My dad traveled to London with me before I began my semester abroad at King's College. It was his first time in Europe and he was enjoying himself. England though was a pretty safe bet - I wanted to get my Franco-phobe father to France - mwa ha ha. Although, I sincerely thought he would enjoy seeing the landing beaches in Normandy. Yet, he was only going to be in London for a little over a week - I didn't want to short change his time in London for a short, single purpose trip. My plan was to do it in 48 hours and only spend one night in France. Logistically, it was very tight and the trip got off to a rough start. We succeeded though and it was awesome. It can be done if you're determined.
So the night of our third day in London we were preparing for our early morning departure for France. Our plan had been to leave our bags at the hotel, since we'd be coming back for three more nights. They flat out refused - anger and much hounding of the front desk ensued. Ultimately, our hounding was unsuccessful and we packed our bags off to Paddington train station that night. It took a couple trips since I had packed to last me until mid-December while in school.
The next morning began at 3 am. We trekked back to Paddington station. Now, the official English rail site had allowed me to book early morning tickets to take us from Paddington to Waterloo station - no such train existed. We couldn't take the Tube, as the Tube didn't open up until a more reasonable hour. A portly crazy person at Paddington told us to take the bus to Waterloo. We didn't want to figure out the bus system, too early. A suspicious guy eating a sandwich tells us he's a taxi driver and will happily take us to Waterloo. Suspicious guy wanted us to follow him into the basement offices of his taxi company. We swiftly walked away and called a registered cab from a Hilton.
Oddly enough, when we arrived at Waterloo station it's closed. Again, it seems I was able to book something that didn't exist. At this point - and its only 4 am - Dad was having deep reservations about this trip. Waterloo station opened 30 minutes before our 5 am train. We took the train to Portsmouth on England's coast. Took a cab to ferry boat in Portsmouth. 7:30 am ferry ride across the channel to Cherbourg, France. Delicoius lunch in Cherbourg and a swift, tiring walk to the train station there. At the station we found out we were an hour behind due to time zone change. I had to remember my high school French. Narrowly, we caught our noon train to Bayeux (one of the best cities to be based at for tours of the beaches). Once in Bayeux, it's a long walk to our hotel. Arrive then collapse.
The hotel was adorable and after resting up by 4 pm we were refreshed enough to go check out the town. We went to the gorgeous, 12th century cathedral, complete with live organ music. We had an incredible dinner (including native Calvados, apple liquor) at a restaurant directly across from the cathedral. The Calvados made sure we fell right to sleep once back at the hotel.
The next day our tour of Point du Hoc, Omaha beach, and an American Cemetery began at 9 am and was very well done. It was a three hour tour, which was a perfect length. We had a lunch of crepes and grabbed a ham and cheese on baguette with an eclair for the trip back. The trip back to London was thankfully much smoother than the first leg. Dad and I congratulated ourselves on the success of our excursion. I got the credit for planning it out, the initial bumps = not my fault (sorta). Dad enjoyed France - go figure.
If you want to do this, you must plan at least two months in advance - more would be better. Where you can, go ahead an pony up the money for cabs in between trains and trains, trains and ferries, ferries and trains - it will make you more sane. I booked our tour of the beaches through Viator.com (was a little frustrating since they took a lonnggg time to get me confirmation - book the tour first and plan other logistics around). Our hotel was called the Hotel d'Argouges and I can't recommend it enough. Picturesque, optional breakfast, good location, very French. Bayeux is worth it on its own even if you aren't seeing the beaches.