We took an “early” (8h20) train for a day trip to Rouen, France because I’ve had the desire to see the cathedral, which starred in Monet’s series of paintings on a study of light. To think we stood in the same square as a genius! I can only hope that the photos Cecil and I made will be a fraction of wondrous. It was a quiet ride; neighbours dozing in their chairs, listening to music, each in her own thoughts as we whizzed through the countryside, sharing pain au chocolat, eyes drooping, full of adventures and empty of sleep.
We strolled leisurely in the chilly morning air to the old Rouen, France city center, stopping for a coffee before stumbling into the church of Joan of Arc. Fun (perhaps not fun, but rather interesting and historically important) fact — this is the town in which Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. There is a cathedral in her memory that has beautiful stained glass. If it hadn’t been for my friend, I would have waltzed right by, heart eyes large for the timber-framed buildings sharing the square. The exterior of the church is not so grand.
We stayed long enough for the takeaway coffee to cool, which meant reading the printout and admiring the beautiful coloured light streaming through. There’s a rather frequented street, rue du Gros Horloge, that you can follow, which takes you down the old city enter in a straight line. We followed it, too, stopping for a morning éclair at Paul, before being dumped right into the square of Notre Dame de Rouen. What a beauty! Or, as my friend put it, a gorgeous toothpick cathedral, similar to Milan.
Something I do very often (and it is a terrible habit), is to admire the façade of a cathedral but never walk inside. (I do this often in Paris, but I’m working on a cathedral guide both for you and to force me to marvel at the marvellous architecture within.) We walked in this one, of course, after the morning éclair on the steps, and it was astounding from the first glimpse. The vaulted ceilings and meticulous details, the way light dappled in shadow, a hallowed space.
Continuing through the old town, we admired many more timber frames and three (!!!) churches, which were also a bit toothpick-y. At the end of the stroll was the Marché Saint Marc, where we found paella and raspberries to share for lunch, picnicked beside a trickling fountain tucked away on a side street.
We spent the afternoon walking (do walk, as the view from the Seine is lovely and you’ll spot a cathedral on a hill) to the Jardin des Plantes and then at the Musée de la Céramique — the town has a history of producing fine china. The adventure wrapped with an accidental three-scoop ice cream to share on a terrace and one last takeaway coffee, before a nap ride back to Paris.
Day Trip From Paris: Rouen, France
Getting to Rouen, France is quite easy. You will take a regional Normandy train (about 1.5 hours ride), and the fares begin around 20€ round-trip. Tickets are available through the company SNCF.
The train arrives at Rouen Rive Droit (the Seine also runs through it) and it is a pleasant 10-minute walk to the old city center, where you’ll see the timber-framed houses, Gros Horloge, and of course, the cathedral. There are many cathedrals in this city worth seeing, too.
If you wish to see the Jardin des Plantes, it is a 45-minute walk through the left bank. We took the bus back; it was easy to use (You wan the line F I believe, Terres Rouges) and you can pay in cash when you board.
Things to Do
- Notre Dame de Rouen (Monet’s cathedral — do go inside, it’s grand)
- Église Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc was burned at the stake here, and the stained glass is beautiful.)
- Gros Holorge (a beautiful Renaissance-style clock)
- Palais de Justice
- Jardin des Plantes
- Musée des Beaux Arts (we didn’t go in, but if you like Impressionism, I hear it is lovely.)
- Musée de la Céramique (it is in French only, but free)
- Marché Saint Marc (Tues, Fri, Sat 6h-18h; Sun 6h-13h30) — we found a delightful lunch to picnic by a fountain.
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