Solo Travel in France – a week of one’s own.
In 2001/02, my husband, my youngest son, one or more of the other sons at various times, and I traveled Europe for 10 months. It was a rich experience. Solo travel it was not. Intense it was. Intense in good ways and sometimes not so good.
We were in close quarters. We were traveling and living in a VW Pop-up camper rented out of Amsterdam. (Ten months in the off-season cost about the same as one month in high season. We had a tent for the kids.)
My husband and I had built and operated a business together. We were accustomed to sharing our time, thoughts, space… but after 8 months, that camper seemed to be getting smaller.
One day, in the south of France, I suddenly decided to travel solo.
Solo travel: a week and a Room.
That camper became my “room of one’s own”. After putting the others on the train to Amsterdam, I drove it north through France doing whatever I wanted for one week. Mostly, I followed a route to touch places that I had encountered in history and art classes.
It is a long distance between Nice and Amsterdam so I didn’t have lots of time to properly visit any one place. I was on a classic road trip where the driving was as satisfying as the touring.
I left St. Raphael near the Cote d’Azur and took the main highway to make time in the first half of the day. We had already wandered a lot of Provence so I didn’t feel the need to take the back roads there. Taking the A8 to the A7, I headed north branching onto smaller highways at St-Etienne and finally regional roads into the countryside a Thiers.
Not far along D906 is Vichy, a small city famous for water, soup and being the seat of the collaborating French government during World War II. As he did in Paris, Napoleon III greatly influenced the design and architecture of this city that was so popular with celebrities in the 19th century. It is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon and soak up the atmosphere. I camped near Vichy in what would be considered a very plain field had there not been a French Chateau 100 yards from my van. The campground is no longer active.
The next day I took various small roads and wound my way up to and along the Loire river until just before Orleans. A hard left on one roundabout took me up D3 to Chartres to see Our Lady of Chartres Cathedral which is considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in France and had been the subject of a complete lecture in a European Art History course I once took. It was great to finally see it.
I didn’t have much time there. The cathedral was all I saw. I had much more to see so I headed up N154 to catch the A13 for Normandy.
Juno Beach, near Courseulles-sur-Mer may not be the best known of the beaches from the D-Day invasion but it is important to Canadians. In fact, it is known as the Canadian beach.
I camped at a barren campground on the shores of Juno beach. I can’t recommend it. There are nicer places around but I wanted to be right there, plus, I wasn’t planning on spending much time at the campground.
The first day I was there, I did the one-day D-day Self-Drive Tour (there is also a two day self-drive tour) visiting various beaches and monuments. It was fascinating. Standing in the landscape helps history make sense.
The next day I went to Bayeux to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. 70 meters in length, this tapestry tells the story leading up to and during the battle that resulted in the Norman conquest of Britain. It’s absolutely stunning.
Then to Amsterdam.
If I had driven directly to Amsterdam, my trip would have been about 1300 km. The route I took probably made it more like 2000 km. While, this did not afford a lot of time for sightseeing, it did allow me to connect with some highlights I would have otherwise missed and, more importantly, take a bit of time to reconnect with myself. I arrived in Amsterdam ready for more intense family time.