Today’s experience in France was old and, well, touristy.
We are docked in the city of Rouen, which is home to about 500,000 people and has several different sections.
Being right on the Seine, it is split in two with an island in the middle and seven hills surrounding it….much like Rome, our tour guide told us. This city was severely damaged in WWII, with the left bank and bridge being totally destroyed and much of the right bank destroyed as well. One of the oldest cathedrals was spared, as well as all the houses surrounding it, so there is a very old section of the city just a couple of blocks from the Seine.
It has timber houses that date back to the 1500’s that reminded me very much of the houses on the Shambles in York, England. These houses are historic sites, but are privately owned, often with businesses attached and there were even a few for sale.
The town has many churches, including the cathedral where Joan of Arc was found guilty of heresy. This particular cathedral also hosts the largest steel spire in Normandy and was bombed during the war, but not destroyed. One of the main support columns was damaged by a bomb, but the townspeople saved the cathedral by building wooden supports to fortify the damage until after the war, when it could be repaired properly. Rollo, the Viking credited for founding Normandy and
King Richard the Lionheart both have tombs in this cathedral.
Rouen is also where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for her “crimes” against the king. There is a memorial and a church dedicated in her honor, since the King eventually forgave her (posthumously) and the pope made her into a Saint.
Rouen also has a large shopping district with all the popular stores including Galaries Lafayette and Hermes. If I had been in the shopping mood, I could have done some real damage. The left bank is totally modern and there are a few industrial factories on the outskirts of town, making it very diverse.
We then traveled by bus to the coast to a small fishing town (now tourist town) called Honfleur. This town was not touched by the war, so it is still quite quaint. It has more restaurants lining the streets than I’ve ever seen, with small shops coming in a close second. This area is known for its apple brandy, called Calvados and the sea salt that is harvested from the marshes. We had fun wandering around, but it was VERY crowded on the day before Easter. It is a weekend retreat for many Parisians. I am bringing home some of the salt, salted caramels and chocolates to try!
Tomorrow is a tour of the Landing Beaches of Normandy. We had an onboard lecture about D-day and that portion of the war this evening by a British historian which prepped us for what we’ll see. It will be a long day, with a 2 hour bus ride each way, but I’m looking forward to the historical value of the trip.