Our day trip to the Normandy countryside was several days in the planning. Therese handled the car rental, I printed out maps and put together the itinerary. And it was a wonderful day, except for the driving. To be more specific, it was getting out of Rouen and returning to it that were a major pain – driving in the countryside, Therese tells me, was no trouble at all.
So once we got into that countryside, on our way to our first stop of the day (stay tuned), I could see why all those Impressionist painters like Monet and Sisley all loved to do landscapes of the countryside bordering on the Seine river. Lots of gorgeous sights – see just a few examples that I was able to capture.
I also feel like these vistas remind me so much of many jigsaw puzzles of landscapes that I solved as a boy. Lots of sky, lots of green, a few other details (a horse or a tractor or a house).
In about an hour after leaving from Rouen, we arrived at Jumieges, the home to one of the most glorious ruins in all of France. In the main square, just opposite this building, stands an impressive public sculpture of two canoes.
Jumieges Abbey is spectacular. For a while it was mined for its stone, but apparently that didn’t prove cost-effective, so eventually, some time in the early 19th century, they just decided to leave it as it was. There is some work underway now to fix up what is left – mainly, to reconstruct the chapter house – I guess so that people can visit and stay for weekends and so forth as was done back when there was a community of monks there.
Our second stop was the sight of another monastic community, St. Wandrille. This one is still active – in fact, after passing through the gate with its pelican over the door, the first place we went was to the abbey church, and austere, very peaceful place.
The rest of the grounds of the abbey include a sumptuously decorated Baroque building with a matching gate, and the ruins of the Medieval abbey church and cloisters, most of which you can’t see. Conservation and reconstruction work is underway on those – it’s not clear whether they are going to completely recreate the original building, or whether they are going to leave some of it as ruins.
While I appreciated the abbey, what I found most impressive in St. Wandrille was the Eglise de St.-Michel (church of St. Michael), directly across the street.
We were starting to get hungry, so it was time to get back in our car and head to the third of our towns on our itinerary, Caudebec-en-Caux.
By now, the clouds were clearing a little bit, and the river was looking quite beautiful.
We parked our car (there is lots of free parking right next to the water, in the middle of town), and went to lunch at La Marine, a restaurant in one of the hotels right there near the water.
In this case, the one dish that was a question was my entree. As I recall, we determined that the sauce was made with chicken drippings and apple cider, so I was safe. The lunch was not spectacular, but it was very good, especially considering that this is a sleepy town and nothing seemed to going on that day.
After lunch we walked around the corner and just up the block to the city’s Eglise Notre-Dame. A beautiful Gothic church with lots of very impressive stonecarving work. My favorite part of that may have been the musicians carved into the facade, right next to the entrance to the church.
Not far from the church is the House of Templars, aka the Musee Biochet-Brochet. We rang the bell, and nothing happened. After ringing a few more times, we decided it must be closed. When we returned to our apartment that night, I checked the internet and found a website that says it is closed for renovations. Oh well – it would’ve been nice to see the interior of such an old building (I believe it dates to the twelfth century), but seeing it from the outside was somewhat impressive.
With that museum being closed, that left us with some time before we had to head back, so we opted to check out a new museum in the area, the Museo Seine.
This museum is a delight – it is a very family-friendly exploration of the river and all the kind of crafts that are found on it, the river’s history and that of all the sorts of activities that have called it home. The best part for me was a wall-length map of the entire river, with all the cities on it and some of the stats of those cities represented. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of this map, but it was so large that any photograph would’ve only contained a small portion of it.
The day had turned quite sunny, and our drive back was very pleasant and relaxing (except for the end part of driving around Rouen looking for our rental drop off). Once again, we saw many incredible vistas that would make wonderful paintings (or jigsaw puzzles).
We even got to see the mayor of Normandy, a donkey who seemed quite bored with us. Perhaps if we had stopped to feed him a nice local apple, his mood would’ve brightened.