04 February 2013

Visiting Rouen

Old Rouen, or what we Americans might call "downtown" Rouen, is full of old half-timbered houses, called maisons à colombage in French. Colombage is related to the word "column" — you can see the wood framing or columns of the walls. In recent years, people have taken to painting them in all different colors.

Just a sample of Rouen's many maisons à colombage

Rouen, which is on the Seine about halfway between Paris and the sea (the English Channel, in this case, is a major port city, with ocean-going ships coming up the river to load and unload goods. The city itself is only about 100,000 people, but the urbanized area counts half a million.

A signboard for a luthier — a maker of stringed musical instruments — in old Rouen

The city was founded two thousand years ago and was named Rotomago something similar in Latin. The name slowly "eroded" phonetically over the centuries to become today's Rouen, pronounced approximately [roo-WÃ] or even just [RWÃ] — [Ã] represents the French nasal [A] vowel. It was conquered by the Vikings — Norsemen or Normans, where the name of the province of Normandy comes from —  more than a thousand years ago.

Two views of the cathedral towers in Rouen

The city has a major cathedral and two other famous churches, Saint-Ouen and Saint-Maclou. The first cathedral of Rouen was built in the fourth century A.D. A second cathedral replaced it in about the year 1000, and construction of the current cathedral building dates back to the year 1200, after the second one was destroyed by fire.

Rouen's Eglise Saint-Maclou and the surrounding neighborhood

The smaller Eglise Saint-Maclou was built in the 1400s. Like the cathedral, Saint-Maclou suffered considerable damage from bombardments during World War II. Restoration and repair work has been ongoing ever since.

A charcutier is a butcher who specializes in pork products, and the charcuterie is a kind of
French delicatessen selling sausages, cured and fresh meats, salads, and cooked dishes.

Besides its great monuments, old-town Rouen also has scores of shops, restaurants, and cafés. It's a living city where buildings have shops and storefronts at street level with apartments above. If you are going to be in Paris for a week or more, a side trip to Rouen by train is easy and rewarding. It takes less than 90 minutes to get there from the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you, Ken, for this nice series on Rouen. It is such a beautiful and inviting city. Are you going to included more recent photos to complete the series?

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  2. That flying piggy in the window of the charcuterie is surprisingly gleeful, considering that he's going to end up in the cooking pot he's next to.

    Isn't Rouen the city where Julia Child and Paul ate that first memoriable Sole Meunière that she raved about for the rest of her life?

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  3. Bonjour CHM, I'll have to search for newer pictures. My mind is focused right now on 2003...

    Et bonjour Judy, oui, Julia et Paul ont déjeuné ou dîné à La Couronne, ce grand et très ancien restaurant sur la place du Vieux Marché à Rouen, en 1948. Walt et moi, nous avons mangé à La Couronne plusieurs fois. Nous gardons de bons souvenirs...

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  4. Definately NOT gone through...
    never seen these beautiful buildings!!

    We used to go "through" by passing along the opposite bank of the river to the cathedral...
    in front of the government offices...
    except for two occasions...
    once we were diverted straight across the river and up the hill... came out the Gods only know!!
    The second time we were diverted along the cathedral bank...
    then one street further in...
    then back along the bank to the next bridge and across to the south side and into Petit Quevilly... from where I was able to get straight back onto our usual route through the tunnel. There was some grêve or another going on in front of the government offices!!
    So... we are definately going to have to have a long w/e there.

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  5. I've heard a lot of you Brits talk of Rouen as some kind of autoroute obstacle or bottleneck you have to endure on your trip from Calais to the Touraine, rather than giving the city the respect it deserves as the home of the great king English William the Conqueror and one of the most beautiful places in France. Take the time to see it...

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  6. Ken, not really an obstacle...
    we only had two days to get to the ferry [especially in the 2CVs]...
    so avoiding cities was necessary but there was no way around Rouen...
    we originally used the ETAP at Petit Quevilly...
    but getting through the traffic going North used to take about an hour to an hour and a half...
    so we used to stop just North of Rouen at Issneauville...
    no problem getting to Zeebruge then...
    and cheap petrol at the Carrefour.
    Oh...
    We've not visited Tours, Chatellerault, Poitiers, Blois, Amboise or Orleans yet, either!!
    Or... Chinon, Angers... etc!!
    Etc, etc...

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  7. Ken, I love when you write posts like these. They are informative and I always learn a lot. Beautiful photos with lots of memories for you. I love the intricate design of the churches. Thanks for the tour of Rouen.

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  8. Tim, sorry for my impatient comment. Instead of "you Brits", which is kind of rude, I should have said "My British friends", and I've heard several of them complain about Rouen but almost none say they've visited the city to enjoy its monuments and atmosphere. And of course I meant "English king" using our syntax and not "king English" as if it were somehow a French expression. Like you, I don't visit a lot of cities these days, but I would like to.

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