Paris Journals / Homeless in Normandy

Yesterday was without a doubt one of the most interesting days of my life.

Michael and I woke up a little late, and we sat down over some coffee to plan out the rest of our time here in Paris. We're hoping to take a few little day trips, so we wanted to go ahead and book trains. As we were looking through some options, one popped up for Giverny (Monet's home and gardens outside of the city) that was leaving in 1 hour.

So, on some crazy (honestly pretty stupid) whim, we decided to buy the tickets!!! We skipped the showering, got ready in 20 minutes, grabbed a sandwich from the bakery on the corner, and ran out the door to catch the train. 

Our Uber driver could not have been more considerate and polite on the road and Michael and I were refreshing our maps every 10 seconds. But by some miracle we made it on the train (after some sprinting).

The train ride was so lovely, just what we needed. But as soon as we arrived in Vernon (before our 4 minute bus ride to Giverny) we noticed that the sea of people from the train were all funneling through the same tunnels toward signs for Giverny. The line for the bus literally wrapped around the building (Ahhh!)

At this point, both of us were starting to wonder how this was going to go. When we finally got on the bus and made it to the gardens, there were EVEN MORE PEOPLE. Like, I want to say thousands. But maybe I'm overreacting.

On top of the crazy Friday crowds (how did we not think ahead about it being the weekend?!), there's a heat wave passing through France, and the temperature was hovering at about 90°, aka miserable.

Immediately, even before we said it out loud to each other, we both knew we had to leave. We wandered around for a little bit to take in the beauty that is Monet's house. It was truly gorgeous. But all those people!! Just the line to buy a ticket to get in the garden was a few hours long. I kid you not! (It feels so anti-art, but I have to say that THIS IS NOT DISNEY WORLD, PEOPLE!!)

So Michael & his genius planner work went to action. Giverny is almost half way to a city in Normandy that we've been wanting to visit. So on yet another whim, we bought another train ticket to Trouville-Sur-Mer. No bags, no proper items for an overnight trip. But we just decided to go for it!

And so did EVERY other person on France.

It was truly breathtaking. Such a gorgeous beach town with these old French cottages scattered around. It looked almost like they planned them out at first, but as the city grew they kept dropping these magical homes wherever they would fit--some on the hillside, some right on the beach. But right away we noticed that this place was CROWDED. 

First things first--we were starving & wanted seafood. So we sat down and shared some Mussels in Normandy Cream at a charming restaurant called Les Vapeurs. HEAVENLY for real. The guy gave us such a cold shoulder for ordering 1 to share & guilted us into an order of fries as well.  One of my favorite things about Europe is that if your server is rude you don't have to tip!

I've ordered Mussels a few times at home and I'm always left wondering how they get away with selling 15 shells for like $14. But in Normandy, an order for 1 person is like 100 mussels for $16. Seriously! Michael and I were astounded, wondering how the rude server expected us to eat 100 mussels a  piece! So we happily split the order and sipped on our white wine.

When we left Les Vapeurs we were so ready to check into the hotel and shower off, settle in, and make a plan.

On the train Michael had checked a few hotels, which were sold out, but we were sure we could find something once we were walking around. 

PLOT TWIST: there were no hotels, no hostels, no airbnbs, NOTHING. Every single place in this city was sold out. Even after asking the hotel concierge to help out, they said, and I quote:

"No no, everything in Trouville, Deauville, all around is completely booked!"

Imagine that charming French accent delivering the worst news ever. 

So immediately we started looking into trains home, trains to other cities that had hotels. But there were no hotels AND no trains in any other city. We looked into renting cars, or taking an uber or a taxi. There was nothing. We did find an Uber back to Paris, but for €315 (gasp!) which would successfully multiply the cost of our trip by 8. We debated for so long, but finally landed on the money-conscious (and we were hoping romantic) decision to walk around until sunrise. After all, the place was gorgeous.

The first train out of Trouville was at 7am, and we bought a ticket. Then we started walking.

We grabbed an ice cream cone and headed straight for the beach. It was beautiful. The sand was thick, and the beach itself stretched for miles both ways. In typical French style there were these perfectly designed boardwalks and a wooden play zone for kids. You could barely see the Normandy cliffs in the distance. 

Before we knew it, it was already getting dark. As soon as the sun went down we found our way to a sweet little restaurant/bar with some live music and ordered a glass of wine. There was a Santa looking man playing a red guitar, a saxophonist, and a drummer. They were such a delightful way to pass a few hours. 

Around 11 we found a restaurant that was still serving dinner. They seated us outside by a loud party of 4. All night I kept wondering what language they were speaking, and wondering what they were talking about. They were laughing and carrying on like it was the best night of their lives. They were even trying to pull the waiter in on their fun.

I always wonder a little about how to interact with waiters here. I can't tell when they're annoyed, happy, having a good time, or hating their life while waiting on us. But I've seen French waiters having a blast with other tables! At the end of the meal (and for free) they always bring out this tiny shot of some sort of mystery liquor. Our friend Alex said that he had heard of it--that it tastes terrible but helps with digestion...must be a cultural thing. Anyway, I asked a waiter once what he was pouring. He smiled and said "Something special for the best customers!" I thought he was about to bring us some, but he never did. (Haha!)

I had decided that we would never get the mystery shot. 

BUT last night on the craziest night of our lives, we finally succeeded in being cool enough customers to get the mystery shot! It was just by association, but I'll take it.

Mid way through dinner the fun table next to us started chatting with us in loose English. There was an older married couple and a younger, newly dating couple. The older man and the younger girl were the ones that spoke the best English, so we started laughing and chatting with them. Just as the waiter poured their mystery shots, he saw them laughing with us and poured two more!  Little victory for me.

I mentioned to the younger girl that we didn't have a hotel, and she looked up and shouted "Us too! We sleep on the beach tonight! Ha ha!" It's hard to describe how unique and sweet her voice was--just a little hoarse, a lower register while still sounding feminine, and her laugh was almost part of her voice because after anything was said, she threw her head back laughing. She was animated, lovely, smart, and kind. 

We talked about her new boyfriend, her previous marriage, her son who was coming to visit in August. She exclaimed, "August, August! Get here soon! I can't tell you how much I miss him". She told me how much she misses Portuguese food and loves the Island that she's from but had to leave after her divorce. We really become friends, at least for the night. 

That's my favorite thing about traveling, and something I've missed on this trip up until now. 

After a few minutes she mentioned that her boyfriend is French and knows of some other hotel with vacancy tonight. She offered for us to go with them, and we said yes. It was worth a shot. 

We assumed that she meant some secret hotel in waking distance, but no! Before we knew it we were crammed into the back seat of their jeep, riding all over Normandy looking for hotels. Of course we were having no luck. I realized right away that her boyfriend didn't actually know of a one place with vacancy, he was just assuming, like us, that SOMETHING had to be available. But Michael and I had already done a desperate internet sweep for hotels and knew that NOTHING was available in any of the towns we were passing through.

With the language barrier, we didn't exactly know how to tell them and we didn't want to be rude to our new friends! So we rode along, watching the town signs go by, laughing with them. We would make eye contact with each other and squeeze hands from time to time, silently asking each other what to do, but enjoying an interesting way of passing the time. 

As they drove from town to town with Michael and I crammed in the back seat, I kept hearing my moms voice in my head warning me, "you really shouldn't ride in the car with strangers," and I could almost picture us waking up in another country with these new friends in a hostel. It was hilarious.

Every hotel we saw (and we even pulled into some weird looking houses that claimed to have a room) had a sign posted that said "complet" which means no vacancy. The whole car would say "complet, ah no!" Out loud. It was like a movie.

After a few hours of laughing, getting in and out of the car at every hotel while the men had their smoke break, and joking about sleeping on the beach, we asked them to take us back to Trouville. The mood in the car shifted a bit from laughing and stories translated into English to mostly Portuguese. I'm sure they were annoyed because it was probably 30 min out of their way by then. But they were kind and they took us all the way back to the train station where we started and we said goodbye to our friends. I hope they found a hotel.

 That was about 3am, with 4 hours to go. We sat on almost every bench in town, watched an absurdly large seagull waddle around the town square, smelled a baker making fresh croissants around 4am. We walked over the bridge and back 4 times, exploring the beach side and the town side. 

There were a shocking number of people awake late. We found a big square wth a fountain that seemed to be the spot for high school or college students to hang out. At that point we were looking for a relatively safe spot to sit, and watching them flirts with each other and run around the fountain was pretty entertaining.

We spent most of the night walking slow, which I almost never do. It's crazy, but I normally want to walk fast to get where I'm going or to work up a sweat and burn calories. But just knowing that we had 4 hours to stroll was an amazing feeling.

The low point was around 4:30. When you're pulling a homeless all nighter, you have benchmarks to get you through. "In 30 minutes we'll walk to the beach, in 10 minutes we'll move to the other fountain..." 

We were thinking to ourselves that the sunrise would be at 6, train leaves at 7. We can do this! But we found ourselves sitting on a bus bench at 4:30 pretty uncomfortable, the sunrise benchmark was still an hour and a half away. We were wishing we could brush our teeth or find a place to fall asleep. We were cold, we were ready to be at home and in our beds, thinking how this crazy this fail was.

But out of nowhere I think God gave us a little gift. Sunrise definitely wasn't supposed to happen until 6, but right there on the bus bench at 4:30, we saw some light gray and dark purple popping out from behind the buildings. I was over the moon about it. We probably spent 30 more minutes just talking about how awesome and hopeful the sunrise is.

The rest of the time really flew by. We made conversation with a few guys working the desks at hotels, and eventually we found our way to the perfect spot to see the sunrise. This spot felt safe, clean, happy, beautiful.

The whole sunrise was a treat. It was like we had a private show to the city waking up. The seagulls make these adorable, almost human sounds. The sky was slowly changing from a dark purple, to magenta with stripes of light pink, to streaks of blue and orange, until the sun had come all the way up and totally bathed the town in bright, white sunlight. I've never felt happier to see the sun.

Once it was light we decided to walk toward the beach. We found a grassy hill that led us up a little higher to look out over the water, the pier, the lighthouse and the town. It was so quiet and still. It made me want to be a morning person.

We passed a ton of people sleeping in their cars, on the beach, in RVs, on benches. It was surreal. They truly didn't have any more hotels, but people came anyway.


The train home was simple and it wasn't crowded. When we finally made it home we collapsed onto our bed for several hours of luxurious napping. Then we spent the day inside, a lovely contrast to the 24 hours spent outside the day before. We watched movies, cooked in, and relished in the apartment life, just for one day. 

That what Saturday's are for, after all.