Before the school year 2012 ended, my only son represented his high school on a National swimming competition and became the overall champion in swimming junior division. As a proud father, I rewarded his tireless effort with a two week trip to Normandy, France that summer. My wife and I immediately have his passport and travel documents prepared ahead and along with his requested iPod we also surprised him on his birthday with a plane ticket to France. It turned out to be the best family vacation ever as we toured a country that has great historical importance and beautiful landscapes. It is also famous for its fine wine and food, which are the best in the world.
First on our itinerary is touring the Haute Normandy Region. A good way to start our tour of this idyllic region is a visit to the town of Rouen. We did not miss seeing the grandeur of the façade with two towers at Cathedrale de Notre-Dame de Rouen. Outside it looks stunning, while inside there are interesting colorful mosaics to admire. It is a splendid example of Gothic architecture. The cathedral is one of the most important French Gothic churches and is a short walk from where Joan of Arc was burnt. It was photographed several times by the great impressionist painter Claude Monet. It is wide, decorated with beautiful stained glass windows, good acoustics and a wonderful organ.
Obviously, going to Rouen and not seeing the Rue du Gros-Horloge is like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower! It is a beautiful, busy, shopping street that is always packed with people whatever time of the day. The pedestrian street remains of interest due to its large clock and belfry. It is situated between the huge cathedral and the Church of St.Joan of Arc an unusual church where the roof looks like an overturned hull of the boat and the side windows appear like the shape of a fish. In one word, fascinating!
Just across the nearby cathedral marvelously stands the Musee des Beaux- Arts de Rouen. This museum holds a large and varied collection of 19th century paintings. In addition, the place is very nice and rarely crowded. There are many impressionists’ works from the likes of Caravaggio, Rubens, Ingres and Flemish painters. A whole room is dedicated to Gericault alone. The curator did a great job of presenting a very nice lay out of the rooms and the nice lighting exposure. It is very interesting and educational. The museum provides enthusiastic guides who enhanced our visit with their welcome explanations on every question we asked them. A two hour visit made us enjoy the works of the great masters.
The Old Market Square or the Place du Vieux-Marche is a good place to discover during our visit to Rouen. It is a pleasant square lined with café terrace and good restaurants specializing in Normandy gastronomy and a sympathetic flower market. The market sells first class fish, meat, vegetables, cheese, and wine and freshly baked French breads. Afterwards we head off to understand human suffering with a visit to the historical Aitre St-Maclou. The place was first used for mass graves of plague epidemics in the Middle Ages. Today this building houses the School of Fine Arts in the city.
We were delighted with more interesting attractions at the region of Basse Normandie specifically in the city of Calvados. The Memorial of Caen is the best possible introduction to the regions colorful history. It is built on the land on which the German command center was located during World War 2. The audio guided tour is suitable for family and kids. The video presentation about the Battle of Britain and Normandy landings imparts an essential lesson about the causes that led to war and how it developed. We concluded our visit with a pleasant walk in the garden beside this memorial thinking and talking about the magnificent experience we had inside.
Facing this educational memorial is a beautiful park named the La Colline Aux Oiseaux. The lovely park has an extraordinary rose garden; mini golf, some farm animals, playground and maze for children, a pool in the center below, a turtle pond, an aviary of pigeons, and a pleasant place to spend an afternoon enjoy the picnic with the family. We got further educated about Normandy history at the Normandy Museum. We saw old coins, tools, artifacts and old clothes that came from every different period. History of the region is proudly displayed from archaeological excavations until today. The museum is very well organized, easy to navigate and understand.
My family was so much amused at the intriguing church impressions we found at the Honfleur region. It started with the greater appreciation of the beautiful chapel that is located in a plateau called the Notre Dame de Grace. We find time to meditate as a family and light candles to ask for healing and help. It was so nice to visit and feel the wonderful energy that seems to emanate from this place of worship. The plates or models of boats that hang from the ceiling remind that Honfleur is a city of sailors and they have often thanked the Virgin to return safely from fishing.
From here we head next to the Saint Catherine’s Church. The colossal wooden church has a separate bell tower on the main building. Its two naves are shaped like a reserved hull. The organ and chandeliers complement the interior of one of the most collected and impressive churches we have ever seen in Normandy. We also visited the Honfleur Harbor along the old town. Its architecture is preserved, well maintained holiday atmosphere with nice little restaurants overlooking the sea as we dined. We enjoyed a pancake in the company of birds and a very relaxing time. On our way out we passed by the cable-stayed bridge of Le Pont de Normandie. It has stunning views of the region and the whole estuary. Absolutely worth a visit!
The interesting town of Le Havre left a very good impression when we visited. At the Musee des Beaux Arts Andre Malraux we saw a blend of flavors, panoramic views, different lights, great collections in perpetual evolution and a pleasant atmosphere. It has successfully blended a restaurant and a museum at once. In addition to its permanent collection of impressionist painter’s artworks, it offers a modern retrospective art exhibition of new and uprising contemporary painters. Then we checked out the beautiful church called the Eglise St-Joseph. From the outside the masterpiece of the revolutionary architect Auguste Perret looked austere and uninviting. Inside we were completely amazed by the huge and yet airy volumes of rare quality that is very rarely found among other churches on this region. A set of pillars in the four corners of the tower offers an almost industrial aesthetic of great beauty and incredible strength that dissolves in the dizzying heights of the tower. The stained glass window filters the light and gives the volumes unexpected grace. We truly enjoyed the play of light and the elevation of the tower. The historical panels made us understand the drama of the city from 1940 up to 1944. We finished our tour of Normandy with a visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the chapels’ bottom part.
The city succeeded in showing off its beauty in every attraction we visited and did not fail in leaving a good impression at the same time. The history, the paintings, old and modern churches, the magical splendor of each fantastic region made our family summer holiday in Normandy worthwhile and memorable.