With my weekend done in Le Havre, it was time to leave and head back home to my small town, despite my reluctance to do so (one word: boredom). However, before heading back, I had to make a stop in the lovely city of Rouen for a lovely (*cough cough) OFII appointment to process my paperwork for visa purposes. Not the most fun way to spend the day in the city, but nevertheless, I managed to get some exploring in afterwards!
The capital of the Haute-Normandie region, Rouen is a charming city with a population of about 100,000 people living in the center. It is one of the most well-known places rich in medieval history and in fact is dedicated to the heroine Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc, in French). With its cobblestone streets and grand, Gothic-style Notre Dame cathedral, this city is a popular, picturesque destination for tourists to visit especially on the weekends from Paris.
Besides being a great place to visit, it is also the place in which administrative things get processed, especially if you’re working as an assistant(e) in the region (like me). I’ve had to take transporation over to Rouen many times for stage training, as well as for the OFII appointment/medical visit, which I did this time around. It’s not the best way to spend time in this charming city, but in any case, it’s business.
For this vacances de la Toussaint, I only spent one day in Rouen, again due to the medical visit/OFII appointment. I woke up early to get ready to leave Le Havre, dropping off my colleague’s keys in her mailbox before catching the regional bus over to Rouen. I could’ve taken the train instead, but I was being cheap and the buses were not expensive at all. Granted, it was an almost three-hour ride over (compared with an hour by train), but considering the fact that it cost only 2 euros, as opposed to the train’s 8 euros, I didn’t mind the long ride. Budget traveling ftw!
I arrived in Rouen around 9h30 and had about an hour to kill before I needed to head to my OFII medical visit. Did some (re)exploring of the city again, hitting the hot spots like le Gros Horlage, a 14th-century astronomical clock that is probably the most distinctive/iconic site of the city, and the Notre Dame cathedral. It was early in the morning, so the streets were pretty much quiet and free of the usual hustle-and-bustle of tourists and locals to get good, pristine shots of these places.
Even though I’ve been to Rouen numerous times this year so far, as well as last year as an assistante in the region, I always seem to discover something new every time I visit. This time, it was the elegant, intricate carvings of Roman gods underneath le Gros Horlage. Although I’ve been under the clock tower many times, it never occurred to me to look up! This hidden gem really struck me, and I couldn’t not take a photo (or two, or five) of it.
Aside from le Gros Horlage and the Notre Dame cathedral, simply wandering the streets of the city center is amazing enough, with all of its beautiful, charming architecture as seen in the half-timbered houses (located everywhere in Normandy), cobblestone roads, and the dozens of small churches and abbeys scattered throughout the city.
Architecture aside, there are also other things to visit while in Rouen; although I didn’t have time to get to them during this past visit, I’ve been to la Tour Jeanne d’Arc (where Joan of Arc was imprisoned before being burned at stake), le Palais de Justice, the Church of St. Joan of Arc (a modern building designed to resemble a dragon), le musée des Beaux-Arts (which features a good amount of Impressionist paintings and is free for students), and also this small river that flows beside the small, winding streets of the city (unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name of it!). In any case, there are plenty of options to see and do!
Besides discovering the stunning carvings under the Gros Horlage, another new thing that I found was not in the city center itself, but rather outside of it. Back in April last year, I had spent an afternoon in Rouen with some assistant(e)s friends and they had told me that another noteworthy thing to do was to go to the Panorama de Rouen for fantastic views of the city. We never ended up going that time, just because it was already pretty late in the day and it was far away (about 40 minutes on foot, up a hill; in fact, it wasn’t located in Rouen proper, but rather in Mont-Saint-Aignan, a neighborhood which is located in the outskirts of the city center).
However, this time around, I knew that I had to go; I’m a sucker when it comes to city views and so with the information given by my assistant(e)s friends and my Google Map directions, I set off for le panorama after I had completed my OFII appointment in the afternoon. Yet, even with directions, I ended up getting a bit lost and in the end took a more round-about way over. Plus, the hills…they killed me…what could’ve been simply a 40-minute walk from the city center turned into over an hour of struggling up the hill just to see the views of Rouen.
Eventually, I made it and was rewarded with a chilly, but gorgeous view of the city. Being that high up, it was refreshing to take a breather and admire this small piece of beauty for just a moment. The trees did block some of the view, but now I think they complement the photo quite well, with the city-nature contrast rolled into one.
After resting a bit, I slowly made my way down back to Rouen. I took a different route back and although it wasn’t the safest route (for a moment, there were no sidewalks, so I had to walk along the side of the road as cars came whizzing up, and I even had to walk along the paved bus path, making sure to move aside whenever the bus came back), I eventually made it back, tired but satisfied that I finally got to see that place. I was starving, so I had an early dinner at a kebab joint (fyi my favorite one in all of Rouen. It’s located near l’Abbaye St. Ouen *hint hint) before catching the train back to my small town and arriving back in the evening.
…and that about sums it up for my vacances de la Toussaints this year! While it was only a weekend away, it was a greatly-needed getaway and I was glad to have gone. I got to really dig in and discover the off-the-beaten-path of Normandy through the small communes and towns that I visited, as well as exploring in detail the big cities of Le Havre and Rouen and discovering something new in them as well.
I’ve also come to realize that traveling during the two-week holidays doesn’t necessarily mean going outside of the country to have the best time; in fact, taking it easy this time by exploring my académie’s region proved very refreshing as I was able to take a step back and reflect on the reasons why I continued to return a second year to the same place to teach and live in. From what I saw and visited that weekend during les vacances, it reaffirmed my appreciation for Normandy.
More to come soon, perhaps for the next holidays! Until then, à bientôt!