Day 17: And it Burns Burns Burns…

This was our last full day in France before leaving for Ypres, Belgium tomorrow, and I was excited for our plans – we were checking out the capital of Normandy, Rouen. Rouen is famous for two things – its staggering gothic Notre Dame Cathedral, and the execution site of Jeanne d’Arc, known to us anglos as Joan of Arc.

After escaping an insufferable Torontonian couple at breakfast, we hit the road south east, our first stop being an abbey in a small town called Jumièges. The town itself is adorable and quaint, like so many other Norman towns, and the tops of the abbey is visible from a few kilometres out. We parked and headed in.

The abbey was a Bénédictine institution built in the 7th century, burned to the ground by Vikings in the 10th century, and rebuilt and consecrated by William the Conqueror in 1067.

We wandered around the grounds and admired the white stone against the bright green grass. Every angle and every turn was a wonderful photograph, especially with the partially cloudy sky.

The reason the abbey was in ruins was not because of neglect or disuse, but because during the French Revolution, the monks were chased from the abbey and the abbey itself was slowly chiseled at as stone and materials were needed.

We finally made the decision to leave (we could have stayed there all day) and headed even more south for Rouen.

A British couple staying at the B&B the same time as us advised that when they went to Rouen they parked at a park and ride and took the bus into town. We decided to make it our plan too. We parked near an arena, hopped on the bus into town and got off at the stop “Cathédrale”.

The Cathédrale Notre Dame is a gothic masterpiece, at one point the tallest building in the world (surpassed by Köln Cathedral). I was mostly interested in it because of impressionist painter Claude Monet’s set of paintings of the Cathédrale, using the differing light of different parts of the day and weather as the subject. We quickly grabbed some lunch and then went inside, peering at the tomb of Rollo and the marble slab that kept Richard the Lionheart’s heart.

We left the Cathédrale and headed down the pedestrian-only street, lined with half-timbered Norman houses, and eventually the Gros Horloge, or “big clock”.

Through the clock and wading through the people and beggars with their dogs, we got to the old market square. The main focal point of the square is now a supremely bizarre 1970s church dedicated to Joan of Arc. Its design is to make it look like flames (I didn’t get a photo, it was enormous). Around some construction fencing we found the poorly labeled spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy at the age of 19. We thought because it was one of the city’s claim to fame, there would be a well marked monument or something, but it turns out, as did Rouen itself, it left us disappointed.

We bought our normal stable of tchotchkes and wandered in search for a cute crêperie.

We found a decent place, had some dessert, and walked back to the Cathédrale, and towards the bus.

I’m sad to say that I was actually pretty disappointed in Rouen. I was expecting it to be charming and friendly, but instead I found it cold, grimy and dirty. Yes, the half timbered houses were beautiful, but the streets were filthy and busy.

I’m ready to leave France, but I’m sad to be leaving our B&B. Marc and Sébastien have been such warm, friendly, earnest and interesting hosts. If you ever go to Normandy, stay at À La Maison Blanche in Fécamp.

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