- Candace Ahlfinger
Our 10-Day French Road Trip Begins--Paris to Rouen
“I love it when a plan comes together.” (Thank you, Hanibal Smith from A-Team for such a relevant quote!)
In spite of worrying about the logistics of our trip:
· Would we make our connection in Frankfurt?
o We had only an hour layover in Frankfurt but it was a domestic flight
· Would we arrive in the correct terminal to retrieve our waiting rental car?
o Thankfully I had chosen the correct terminal so that our car pickup was convenient.
· Would we be able to get to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, get a rental car and make it to Giverny in time for our late afternoon ticket time?
o We did!
The drive from Paris, France, to Giverny, Monet’s home and gardens was, appropriately, picturesque as we zoomed past historic churches and charming castles. (No time to stop—can’t miss our ticket time!)
And, finally, we arrived in Giverny, a beautiful town that features flowers at every turn. How perfect that Monet decided this spot would be his inspiration and his workshop. After all, the site made quite an impression on him. (Yes, pun intended.) Parking was well-marked and, a lovely lunch at the Le Temps des Fleurs, situated along the walk between the car park and the entrance, which set the perfect mood for our visit. We followed the many signs to the entrance and began our trip to gain a deeper knowledge of Monet and his works.
Because we visited in early September, the Water Lily Garden was past its prime, but we were still able to spot one or two of the lilies that Monet featured in his famous works. We also toured the house with view in every room overlooking his beautiful gardens. (The gardens still had flowers blooming wherever we looked.)
Our next stop on our multi-day road trip through France was Rouen. Our GPS did take us to the parking area of the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Autograph Collection historic property. However, the gentleman who was usually there to greet you wasn’t present which made us unsure that we were in the correct place. We attempted to drive around the block to see if there was another parking entrance. Making ONE block in the old town of Rouen is impossible, but after 15-20 minutes and multiple blocks and alleys, we finally made our way back to the parking attendant, checked our car and entered the beautiful building. The hotel was built in the 1400s but has now become a Marriott property with a spa and indoor pool. Its location was perfect for us—within walking distance for all of the sights.
We left our luggage---still packed since I hate to waste daylight hours unpacking---and walked around Place (Square) de la Pucell and then down the street to Place Du Vieux Marché to where we had our first glimpse of the cross erected to mark the spot Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. We ate a wonderful dinner on the Place Du Vieux Marché at CanCan. We muddled through the French menu for a great treat. (Everyone is always helpful when ordering, even if they don’t speak English and we don’t speak their language.)
After dinner, we let ourselves be carried along by the throng of people, all of whom—we found out---were heading to the Rouen Cathedral for the nightly light show. At the Cathedral we found people of all ages and speaking many languages sitting, standing, and leaning. All of us were waiting for the show to begin. Children were running and laughing while college students staked out their sidewalk places where they were eating and drinking. Cheers went up when the credits rolled to signify the beginning of the creative show that plays on the front of the Cathedral. (The show only runs between June and September so check before you go.)
The next day, after a breakfast of pastries from the Boulangerie Bastien near the hotel, we did our own walking tour, taking time to admire the half-timbered buildings throughout the Old Town. Some of the houses seemed to us to be leaning at perilous angles, but no one else appeared to be worried. We quickly made our way back to the Place Du Vieux Marché to visit the St. Joan of Arc Church.
The church, which reminded us of Darth Vader’s helmet from the outside, is totally different on the inside with gorgeous stained-glass windows on the interior. The cross outside the church is where St. Joan was burned at the stake. (More about St. Joan shortly.)
We stopped to take pictures of the Gros Horloge (Great Clock) that gained its minute hand only in the 1500s. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we weren’t so tied to time?!?)
Our next stop was Notre Dame Cathedral so we could see the interior. (Monet depicted the exterior in over 30 works examining the lighting during different times of the day.) The present church was built from the 12th to 14th centuries, but a church has stood in this location for more than 1,000 years. The current building was heavily damaged during WWII but has been rebuilt. (Just a note: Richard the Lionheart’s heart was actually buried in the church.)
We walked to the Historial Jeanne D’Arc—of course, stopping to eat lunch along the way at a sidewalk café—to become judge and jury of Joan of Arc in the retrial that took place 25 years after she was put to death. (Joan of Arc was only 13 when she heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret telling her to save France from the invading English. Although there are many theories as to why Joan heard voices—migraines, bipolar disorder, etc.—the fact is that this young woman led armies to stop the siege of Orléans and helped save France.) Captured by the English she was burned at the stake at the age of 19 in Rouen for heresy. The French king, Charles VII, is said to have had the opportunity to save her, but he did not try because he was afraid of the power she had over people. Twenty-five years after her death, a tribunal met that reviewed her case. Historial Jeanne D’Arc used the meticulous notes that were taken of her retrial and walks visitors through an interactive experience. (The building housing the museum was the Archbishop’s Palace, the same building in which Joan of Arce was originally tried and sentenced to death.) At the second trial, Joan was found to be innocent of heresy.
Rouen is a wonderful town to explore on foot. The Old Town, the half-timbered houses, the history—there’s so much to see. The city has outlived its Viking, Roman, Norman residents and more. Thankfully, the heavily bombed city survived WWII and has rebuilt itself into a beautiful place. There are reminders, such as the St. Pierre du Chatel Church, that still stand in their bombed-out state, reminding us of the horrible cost of war.
Rouen did not disappoint for food. Of course, we tried to eat all of the food for which Normandy is famous such as crepes, cheese (camembert in particular), oysters, cider, and calvados (an apple brandy). We also love escargot, simply because it is on many menus, which makes France our chance to have them.
All too soon our stay in Rouen was over and we headed to our next stop, Bayeux.
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