Guest Notes for Episode 496: Discovering the Northeast of France

Categories: Family Travel, French History, Hauts-de-France

Discussed in this Episode

  • La Côte d'Opale
  • Cap Blanc-Nez
  • Cap Gris-Nez
  • Calais
  • Mont Saint Michel
  • Amiens
  • Maison Jules Verne
  • Notre Dame d'Amiens Cathedral
  • Boulogne-sur-Mer
  • Boulogne Castle
  • Nausicaa Centre National De La Mer
  • Atlantic Wall Museum
  • Batterie Todt
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
  • Baie de Somme
  • Rouen
  • Donjon de Rouen
  • Tour de la Pucelle
  • Rue Joan d'Arc
  • market square in Rouen
  • Church of Saint Joan of Arc
  • Montreuil-sur-Mer
  • Berck
  • Dunkirk
  • Battle of the Somme
  • Battle of Agincourt
  • White Cliffs of Dover
  • Rommel's tanks
  • Joan of Arc
  • Jules Verne
  • Julia Child
  • Harry Truman
  • Jean Valjean.

Guest notes from Ken

Who was traveling with you? First names? Ages? Relationship?

Pat (wife, 71), and for part of the trip – Will (son, 42), Kathryn (daughter in law, 42) & Maddie
(granddaughter, 3)

What were the dates of your trip?

9/10/2023 – 10/2/2023

What parts of France did you visit?

Paris, Northeastern France (Picardie, Somme, Pas de Calais, Côte d’Opal), then down the channel coast
to Normandy, and back to Paris.

Rank your favorite activities and places on this trip (list at least 10)

I’m sure the answer would depend some on who you ask – me or my wife. The following are (mostly) my answers – in no particular order:
#1 has to be Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandie, mostly because it’s where my father’s ship was on D-Day, 6/6/1941.
#2 – Côte d’Opal – Scenery
#3 – Hiking the GR-120 along the Côte d’Opal
#4 – The Atlantic Wall Museum in Audinghen.
#5 – Sound and Light Show at the Cathédrale de Notre Dame d’Amiens
#6 – La Maison de Jules Verne – museum the author’s former home in Amiens
#7 – Nausicaá – Boulogne-sur-Mer. Claims to be the biggest aquarium in Europe.
#8 – Saint Valery-sur-Somme, and the Baie de Somme.
#9 – Rouen
#10 – Watching the lighting of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero at dusk
#11 – Viewing construction progress at Notre Dame de Paris
#12 – my wife really liked shopping in the Galleries Lafayette
#13 – just seeing normal, everyday stuff – French grocery stores, gas stations, a French shopping mall, and even a French McDonald’s is interesting.

Did you have favorite restaurants? Please name them and say what city they were in.

1. La Brasserie de l’Isle Saint Louis. Paris, on Isle Saint Louis. Informal, wide variety of French dishes
from all over France.
2. La Thalassa. Boulogne-sur-Mer. Specialty is moules frites.
3. Le Vent du Nord. On the D940 in Auginghen.
4. Le Moulin de la Galette. Bayeux. Their specialty is galettes. EXCELLENT galettes.
5. We didn’t actually eat at this last one, but I feel I should mention La Coronne, on the old market square
in Rouen. It’s a high-class restaurant – reservations are a must – and also claims to be the oldest eating
establishment in France. An inn had been operating here for almost a century when Joan of Arc was
burned at the stake a few yards from their front door. It’s also the restaurant where Julia Child had her
first meal in France and fell famously in love with French cooking.

Foods I especially liked

1. Crêpes. Quickly became my go-to quick lunch favorite.
2. Moules frites.
3. Galettes
4. Langostines
The one I wasn’t fond of was the “Welsh”, a dish brought to northeastern France by British soldiers during
WWI. When the BEF left, France probably should have sent this import back with them, but it’s still found
quite commonly on menus all over northeastern France.

General restaurant comments: Generally, I didn’t have any trouble navigating restaurants. I speak some
French, which undoubtedly helped. Only one (rather humorous) misunderstanding. I thought I said “Je
voudrais du café, s’il vous plait.” What the waiter apparently heard was “Je voudrais deux cafés, s.v.p.”
Other than that…my wife’s a rather picky eater, and in the US she’s in the habit of special-ordering almost everything (I want the chicken sandwich, but I want it on white bread, and hold the onions, and no mayo,
and dressing on the side, etc). She tried that once in France…not a good idea. Strongly recommend you order what’s on the menu, and just take off the onions (or whatever) yourself. Note tipping isn’t required.
Also, at the end of the meal, server generally won’t bring the bill till you ask for it. Catch your server’s eye, then “L’addition, s.v.p.”

How did you get around? Trains? Car rental? Metros? Walk? Did you run into transportation problems?

All of the above. Lots of walking. Metro and RER in Paris. Some trains, and we rented a car.
Problems? Yes, but nothing major.
Trains – one small misadventure, on the train from Rouen to Paris. In the Rouen train station, there were two different kinds of ticket machines. One said (I think) that it was for tickets that didn’t require a reservation, so we used that machine because we figured we didn’t need reserved seats. There were 2
trains leaving for Paris within a few minutes of each other. We bought the tickets, then hopped on the next train. Conductor came around, and when I handed him our tickets, he looked, then said “You’re tourists?” Then he explained that our tickets weren’t for this train, which requires reservations, but for the other train. Not a huge problem; we just paid him the difference, and all was well. But people on a tighter budget should watch for this.

Car rental – one small inconvenience here. I wanted to take the train from Amiens to Boulogne, then rent a car in Boulogne. Trouble was, we were arriving in Boulogne on Sunday, and the Avis location in Boulogne wasn’t open on Sunday. So, our first thought was to rent the car the day before, in Amiens, but it turned out the Avis location at the Amiens train station wasn’t open on Saturday. Fortunately, there was an Avis agency in downtown Amiens that WAS open on Saturday, but only certain restricted hours.
We dropped our bags at the hotel, then I walked the few blocks to the Avis agency, picked up the car, and parked it overnight in an underground garage near the hotel, so we could drive it to Boulogne in the morning.

What did you learn about France on this trip?

France is a BIG country. We were there 3 weeks, and barely scratched the surface. I found the French people to be endlessly friendly and helpful, and patient with my fractured French. We also learned a lot,
inadvertently, about the French medical system. I actually had to take my wife to a hospital emergency room once, followed by a couple trips to pharmacies. Driving in France was really pretty intuitive. Except speed limits. Can’t tell you how many times I’d see a sign marking the end of a speed zone, but there
was NEVER another sign telling me what the new speed limit was. Even Google had trouble with this. Several times I noticed Google maps was indicating a speed limit that was NOT what was actually
posted on the signs.

Did you make any mistakes on this trip? Is there something you wish you had known before you came?

The BIG mistake came on our very first day, at baggage claim in CDG. We claimed our bags, then headed to the RER. We didn’t notice until after we got off the RER that we’d accidentally forgotten one of our carry-on bags and left it behind in the baggage claim area. That resulted in a two-day adventure through CDG lost and found, which I have to say is a pretty terrible and user-unfriendly system. I’m not sure we’d have been able to manage it without the help of our hotel front desk staff. First off, it was all on-line, and
all in French, and even the native French speakers at the hotel were baffled by the instructions. But in the end, we DID get our bag back, so I guess all’s well that ends well. It wasn’t how I envisioned the first day and a half in France going.

Is there something you didn’t like very much and wouldn’t recommend?

Not at all. We had a great time. Well, ok, I don’t recommend losing anything at CDG. And I don’t recommend getting sick while you’re there (but if you do, don’t worry, the French medical system is surprisingly easy to navigate).
One other thing to mention…when we were in Paris, there was a LOT of construction going on, mostly related to the upcoming Olympics. Negotiating endless construction sites got a bit old, but I’m sure that will get much better next year after the Olympics end.

What tips do you want to share with other visitors? Perhaps something that surprised you?

1. Prepare yourself – there are endless resources available, including podcasts and YouTube videos, that can give you detailed assistance on just about anything – driving, traffic signs, things to see along the way, how to buy a train ticket, where to park your car, how to ride the metro, what to expect in a French grocery store…the list is endless.
2. Check local websites. Almost every region, department, and town has an agency charged with promoting tourism. Check their websites for events or sites that you otherwise wouldn’t know about. You’ll surely find some neat things to do. For example, it was on one such site that I learned about the
sound and light show held every night during the summer at the Amiens cathedral. Checking the dates, it turned out the last night of the show for the season happened to be the very day we were in Amiens. A neat experience we’d have otherwise known nothing about. Another example happened when I was planning our route from Amiens to Boulogne. I noticed something marked along the route, clicked on it, and discovered we would be driving right past Jules Verne’s tomb in Madeleine Cemetery, so of course we made a quick stop.
3. Remember you’re in France, not the USA. Some things WILL be different. And stay flexible, because the unforeseen will surely happen.

Overall was your trip restful or stressful? Did you try to do too much or was it just right?

For us, it was just about right. It was our first trip to France, so we wanted to cover a lot of ground, while
leaving time to experience some things in greater depth.

How did the podcast and other trip reports help you prepare for your trip?

Invaluable. I probably listened to 2/3 of all your podcasts while we were planning our trip and learned something useful from just about every one of them. Probably the ones that were MOST valuable were one that did a deep dive into the French train system, and another that focused on driving in France.

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Categories: Family Travel, French History, Hauts-de-France