“France cannot be France without greatness”
– Charles de Gaulle
Oh, Charles how right you were. France is definitely my favorite place I’ve ever traveled to. I’m still trying to convince my husband to move there even if only for a year. While we were there we took a mini road trip to the West coast of France so this entry will be a little different from my London overview, the Omaha beaches and Honfleur (located in Normandy) will have their own entries. We took the train from St. Pancras in London to Gare du Nord in Paris. I reserved a rental car from the Hertz located in Gare du Nord through Auto Europe. We stayed in Paris for 4 days then traveled through France to visit Normandy and spent most of the day there. We spent a total of 10 days in France and absolutely loved every minute of it. I’ll start off be reviewing the accommodations in Paris and then go on to review the trip to Normandy.
We were there late April through early May and the weather was just beautiful. We always carried a light jacket as sometimes when it was overcast it would cool down but overall a shirt and some jeans were fine. It would rain a little here and there, but again as I’ve recommended before set your weather app to Paris so you can always check first thing in the morning and know what to take with you and how to dress. The sun doesn’t set until very late (about 9-10 pm)so there is plenty of time to roam the streets of Paris and indulge in everything Parisian.
HERTZ CAR RENTAL – Gare du Nord
I must say, driving in Paris was much more pleasant than driving in London. The driver’s seat was on the left side and they drive on the same side of the road that we do here in the states. There was definitely a lot of traffic and not a lot of places to park in Paris but if you will be driving to suburbs or other parts of France I highly recommend getting a rental car, sure you can take a train just about anywhere; however, the experience is well worth it! The roads in France are easy to travel and there is a lot to look at along the way. I rented our car through Auto Europe from Hertz and it was a breeze. Everything was exactly how I reserved it. The entire process of check in was maybe 10 minutes, I was relieved to see their employees spoke some English and there was little confusion to be had. The car was clean, filled with gas and I made sure to get a car with GPS so we wouldn’t have to use our iPhones to get around. We were able to return the car rental at Charles du Gaulle airport without any problems. Overall, I would absolutely rent from Hertz again. Everything from the product to the customer service exceeded my expectations.
Posted below are pics of our rental by the ocean:
Alright, I’m going to be completely real with all of you right now…our hotel was the worst part of Paris. I literally cried our second night there and wanted to go home (this is so embarrassing to write about, I’m such a baby but it really was that bad). We stayed at the Mercure at 20 Rue Jean Rey…online it looked like the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It is across the street from the Eiffel Tower, walking distance from grocery shops and cafes and had what appeared to be modern and stunning rooms. I want so badly to be able to recommend this hotel but absolutely everything about it fell far short of any minimum expectation. This is a 4-5 star hotel and we were expecting the same level of service and atmosphere as our wonderful hotel in London, The Rubens. So much for expectations. When we arrived, the entire place was under construction. There were plastic linings all over the floor and the walls, pieces of wood laying around and tools all over the floor. There were painters and carpenters walking all about and nobody to help us from the staff. Look, I get places have to be maintained and upgraded BUT when I booked the hotel room that should have been noted to me – especially because we paid just under $2,000 for our stay. I do not want to pay a 4 star price and not have the complete hotel there. We finally found a make shift front desk with someone to help us out. She was very nice and got us checked in in less than 5 minutes. The elevator was out of service for a short time because of their construction and we had to take everything up the stairs. Our room was a decent size, especially for being in the heart of Paris, and the decor was pleasant. Unfortunately, that’s the last good thing I can say about the Mercure. I’m just going to copy and paste a modified version of my review of the Mercure from my Trip Advisor account so I don’t have to revisit it all again…I spent 4 months going back and forth with the manager (all for nothing, we’ll get to that later) repeating everything and frankly, I’m tired of repeating the story…so here we go…
I know the location is great but don’t compromise quality for location, there are plenty of other options close to the Eiffel Tower. The staff was very rude, the rooms were filthy, and our housekeeping never came before 2 pm. There was a time our tv didn’t work, I phoned downstairs (the in-room phone worked only about a third of the time I tried to use it, most times I had to use my own cell phone to call the hotel because the in room phone didn’t work) they said someone would be right up…30 mins later nobody came, I called again (from my cell phone) 4 times before someone picked up at the front desk then when I told them who I was and what room number I was in they hung up on me, I had to call 2 more times before I got through and told them we were still waiting for someone to fix our tv and the guy rudely said “I know, I said someone is on their way up” and hung up the phone on me while I was mid sentence trying to talk to him. There was construction all over the place and the elevators didn’t always work leaving us to climb 4 flights of stairs. nobody helped with our luggage or taxis.
You need a hotel card to make the lights in your room work (it slides into a socket above the light switch) and we would leave it there so we could turn the lights on when we would come back and housekeeping kept taking our card out of the room so we had no working lights…AGAIN I would call downstairs and they would tell me to walk down and get one! (I’m sorry but a 4 star hotel should send someone up immediately with a card especially when their staff are the ones who keep taking it).
Our room was supposed to be one of the newly renovated ones but it smelled like urine, paint chips were everywhere, there was something disgusting growing on our fridge. Our sheets were dirty and there were deep grooves in the bed from previous guests.
They charge 28 euro a night for rental car parking and the machine you have to pay with to get a ticket to leave rarely worked, so we would have to go back upstairs to pay several times (the girl at the front desk said we could park it out front cheaper but it’s a dangerous area at night and it’s not wise to do so). I’m sorry but WHY WOULD SHE SAY THAT? I mean I don’t think a lot of cities are the absolute safest around the main attractions…but come on.
The people across the hall from us had ordered room service and their dirty dishes were left in the hall in front of our room for 2 days before being picked up. Nobody there seemed to care about anything and nobody would listen to us if we wanted something. We seemed to be a burden whether we were asking for another room key because ours was taken or where the nearest place to exchange money was (which by the way they said was a “blue building down the street” and nothing further….which way down the street? is there a name?)”
I was so upset staying there I went down stairs and told them I wanted to cancel the rest of our nights because we wanted to stay at a different hotel. The man at the front desk told me that since I paid up front they wouldn’t return any of my money and I was more than welcome to go somewhere else. They never once attempted to make anything right or to make me feel like a valued customer.
To sum it all up…I attempted for 4 months to find someone from Mercure or even Accor hotels who cared about our experience. Hours poured in for nothing. The manager of the hotel even agreed with me they fell far below expectations and he couldn’t believe the pictures I sent him were from his hotel…I asked him for half of our money back. I told him I understood we still used the facilities and we stayed with them but even he agreed it fell far below any basic expectation and he refused to do anything to make it up to me. I’ve never felt so under valued as a customer and I would never recommend any Accor hotel as their whole system for getting in contact with someone if a stay goes wrong frankly just doesn’t exist. I’m still upset that $1,700 went to service like that. I would imagine you could find much better service at a Comfort Inn for about $700 for the amount of time we stayed. If I have any sort of TIP other than recommending you stay away, far away from the Mercure it would be to rent a flat or apartment. It’s well worth your money, you have a kitchen and multiple bedrooms and can still be in the heart of Paris. It may have cost us $1800-2000 for our total stay but there would be no additional fee for parking your car ($28 a night), the rooms would be clean, it’s someone’s personal property so if anything went wrong I can almost guarantee they’d fix it at all costs and promptly, and you have privacy. Here is a link for some rentals in Paris.
You guessed it, my advice is DO NOT book with the Mercure or any Accor hotels. You will deeply regret it and it will take some of the Paris magic away. Posted below are just a couple pics of our room:
DRIVING FROM PARIS TO NORMANDY
This drive was beautiful, easy and fun! The drive there took a little under 3 hours and there are plenty of stops along the way. The D-day beaches obviously don’t have an address so we used the Omaha Museum’s address in our GPS to get there. The museum is a good location between all of the sights to get you in the general area. Here is a link for going from center Paris to the Omaha Memorial Museum.
We spent about 3 hours in and around Omaha beach but I have to say you could easily spend days there. Had we known it was so massive with so much to see we would’ve stayed at least one night to see a lot more. On our way back from Omaha, I wanted to stop in Honfleur…being the art fan that I am I had to see where Claude Monet first began to paint. We only spent a couple hours in Honfleur as it was getting to be evening time so we didn’t want to be driving back to Paris too late. I will review Omaha and Honfleur in a separate entry for those of you interested in visiting. I would suggest both these places to anyone who loves history or art. They offer up so many emotional experiences that cannot be missed.
If you guys have any questions or if I left anything out you’re curious about please comment or send me an e-mail and I’ll get back to you with any information I have.
Happy travels my fellow gypsies!