*Note of anger* This post was written Friday on the TGV (high speed train) to Nantes for the weekend. I meant to post it Friday or Saturday but our internet broke. I hope you all enjoy the extremely belated piece.
*Note of anger 2* Internet while travelling seems to be a very elusive thing. Don’t we live in 2011? Shouldn’t everywhere have free wireless? Am I just spoiled by Stanford?†
Try and say it. I can’t. I get corrected all the time. The roooo is easy but it’s all one syllable. RWAN. Roooan. Roooun. I don’t know. All you need to know is that it’s in the North of France. In Normandy!††
Fortunately, the city itself is a lot more accessible. For our second Cathedral Thursday, Mia and I were joined by the wonderful Maddy. She added a much-needed photographer to our group, so this time we took lots of pictures. I was late for leaving to the train station and made it just in time. On the train, I met my first rude French people! It was an experience I’m glad I had because to tell the truth, the French have been very accommodating since I’ve arrived. My friend had her feet up on the chair in front of her and her empty coffee cup was sitting on the floor. The French family next to us leaned over and the wife said, in English, “Don’t put your feet up on the chair. It’s rude and the chairs need to preserve.” That was a little curt, but reasonable enough. Then the woman said, “Is that your coffee cup?” My friend nodded and the woman said “You should probably clean that up.” The husband chimed in “How disgusting!” And then they proceeded to tell their daughters about the indecency of Americans (now in French) while we were sitting right next to them. It was my first big culture shock.
But we arrived safely in Rouen on another freezing day. Rouen is another small town, but it never took longer than 10 minutes to walk anywhere. The eponymous Notre Dame de Rouen Cathedral was very impressive. The Notre Dame de Rouen (see the clever names?) is probably most famous for being one of Monet’s favorite subjects. There’s a well known series of paintings of the Cathedral which I saw last weekend… but that’s another blog post. It has to massive spires that are the tallest in France. One of the towers is called the Butter Tower. This is because that when it was built, the Catholics had to give up butter during Lent. But they didn’t want to. So to atone for the sin of eating butter, the raised enough money to build the tower.
Also, while we were wandering the Cathedral, the organist started practicing. He was DEFINITELY practicing, as there were many wrong notes and wandering melodies, but it still added to the reverence of the grand gothic cathedral. We also snuck into an ancient baptismal room. I’m continually amazed that the mundane in France is filled with at least 500 years more history than anything in the United States.
The highlight of Rouen was not the Cathedral, but instead the city itself. The whole town seems unchanged from the 1400s when it really grew into its half-timbered building style. I guess half-timbered is the proper name for that crossed wood building pattern that you’ll see in all of my pictures. It gives the whole town a storybook appeal that is simply indescribable. There are alleys and pedestrian streets that are more picturesque and interesting than the one before it. I most enjoyed all of the time we spent walking around and just marveling at the architecture.
There is a definite possibility you’ve heard of Rouen before, even if you’re not the biggest history buff. It is famous for the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. The whole town is a love letter to Joan of Arc. The main street is Rue Jeanne D’Arc. There is a Joan of Arc Church, a Joan of Arc square, Joan of Arc shot glasses, Joan of Arc towers, clocks, crèpes, you name it.
Our favorite (and simultaneously least favorite) Joan of Arc ephemera was the Joan of Arc Wax Museum. It sounded so curious and strange we had to check it out. It told the story of Joan of Arc’s life through artifacts and wax figures. We figured we needed a brush up on our Joan of Arc History so we went.
The spark notes version of Joan of Arc’s story is this. At 17, she heard a message from God, telling her to join the Army and go to Orléans and fight against the British. She did just that and actually led the charge to victory. She was praised for a while until she was betrayed by a douchy Baron. He called her a heretic for her visions and her obscene cross-dressing. For her heresy and spread of ill-repute, and certainly ignoring her contributions to French society, she was burned at the stake. Fun fact: Her heart wouldn’t burn, so they put it in a bag and threw it the Seine so no one would worship it. Now, the river of Paris literally runs with the blood of Joan of Arc… whose laughing now?
The story is relatively compelling, but the wax museum was less so. It looked like the best 8th grade diorama I had ever seen. The wax figures were relatively uninteresting, the artifacts were inconsequential, and the whole thing was in woman’s basement. At one point, in the Joan of Arc Wax Museum gift shop, a flock of pigeons flew through. It was one of the most laughable museums I’ve been to and we enjoyed every second of it.
All in all, we had another very successful Cathedral Thursday. These day trips have been a great way to get out of the city and see different regions of France. Currently, my whole program is on a trip to Nantes (I’m writing this on a train! A TGV! They’re so fast!). Nantes is located at the end of the Loire River by the Atlantic Coast. I expect to see a lot of Chateaus and some ocean while I’m here.
And for the demanding public, here’s a picture off of Facebook of Mia. I have some really unflattering ones, but for her sake, I’ll share this one.
† The correct answers to those questions, in order are, yes, no, and yes.
†† We asked my French teacher how to say “the unpronounceable city.” He told us it was like saying the first half of the country Rwanda. Then he laughed at us when he found out Americans say the phonetically incorrect “Ri-wan-da.” So imagine a Rwan but with a little more ooh. And only one syllable. Rouen.