This is Part 2 of my 8 day Viking River Cruise trip from Paris & The Heart of Normandy along the Seine River in France. Viking invited me on this cruise and I am happy to share my trip experience with you.
If you haven’t read my previous post about the first three days of the cruise from Paris to Vernon and Giverny.
- You can read it here: My Viking River Cruise Along the Seine, Part 1
The river cruise started outside of Paris in Le Pec and then we traveled north on the Seine to Rouen, where we stayed for two days. While docked there, Ed and I took two excursions. One to the picturesque 17th century harbor town of Honfleur and the next day to the US D-Day beaches along the Normandy coast.
The next two days, took us to Les Andelys and Mantes-la-Jolie.
EXCURSION & TOUR TIP: When on a river cruise, you can decide what you want to do in each port before the trip. Viking has a detailed list of all the excursions and tours you can take. Seven were included in the price of the tour. 8 others are “optional” where you pay a separate price. I wanted to go on all of them, but you can only pick one a day or maybe two if they are half day tours, not all day excursions. We had two all day excursions scheduled that we went on via a Viking River Cruise bus. Both of these were optional tours.
I was a little sad not to get to go on all the seven offered tours. Happily, at dinner, when everyone was back onboard, we got to see photos and hear about the tours we didn’t take. There were lots of cell phones getting passed around to see photos of what we missed.
Going Through River Locks While on The Ship
One thing that I didn’t realize about river cruising is that the ship has to go through many locks, where the water level of the river changes. We went through a few, most at night.
It was fascinating to watch.
I watched from an outdoor deck of the ship as we transited this lock. It took about 10 minutes for the water to rise to the top and then the gates opened and we were cruising again.
When inside the ship and depending on how wide the lock was, some were a pretty tight fit as you can see from my photos.
It was all very smooth and was quite an education for me. :-)
DAY 4: Rouen & Honfleur
On day four and five of the cruise, we docked in Rouen for two nights. This was my least favorite port as we were docked right near the highway. It was noisy.
Rouen is the capital of Normandy. It is called the “City of a Hundred Spires” with many churches, the largest being the Notre Dame Cathedral that make its presence known with its tall spire.
I learned that there are a lot of Notre Dame Cathedrals in France, not just the one in Paris.
While in Rouen, there was a Rouen Walking Tour to the medieval quarter, and a Farm & Countryside Tour that were both included with the cruise.
We opted to pay extra and take the optional day bus tour called: Picturesque Honfluer on Foot.
Even though it rained while in the 17th century harbor town of Honfleur, we enjoyed walking around the coastal town where historic houses line the quay amid quaint galleries…
…and many eateries, all with chalkboard menus outside.
I had to imagine how nice it would have been on a sunny day to sit at one of these outdoor cafes watching the boats move in and out of the harbor.
Some of the seating was very stylish.
Everywhere I looked, there was something pretty. Flowers along rooflines…
…and cobblestone streets all over the town, including a patchwork of them in front of the Les Maisons De Léa hotel.
Most of the cobblestone streets from centuries ago are still intact and used every day. Although the medieval sewage system has been replaced. :-) No more middle of the road channel in the road needed.
We toured the very old wooden Church of St. Catherine.
And bought chocolate at the local Chocolaterie.
Our tour guide told us all about the region’s apples and the liquor Calvados and cider made from them. For apple brandy to be true Calvados, it must be produced in the Normandy region of France and must be aged in oak casks for at least two years.
We stopped to get a taste of the cider and a small shot of Calvados with an apple tart. All were delicious.
We had plenty of time after our tour to walk around the town on our own. I would have liked to stay in Honfleur longer so we could enjoy eating at a few of the cafes…
… and leisurely browse the shops.
It was a colorful, charming town where centuries old meets present day and all blends together beautifully.
TIP: When going on the bus tours you can safely keep your belongings on the bus when you leave it to tour. I took bottles of water (Viking hands these out when you leave the ship to go on tours), an extra jacket and umbrella. I was glad I did as we did get wet. I was happy to have a dry jacket for the ride home.
The bus tour back to the ship in Rouen was about an hour. Some of the trip was through charming towns and the rest was on the highway. I found both interesting.
DAY 5: Normandy D-Day Beaches US
To get to the Normandy coast, we took another bus tour. This tour was the most popular on the cruise.
Getting to go to the beaches at Normandy was one of the highlights of the trip for many, including me.
It was somewhere I would have liked to go with my dad. He had always wanted to go back to remember when he arrived as a 19 year old onto Omaha Beach in 1944, two months after the D-Day invasion. He spent the rest of the war in France and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. My brother and he had talked about going, but never did.
Like me, many of the passengers took the cruise to see the D-Day museum, memorial and cemetery.
The bus with a tour guide took us all around the coast where the American beaches were located. There was another tour that went to the Canadian landing beaches.
TIP: Wear sneakers or your most comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot. A pair of binoculars will help you see the remnants of the war infrastructure out in the water and in far off areas along the coast.
We got off the buses at a few different stops. The first was in Arromanches, where we toured the D-Day museum and walked around the town and enjoyed its stunning views of the coast…
… and beautiful homes.
It was a quiet and quaint, yet open and airy town. The residential area was up on the hill.
Large clusters of sea air loving flowers everywhere.
The tourist stops were found in the lower section of the town.
All over the town you’ll find remnants from the war, each with signage explaining their importance and how they were used. This is a section from the genius, portable Mulberry Harbor that moved huge volumes of cargo and troops from the water to land.
After leaving Arromanches, we headed for the German bunker area of the coast.
On our way, we passed many large black and white photos displayed on walls and buildings. All were taken during the war. I found them fascinating, seeing the actual road, building, wall and town in the photos that are still standing today.
When we arrived at the German bunker area, things got a little quiet. There were many signs and plaques to read explaining the significance of the landmarks.
If you have seen the movie, Saving Private Ryan, then you have seen these bunkers on the big screen. Having seen the movie along with, The Longest Day, I felt I had been here before. Both movies depict the area well.
Even though these are destroyed, just knowing what they did made me take pause.
As did walking through the resting place of 9400 American service men and women. It was sobering to think that if my dad had come 2 months earlier to France, I might not even be here today.
The skies were gray, but even if it had been sunny, the mood around the memorial would have been somber.
Many of the tourists were older, which made me think they came to remember, just like my dad wanted to do.
We had plenty of time to walk all over.
I love studying maps and this one taught me a lot about the D-Day invasion that I didn’t know.
At one point in our tour, they called all of the veterans forward. There were more than thirty and Ed even found two other Naval Academy alumni, albeit from an earlier class. Everyone sang the Star Spangled banner, followed by a playing of Taps. Many tears all around.
We walked around, reading names and noting where each service person was from and in most cases, the shortness of their lives.
The entire cemetery and memorial is along the rocky coast. There were viewing areas all along the paths so visitors could get a good look at the staging area of D-Day.
When we were walking back to the bus, seeing this Retro Tour touring motorcycle with sidecar put a smile back on my face. What a fun way to explore the area. You can find out more at: retro-tour.com.
Our last stop along the coast was to Omaha Beach.
Again, a somber place with a memorial built right on the beach.
Many of the passengers including us, collected a little bit of the beach in a small glass jar that was given to us on the tour bus. I gave it to my nephew who knows more about WWII than most veterans. I knew he would honor it.
DAY 6: Les Andelys
On day 6, we headed back the way we came on the Seine. It was an overcast day, but no rain so we could do everything we planned.
This section of the Seine was the most scenic. As we got closer to Les Andelys, white chalk cliffs came in view.
Then the ruins of the Chateau Gaillard came into view. It was the most stunning site.
We stopped here for the day. There were two tours. One was an included walking tour of the ruins. The other was an optional tour of La Roche-Guyon Castle and village.
We went on the walking tour to see the castle ruins, but decided to do it on our own and not wait for the tour.
It was a long steep uphill walk. We kept looking back down to the river as we climbed higher and the ship appeared smaller.
The views of the area were far and wide.
We could understand why Richard the Lionheart of England, also known as the Duke of Normandy, built this stronghold fortress on this hill back in the 12th century.
As we got closer to the ruins, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a Disney attraction, but the real ruins of a medieval castle…
…that probably had a moat around it.
It was truly amazing to walk around and touch the stones.
As we walked around the ruins, I tried to imagine what each section once held.
Out here must have been the the guard shacks. :-)
Touring the ruins was quite different from the beaches and other sites we had seen so far on the cruise. It is one of many things that I liked about traveling with Viking. Every day was something new and different.
Walking down the hill brought us back to the town. We walked around a little to take a closer look at the ancient buildings.
Some centuries old, right next to 20th century new.
Others, like this door to an outdoor section of a restaurant were charming.
To the first antique store I have ever been in that is older than some of the antiques being sold inside.
DAY 7: Mantes-la-Jolie
The last day of the cruise, we docked in Mantes-la Jolie. This was a busy town, not too far from Paris.
The tours starting from this port were to Napoleon’s Chateau and The Palace of Versailles.
Ed had been to Versailles on a previous trip to France and I was happy just walking around the town, so we didn’t go on the tours. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the French people living everyday life out in their town.
We saw more old and new, some old with a little new assistance needed.
Other old and new, seamlessly working together.
After 7 days of touring and 4 days in Paris before the cruise, we were happy to go back to the ship and enjoy the top deck where Ed practiced his putting.
And I sat back and relaxed with a glass of wine.
Soon it was dinner and then back to our stateroom to pack for home.
DAY 8: Back to Le Pec & Paris
From start to finish, Viking took care of everything to get us from the ship to wherever we were going. This was the case when we left to go home, also.
Once we had our bags packed and tagged with our name, they were taken out to a luggage staging area. When it was our time to depart, Viking had a car waiting for us to take us to the airport. No stressful taxi ride, subway or Uber needed.
If you want to extend your trip, Viking offers what they call EXPLORE MORE packages where you can extend your journey in Paris, Oxford & Highclere Castle (the real Downton Abbey) or the Loire Valley.
We didn’t take advantage of this as we booked our trip late in the season and they were all booked. We ended up making our own plans to tour Paris for 4 days before our trip. I highly recommend taking the time to see more if you can.
MORE CRUISE INFORMATION:
This Viking Cruise was a first for Ed and I and I hope it won’t be our last. You can find out more about Viking and all the cruises they offer, both on rivers and oceans all around the world on their website.
- Visit Viking River Cruises to check out their ships and itineraries.
If you have questions about anything or something I didn’t cover, please ask in the comments.
If you would like to see more of the European River cruises Viking offers, there are many, head over to my friend, Kelly’s post, where she is sharing: What It is Like to Take a Rhine River Getaway Cruise.
If you missed my other trip to France posts and would like to read them, you can find them, here:
- Viking River Cruise Along the Seine, Part 1
- Touring Paris By Bicycle
- Walking All Around Paris
- Why I Didn’t Take the Eiffel Tower Steps
My Must-Have’s For Effortless Travel
This post contains affiliate links which means if you purchase an item I recommend, I will make a small commission.
When going on a river cruise you might want to consider taking travel size binoculars, a lightweight cardigan, crossbody handbag and compact luggage that will fit in a closet or under a bed.
Click on the items below for more details: