Northern France. Charming, relaxed and delicious!

Light Show in Rouen
Light Show in Rouen

This post is about my last trip to France. Some time ago I was reluctant to travel this much in France and perhaps I would never thought that this country will become one of my favorite destinations in Europe.

One foreign language that was taught at the elementary school, besides Russian, was French. Back then I was thinking about France as about something spectacular and majestic and I discover that I was right to think so.

When I started to study English, much later in the high school, I was still convinced that French language will be more useful (for me) than English. Such a naive thought!

Long years after that, here I am, in the Netherlands, where I speak English and at all French.

Rouen, Palais de Justice
Rouen, Palais de Justice

Then you may ask, why France is one of my favorite destinations in Europe, from all of the countries? Well, it happens that I still remember things I learnt during my elementary school and I would absolutely love to see them. Also, being passionate about sweets, France is the right place to be, try and when possible learn new recipes and get inspired for my next experimental day in the kitchen ūüôā

So, what this post is about?

Most of the tourists who visit France for a longer period of time than just 2-3 days, will most likely go to Rouen. It’s not that far from Paris and I’m guessing that even Parisians are going there for a weekend break.

It’s also a place where people with sound names were born, such as: Edward IV, the King of England; Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, novelist, author of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast; Gustave Flaubert, novelist, who wrote Madame Bovary and Fran√ßois Hollande, 24th President of the French Republic.

The history of this place is long and impressive. I chose to mention only few facts about the capital of the Upper – Normandie.

Tour Jeanne d'Arc
Tour Jeanne d’Arc

Rouen was founded by a Gaulish tribe who controlled a large area in the lower Seine valley. Romans called this city Rotomagus and, at that time, was the second city of Gallia Lugdunensis after Lugdunum, the ancient name of Lyon.

In 841, some Vikings settled and founded a colony led by Rollo, who was nominated count of Rouen by the king of the Franks in 911.

During the 12th century, about 6,000 Jews lived in the town, counting about 20% of the total population.

In the years of the Hundred Years’ War, after Rouen surrendered¬†to Henry V of England, it¬†became the capital city of English power in occupied France and when the Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster bought Joan of Arc from his ally, the Duke of Burgundy. She was sentenced to be burned at the stake.

During the Nazi occupation, in the World War II, the city was heavily damaged.

Today, the city is flourishing and most of the cultural and historical monuments are restored or rebuilt.

Streets of Rouen
Streets of Rouen

Some of the most famous attractions in Rouen are:

  • Notre Dame cathedral, with its¬†Tour de Beurre¬†(butter tower). The cathedral’s gothic facade was the subject of a series of paintings by Claude Monet, some of which are exhibited in the Mus√©e d’Orsay in Paris.
  • The¬†Gros Horloge
  • The¬†Church of Saint Ouen
  • Palais de Justice
  • The Gothic¬†Church of St Maclou¬†(15th century)

Walking the narrow streets around the cathedral, you’ll see small antique shops where you can find unique items with great stories behind.

Beautiful fountain in Rouen
Beautiful fountain in Rouen

Those who want to visit museums, will have a hard time choosing. In Rouen there are plenty of them and they carry various themes, from art to ceramic, jewelry, war and maritime.

If you stay in Rouen for more than 2 days, take some time and visit Jardin des Plantes de Rouen, a notable botanical garden once owned by Scottish banker John Law and dating to 1840 in its present form.

Place du Vieux Marché
Place du Vieux Marché

Another place that surprised me, was in the Place du Vieux Marché. In the centre of this square (where you can find plenty of restaurants) is the modern church of Saint Joan of Arc. The shape of the building represents an upturned Viking boat.

An event that is held¬†4 years, when millions of visitors come to visit Rouen is ‘L’Armada‘. During this time, the finest and largest sailing ships, modern warships and many other outstanding ships come from all around the world and sail up the river ‘La Seine’ towards Rouen. The next one will be held in 2019! Long time to go, but time flies fast. More details about this event,¬†here.

16th century Gros Horloge - astronomical clock
16th century Gros Horloge – astronomical clock

Another event that we were lucky to experience, is the¬†¬ę Sound and Light ¬Ľ show, that was held between¬†13 June and 21 September. I don’t know if this show will be organized in the future or not, but worth keeping it in mind when planning a trip to Rouen around that time of the year. The show is amazing! We loved it…even if it was a bit raining.

There are some myths about Joan of Arc and her life. Some of the findings are published and some are not confirmed or researching are still working on those myths, and therefore, there’s no true or false answer to them. One article about Joan of Arc was published by The Guardian, back in 2006. Even though it may be outdated and some of the facts discovered, I thought it’s an interesting article and decided to share it with you.

Another myth was born by an architectural element that most of us see when traveling to France or any other country (cities, villages) with Gothic buildings. I’m referring to the Gargoyles or la Gargouille.

Tower in Rouen
Tower in Rouen

Each country will have their explanation (perhaps) for it. In France they believe that this  grotesque carved human or animal face or figure projecting from the gutter, was a legendary dragon that lived in the River Seine. The myth says that in the 7th Century, this dragon was ravaging the town and people of Rouen. It was slain by St Romanus, the Archbishop of Rouen. After the dragon was slain its body was set ablaze, its body was consumed by fire but the head and neck survived and was mounted on a building.

The presence if this element on the building has a practical meaning, it was used as a spout to carry water clear of a wall. The spiritual side of this myth is that, these elements were inspired from a passage written in the bible, and that’s why they were added to churches and belfries. It was believed that the Gargoyles in the shape of a dragon will act as guardians of the church to keep the terrible spirits of evil away.

The origin of these elements is still not very clear, therefore there’s room for some more myths to be born and hypothesis to be made.

A historian, Adrienne Mayor, believes they were inspired by the skeletal remains and bones of dinosaurs, found by Greek and Roman paleontologists.

Inspired by myths, legends and figures of the ancient Celts, culture, archeological discoveries ¬†or perhaps they are representations of deep rooted elements within human nature and expressions of man’s subconscious fears or attempts to define or embody evils of the world into manageable elements we may never know.

Whatever their true origins, these visual images have been around for hundreds of years and they still seem to catch and inspire the imagination of modern society. Read some more facts about Gargoyles here.

I like a lot the services at Ibis hotels, and most of the times, when time is short, we will choose this hotel chain over others…at the end of the day, a hotel is just a place to sleep, no more no less. We stayed at¬†this one, but there are plenty of other choices.

Some old houses in the old town
Some old houses in the old town

As, I have mentioned above, there are plenty of restaurants that will fit your pockets and tastes. We had a delicious French dinner in a local bistro. Not that far from the Cathedral. If you walk from the Seine river to the cathedral , just keep walking straight, pass by the Cathedral and enter in a street with columns. At about 10 minutes walk you’ll see on your right hand side this place. Most of the customers are French and that’s reflected in the price ūüėČ

A lot more information about Rouen you can find on the Official Tourism Website of Rouen, Normandie Turism and  Lonely Planet.

Behind these walls is the palace where Joan of Arc was sentenced to death
Behind these walls is the palace where Joan of Arc was sentenced to death

Travel safe and wise!

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