It was a child dream – I wished to visit Rouen, the capital of Normandy to marvel at its lofty Gothic churches and stroll on its medieval streets bordered by fairy-tale half-timbered houses. This week my ‘old dream’ came true as I headed to Rouen on a train departing from Paris-Gare Saint Lazare.
I can remember at age 12 or 13 writing a letter to the tourist office of Rouen for some tourist brochures and a city map. I have always been fascinated by medieval-looking towns and would spend hours reading road or city maps. Most of my childhood was spent in Germany and I could totally relate with medieval architecture… there were so many castles, houses, churches and monuments still standing from that era that it felt ‘normal’ to be surrounded by them (an impression I later lost while living in Australia!).
I had heard of Rouen at school – I can’t remember clearly how, maybe one of my classmates delivered an oral presentation on the city in class. Normandy was a far-away land for me – a guy from the North-East of France more familiar with Alsatian half-timbered houses than of Rouen’s! Actually I did not know until recently that Rouen was reputed for its half-timbered houses, and the fact that the city totalises thousands of them, many finely restored.
For many French people, Rouen may give the image of an industrial port city on the Seine, high-rise blocks replacing a devastated city-centre by the bombings of World War Two. Rouen was someone different and I visualised it more like a ‘Disneyland Resort’ but for real.
‘When I will grow older I will get to Rouen‘, so I was my decision… and I never thought it would take me some 25 years to realise that wish!
The first opportunity we had my wife and I to visit Rouen was in 2011 during our ‘Tour of France’. We had everything planned for a visit and our train tickets from Paris were booked. On the travel day, we arrived early in the morning at Gare Saint-Lazare and were told that due to a surprise strike run by the train drivers all trains were canceled. We came back to our apartment and enjoyed instead a ‘resting day’ in Paris.
A year later, during our trip from Paris to Le Havre en route to England by ferry, our train called at Rouen Station and the only photo I could get was this unsatisfactory shot:
As we resided in Australia, opportunities to come back to Normandy were quite limited. When we moved to the Paris region a year ago, it became easier to plan a trip to Rouen. And so I did by checking the weather forecast and book one of those good-deal SNCF train tickets.
The great thing with living in Paris is that you get to visit provincial towns easily from here which are an hour or so by train: Rouen of course but also Beauvais, Amiens, Reims, Orléans, Tours and Le Mans… Hopefully I will get to see a few of them and bring you back a few photos.
In a little while I will publish another post about the discovery walk I did in the old town of Rouen. A bientôt !