Monday, June 29, 2009

A walk in Rouen

Rouen, pronounced through the nose as “Ro-wah” is the capital of the Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy) region in France known for its beautiful and large number of surviving half-timber houses.

Striking, pastel-coloured and playful half-timber houses in Rouen... so lovely to look at! These buildings were destroyed during the Second World War and were painstakingly restored to its former glory in the 1950's.

The city is also known for a couple of significant personalities and historical events. Firstly, for its Cathedral being a favourite subject of Claude Monet’s series of paintings. Secondly, Rouen was the capital of the once powerful Anglo-Norman empire. And thirdly, for Jeanne D’Arc (Joan of Arc), the national heroine and patron saint of France. Jean D’Arc was burned at stake in the old town square of Rouen.

More fotos of the old historical town of Rouen. Unfortunately, Rouen is a large city and I am not really fond of large cities but the old town is pretty and compact, so truly worth it to visit. The last foto to the right is the street going to the Cathedral.

It’s no surprise that France, being a republic that is personified through the legendary Marianne elected a woman patron saint, Joan of Arc. A woman indeed best describes France. I’m not sure if that is flattering to the (chauvinistic) French men though but I guess they do not mind at all?

The Anglo-Norman empire was also the ultimate British-French connection and seems like ties have been ruthlessly severed before that until now the Brits and the French play politically correct with each other while underlying hostilities obviously still ruled the day.

The gothic Cathedral of Rouen that Monet loves to use as a subject of his paintings. The French teach art and culture at an early age. These kids were on a school fieldtrip. I must have seen more than 5 groups there. And these days, I am less enamored with facades of gothic churches... perhaps due to having seen so much of the same dark, busy and eerie design and structure.

I arrived a bit late in Rouen. I totally underestimated the traveling time. Rouen unlike Caen is a much bigger city which means there are many one-way streets and finding my hotel in the small narrow alleyways was a dare. And, it’s almost dark! I pulled over and asked a passerby who gladly helped me and pointed where the hotel is in the map, then directed me the road I should take. Afraid to make the wrong turn, I followed the instructions religiously and found the hotel. *BIG sigh of relief* I hate checking in late, but oh well...

Hallelujah, before I totally forget I managed to get someone to take a decent full body shot souvenir of me in Rouen. This is taken in Place du Vieux Marché where Jeanne D'Arc was executed in the 14th century. On the right foto you can see a large gray canopy, this is the modern church of Saint Jeanne D'Arc, constructed to commemorate her death and sainthood.

Here you can see the interior of the Saint Jeanne D'Arc church. The stained glass were very pretty; it occupied me for a bit.

The hotel I’m spending the evening at has a very fascinating interior. My bedroom is in period style décor, has a high ceiling tapered with elaborate crown moulding pattern, and the wallpaper reeks Victorian antiquity. I’m not very fond of taking hotel bedroom fotos so I have no souvenir here.

Throughout the night, I had the window opened for ventilation. I can’t sleep when it’s warm; it makes me restless. I always wonder how other people can sleep with electric blankets. Even if its -30C for me, no heater in the bedroom please, just give me layers of soft duvets. Luckily, the hotel is in a quiet corner so there was less noise coming from the road. I slept tight.

The Gros Horloge (Astronomical Clock) in Gros Horloge Street dating back to the late 16th century (but believed to be dated 13th century). It is currently under renovation (from the other side of these fotos so you are not seeing the work in progress). The foto in the middle is the carved detail of its ceiling, very striking. I think the Czech Republic have the best collection of Astronomical clocks, the one in Prague I have seen, and the other in Olomouc I still have to visit.

Me in my usual side pose in Gros Horloge Street and this house has a good way of advertising the product they are selling. Perfect vintage look! By the way, the sideways pose is the best pose to do when there is no one to take a foto of you, it gives more space for the other intended subjects to be seen =)

In the morning I woke up with the fresh breeze sifting through the open window and the curtains. The skies were grey outside and I feared it would rain. Up until now I have had only perfect weather and the plan was to go around Rouen on foot after my quick little breakfast which consists of tea and 2 biscuits. Suddenly, a flurry of rainfall slapped the window sill I had to close the shutters a bit so water won’t come in. I peeked outside through the glass window and saw umbrellas. It’s 7:30AM and people are going to work. A female biker passed by in a fashionable see-through raincoat. Oh, how cool is that.

After checking the weather update on TV, I have resigned to the fact that it is going to be a wet last day in France so I packed my portable umbrella with me, a hat and a cashmere throw. It might be chilly so I need something to wrap me up. Downstairs the hotel manager joined in my despondent mood. He was worse; he thinks it will rain for the most of the day!

By the time I was finished chatting with the hotel manager, the rain dried up, rather quickly to our surprise. And after half an hour of exploring the old town, the sun went up! Hallelujah!

The cafe scene in Rouen, and as you can see Jeanne D'Arc is all over the place. The cafe in the middle foto is one of the best place to people watch in town. Location is across the Gros Horloge itself which is nice and is a crowded shopping street by day too. Taken before 11AM so it was not busy yet.

I was able to enjoy my walk, drifting from one alley to another and finding beautiful half timbered houses in every corner I turn to. Rouen has hundreds of them clustered in corners and little neighborhoods, some in pastel colours while others in dark. The ambience of this town is akin to a toy land. Thanks to the determined Rouennais!

After the Second World War when Rouen lay in flames and ruins, the locals bonded and rebuilt the city. They did a great job re-establishing Rouen, and preserving art, culture and architecture once again.

More fotos of Rouen here: Rouen - Haute-Normandie, France

Now, I am off to my last stop, Honfleur.

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