Yes, We Caen: A Trip to Normandy (Part 1)

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Travel is one of the best things about studying abroad. It would be a waste to not take advantage of living in a new country by traveling to new places. I mean, Paris is great, and all, being a big touristy city with activities ad infinitum. But the rest of France is out there just waiting to be discovered!

Last weekend, a couple of friends and I decided to go to Normandy. This trip’s mission was to visit at least one of the beaches on which the Allied troops landed on D-Day, the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of France, and a turning point in World War II. Stephanie, one of my friends, was celebrating her birthday that Saturday, and she really wanted to go see one of these historic beaches. So, in late September, we began making plans.

Planning a small weekend trip might seem like an easy task, but I’m the kind of person who needs to make sure everything is prepared extensively. The three of us were also working on our limited student budgets, so we had to travel cheap. Laptop at the ready, we scoured the internet for the best options: Google Flights, Rome2Rio, train websites, travel sites, everything.

First, the destination: Where exactly were we going? With a bit of poking around the map, it seemed like the most accessible beach to get to was Juno Beach, in the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer. To get there, we’d have to take a bus from the city of Caen, one of the largest cities in Normandy.

The location of Paris, Caen, and Juno Beach in France.
The location of Paris, Caen, and Juno Beach in France. Caen is around 250km (155mi) from Paris.

How to get to Caen was the next question. Most of the tourist advice online was aimed at travelers who had their own car, or rented a vehicle. I don’t drive, myself, and both of my friends did not have driver’s licences valid for use in France. A car rental would also eat up a lot of our funds, anyway.

The best option to get to Normandy without a car, it turned out, was the bus. French national railway company SNCF offers a fleet of buses for budget travelers called OuiBus. It did take twice as long as a train, four hours instead of two, and it left Paris really early in the morning, but it was cheap. For just 15€ each, we secured round trip seats from Paris to Caen.

Finding a place to stay was the easiest part. AirBnB has been my go-to site for accommodations, and a lovely beach house in Courseulles-sur-Mer was available for a really good price. Split among the three of us, we just had to spend 20€ each for our one night stay.

Everything was settled: our timetables were squared away and our budgets were met. All we needed to do now was wait for early Friday morning, and everything would be smooth sailing to Normandy!

Except it wasn’t.

I woke up early, at 5:30. I honestly did not know when I last woke up when it was still dark. The bus was leaving in an hour and a half, so I had half an hour to get ready, and half an hour to make it to the bus station. Everything was on schedule. My friends were at the rendezvous point right as expected.

The bus station was located right outside the Paris – Bercy train station. There was a mass of people, all looking at the digital timetable. The sign said that our bus was on platform one… except it wasn’t. A bus had been there just a few minutes ago, but it looked like a gray tourist bus instead of the neon pink-and-teal Ouibuses on the other platforms. And, besides, that bus parked on platform two. It was a couple of minutes to 7 when we decided to ask an attendant about what was going on.

Our bus was that gray one, she said, as we watched it zoom past behind her to enter the highway.

We had missed the bus.

(Part 2 soon!)