Tuesday, January 19, 2010

That Was A Nice Museum - Caen, France


Destination:  Caen, France

Number of Days Spent:  1 day

Where we stayed:  RCI's Jewel of the Seas

Best restaurant:   No time to eat in Caen...

Best of:  Caen has a terrific Peace Memorial, probably the best one in Europe. 

Worst of:    Read below for one of our biggest mistakes of the trip

Most Memorable:   While a crappy situation, we will never forget the lessons learned below. 

Useful Tip:   Always, always get the train schedule in advance from the train station (not online or from the tourist information bureau).  This could save you big $$$.

"Hurry up!  We are going to miss the train!" I yelled over my shoulder as Tracy said, "are you sure you don't want to just stay here for the day in Cherbourg?"  "There's nothing here." I sternly replied, "and we already decided to go to the War and Peace museum in Caen, now come on, we have 10 minutes to get there, buy our tickets, and get on the train.  Move, move, move."

Mistake #1 of the Day (or really most days in my case):  Listen to your rational and sane wife, she just might be right.  99.9% of the time she is.

Thus begins our day.  We consider ourselves fairly well seasoned travelers.  We never take the ship tours as they are always overpriced and rarely, if ever, better than anything you can organize on your own.  In fact, the more we travel, the more we enjoy having the freedom to change our minds and to avoid the tour bus mentality.  Most of the time it works out for the best, but there are a few occasions, such as this day, where we make a costly error.

Call it a case of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.  I have in my head the moment we are able to get off the boat.."Train leaves at 7:50...it's 7:20...how do we get that train.  We must catch that train.  Train. Can't miss the train."  Tracy's thoughts are something more like this:  "Is it really so bad staying here for the day, we save time and money, it is after all just a museum.  A war museum on top of that.  Travel 3+ hours to see a museum when we could take it easy and check out what is right in front of us?"

After asking at the information desk at the dock they showed us a train schedule - train leaves at 7:50 and there is one coming back at 1:05 that will give us plenty of time to get back to the ship by 3pm.  "Would you like to take a taxi to the train station?", the lady behind the counter asks.  "No, that's ok, we can walk.  25 minutes you say?  We can make it."

Mistake #2 of the Day:  Sometimes, when timing is tight, it's better to just fork out the extra couple of $$'s to get there in time to confirm the schedule with the actual train station.

After marching at a steady pace we arrive huffing and puffing with about 2 minutes to go and still having to purchase the tickets. 

Mistake #3:  Confirm the train schedule with the actual train station.  This could often pass for common sense but with my one track mind, a minor detail such as this was lightly brushed over in the heat of the moment.

Mistake #4:  Never underestimate how long it takes to get somewhere that involves multiple transportation changes.

After catching the train, hopping on Caen's excellent tram system, to the bus station we finally arrived at the museum around 10am...2 1/2 hours to check out the museum that is recommended to spend at least 4 exploring.  Of course this involves passing up on the other sights that Caen has to offer like its castle, Calvados liquor, etc.

The Peace Memorial is considered by many to be THE best museum on World War II.  The museum starts at the end of WWI with Europe in turmoil, Germany in rebuild mode with a hopeless situation of reparations and runs all the way up to the events of 911.  Evocative, well designed and engaging; the museum is well worth the price of admission if you have the time to fully dedicate to it.  The two movies are both excellent. The first one shows rare footage of the D-day invasion from both sides of the battle in split screen format.  It ends a little hokey, however, as the actual footage gives way to a computer animated battle map showing allied troop advances against ever receding German lines.  The second video encapsulates every major event that happened from the end of WWII up to 9-11.  It is beautifully done mixing military conflicts with moments of peaceful triumph.

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Knowing that we had to make it back to the train station by 1pm, we cut our visit short and started to head back.  While standing in line to purchase the return ticket, I notice that the 1pm train is not listed on the big board and start to worry a bit.  Must be some sort of mistake...or not.  Apparently the 1pm train was a seasonal train that had been removed from the schedule the week prior.

Ok, so the next train is a little after 2pm which gets in after 3pm, the time the boat is leaving.  Major oops.  In an efficient French public transportation system, provided you actually follow it, trains, buses and trams run seamlessly but do not overlap.  With no other option left and time running out we were forced to hire a taxi to drive us back to the port...some 110 (about 65 miles) kilometers away.  The most painful part was watching the meter tick away as we zoomed down the highway. 

200 Euros ($350 US; after tip) later:  Lesson learned.


Sick to our stomach, we crawl back on the ship a lot lighter in the wallet than expected and prepare for our next day, and hopefully much cheaper, in Cork, Ireland.

I wish we had more time and more photos to share from Caen but that's it :-(

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