Posts filed under ‘Rouen’

Morning in Rouen

Here begins the part of the trip where I can’t possibly fit a whole day into a single post. Since neither of us had been to Normandie before, Mom and I wanted to fit as much as we could into every day. Fortunately, I live for making and executing insane trip itineraries. So on Day 15, we rose and shone early, got ready to go quickly, and left our closet-sized hotel room to hit the road for Rouen.

Wait, let’s go back to the closet-sized hotel room:
Hotel 1
Guys, this is the whole room. The only part that isn’t visible is a tiny nook next to the door which contained a tiny desk. I lived in 4 different dorm rooms in undergrad, all of which were at least twice as big as this room. We were fine, but please note that the room contains three beds. I have no idea how three people + luggage could stay in this room without killing each other. And let’s take a look at the bathroom:

If you take out the shower, it was exactly the size of an airplane bathroom. When you add the shower, it only makes it the size of an airplane bathroom plus a tiny shower. The bathrooms on the commuter trains in Chicago are twice as big, and they don’t even have showers. Because they’re on commuter trains. Still, definitely not the worst bathroom I’ve had in a French hotel, and at least it was clean.

So it was off to Rouen, then! Rouen is famous for its Notre Dame Cathedral, for being the old capital of Normandie, and for burning Joan of Arc at the stake. We were most excited about the cathedral (who’s surprised?), but since we’d been to Chinon and seen the place where Jeanne began her military career, it only seemed fitting that we see the place where her life was ended.

The drive to Rouen was confusing and the streets in the Old Town were tiny and scary for us silly Amer’cans, but fortunately, the cathedral is massive, so I never felt lost. Among all the tiny streets, though, we didn’t get much of a view until after we parked the car in a garage and emerged from the stairwell to see this:

Cathedral 1
WOW. Easy to see why Monet took up a residence here to paint a series of this cathedral, right?

Cathedral 2
I think I liked the south façade best, probably since we were getting some good light in mid-morning on this side.

Cathedral 3
The west façade is most famous, and is also where the main entrance is located, but it was all shadowy. If we weren’t on such a crazy schedule, I would have switched our plans around to allow us to see this side in late afternoon, but unfortunately, we didn’t have the time. So I bought postcards. And shot lots of exposures so I could make an HDR image.

The cathedral is also undergoing constant rebuilding. The city of Rouen and its treasured cathedral were heavily damaged during World War II bombings. Seven bombs fell on the church in April 1944, and another fell just before D-Day. The oldest part of the church was burned, and the bells melted. Restoration was still ongoing in 1999, when the building was damaged again in a storm. Even before the 20th century, Notre Dame of Rouen has had bad luck with weather. Many of the sculptures that once adorned the exterior have been moved inside for preservation, and much of the stained glass has been destroyed, with hopes of being replaced someday.

With quite a bit of clear glass (instead of stained), the cathedral gets more natural light than most other old cathedrals. I liked the look of the golden light streaming in amidst the dark stone.

Richard the Lionheart chapel
My guidebook had told me that one of the Rouen Cathedral chapels contains the heart of Richard the Lionheart, King of France. None of the signs inside said anything about Richard’s lionheart, but we’re pretty sure it would have been in this chapel, which was far more ornate than the others and was also locked.

Stained Glass
Here’s one of the few stained glass windows in the cathedral.

Grand Horloge
After we felt like we’d sufficiently seen the cathedral, we walked down Rue du Grand Horloge to see this, the Grand Horloge. It is an astronomical clock from the 16th century, now mounted over an archway on this pedestrian street lined with shops.

Our destination was the Place du Vieux Marché. It is still a working market, and is also home to this modern church. I didn’t like the architecture in person, but now that I’m looking at this photo again, I think it’s kind of neat.

Place du Vieux Marche
The cross on the right marks the spot where Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake. Unlike ringing the bell at Chinon, we did not take photos of each other reenacting Jeanne d’Arc here.

The market was starting to pick up, so we decided to join the locals and pick up some sustenance for later. Normandie is the birthplace of Camembert, my favourite cheese in the world, so we tried to buy a wedge of Camembert from the busy cheese counter, but the owner didn’t sell slices of it, just full wheels. We didn’t want that much, since we wouldn’t have access to a refrigerator anytime soon, so we settled for a wedge of Brie. The market didn’t have any bakers, but I’d seen a few boulangeries on our walk down Rue du Grand Horloge. Plus, a good rule of thumb is that, when in France, a delicious boulangerie is never more than a 10-minute walk!

As we were leaving the market, though, I saw it: a whole table full of macarons. Jules and Christina got me absolutely hooked on macarons this year, and I was dying to try my first authentic French macarons. My mom doesn’t always spring for sweets, but I was determined. We needed to try these macarons.

The macaron-sellers were incredibly sweet, asking us about our trip and complimenting my French even though I’m sure it didn’t deserve any compliments, and they happily sold us a few of their products. We picked up a baguette on the way back to the car, and we soon discovered that when you are driving on tiny streets closed in by tallish buildings in the old part of Rouen, the GPS cannot pick up a signal. So getting out of Old Rouen took some time, but we were finally back on the road, heading towards Basse-Normandie.

When we were almost to D-Day country, we stopped at a roadside park for a lunch so delicious that I can still taste it. The Brie practically melted on my tongue and the baguette was fluffy and perfect. But the macarons, oh the delightful macarons, really stole the show. We split each of the 4 different flavours, and at first bite, I think I sold my mom on macaron magic. If I ever get back to Rouen, that table had better still be there.


October 3, 2011 at 12:07 am 1 comment


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