Normandy through the eyes of Korney Gritciuk. Part 3
When people talk about France, stereotypical imagination usually pictures the Eiffel Tower, wine and bellicose Joan of Arc. This woman, who was not fragile in her actions, immortalized Rouen forever: there she headed defence fighting off the British, languished in jail listening to the voices from above, and finally was burned at the stake. In general, the history of the city, as well as of the entire region is a continuous series of military victories and defeats. The nice bit of land called Normandy was combated for by the French, and earlier by the Gauls, against the Celts, the Scandinavians, the British and the Germans. After World War II all the fighters finally calmed down and the city, recognized by the authorities as "the city of art and history", lives in peace and welfare to delight of its 100 thousand inhabitants.
Rouen beckons not only with its heritage but also provides basic amenities to the travellers that allow you to enjoy the ancient monuments fully. There are about 20 km of cycle paths (bike rental costs 3 euros per day) and more than 10 km of pedestrian streets. In this city, not in Paris, in 1971 it was first prohibited to drive at rue du Gros-Horloge. So, stock up with strength and good shoes - the good thing is that surrounding pictures are far from being boring and will surely inspire you.
The first "must see" stop is the majestic Notre-Dame Cathedral which is the best representative of northern Gothic style. Opposite it, by the way, Claude Monet rented a small room which enabled him to paint a 150-meter building looking at it through the window. The Cathedral also impressed Gustave Flaubert who devoted to it many pages of his novel "Madame Bovary". Despite the fact that massive old building hanging over you, the atmosphere near the Cathedral is easy-going and informal: the local vendors offer cider and sliced cheeses, tell the tourists stories and semi-legends, for example, about lionheart of the famous Richard kept in a sarcophagus, or about the Oil Tower built at money raised from the sale of church oil during Lent. In short, there are a lot of stories, just choose which one to listen to.
The curves and cracked wooden streets (sometimes you have a feeling that they were designed by some architect who for sure was tipsy) lead towards the Old Market Square and its main attraction - the place where patriot Joan of Arc was burned. In spite of her death, she continues to benefit the French: souvenirs, often very bloodthirsty, are cleaned out by tourists. In addition, the place is teemed with all sorts of cafes and bakeries. Oh, it is very difficult to focus on some historical knowledge when the air smells so sweet of freshly baked pastries...
Yet, it is still necessary to focus since nowhere else you can see such a beautiful and monumental city clock Gros-Horloge. Its trick is that since the 14th century till 1927 it went without a single failure. In 1997 the mechanism was restored, and who knows if the clock will ever break down at all.
For visitors it is useful to come to the Tourist Office which is located in a former finance bureau. Luxurious buildings built during the Renaissance is both pompous and functional: its kind personnel will be happy to help solve any problems. This site is departure point of the small train which goes for a 40-minute tour to the centre.
Churches, castles, museums, millennia-old houses, walls which once failed to protect city from the plague, Joan of Arc, and the ever-present crowd of tourists liberated by calvados - all that staff can be tiring. The best place in Rouen to recharge is Saint Catherine hill. When sitting there and looking at arriving and departing ships, even inept landscapes drawn in your sketchbook may look like works of the Impressionists. There opens a beautiful view of the city and the neighbourhood, and the most "big-eyed" tourists are even able to see Le Havre and other neighbouring settlements.
If you compare Rouen with two other cities described earlier, it still belong to another weight class: one can easily explore Deauville and Cherbourg’s interesting spots within a single day. "Gothic Athens" require much more attention.
- The international airport is 8 km from the city. The cost of travel on public transport is 1.3-1.5 euros. The underground takes you to the suburbs where it is converted into electric trains.
- Almost always the city is dull and rainy, so an umbrella is a compulsory thing for any suitcase.
- The average bill with alcohol drinks in a restaurant is 60-80 euros for two visitors.
- Next to the museum of medicine named after Flaubert there is a majestic garden of medicinal herbs and plants which sells souvenirs: medicinal teas, mixtures, ointments.
- In addition to camembert cheese Rouen typical souvenirs are woollen goods. A ram has been a city symbol for ages, in the Middle Ages it had the status of a cult creature.