Jed and I hadn’t traveled together since our big backpacking trip that we took at the beginning of the semester, so we decided to spend a weekend in Rouen. We used two of the greatest organizations on the internet: Covoiturage and Couchsurfing. Covoiturage is a French website where people post if they’re driving somewhere so others can ride along with them and just pitch in for gas; Couchsurfing is a worldwide website where people post if they’re willing to lodge travelers while they’re visiting certain cities. Jed and I rode with a French girl from Caen to Rouen and arrived on Saturday afternoon to be greeted by our Couchsurfers who were going to host us for the night. Georgi and Milena, originally from Bulgaria, had been living in Rouen for some months and spoke perfect English and French. They were super welcoming and we all went back to their apartment to drop off our stuff and have a tea before going out to explore the city. I automatically noticed the difference between Caen and Rouen: nearly all the houses in Rouen had a medieval look to them, the streets were more narrow and winding, and it seemed to have a much bigger downtown area. It was cold so we didn’t stay out too long, but before going back to their apartment we bought some food to make dinner. One wouldn’t know that it was a grocery store from the outside, as it had a beautiful stone façade like most of the other buildings.
Georgi and Milena’s apartment was so cool and cozy! They had tons of postcards and maps on the walls of places they had been to or of things that interested them, and lots of little items from all over the world. We discovered that we had been to some of the same places. Milena had even studied for some time in New York. That night, Jed and I cooked some native Texan chili for our new Bulgarian friends and luckily they enjoyed it! After sharing more stories and having interesting conversations, one of Georgi’s French friends, who is also on Couchsurfing, invited us to meet up at a bar where there was some live music going on. Georgi insisted that Jed wear a hat out, as it was close to freezing outside, so Jed took Georgi’s normal hat and Georgi wore an amazing furry hat that words just can’t describe (therefore, see pictures below). We went to the bar and I was pleased to have one of my favorite Belgian beers, Karmeliet. Yum! Afterwards, we called it a night.
On Sunday, Jed, Georgi, and I ventured out into the city while Milena stayed at the apartment to work on a project. We layered up and went out into the cold. We passed the Joan of Arc’s Tower and the Art Museum, both which weren’t open until later. We continued on to one of Rouen’s cathedrals, which was magnificent and gorgeous. Although we had seen it in the dark last night it was so much more dramatic by daytime! We went inside and looked around – the interior was beautiful and the ceilings were so extremely high. Georgi knew a lot about the cathedral, as he’s an art history student, so we were treated to our own little tour of the place. After that, we walked around the market (Rouen’s market has a lot more food that the one in Caen does, which has more clothing and stuff like that). Next up we wandered through what used to be a medieval hospital and is now an art school. The inside courtyard was peaceful yet creepy at the same time; all of the woodwork on the outer walls was full of symbols like skulls, bones, and coffins. After that, we saw the outside of another big church of Rouen. Apparently Rouen is called the City of 100 Bells, because there are over 100 churches. Therefore, you hear bells chiming at any given moment. We also walked to the Hotel de Ville (City Hall), which Milena describes as a giant white cake – a fitting description! The building is completely white with an extremely detailed outside.
Since Rouen is a city with a ton of Joan of Arc history (she was actually burned at the stake there), we found the Church of Joan of Arc, which looked super modern from the outside and super gorgeous on the inside (not to say that modern isn’t gorgeous). There was an orchestra rehearsing inside for a free concert later that day. The area where Joan of Arc was burned is located right outside the church; a small mound of dirt is roped off from the sidewalks with a small sign marking the importance of the spot. It was crazy to think that hundreds of years ago there were people rioting here, that Joan of Arc was there, etc. After the church, we walked back to the Art Museum and walked through the whole thing. There were lots of renaissance paintings and even a few pieces done by Monet. Since we only had 30 minutes before we knew the Joan of Arc tower closed, we rushed over there and were the last people let into the building. Four stories high with very narrow staircases, the tower holds old artifacts from her era along with other information about Joan. It was a quick visit since the owner was ready to close down, but I’m glad I got to see it!
We finally escaped the cold with the heat of the apartment along with a nice “breakfast for dinner” of eggs, bread, and hashbrowns. Let me elaborate on the hashbrowns a bit. Georgi and Milena weren’t familiar with the concept, so I suggested that we cut the potatoes into little squares and fry them in a pan, as my loving mother does for my own family. Jed found the cheese grater and insisted that we make patties, McDonald’s-style. He even tried to make potato chips but failed miserably. Therefore, we ended up with a wide variety of shapes and sizes of our hashbrowns. Nonetheless they were delicious!
Our ride for the way back called me to let me know he would be arriving in Rouen about 30 minutes later than planned, which was perfect by me as we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to our hosts yet and had just finished eating! Jed had a sudden craving for an epic photoshoot, so we gathered all the necessary props (amazing hats and nifty artifacts) and went crazy. It was so much fun and a great way to end our little stay in Rouen. Georgi and Milena walked us back to the train station to drop us off there. We said our goodbyes and Jed and I hopped into the car to go back “home” to Caen. I was so glad that this spur-of-the-moment visit worked out so amazingly. We met some great people, saw some really interesting things, and discovered yet another lovely city in France.
pictures: (1) traditional style home in Rouen (2) Joan of Arc Tower (3) Art Museum (4) back streets (5) cathedral (6) me and Jed outside the cathedral (7) old medieval hospital (8) hospital courtyard (9) falling house? (10) City Hall (11) in downtown (12) Joan of Arc Church (13) where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake (14) crazy crooked house! (15) inside the Joan of Arc tower (16) cooking hashbrowns with our hosts, Milena and Georgi (17 – 20) and out come the hats!