I love Paris. Love, love, love it, but one of my favourite French holidays involved actually leaving my favourite cream and grey arrondissements, and hail a train into the countryside for a rambly day trip. After a last minute dash and several very grateful merci’s to the train guards (who could obviously spot the lost and confused tourists a mile away) my Mother and I settled into the double decker train (which still amazes me, I don’t know why) watched the hazy green country side ramble past us.
Tumbling out of the fairly non-descript train station completely mapless and more than slightly clueless we parked ourselves in a small cafe to enjoy a steaming coffee and fresh pain au chocolat. At one point we looked at each other very smugly as if to say ‘huh, look at us intrepid travellers. Thousands of miles from home, and fitting in to a provincial French town’.
The capital city of Normandy, Rouen was at one point one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe. Self-governing and one of the capitals of the Anglo-Norman dynasties, there is a beauty to the buildings; a hint of the Parisian majesty but with a far more relaxed atmosphere.
|The present Gothic Cathedral of Rouen, complete with Tour de Beurre (butter tower) financed by the sale of butter during Lent|
We weren’t (for once, I am a Church addict after all) visiting for the beautiful Gothic Cathedral, but entranced at the thought of discovering the history associated with Joan of Arc – Rouen is the town she was brought to when accused of witchcraft, and subsequently burnt at the stake.
Born to a farming family, Joan claimed to have visions of divine figures who instructed her to drive the maundering English out of France. Illiterate, and incredibly young, Joan donned men’s clothing making her way to the French court of the embattled crown prince Charles of Valois, and inspired the demoralised French army to win a momentous victory at Burgundy. After seeing the prince crowned King Charles VII, Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces, tried for witchcraft and heresy (amongst 70 other crimes she was accused for) and eventually burnt at the stake in the English strong-hold of Rouen.
In the town centre (it was all of 20 minutes walk side to side) stands a modern monument to the Sainted martyr. We wandered through the crisp autumn air, marvelling at this slice of European history, so raw and almost tangible. Outside the fluid grey building is tiled in undulating layers of slate grey tile, but inside…
…honey coloured ceilings curve the eye through the building to full height stained glass windows.
That’s the beauty of travelling. You never quite know what you’ll discover.
It was a lovely day trip, full of silent moments, chattering coffee mugs and wandering. There are a handful of churches, museums and Rouen Castle (rumored to be the holding place for Joan of Arc in her year of imprisonment – though I believe it’s been disproved now.)
Sometimes throwing the map away simply makes for a wonderful way to explore – do you?