Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 06.04.15
Just Outside Washington

All photos by author and Kathy Cavanaugh

And on to Rouen

After breakfast on our fourth day aboard the Pride, the ship left its mooring in Vernon and cruised down the Seine River to Rouen. The day had periods of cloudiness, but this did not detract from the great views, including the chalk cliffs. They reminded me of the Dover cliffs about one hundred miles to the north.


One of the first treats was passing through the locks at Notre Dame de la Garenne. These river boats are designed to just fit into the locks; there was about a foot clearance on each side. The dam linked to the locks had seven weirs to control river flow; these are gates between the towers in the photo. One fed a hydro generation station but there were no above-ground high tension lines visible.


The factory immediately downstream from the lock did not look like it was operating; it did not look derelict like some other factories we passed. About eight miles downstream we passed the town of Les Andelys and Gaillard Castle, built by Richard I of England, the Lionheart, in 1197. He defended the castle against the French king Philip Augustus. In addition to being king of England, Richard ruled much of France, including Normandy and Aquitaine. His mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine. The business of who ruled France was sorted out starting in 1337 with the 100 Years War.


We will dock in Les Andelys on our return trip in a couple of days. After Les Andelys the terrain flattened out, and there were very nice small towns, farms, and elegant vacation homes. The high water in the river came up into the front yards of a number of the houses.


The cliffs returned and receded again as the Seine approached Rouen where the river is tidal.

The river banks as we approached Rouen became very industrial. Rouen is the fifth largest city in France with over 650,000 inhabitants and home of François Hollande, the 24th President of the French Republic. It is a major port and transportation hub with direct TGVs (high-speed trains) that run daily to Lyon and Marseille.

The city's large industrial sector includes petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, food processing, electrical equipment and machinery manufacture, and an oil refinery. In addition, Rouen has 750,000 tourists who visit each year, and the Pride added 128 to that number. After our usual excellent lunch, we had a guided walking tour of Rouen with intermittent rain. The Pride was docked near the old town about four blocks from the cathedral, Notre-Dame de Rouen. We had a shower just before we ducked inside the cathedral.


The cathedral was started in the 12th century in the Early Gothic style and construction continued off and on with fires and damage for 400 years. It is famous for the spectacular blue stained glass windows. Damage to the cathedral from WWII bombings destroyed several stained glass windows and shifted a support column for the nave several inches to one side.


During WW II Rouen was heavily damaged -- approximately 45 percent of the city was destroyed. In June 1940 the area between the Cathedral and the Seine River burned for two days because the Germans prevented access to fight the fire. Other areas were destroyed in 1944 before and during the Battle of Normandy. Both the British and Americans bombed the city, damaging large portions of the city and many historic structures including the cathedral, as mentioned. The resulting new construction near the cathedral can be seen in the picture.


Much of the old town has been rebuilt using half-timber construction; the difference between the old and new is clear because the timbers on the old buildings are irregular and not square, as shown.

Rouen's most famous visitor was Jeanne d'Arc. After leading the French army to victory, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians and turned over to the English in Rouen. It was then the capital city of English power in occupied France. Joan of Arc was tried by an ad hoc ecclesiastical court to which there were objections by some members of the Catholic Church at the time. She was convicted and burned at the stake in 1431.

Joan of Arc's ashes, which were burned three times, were thrown into the Seine from the medieval stone Mathilde Bridge at Rouen. The stone bridge has been replaced by a modern lift bridge, which raises two roadways by cables from twin towers. The Pride passed under without the need for a lift, so we did not see it open.

Our next to last stop -- in the rain -- was the clock on the Rue du Gros-Horloge. This is one of the oldest clocks in France.


It was made in 1389 and only has an hour-hand with Roman numerals marking the hours. The phases of the moon are shown in the oculus of the upper part of the dial, and the days of the week are shown by allegorical figures in an opening at the base of the dial.

We retreated from the rain into the Church of Saint Joan of Arc, soaking wet. The church is in the center of the Old Market Square where Joan of Arc was burned alive. The church was built in 1979 and utilizes the stained glass windows from the 16th century Church of Saint Vincent, which was almost completely destroyed during WW II. Fortunately the windows had been removed and stored in a safe location during the war.


When we left the church the sun was shining but the small carousel in the square had not started up again. We had a good walk back to the ship and were completely dry by the time we arrived. None the less, we changed before we went to the lounge for a glass of wine.

>And on to Normandy