Over night we motored through more locks and arrived in Rouen. We will be here for two days. The day starts with a sunny and mild morning stroll into the historic old town just a few blocks from the boat dock. Our guide leads us to the cobbled streets and back in time to a medieval fantasy of churches and saints and ritual. All I can think about is Les Miserable and how the world was in those years.
A prominent figure in town is Joan of Arc who the French worshipped and the British vilified. We learned from the previous days tour that the Normandy region was held by the British and later fell back to French hands. It was a constant struggle and religion played a major role. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by the British and became a saintly icon to the French. There are many monuments and even a church in town in her honour. The significance of burning her was a deliberate tactic to disparage the Catholics as having no body to bury leaves the soul in purgatory. In those times churches collected relics which attracted parishioners to come to services. Relics included body parts and clothing items as well as other precious pieces.
The main attraction in Rouen is the Notre Dame cathedral. At one time there were 70 or so churches in town; some only meters away from each other. At the time it was built, the Notre Dame cathedral was the worlds tallest building. It’s amazing gothic stone structure was bombed during WW2 but managed to survive virtually unscathed. It is now undergoing major repairs. It is a huge structure and the spire can be seen from miles away.
The Courthouse, another ancient building also served as the jail. During nazi occupation years it was the nazi admin headquarters where resistance prisoners were jailed and then shipped to death camps in Germany. It’s flamboyant renaissance architecture makes it a prominent structure in the heart of old town. On Juif Street (the Jewish quarter in those days) it continues to function as the court today.
The streets are narrow and cobbled. Store fronts are a mix of modern signage and old facades. Everything is available including mouthwatering patisseries, cheese shops, art galleries, clothing stores and even McDonalds (which is in the oldest building). In some cases the wooden structures are bending and waning but they have been painstakingly preserved to honour the history. Every turn of your head results in a wonder for the eyes. The most famous sight is the Town Clock it is a gateway in the centre of town.
After our guided tour, Rudy and I head to the covered market where fresh flowers, produce, cheese, meat and seafood are displayed in a mouthwatering fashion. Locals bustle around choosing fare and shopkeepers are busy readying their wares in wonderful displays. Everything is fresh and abundant. Wishing we could take it all home with us, we wander back to the boat where a bbq lunch on the top outdoor deck is waiting for us. It’s a gorgeous warm sunny day – perfect for an Al fresco lunch on the Seine!
After lunch we take a bike ride along the river and enjoy the mild breeze while soaking up the landscape. When we return to our cabin it’s time to get ready for a presentation about The Somme battlefields which we will visit the next day. The presenter is none other than Ben who is making his story come to life by wearing a full military costume from 1914 complete with gas mask and weaponry. He sure knows how to engage the audience.
Following the presentation we are invited to a private VIP dinner. The small dining area is elegantly set with white linen. We are dazzled by the 7 course tasting menu accompanied by complementary wine selections. The food is outstanding both visually and in flavour. The evening is capped off with live musical entertainment (60’s style!) and dancing. It was good to move after the feast!!