Two weeks camping in a marina on the Seine River, lovely. I actually ran outside in the rain to get the picture above. The sunset was great. This marina is 3 km from the historic centre of Rouen, the capital of Normandy. We are staying in a marina with boat launch ramp so you might think that we would get our boat into the water. I liked the idea of putting it in and leaving it there for a few days. If we have to take it out and put it away every time it doesn’t get used much. In fact we didn’t use it last year and haven’t used it this year. Mike didn’t seem very interested. These days his interest is in riding the bicycles. I thought we could do both. I lost.
Rouen is a lovely town to visit. It does carry the shame of being the site where Jeanne d’Arc was burned alive as a heretic thanks to the influence of the English on her trial. That said, 25 years later she had a second trial, posthumously, where she was vindicated and found innocent. Within 6 years of her original trial, her prophecy that the English would be routed from France and Charles VII would be crowned King of France in Paris had come true. Rouen has a very good multi-media museum about the life of Jeanne d’Arc and her two trials that Mike and I quite enjoyed.
The tourist centre in Rouen will rent you an audio guide to tour the city with. Since I couldn’t find a tour on our telephones, this was very welcome. It makes quite a difference to what Mike and I pick up about a place when we have the audio guides to listen to. As a Canadian, I did find it a little funny when the audio guide said that the Cathédrale Notre-Dame’s tower top was a recent addition, it was built in the 15th century. The heart of Richard the Lionhearted is buried here in the cathedral due to his love of this city. His body is buried in the Loire Valley with his parents. Since Willian the conqueror, the King of England was also the Duke of Normandy and there is discussion about which title was the more important one.
Claude Monet obviously loved this cathedral as well. He made more than thirty paintings of the Cathedral. He was a little strange though. It was only around 10 days before finishing his last cathedral painting that Monet actually entered the cathedral for the first time. In 1895 he selected what he considered to be the twenty best paintings from the series for display in Paris and sold eight of them before the exhibition was over. I read that Claude Monet and his cathedral campaign took a dominating position in the development and promotion of Impressionism in France and all over the world.
Monet and other Impressionism artists appear to love Normandy. Monet had a home nearby in Giverny. Probably Monet’s most famous series was his Water Lilies. He painted approximately 250 oil paintings in this series (1840-1926) that depicts his flower garden. Over 100 pictures of his water lilies can be found here on Wikipedia . I found some of these paintings gorgeous while others where just weird.
Rouen has multiple lovely churches and cathedrals. One building that I first saw on the internet, I was convinced was another of these religious establishments. It turns out that it is actually the Palais de Justice or the Rouen courthouse. It was bombed a few times during the war with the most damage caused just preceding the liberation of the city. The building has since been restored to historic authenticity.
One of the other churches, the Église Saint-Maclou, was built in the 1400s. It is considered by art historians as a jewel of flamboyant Gothic art. One day I might know what that means. The church was severely damaged in the war and after more than 60 years of darkness and silence, the restoration of it is now complete.
Le Gros-Horloge or the Big Clock was built at the end of the 14th century. It is a Renaissance pavilion that spans the street via a low arch. I found it lovely but quite strange. There is a clock on both sides of the arch. Each clock only has a single hand that points to the hour, how unusual.
One of the streets in Rouen is called Rue Massacre or Massacre Street. Rather graphic I thought. I dragged Mike to the Fine Arts museum in Rouen. It wasn’t too big, although after less than 30 minutes Mike swore he had been looking at paintings for hours! In the Impressionism area they had an artistic map of the Seine River. This showed all the places along the Seine where the Impressionists had painted. Every Impressionist that I had ever heard of was shown here.
We talked with some friends the other day who have also been travelling with their Canadian camper in Europe. They said that this has been a tough year because of issues with their camper. I am so lucky to have Mike. He is a great, confident driver, he can fix almost any problem which then stops them from becoming major issues. It is very nice.
We had decided not to visit Paris this trip but then I looked at the map and thought about just cycling in and around the city for an afternoon. I thought that we could cycle somewhat along the Seine from Rouen into Paris over a few days. We might even be able to stretch it so we continued north into Dieppe. This path isn’t anywhere near as long as the other two major cycle paths we have already completed this year. The idea was great and Mike jumped on board. We were quite interested to see what Paris had done with their cycle paths over the last few years. It is well known that Paris is investing a lot of money in becoming a bicycle friendly city. One problem that they have is the French culture. The French pedestrians ignore traffic lights as if they don’t exist. There doesn’t appear to be any repercussions. The problem is that the bicycles are following this example which causes quite a congestion problem on the streets and crossings. The city redesign is a work in process and at the moment there are a lot of places where cars turn across the bike paths which can be a big concern when you have the volume of traffic that you have in Paris.
We opted to do this ride and stay based in Rouen. We would drive to a train station, take the train 25 – 30 km south and then cycle back to the car. With all the restaurants being closed while we are riding I don’t like doing 40 km in one go. I hadn’t realized how many times we would have to drive between one and two hours to get to a train station just so that we could do a relatively short bike ride to get all the way to Paris. It was a mistake doing it all from here but it is done and we certainly enjoyed the riding (until it poured yesterday for half our ride). We still have one short leg left to do to join Paris with Dieppe and the English Channel. We are leaving that for our last day, Saturday, and hoping that the weather is OK. We hear that Dieppe has a very large market on Saturdays.
On one ride toward Paris we passed Monet’s home with the gardens. We also passed this house in the next town. We thought that it was a little unusual.
A bit of trivia, cycling in the rural areas we see a lot of farms and a lot of cows. It is surprising how many of them are white compared to what we see in Canada. I am guessing that they are Charolais, a breed that originated in eastern France. On our rides we also saw lots of white cliffs in the distance. From what I have since read I think they were chalk quarries.
In Eastern Europe we nearly always got favourable seniors rates anywhere that there was an entrance fee. In France this rarely happens.
Well we made it to Paris and what a lovely day it was to cycle around this famous city. We didn’t go inside anywhere other than a restaurant and a café. We did cycle past and take photos at many of the famous sites: Eiffel Tower, Place du Trocadéro and the Trocadéro gardens, the Louvre, Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Pantheon, Opera House, Luxembourg Palace and Gardens and of course, we cycled along the Seine River. The weather was great. The first place we thought about stopping for lunch advertised a Grand Brunch for 98€ per person ($257 Cdn for two). It didn’t happen. In the restaurants and cafés we heard more English than French spoken. This hasn’t been true in most of France.
Notre-Dame is still undergoing major renovations. The roof is a huge mess of scaffolding. Mike swore that he could still smell burning but admits there might be a little imagination involved there. We saw more people in the various places for viewing the Eiffel Tower than we have seen together since before Covid.
Cycling around the city and seeing the sites where we have spent a fair bit of time in the past slowly getting from one to another was great. Paris is now much better set up for cyclists than it was previously and the work is continuing.
As I said, Mike and I have one ride to go into Dieppe and then we leave Rouen. We will head to a town not too far from Belgium just for a few days and then we hope to spend a month or two in Belgium before we return to France. This year is going far too quickly and France is bigger than we thought for traveling around.