if we had longer than a weekend, we would do much more and take time to explore.
back on the Eurotunnel for our last 5-hour journey home to relax.