I’m a couple of weeks into the new semester now and it’s been a busy start! I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this blog for a while and am only just getting round to it now. After unexpectedly spending most of my Christmas holidays in Mulhouse, I felt like I really needed a few days away. I took the chance to go and see my friend Anna in Rouen who is also working as a lectrice. Rouen sits on the River Seine to the west of Paris, about an hour away by train, in the region of Normandy. Rouen was an important city during the Middle Ages and was the city where Joan of Arc was tried and burned alive in the 15th century. I didn’t know any of this, or much else about this city, before I arrived but I saw and learnt a lot while there.
I had an early start on Monday 10th because my train was at 7.40am. Or it was supposed to be… Who doesn’t want to start their trip with an hour and a half delay in the station? When it eventually left, my train got diverted through Dijon and I finally arrived in Paris for my transfer. After navigating the metro to change from Gare de Lyon to Paris Saint Lazare I literally raced through the station and jumped onto a train to Rouen with a minute to spare, only an hour after my original connection was supposed to be. Delay aside, it was a pretty easy journey.
Anna met me at the station and we walked over to her little studio apartment which was only five minutes away. After a quick lunch we headed out to wander around the city a little. Normandy is well known for being very misty and grey and lived up to that but its personality still managed to shine through even if the sun couldn’t. It has a lot of buildings that look similar to those in Alsace, half timbered and brightly coloured, but it also has a lot of Gothic architecture. It’s known as the city of cathedrals and churches because there are so many. You turn every corner and come across another one. The Notre-Dame Cathedral (not the one you’re thinking of) is one of Rouen’s main attractions and actually reminded me a lot of the cathedral in Strasbourg at first. It definitely has a much more Gothic style though. Claude Monet has a famous series of paintings of the cathedral at different times of day, some of which you can see at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It has three towers, all built in different styles, one of which is called Le Tour de Beurre (The Butter Tower). This is because people who donated to its construction at the end of the 15th century were given special permission to consume butter and dairy during Lent. (Side note – Normandy is apparently well known for its butter as well as cider.)
We walked around more and I started to get the feel of the place. I saw the church Saint Maclou as well as the Gros Horloge, a 14th century astronomical clock tucked away down a cobblestoned shopping street. To me, one of the most endearing aspects of Rouen were all these narrow, cobbled streets that are filled with shops, cafes, restaurants, boutiques and plenty of places to get lost in. I would be quite happy wandering around them for hours. The last spot of note that I saw on this whistlestop tour of the city centre was the Saint Joan of Arc Church. In comparison with Rouen’s multitude of Gothic churches and cathedrals, this church is actually surprisingly modern. It was built in the 80s in the Place de Vieux-Marché, the very spot where it is said that Joan of Arc was burned alive. The curve of the roof is even supposed to evoke the flames of the pyre.
My second day in Rouen was actually Anna’s birthday and we were treated to a rare day of blue skies and sunshine. I was happy to have the chance to see it in the sunshine after it had lived up to its misty reputation the day before. We started our day with brunch at this very cute cafe and then went on a stroll along the river.
The plan for the evening was to celebrate Anna’s birthday with a few of her friends and have raclette for dinner! You might know raclette as the dish where half of a wheel of cheese is heated until it starts to melt, at which point the cheese is scraped off and onto the common sides of potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and an assortment of dried meat. However, there are also raclette grills that are much easier to use at home. They consist of a round grill surface with a space underneath to put little trays with individual slices of raclette cheese. This is the set up we had, with some potatoes, saucisse, grilled courgette and a wee side salad as accompaniments.
The latter half of the evening was consumed by the French version of Cards Against Humanity (even more extreme than the English version which if you’ve ever played, you know is saying something!) and then a trip to an Irish pub called Kallaghan’s. I was surprised to find Tennents available! It wasn’t the draft beer but a bottled, whisky oak aged version which I wasn’t a big fan of but it was still a novelty to see it.
On my last full day, Anna had to invigilate an exam in the morning so I met her at the university after she had finished. It was interesting comparing my role as a lectrice with what Anna does. Technically we have the same job but whereas I only teach Oral English classes, Anna teaches more of a variety of classes, including comprehension and translation. There’s also at least 5 lecteurs and lectrices in her department compared to just me at UHA! The University of Rouen is actually just outside of the city, at the top of a hill. If it hadn’t been misty again we would have had some great views of the city as we walked back into town.
Something I enjoyed a lot about Rouen was its bookshops (which will suprise no one who knows me). Over the course of my few days in Rouen I picked up several new books. There were a lot more bookshops than in Mulhouse and they all had significantly bigger English language sections as well as there being a specific English language bookshop. I have been working through the books that I managed to fit in my suitcase when I first moved over here plus a few that I’ve picked up in the interim but I was happy to be able to replenish my stock. Call them Christmas presents to myself!
Overall, it was a lovely few days. It only really sank in as I was heading back to Mulhouse (thankfully without a delay in sight) but I think I really needed those few days away. The end of the year had a lot of ups and downs and while I really enjoyed my Christmas spent in Mulhouse, not going home meant that I hadn’t left Mulhouse for more than a day trip since I went to Spain and Andorra at the end of October. I hadn’t had as much of a reset as the Christmas holidays and the start of the new year usually bring. Even just the few days away to the other side of France did a lot to clear my head and refresh my energy and I came back ready to start the new semester with more enthusiasm!