Friday, 13 July 2012

Rouen, France May, 2010

The Petit Train begins in Rouen's main square where the town's own Notre Dame stands grandly.  At the time of our visit, the cathedral was presenting a collection of Claude Monet's marvellous work.  The train is a charming way to get a comprehensive tour of the old city.  This part of Rouen is primarily a pedestrian area with narrow streets and overhanging roof lines.  The motorized train is open-sided, allowing passengers to lean out and gaze up at the colours and wooden beams of the cramped old homes or the funny gargoyles poking out from the roof of the law school.

At the heart of the old town centre is the hallmark Clock Tower.  It stands proudly over Rouen with a stunning azure face and gold accents.  The chiming of the bell can be heard far and wide.

Musee des Beaux Arts

Founded in 1801 by Napoleon I, the current building was constructed between 1880 and 1888.  This serene structure lies in the academic community of Rouen near the University.  It houses works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods as well as the Romantics and Impressionists among others.  In addition, there is a collection of paintings that highlight Rouen as well as portrait rooms, sculpture collections, still lifes and more.  You'll find many of the great masters here - Rubens, Gauguin, Renoir, Caravaggio, Modigliani - just to name a few.

It's an intimate museum with many small rooms to house these great works.  This allows the visitor to feel more closely connected to the pieces.  That's assuming that the museum isn't crowded during high tourist season.  We were very fortunate that it was fairly quiet during our visit and we were able to enjoy all the museum had to offer.

Joan of Arc

Rouen's claim to fame is the execution of Joan of Arc.  It is here that she was burned at the stake in 1431.  On the exact spot, a slim austere white cross has been erected in memory of this sainted Frenchwoman.  Beside it is a dark and stark museum devoted to her story.  The restaurant we visited, La Couronne, was established in 1345 in a location directly across the street.  What is unsettling is that if Joan of Arc was executed in 1431, the restaurant had patrons on that horrific day who witnessed it.  Unfortunately, at this time, an execution was considered something like a sporting event.

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