Fifth Stop – Rouen

Rouen on the Seine (image – Wikimedia Commons)

Our brief visit to Beauvais and Cathédrale Saint-Pierre was a happy detour on our way to Rouen, the capital of Normandy. After Paris, Rouen is the third largest city in France and sits on the same river as Paris, the Seine. Its location near the English Channel makes it a prosperous port city and a major hub for trade and commerce.

When planning our cathedral pilgrimage, I first thought about staying in Chartres. I decided against that after I read that many of the city’s businesses are closed in the winter and about the possible lack of high-speed internet. Still thinking we would stay in one place on our trip, I turned my attention to Rouen due to its size, historical significance, and the fact that it is home to several Gothic churches, including a cathedral. Even after choosing to make our trip a multi-city adventure, we knew we would have to spend an extended time in Rouen.

Rouen is where Joan of Arc was imprisoned and martyred. But today, it celebrates her life through museums, monuments, exhibitions, festivals, street names, and works of art (and several businesses and restaurants bear her name).

The pyre marker of Joan of Arc (Le Bûcher de Jeanne d’Arc).

Mapping out our pilgrimage route, I included the stop in Beauvais right before arriving in Rouen so we could see the Cathedral from where Joan’s nemesis Bishop Cauchon hailed. Driving from Beauvais to Rouen is a relatively straight hour-and-a-half drive on a two-lane road winding through rolling hills, picturesque farms, and charming villages. We stopped at an Aldi near Rouen, where we could stock up for our stay before checking in to our Airbnb. We shopped for groceries while trying to avoid exposing our pathetic grasp of the language. We were successful and resumed our trek toward the old medieval section of the city.

Our apartment was located in the heart of the historic center in a medieval building. I wasn’t fully prepared for the traffic we encountered to get there; it wasn’t even the tourist season. Driving in the historic center is like driving in New York City but with medieval streets. I was grateful for the Peugeot’s camera and warning system. Rouen was the first real metropolis we visited. The parking garage for the apartment was like all inner city parking in Europe – tight, but I was glad to leave the car safely tucked away and navigate this beautiful city on foot.

Our medieval apartment in Rouen.

After meeting our landlord and hauling our luggage and groceries into our place, we were eager to visit the three Flamboyant Gothic churches, the free art museum just around the corner, and the Old Market Square, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. But we had a week and a half ahead of us, so we settled in and prepared to see some fantastic sites.

Rouen Cathedral – Flamboyant Gothic style.
Rouen’s Gros-Horloge – a 14th century astronomical clock.
Gargoyles on the Royal Palace (1509-1540) – Flamboyant decor.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage