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A Road Trip from Toulouse to Paris via Normandy

Four Days in France with a Rental Car

After vacationing in Portugal I had a four day gap before my flight out of Paris. What to do, and how to get to Paris? Turns out flights to Paris from Lisbon were expensive, but flights to Toulouse were really cheap. Based on that I decided why not fly to Toulouse and rent a car.

Driving across France sounded like a great idea, especially since I had ordered a little six speed manual diesel to drive it with! Arriving at the rental agency I was told I had been upgraded, even better, or so I thought. My upgraded vehicle had German plates, so if I drove it to Paris it would be much closer to Germany, hence the free upgrade. Well I crossed the airport and arrived at the parking lot to find the Enterprise kiosk, and they brought me out to my big black hearse. Now it wasn’t actually a hearse, but it sure looked it. Not quite my little 6-speed compact. One look at me and the kiosk attendant realized this was not my idea of a good ride across France. He was helpful enough, and found me a little 5-speed unleaded compact I could take instead (no refund though on the extra I paid for the car I initially ordered).

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(What I ordered)
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(What I was upgraded to)
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(What I ended up with)

There I was, the keys to my little Peugeot and the open road ahead of me. This is when I ran into the first of a couple little bumps in the road (insert groan if you’d like). When I booked the car, it was around 20 euros a day, the GPS unit was an additional 20. Now I was ready to go ahead and buy it. I’ve never driven France and don’t really know my way around. Lucky for me I had my good friend Nuno beside me to help with the ordering, and in typical Portuguese frugalness, the GPS was mocked as wasted money, and so dropped. This is what smart phones are for he said (this may have been one of my many windows of time this year without an operating phone). I did have an iPad with a data sim card, so problem solved…except once I was going on the road, I realized the sim card didn’t work. Damn. No problem, I needed to go North, I would make it work and I did, with lots of missed/wrong turns (adding to the expense for highway toll fees), and a good dose of swearing/smiling depending on how smart I thought I was at the moment in time. In the end, I made all of my destinations, and enjoyed driving the French countryside, even when I saw more of it than initially planned :)

Speaking of bumps in the road, there was a second one…the car itself. Instead of this fuel efficient diesel, I had a gas guzzling, gutless Peugeot. Doing the speed limit of 130km/h was not an issue when on level terrain, but much of central France that I traversed was not so level. Every time I climbed one of the numerous tall hills I was required to move over to the slow caution transport lane as I watched my speed bleed off by 30-40km/h. Dropping gears did nothing to help the situation, even transport trucks were slowing on the uphill’s do to me. Adding to the gutlessness was the gas guzzling, between gas and highway tolls I must have paid triple what the car cost to rent! My money saving drive quickly surpassed the cost of a plane ticket.

Outside of navigation and car issues, I had a pleasant few days. Starting in Toulouse I headed to Orleans for the first night, getting a chance to meet up with Flavia (long time friend from Dubai who I seem to meet up with on every European vacation these days!) and her friend for the evening. While there I saw a postcard of Mont Saint-Michel and decided I had to go there next. The next morning I left Orleans for Mont Saint-Michel via Saint-Malo, before ending up in Caen for the night. Before leaving I knew I wanted one night at least up in Normandy, and I used it well visiting the Caen War Memorial and Juno Beach. This ended my 3+ weeks in Europe as I drove from Juno Beach to Paris, dropped off the rental car, and headed to my hotel for a nice 16 hours of not moving prior to the flight out.

Toulouse

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I flew in the morning prior to starting my drive. I took the rail into town and walked around for the day. It was a beautiful day, and a great place to walk around. Here are a few photos I snapped along the way.

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Orléans

What a beautiful and quaint place, I easily could have spent days walking around. I met up with Flavia and Daniel in the town centre just before sunset, sure wish I brought my camera as around every corner there was another great street or building to take a picture of. We spent a few hours walking around, stopping off for supper at a nice restaurant (where I had a great duck burger) and an outdoor bar patio later on for a couple of drinks. Joan of Arc helped lift a siege on Orléans during the latter part of the hundred years war, and their main square has a large statue of her astride a horse. Flavia and Daniel were living just off this square in a great old building, had a lot of cool character to it. Sorry I didn’t take photos at all during my stay there, I will have to go back another time to take some.

Saint-Malo

The second most touristy site in France after the Eifel Tower, I spent a few hours here, and just found it packed with tourists. It was a neat place, but just so overwhelmed with people that I didn’t really care for it. I did have a delicious Pork Knuckle for lunch, with made the stop not a full waste :)

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Mont Saint-Michel

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Wow! What a stunning place. I wish I had skipped Saint-Malo and headed straight here. Arriving in the late afternoon, I had time to walk the causeway to the front entrance, but not enough time to walk the island itself. This place looks like it’s out of the Lord of the Rings or something. Having the highest tides in Europe, the causeway spends part of most days submerged. I arrived at low tide, so not only could I walk the causeway, but I could walk along the mud around the walled base of the island. My next trip to France will definitely include a longer visit to this incredible place!!

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Caen

I spent the morning touring the Mémorial de Caen. The museum was very well done. I wish I had more time in Caen to visit some of the castles and relics from the time of William the Conqueror (or William the Bastard depending on how much you liked the guy), but that can be saved for a future trip.

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Juno Beach

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From the start, I wanted to make sure I made it here. I write this just a few days after Remembrance Day has passed, and am reminded of the sacrifices our forefathers’ generation made. Juno Beach is actually a stretch of beaches 8 miles wide that the Canadians were tasked with invading. Near the middle of this stretch, in the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer, is the Centre Juno Beach, a Canadian funded and staffed Memorial to the contributions Canada made during World War II. My tour guide was a history student (I’m guessing at least at the Masters level to be here) from out west. She was very knowledgeable and friendly. The most interesting part was after the tour had finished, we ended on the beach itself (after touring a command and observation bunker) and one of the tourists asked a question concerning the week that followed the invasion. To accurately describe what occurred, she ended up drawing troop movements in the sands of Juno to give an accurate idea of what happened, probably not dissimilar to what occurred 71 years ago when a commander was explaining his orders.

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During the invasions on D-Day, the Juno beach invaders (men of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade) took the second highest number of casualties (after Omaha Beach by the Americans) and also proceeded the furthest inland. The fighting that followed was very fierce, and cost a lot of lives. It took the Allied forces another month to capture the city of Caen, just 10 miles from Juno Beach.

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The Memorial is very well done, and does a great job of showing not only Canada’s involvement overseas, but what was happening back on the home front, both the prewar years, and the years of active fighting. Please take the time to stop there on your next vacation in the region, it is a worthwhile stop.

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Paris

I arrived back into Paris at rush hour, ran into a few issues finding a gas station before running empty (would not have been good without my phone working!), and found my hotel accidently on the way to dropping off the rental. I eventually had the car returned without issue, and took the shuttle back to the hotel for supper and a long sleep. I randomly ran into an older gentleman originally from Sydney, Cape Breton, and chatted with him for a while before his extended family arrived for supper.

And so ended my four days in France, was off to Canada to rest up. The starting of my Vietnam adventure was six days later!

Posted by acanuckabroad 03:55 Archived in France Tagged france europe juno_beach 2015

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Comments

Mount Saint Michel...cool!! I've seen that place on tv. ("France from Above") Looks amazing. And Juno Beach must have been interesting. I've been to France (Paris, the French Riviera & Monte Carlo too ) but I think I would really enjoy driving around the country and spending time seeing all the places I missed. You have a great running list of travel experiences Luke:)

by Rae

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