Roaming in Rouen

Didn’t get up until 9.00 this morning as all the late nights were starting to catch up with me.  Instead, I just took advantage of the tea- and coffee-making facilities in our cabin, and just got washed and dressed while perusing today’s daily programme.  As the Balmoral had already docked on the Seine in Rouen in the early hours of the morning, everything we wanted to see was within walking distance, and we therefore hadn’t booked any excursions.

In the programme I noticed the hair salon had a special offer on today; choose three Hair Services, including a blow-dry, for £40.00.  As I am so sick of my messy hair I decided to go up to the Atlantis Spa on Deck 10 and book myself in, making the appointment for 5.30pm.

The weather didn’t look too bad today (at least it was dry!) but Trevor still packed our cagoules into his rucksack, and we disembarked the Balmoral about 9.35 and went to get the shuttle bus into the town centre.  When we alighted from the bus, the driver told us that the shuttle buses would go from this point every 10 minutes.

Rouen is an incredibly picturesque, incredibly historic city, full of ancient old timbered buildings and churches and narrow little cobbled alleyways which reminded me a little of The Shambles in York.  The spire of a massive ornate cathedral, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, dominated the skyline, and we decided to head towards it.

As we arrived in the square, we spotted a little street train (Le Petit Train de Rouen) which was doing 45-minute tours around the city, accompanied by a headphone commentary in the language of your choice.  We decided to have a go, handed over the 8.00 Euro fare each, and took our places inside the open sided vehicle.

As the train set off, we adjusted our headsets and selected English as our language.  It was a bit pointless, however, because the commentary blasted out of speakers in French, and practically drowned out the English.  We had to press the earpieces against our heads and listen hard, but I noticed some people had just given up.  We complained to the train driver who fiddled with the speakers, but it didn’t really make much difference.  We still managed to learn enough, however, to know what we were looking at as the train wended its way through the winding streets and eventually returned to the square.

We then took the time to visit the magnificent cathedral with its amazing architecture, statuary and fabulous stained-glass windows.  I found myself doing what I always do when visiting any cathedral; comparing it to our own famous 11th century edifice in Durham.  Needless to say, ours is always the best.  😊

Walking through the streets I took loads of photographs of the ancient buildings, some of which looked crooked and leaning. Old buildings rubbed shoulders with more modern ones and Rouen was obviously built long before town-planning came into force; nonetheless the effect was utterly charming.

What comes to mind whenever you think of Rouen?  Of course it has to be Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc), the 15th century French heroine who was convicted of heresy and burnt at the stake in 1431, and later canonised by the Catholic church.  We decided to have a walk around and see what we could learn about this historic figure.

We had already briefly glimpsed, from the little train, the monument marking the spot where Joan of Arc was executed, so we decided to walk back to it and also have a look around the nearby boat-shaped Church of St. Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc was an important figure in the Hundred Years’ War and is said to have been inspired by the voice of God to rid her native France of the English. From freeing fortresses to entire cities such as Paris and Reims, Joan of Arc played a vital role in the war. However, in 1430, Joan was captured and sold to the English.  A lot of the persecution against her stemmed from the fact that she had cut her hair and dressed in men’s clothing, so there were accusations of cross-dressing as well as all the other (largely concocted) accusations against her.

She was tried and convicted of heresy and sentenced to die by burning, and she was tied to the stake and the flames lit beneath her.  As the smoke rose, she screamed out to be allowed a crucifix to hold, and she died of smoke inhalation, mercifully before her body was consumed by the flames.  The English ordered that Joan of Arc be burnt three times to ensure she couldn’t escape, and they raked back the embers to expose her ashes, which were then cast into the Seine.  She was only 19 years old when she died.

In 1456, a court led by Pope Calixtus III posthumously reversed the conviction. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonised in 1920, and is one of France’s best-known heroines.

After visiting and photographing the monument we decided to visit the nearby church, which was a modern structure.  It was completed in 1979 in the centre of the ancient market square known as the Place du Vieux-Marché.  Inside, there were the most amazing, intricate and colourful stained-glass windows.  Despite the building only being 40 years old, it was intriguing and quite unique.  We bumped into Ron and Kath who were enjoying their visit to Rouen immensely.  They had been to the nearby fish and fresh produce market and that was where we decided to go to next.

The fish market was fantastic; stalls contained rows and rows of gleaming fresh fish, langoustines, lobsters, oysters, crabs and squid.  I love seafood and the appetising smell coming from the fresh fish was heavenly.  The British are such reticent eaters of fish; everywhere else in Europe the fish markets are huge and contain such a large variety of seafood, but the Brits don’t seem to enjoy fish as much as our continental neighbours.

After the fish market we bought some postcards and stamps to send home, so we decided to go and have a sit-down and a beer and write them out, so we went to find a nice little pavement bar-tabac.  We bought a nice big 500ml glass of cold beer each, wrote out the postcards and sat people-watching as we enjoyed our beer.  Afterwards we strolled through the streets, looking in the shop windows and stopping for an ice-cream on the way.  Of course, it would have to start raining again, and we met up with John and Linda and ran for cover in the shelter of a cathedral doorway.

When the rain eased off, we came out again and a French lady came up to us and asked “Est-ce qu’ily a quelqu’un ici qui parle Anglais?”  (Is there anyone here who speaks English?).  I answered her in French that we were indeed English, and she pointed out an old lady across the road who was lost and was soaked because she didn’t have a coat or umbrella.  “Elle est venue du navire croisière?” (Has she come from the cruise ship?) I asked the lady.  We crossed over the road to speak to the old lady and it transpired that she couldn’t find her way back to the shuttle bus stop.  Trevor directed her to where she would find the stop and, after telling John and Linda we would see them later, we decided to go to see the Joan of Arc Exhibition, which brought history to life by projecting scenes played by actors onto the walls of the building.  It sounded a good way to spend an hour and a half, so off we went, and paid 11,50 Euros each to go inside.

We were each given headsets and a recording which translated the scenes unfolding in 3D before us, and guided us from room to room throughout the medieval building.  Images and moving maps were projected onto the walls, vaults and pillars, and actors played the part of the main characters.  It brought the story to life, and you realised how Joan, known as “The Maid of Orléans” didn’t stand a chance in the male-dominated world.

When we came out of the museum it was nearly four o’clock, so we decided to go back for the shuttle bus as I needed to be back on board the Balmoral for 5.30pm for my hair appointment.  We walked around the streets in the general direction of where we thought the bus had dropped us off, but we soon realised we must have gone too far, because there was nothing we recognised.  As Bonnie Tyler once sang, we were “Lost in France”.  😊

By chance we met a couple of ladies from the ship who were also lost.  They had, however, made a note of the name of the square where the bus had dropped us off, so I made use of the Google Maps app on my phone to guide us back to the correct location.  Phew!  We spotted a group of people from the ship waiting for the bus, and shortly afterwards a shuttle bus arrived and disgorged its load of passengers.  As our group started to board the bus, however, the driver stopped them and told them he was going off duty, so we would have to wait for the next bus!

By now it was 4.40pm and I was starting worry that we wouldn’t be back on time for my hair appointment.  About 10 minutes later, however, another bus pulled up, and we all piled on.  We arrived back at the Balmoral just before five o’clock, giving me enough time to get washed and put some makeup on before going along to the salon.  As the French say, Tout est bien qui finit bien (All’s well that ends well).  😊

The guy in the salon washed my hair and put a deep conditioning mask on it, giving me a nice, relaxing scalp massage in the process.  Then he rinsed the mask off and blow-dried my hair, giving it lots of volume.  I certainly wouldn’t need to put a wig on tonight!

When I returned to our cabin Trevor had already gone to dinner, but it was only 6.20pm so I got changed in record time and hurried along to the restaurant only slightly late. Gill and Carl had only just arrived themselves and no-one had ordered their meal yet, so the timing was perfect.  What an interesting day we had had!

Once again we enjoyed a delicious four-course meal, washed down with rosé wine and finished off with Amaretto.  Gill and Carl agreed that the food was very good on the Balmoral, and each night Carl said he would only have a hot drink at the late-night buffet and nothing to eat, but he said that once he got there it was all so delicious that it was impossible to resist.  😊

We finished in good time tonight (the restaurant had a lot of empty tables as many people were still ashore) so we were able to get into the Neptune Lounge in good time to participate in the ballroom dancing.  As the magician Rick Green would be featuring again later on, Gill and Carl chose a seat a good few rows back, while Trevor and I took our usual front-row seat.

The dancing started and we got up and did a barn dance; Gill and Carl knew this one so they joined in.  Then Trevor and I did the cha cha cha and also the social foxtrot.  Then the deputy cruise director Chris said they would hold an elimination waltz and some spot prizes.  Everyone started to waltz around the room and the music stopped.  Chris then asked a question which was “What is the cocktail of the day?” and the first person to tap him on the shoulder and answer correctly could put their hand into a large Fred Olsen shopping bag and pull out a prize.  A lady got a Fred Olsen branded sun visor.  The dancing then recommenced and when it stopped the next question was “Who is the captain on the Balmoral?”  I was the first to answer correctly “Victor Stoica” so my prize in the lucky dip was an A5 Fred Olsen branded notebook.  And so it continued in a similar fashion until the last prize, which I also answered correctly.  Chris then said that the shopping bag was my prize, and handed it over!  😊

The elimination part of the dance now started.  Every time the music stopped Chris spun a bottle of cava on the dance floor and whichever couple it pointed to were eliminated.  Trevor and I were the second couple to go. Thus it continued until only one couple were left, and they won the bottle of cava.

Once the dancing finished it was then time for the main performance, and this time magician Rick Green did a great display of close-up magic, with incredible sleight of hand and entertaining patter.  It was a good show.

Then it was the usual – the quiz in the Observatory (nope, we didn’t win!) and then down to the Lido Lounge to listen to the resident band and enjoy a few drinks and bit crack.  By now we’d been joined by Ron and Kath as well as John and Linda and Gill and Carl.  Because the first karaoke had attracted a lot of singers they were holding another one at 11.15pm, and we spotted some of the previous singers arriving, including the boy wonder Alex.

I put my name down to do Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U and Carl, at my suggestion, opted for Elvis’s Love Me Tender.  The other singers were called to the microphone and then it was my turn.  Kath videoed me on her phone the whole time, and then sent it to me by WhatsApp, it was quite interesting to see how I looked and sounded as other people see me.

Once again the overall standard of the singers was quite high, and Carl did very well with Love Me Tender, particularly as he hadn’t done it before.  But it was the boy, Alex, who brought the house down with his rendition of Don’t Stop Me Now, by Queen, even lifting the microphone stand the way Freddie Mercury used to do!

Just before the karaoke ended Gill and Carl disappeared for the late-night buffet, so they missed me singing Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good.

Afterwards John, Linda, Ron, Kath and Trevor and I stayed talking, laughing and drinking in the Lido Lounge as the hours winged by and the Lido Lounge slowly emptied out. Eventually there was only one other couple left apart from us, and one of the bar staff said they were closing the bar and would we like one more drink.  We all did so, and once we’d finished we said our goodnights and made our way back through the silent empty corridors of the Balmoral to cabin 6009.  When we arrived, I looked at my phone and was astonished to see it said 02:50am.  I was sure the time zone must have inadvertently reset itself; surely it couldn’t be nearly three o’clock in the morning!  But indeed it was, and by the time we got undressed, washed and into our PJs it was after 3.00am.  How the time flies when you’re having fun in great company!  😊

We had another day in Rouen to look forward to tomorrow, and we were (unsurprisingly!) asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillow.

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