Today, as yesterday, Avalon Creativity is docked in Rouen, tied up along the scenic and pedestrian-busy waterfront, just steps away from the heart of the “city of 100 spires,” as the writer Victor Hugo characterized the capital of Upper Normandy more than a century ago.
We did not see all of the spires or each of the 800 classified buildings and countless half-timbered houses, but we did see enough to know that this is a city that we’d like to visit again.
There’s a ton of history here: The writer Gustav Flaubert was born here and wrote Madame Bovary more than 150 years ago. I remember reading the then-strange book while a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From 1891-1895, Claude Monet lived in an apartment across from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. He chose the apartment as a vantage point to capture on canvas the west facade of the iconic cathedral. And Jeanne d’Arc, more popularly known in the English tongue as Joan of Arc, was burned at the stake and martyred here in Rouen.
We learned this and a lot more on a exceptionally well-done morning tour of Rouen.
We visited Saint-Maclou’s Aître, a cemetery dating back to the 14th century for victims of the Black Plague. We went inside the impressive 11th-century Church of Notre Dame, roamed Rue St. Romain with its impressive half-timbered houses from the 15th to 18th centuries, visited a memorial to the heroine Joan of Arc and saw the very spot where she was burned at the stake at the age of 19.
History combined with charm is perhaps what Rouen serves up best, and there is plenty of both here. I heard more than one person in our tour group remark that this was a place they could live. I echo those remarks.
Rouen is a city of roses and ruins, a place of impressionable beauty (to use the artists’ words) with a living history and perhaps a few ghosts from the past.
As we travel through Normandy, I can’t help but think that we are in a place that straddles the threshold of creativity (think Impressionists) and destruction (today we visit the Landing Beaches from Rouen). This must truly be one of the richest regions in the world — at least for my son Alex and me as we continue exploring for a couple more days before ending a wonderful month together in Europe.
Following is our day in pictures from yesterday in Rouen.