The days continue grey and autumnal.
It is this way as we head out onto the autoroute for our drive to Rouen, and it stays the same until we arrive in the city of the famous St Joan of Arc a couple of hours later.
Down the Avenue des Canadiens towards Jeanne d’Arcs Garden
We check-in to our hotel, and then head into Rouen to explore. By now, the grey has turned to an autumnal drizzle. We drive down Avenue des Canadiens to get to the centre of town. There are Canadian flags flying here and there, our first experience of how the French in this area regard the Canadians, who liberated them from the Germans, and then returned home. We begin our explorations at l’Hôtel de Ville and walk along streets that clearly show how Rouen was heavily damaged during WWII: a beautiful ancient stone door, inserted into a 20-year-old building. We come across the Palais de Justice, faithfully reconstructed after the war, but left with gaping battle scars. We find to our surprise that much of medieval Rouen still stands. There are half-timbered buildings everywhere; unlike those we have seen in England, these are painted brilliant colours, which certainly brighten the day.
Now a Garden
Rouen is most famous, at least with English-speakers, as the place where Joan of Arc was held by the British and then burnt at the stake. We head to the spot, in the old market square, and find that the original church was destroyed in the war. In its place, a striking Église Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc has been built. Inside, the stark lines of the modernist belie an unexpected beauty, the beautiful, medieval, stained glass windows that were removed from another church before the war, and never re-installed because that church was destroyed. The spot where Jeanne d’Arc was burnt is now a garden with but a simple marker to show the exact place. As we are standing at the very tiny entrance to the church talking, a very helpful man fills in some of the gaps in our knowledge. Christian, as he turns out to be, is full of information (he knows, for example, that it always rains in Rouen; and that even when it is nice everywhere else in France, it is raining in Rouen). We take shelter from the rain and have a coffee with Christian.
After our coffee, Greg and I head off to do some more exploring. We find the Tour Jeanne d’Arc, the one remaining turret of the old castle where Joan was imprisoned by the British. From there, we head to Rouen Cathedral, much painted by a certain M. Monet, some of whose paintings we saw in Paris at the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibit. The Cathedral also has the highest wrought-iron spire in Europe and is home to the heart of Richard Coeur de Lion, who stated in his will that he was to be buried near his father, and whose tomb we saw there, but that his heart was to be buried in Rouen Cathedral.
At this point, it is late in the afternoon, and although the rain has let up, we are cold and hungry, having skipped lunch. We walk around looking for a restaurant, but although many brasseries are open, we find not one that is serving anything but pastries and beer – it is Sunday, after all.
Finally, we find a pizzeria that is open and are happy to be able to sit down and eat.