Cathedral in Rouen
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The capital of Normandy, Rouen is just a bit over an hour's train ride from Paris. If you've only got a day and you're intent on doing the "if it's Tuesday it must be Paris" shtick by heading off to the big city on your own, we won't dissuade you -- particularly if you've not been there before.
But Rouen's worth a look, too. With 2,000 years of history, it is one of the country's most ancient cities, laid out by the Duke of Normandy in 911. Victor Hugo called Rouen "the city of a hundred spires." Like Paris, the city is divided by the Seine, and like Paris, Rouennais refer to the sides as Rive Gauche (Left Bank) and Rive Droite (Right Bank). The Old City is on the Right Bank. Chock-a-block with cobbled streets dotted with French Norman architecture dating back to the Middle Ages, it is where you'll see the gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral and swear you've spied Monet painting a cityscape across the way, as he did. Visit the thyme-covered mound in the square where Joan of Arc burned at the stake (place du Vieux-Marche) in 1431 while the English had control of Rouen from 1431 - 1449.
Over the centuries, great devastation came to Rouen -- including 45 major fires in the first half of the 13th century. WWII destroyed all its bridges, many of its spires, and much of the area between the cathedral and the quais -- resulting in the city being almost entirely rebuilt in the years since the end of the war.
Rouen is also a terrific jumping-off point for other great haunts in Normandy -- marvelous places like Giverny (31 miles/50km), Honfleur (44 miles/72km) and Dieppe (36 miles/58km). And we can't say enough about the entire region being a spread-out bonanza of creamy Camembert, velvety omelets, oysters so fresh you'll think they jumped from the sea unto your plate and Bon Bere (cider) in provincial cafes anywhere you go.
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A piece of ceramics from one of Rouen's 22 factories, continuing the Rouen tradition of being the largest and oldest center of ceramics in France. Try Faiences Saint Romain tiles painted with fleur-de-lis, hot-air balloons, sheet music, cats, sailboats and more. (56, rue Saint Romain; +33 (0)2 35 07 12 30)
French, though English is understood here and there. It's not uncommon to find that more than most waiters, shopkeepers and taxi drivers don't speak English. And to complicate things for those already fluency-challenged -- there's a dialect in Normandy that can be difficult to decipher, even when you consider yourself moderately fluent in French.
It's considered impolite by the French to assume everyone speaks English -- so it's best to begin by first asking if English is understood. The gesture is appreciated. Monsieur, madame or mademoiselle (for young girls) should follow bonjour. Merci should always precede a departure from any shop, whether you were helped or not. Besides, it's so much fun to say.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The national currency in France is the Euro. Currency exchange can be made in most banks, post offices and train stations. For the best exchange rate, use ATMs found almost everywhere. For up-to-date information on currency exchange, go to www.oanda.com).
In France, a 19.6 percent sales tax (VAT) is tacked on to many purchases -- however, if you spend $175 (145 euros) or more at any one participating store, you can get the VAT refunded (with some exceptions). For additional information on refunds, visit www.ambafrance-us.org.
Where You're Docked
Port Rouen. There's plenty to see and do if you want to spend the day in the area and everything you need is close at hand. The terminal offers telephones, a small coffee shop and currency exchange. Taxis are readily available outside the entrance to take you to the city's center (a ten-minute ride or 25-minute walk).
A good first stop if you're staying in Rouen is its tourist office (25, place de la Cathedrale; +33 (0)2 32 08 32 40), open May - September: Monday - Saturday, 9 a. m. - 7 p.m., and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. & 2 p.m. - 6 p.m.; October - April: Monday - Saturday, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.). Inside, you'll find lots of guide books and you can sign up for a two-hour guided city tour every day at 2:30 p.m. There's an additional tour at 5 p.m. on Saturday that covers the Jewish quarter.
The Metrobus system winds through the city of Rouen via buses and light rails. There are always plenty of taxis. Bicycles can be borrowed through the city-wide shared cycle service of 14 stations and 175 bikes, Cy'clic.
Paris from Rouen: It is 84 miles/135km (about 1 1/4 hours) via train Paris. Trains to and from Paris/Rouen run frequently and reservations aren't required. The first train from Rive Droite Station on rue Jeanne-d'Arc to St. Lazare in Paris is usually just before 6 a.m. The last train out of Paris is close to 9 p.m. Contact SNCF for further information.
For exploring Normandy beyond Rouen, it is best that you rent a car. A good bet is a local company, Argus Rentals, located both in town and at the airport. (00 1 (213) 210 2427) Count on approximately $70 (58 euros) for a one-day economy-car rental. Major brands such as Hertz and Avis are in Rouen, but can cost twice as much as Argus.
There are buses to and from Rouen to other towns like Honfleur and Deauville. For more information, visit www.bus-oceane.com.
The Boos Airport offers connections within France and other European destinations (and the States) via Le Havre or Lyon airports with Air France and various charter companies. The airport is located about 5.5 miles/9km from the center of the city and easily accessible from in and out of the town's center and port by shuttle buses (to and from the SNCF station) or by taxi.
Watch Out For
Cars here mostly use diesel, not unleaded gas. We're sorry to say rental agencies don't point this out, so check. A mistake will cost you lost time and almost $300 in repairs.
City Tours: A good way to get a feel for Rouen is to take one of its walking city tours (you can sign up at the city's tourist office -- see Hanging Around). Another option for a tour past charming half-timbered houses and Gothic churches is Petit Train. It runs daily from April to October, departing every hour from 10 a.m. – noon and 2-5 p.m. from Cathedral Square. It's a 45-minute guided tour in French and English through all the tourist areas of the city.
Musee des Beaux-Arts is great for perusing an outstanding collection of Impressionist paintings, including a Monet of the cathedral. Open daily, except Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (esplanade Marcel Duchamp; 02 35 71 28 40)
At the Musee de la Ceramique, the speciality is a collection of 17th- and 18th-century red-hued earthenware (faience) and the chinoiserie collection that dates back to 1699. Open daily, except Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 2 – 6 p.m. (94, rue Jeanne d'Arc; 02 35 07 31 74)
Consecrated in 1063, the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Rouen truly is a sight to behold. Its Tour de Beurre houses 56 bells and the iron and bronze Tour Lanterne (Lantern Tower) raises majestically almost 500 feet/150m above. Check out the Booksellers' Stairway to see the stained glass window dating back to the 16th century. Richard the Lion-Hearted is entombed in the Chapelle de la Vierge. Open Monday 2 – 6 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. From November to March it is closed noon – 2 p.m. except Monday and Sunday, and closes at 6 p.m. (Place de la Cathedrale; 02 35 71 51 23)
As a result of being bombed during WWII, the Archbishop's Palace stands unprotected against the sky. Check out the broken rosette windows where crowds witnessed Joan of Arc's trial. You'll find it behind the cathedral. (place de la Cathedrale)
Musee Jeanne D'Arc traces the life and martyrdom of France's national heroine, Joan of Arc. Commentary in French, English, German and Italian. Open April 15 – September 15 9:30 a.m. – 6:15 p.m.; September 16 – April 14 10 a.m. – noon and 2 – 6:30 p.m.; closed Monday. ( 33, place du Vieux-Marchel; 2 35 88 02 70)
It's a little bit different from the usual museum: Musee le Secq des Tournelles (Wrought Ironworks Museum) houses the finest collection of wrought iron from the 3rd- to 19th-century. Open Wednesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. & 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. Closed Tuesday. (Verdrel Square, rue Jacques Villon; 02 35 88 42 92)
Been There, Done That
Dieppe: A popular seaside resort for Parisians during the 19th century, it's a sweet town dotted with a castle, aquarium and stately cliffs. It's fun to watch fisherman sell scallops and turbot straight from the boats then pick a nearby restaurant along the quai Henri IV, to enjoy the day's fresh catch.
Honfleur: An old fishing village, it's one of the most beautiful places in France. Just walking along boulevard Charles V to see the 18th-century waterfront houses is a treat in itself. For a yummy respite, try L'Assiette Gourmande on quai de Passagers. It's the only Michelin star restaurant in the region. Don't forget to browse the antique shops.
See and hear about 200 violins, cello and other stringed instruments restored by Roue native Jean Marc Sarhan at his shop. Open Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. – noon and 2 – 7 p.m., Saturday until 6 p.m. (20, place Lieut Aubert; 02 35 89 45 34)
Keep in mind that restaurants are closed for anywhere from two to four weeks during August, so it's best to check ahead.
Restaurant Gill is part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux network and the divine lobster fricassee with wild mushrooms is a treat along with the Seine views. Open for lunch Tuesday - Saturday noon – 1:45 p.m. Closed two weeks in April and three weeks in August. (8-9, quai de la Bourse; 02 35 71 16 14)
At Le Maupassant you can't pass up the chocolate desserts! One of the most popular restaurants around. Daily noon – 2 p.m. and 7 – 10:30 p.m. (39, place du Vieux-Marche; 02 35 07 56 90)
Les Nympheas is one of the area's best, and in the loveliest of settings. Do not leave without having foie gras or the apple souffle properly accompanied by Calvados. Open Tuesday – Saturday 12:15 – 2 p.m. and 7:30 – 9:45 p.m. (9, rue Pie; 02 35 89 26 69)
Pascaline is a comfy bistro that has been a darling with locals since 1880. You'll love how cheap it is, too. Everything is good. Open daily noon – 2:30 p.m. and 7 – 11 p.m. (5, rue de la Poterne; 02 35 89 67 44)
In Dieppe :
Le New Haven, along quai Henri IV, specializes in sea cabbage, cuttlefish stew, fish soup, mussels and homemade desserts. (53, quai Henri IV; 02 35 84 89 72)
Staying in Touch
Free Wi-Fi is available at Cafe Cheri. Also a great place for a smoothie. Open Tuesday – Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. (79, rue Ecuyere; 02 35 70 46 76)
Bar Flower, a gay-friendly bar, is another Wi-Fi hot spot. Open Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (21, rue Grand Pont; 02 35 88 20 44)
The Web Bar and Grill is a Canadian Internet bar and restaurant famous for its burgers. Open Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (14-16, rue du General Leclerc; 06 78 00 07 87)
Best Choice for Culture Vultures: Paris Highlights including the Louvre, can take up to 10 1/2 hours.
Best Choice for Luxe Living: French Evening at Manoir de Villers including an exquisite dinner.
For More Information
On the Web: www.rouentourisme.com
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--Updated by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor.