When my friend Maura Talozzi (from Sienne, Italy!) asked me to go with her to Rouen, France, I knew I had a really great opportunity on my hands. If I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, I’d regret it. Boy, was I right!

We left Caen via one of the smooth, comfortable regional trains and headed toward the stunningly pretty capital of Haute-Normandie (High Normandy). The city is about 80 miles north of Paris and just like the larger city, Rouen flanks the Seine River. It was founded by the Romans shortly before the time of Christ (58 BC) and was the second permanent city to be founded in France after Paris. Rouen was hit very hard by the Hundred Years War, mainly because of its location between England and Paris. The beautiful, white hills that surround Rouen and loom over the Seine are mined for the mineral qualities used in the famous ceramic wares that come from Haute-Normandie. Unlike Caen, Rouen was mostly spared during the bombardment of World War II. For that reason, the unique and gorgeous Norman half-timbered houses are largely untouched and look like they may have 300 years ago.

Mes tres belles amies (Maura et Molly) pendant une pause dans un parc (My pretty friends (Maura and Molly) during a break in the park)

Even though the city has a multitude of enjoyment to offer, people usually associate the city with two things: the magnificent Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen and Sainte Jeanne-d’Arc.

La Cathédral Notre-Dame de Rouen is the “crowning glory” of Rouen. The cathédral’s enormous cast-iron Lantern Spire rises above the city 495 feet, the tallest tower in France. The Lantern Tower was begun in the 13th century and raised in the 16th century. Construction on the cathédral itself was begun in 1150 and took on its final appearance in the 15th century. La Cathédral Notre-Dame was badly damaged during World War II and has been under constant reconstruction for 50 years and will most likely continue for another 25 years. The cathedral itself was the subject for a series of impressionist paintings by Claude Monet in the early 1900s. Monet was interested in how sunlight effected the pictorial capturing of a constant subject. It is estimated that if you were to buy only ONE of paintings by Monet, it would sell for approximately $45,000,000.

Beautiful Cathedral Notre-Dame de Rouen

Sun streaming into Cathedral Saint-Ouen, another exquisite cathedral in Rouen

One of Monet's paintings of the Rouen Cathedral worth about $45 million.

In the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen (Museum of Fine Art of Rouen), I was thrilled to actually see one of the incredible impressionistic pieces of the cathédral by Monet along with other invaluable pieces of art by the likes of Clouet, de Boullogne, Vouet and Jouvenet. The musée holds an incredible collection of irreplaceable art, hideous art and we even found startlingly realistic art in the form of a living statue. The living statue was cloaked in a white sheet, and her face was painted white. She did not move. Not even a flutter of an eyelash was delectable! Only after regarding her for several seconds did I realize she was a living, breathing human being. I marveled.

We toured the one remaining tower of the ancient castle built by Philippe Auguste in the 13th century and the place where Jeanne-d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was subjected to torture and imprisonment before her hideous fate on May 30, 1431. Jeanne-d’Arc was canonized in 1920 and is the Patron Saint of France. Throughout Rouen, there are many tributes to the saint: a cross in the Vieux-Marche (Old Market) where she was burned at the stake and Eglise Ste-Jeanne-d’Arc (Church of Joan of Arc) completed in 1979 are only two of many.

Vieux-Marche (Old Market) and I believe what is supposed to look like Jeanne-d'Arc's helmet

We spoke in French the entire day, falling into yet another culture “melange” that has become very comfortable yet at the same time remains painfully exhausting. As we rolled back into Caen after such a full and wonderful day, I thought that the world had shrunk a little bit more with the acquisition of my Italian friend Maura while we spoke in French about things of the world.

Beautiful half-timbered houses you do not commonly find in Caen because of the bombardment from World War II

If you’d like to learn more about Rouen or see what the newer parts of the city look like, click here.

To learn more extensively about La Cathédral Notre-Dame, click here.