Faith’s week with us in Rouen included July 14th, France’s national independence day, which we in the U.S. tend to call Bastille Day, but they just call it “Fete Nationale.” We wanted to make sure that her Fete Nationale experience was a memorable one, but of course not just for her sake – it was a chance for us to immerse ourselves in the country’s holiday as well.
I have to say, while I loved the entire exhibit, it was the paintings of Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, and some others that really thrilled me the most. Having already been a huge Claude Monet fan, I never knew what to make of this “other guy whose name sounds similar.” Well, starting with Manet’s portrait of artist Berthe Morisot, which has been used on all the literature and covers advertising the exhibit, I really enjoyed getting to know more about him and his work. I had never heard of Morisot, and from the portrait of her, you can see she is quite a person of character, and her paintings are also well worth tracking down.
We weren’t so sure of where to have lunch – by the time we wandered into the museum’s cafe, they were already pretty much out of food – but a woman in the museum suggested we walk down a pedestrian-only street called Allee Eugene Delacroix just south of the museum – there are several restaurants along the street that might be open on the holiday.
Sure enough, there was one called Coccina that looked very promising. I ordered a salad covered with a selection of meats – chicken wings, ham, etc. – and except for the day-glow colored mashed potatoes (which I did not eat), it was all good.
We continued further south, snaking our way to our next destination, an organ concert at the Eglise Saint-Maclou. Luckily, that took us past the northern side of the Palais de Justice, where I was able to get photos of some of my favorite gargoyles.
The concert at Saint-Maclou was wonderful. It was for Baritone singer and organ, and while the wide variety of periods and styles was at some points a bit jarring, over all, it was a wonderful concert (and of course there was a splendid version of the national anthem, La Marseillaise, to get us all in the holiday mood).
At this point, the schedule was rather wide open, and I wasn’t quite sure how to fill it. We needed to get to the bus stop to take the bus to the quai where our cruise ship on the Seine, from which we view the holiday fireworks later, would leave. But my best research told us that while there are sports bars near the cruise ship quai, the quality of the food there is universally considered appalling.
To kill some time, we wandered over to the Place du Vieux Marche and sat at a terrace and had a cold beverage. We saw a band setting up for a pop music concert, and thought that was the last thing we wanted to see/hear. I remembered that not far from this square is another with a Renaissance hotel that is supposed to be worth seeing. So I did some appraisal of the situation, wandering down to this other square (Place de la Pucelle), to see if going there would be worth our time.
The hotel I was thinking of was the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, and it looked quite beautiful, so I went back and told Therese and Faith that we should explore this other square.
What people often talk about in regard to the Renaissance-period stone carving covering the building is the courtyard, with its elaborate panels, for example, those illustrating the Triumphs of Petrarch. While I enjoyed seeing the courtyard, the exterior of the building was my favorite.
For example, the panels of crests held by cherubs that are under each of the windows on the outside are wonderful. And the various expressions on the faces of the cherubs are hilarious.
Then there are the various animals depicted on the exterior, like dogs, monkeys and squirrels. And of course, my favorite of all, the crest of a porcupine with a gold crown over it. I don’t know what royal family that may have represented, but it is remarkable.
Besides the hotel, the Place de la Pucelle is definitely a nice alternative place to spend some time. While it is surrounded by restaurants with their tables spilling into the square, it is not quite as busy and loud as the more well-known Place du Vieux Marche. For us, that was a very good thing.
While we were there, we saw that the hotel, which has been taken over by a mordern luxury spa hotel, has a restaurant connected to it (actually I guess there is more than one restaurant, but we only concerned ourselves with the one). So we got a table outside at the Brasserie les 2 Rois. Faith and I ordered the special, duck breast with some sort of sweet glaze. It came with mashed potatoes, but since the waiter’s English was really minimal, I didn’t want to get into trying to get him to replace the mashed potatoes with something else that might be dairy free. So I just ate the duck, which was quite scrumptious. I used the complimentary bread we were given to sop up the tangy glaze.
By the time we finished eating, it was getting to be time for us to get to the boat. So we walked a couple blocks south to the bus stop, and not long after the bus came. The bus ride was short, and it so happened that we were quite early for our fireworks cruise, organized by Normandy Croisieres. No worries, we wandered around the quai a bit and got our bearings.
When our cruise ship, the Lutece, left the dock, it started by going west, away from where the fireworks would be – more time killing I suppose, since it was not quite dark yet (in July in Rouen, sunset is around 10:30pm). We went underneath the nearby Pont Gustave-Flaubert, and saw a bit of the countryside along the Seine.
Therese used our free beverage tickets to get us some cold drinks (I didn’t realize that in France, “soft” drinks includes beer and wine – but as it was, soda was good enough for me). Eventually, our boat turned around, and we headed back downstream toward the bridge where the fireworks would be set off from.
Then the fireworks started, and it was a mad dash to get into position to see them the best. There was an outside area at each end of the boat, and as the boat floated in the water, spinning slowly around, people squeezed into the end closest to the fireworks (there was a top deck that was completely outside, but we had elected to hang out on the lower deck, where we would be mostly protected from the chilly evening temperatures – it was in the 60s at best – and have a table and chairs to ourselves).
The fireworks were lovely. Afterward, we walked to a nearby hotel and had the receptionist there call us a cab. It took forever for the cab to come, but eventually it did, and we got back to our apartment very late, after a very full fun holiday in France.