Our next stop, Rouen, was originally supposed to be an easy transport hub, but we ended up spending a bit more time there than planned due to the case of the missing camera, unfortunately unresolved. Our main goal was the tiny seaside hamlet of Etretat, framed by towering limestone cliffs and a wide rocky beach. We didn’t spend much time there due to the camera, but in the end it wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as the weather was rainy and while the view was good, especially from the clifftop, it certainly didn’t demand a whole day to appreciate.
It also helped that Rouen was a significantly more interesting city than I gave it credit for when planning the trip. I knew we had to make time to see its Notre Dame de Rouen Cathedral, which inspired Monet to print an entire series of masterpieces portraying it in different seasons and times of day. While it was unfortunately under a bit of renovation, and had bizarre hours which prevented us from fully exploring the interior (including Richard the Lionheart’s grave), we got to see its impressively carved and crenellated exterior by day and night.
Rouen turned out to have a lot more to do than that, though. It’s known as the City of One Hundred Spires, and if you just wander around you’ll see plenty of stunning medieval churches, from the imposing Abbaye St-Ouen to the delicately carved St. Maclou.
Each of these churches has a small plaza, and surrounding that plaza are rows of half-timbered houses in a variety of pastel colors. That type of house I’ve always associated with Germany and the Middle Ages, but it appears it was popular elsewhere at that time as well, and they make you feel like you’ve stepped back into another century.
Other interesting sights in town include the Gros Horlage, a gigantic gold clock mounted above the main pedestrian street leading to the Notre Dame Cathedral and several places related to the last days of Joan of Arc, including the tower where she was imprisoned (which we only saw from the outside) and the public square where she was burned at the stake. What’s there now is a small memorial and a large church built in her name in the 1970s, which is very architecturally unique and a very interesting change of pace from the impressive yet somewhat similar cathedrals that dot Western Europe.
The Seine River bisects Rouen, with several bridges and small islands in the middle of its current that you can walk down to and enjoy the view of the city’s many spires. We walked down to one with a large battle of French beer to kill an hour or so until our last attraction- Boyhood. Yep, I couldn’t resist catching a flick with the extra time on our hands, particularly one that we would likely never get a chance to watch in Russia. It proved a great investment of a late evening, as both Jeonghee and I loved Richard Linklater’s audacious 12 year project following a boy as he quite literally grows up on screen. It’s one of the finest films of the year, and a pleasant way to end a tumultuous day.