Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Yesterday we went on mini-excursion #2, to Le Havre, on the Normandy coast (on the English Channel). Le Havre has a very different feel than Rouen, or even than Paris, because it’s almost entirely new construction. Le Havre, a port city, was 90 percent destroyed in WWII, so everything you see looks much more like the US than like what we’re used to seeing in France.
We set out fairly early and drove countryside that could have been anywhere — California, Oregon — nothing about it said France. We really didn’t have a plan for our day, so we parked by the water (which looks very much like an ocean, not a channel) and set out to see what we could find.
Our first stop was yet another church, but this one was very different than the others we’ve seen on this trip. Saint Joseph is quite small, although very tall (106 meters), with really unique architecture and gorgeous, geometric-patterned stained glass virtually floor to ceiling on all sides (well, it’s a circle so they’re not really sides). Other than a small creche, it really felt less like a church than a…hmmm, I don’t really know what. According to Wikipedia, “some interpret its gloomy, neo-Gothic interior as a memorial to the five thousand civilians who died in Le Havre during a Nazi siege.” More spiritual, less religious I guess. Really beautiful — the stained glass just took our breath away. We spent a lot of time inside trying to capture the effects, especially when the sun would come through and cast reflections of the colors on the walls.
From there we strolled around the downtown area, stopping to admire the fountains (flowing, although filled with ice — it was really cold out!) at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), and to play and get warm at another amazing bookstore, where I bought “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” in the original French (I’ve been wanting to tackle that for a while but it’s prohibitively expensive to purchase in the states) and a gorgeous, really uniquely-designed interpretation of Hansel and Gretel (yeah, it’s a kid’s book but I bought it for me. Maybe I’ll share ;-))
Sorry for the run-on sentences. I write like I speak!
Anyway, we needed to find lunch and took a chance on an overly-designed (in a self-consciously cool way) bistro where I once again ordered the wrong thing. I have no idea what it was supposed to be, but it was just about the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tried to eat. I gave Anna a taste and she said it tasted like goldfish food, which was pretty accurate except that it had the color and texture of the bottom of a swamp. It was warm, brown, and slimy and tasted like goldfish food smells. I tried to eat it, but ultimately I couldn’t. (I’ve included a photo of this in the slideshow above. If anyone can identify it, please let me know. Probably the cloves of raw garlic as a side dish should have been a dead giveaway.)
After that, and feeling totally sick, David suggested stopping at a patisserie to undo what I’d just done to my taste buds. I bought an extremely large, really wonderful slice of apple pie, which went a long way towards healing my lunch trauma.
Finally, Anna had noticed a playground on the beach when we parked. I hadn’t seen it so I had no idea what was really there — yet another example of how the French have families in mind when doing their city planning. There was an awesome, big playground with loads of slides, jungle-gyms, etc.,; a huge skate park with loads of ramps, hills, and jumps for anyone on wheels (picture dozens of teen and pre-teen boys on bikes, rollerblades, and skateboards); courts for all kinds of ball games — just loads of free, clean, space to play on the beach.
When we headed back to Rouen, David took a detour so we could go across the Pont de Normandie, a cable-styled suspension bridge completed in 1995 (the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world at the time of its completion). By this point Anna had passed out in the back of the car, so we drove across with me shooting photos through the windshield. After crossing over and back, David pulled over and got out to shoot some pics while Anna slept and I browsed the web (gotta love that iPhone).
And that was it — our second and final road trip from Rouen. We both wish we’d gotten to take more, but the weather just wasn’t good the first half of our stay here.
And thus completes my final blog entry for 2008. I’ll still be posting for the rest of this trip and beyond, I think. Picture me sitting in my funky, house-swap house here in Rouen, Anna asleep upstairs while David and I make crêpes and drink a nice bottle of wine (me in my new, French dress, David in his sexy Obama T-shirt!). Not a bad end to the year.
Bon fête et joyeux 2009, tous le monde.