The Impressionists, Monet and Giverny


Last weekend, just before ‘husband à l’etranger’ set off again for Nigeria, we walked into town to try to pick up a fridge magnet for one of his colleagues. Slightly bizarre, you may think, but actually, his colleague bought a fridge magnet for every place he’d visited with his wife when on motorbike – only in Rouen he’d failed to get hold of one. I knew that the Musée de Beaux Arts had some really lovely ones of Impressionist views of Rouen and so it seemed a good opportunity for a sunday morning walk.

The only problem was that this particular sunday, Rouen seemed to be a little more difficult to get around than usual. There was security fencing on all the vital corners that we wanted to pass by, and police presence was heavy, especially near the art gallery. Eventually, we took a seat at a café in the sunshine, and watched the activity around us. It wasn’t long before a couple of limos passed by withdarkened glass and motorbike  outriders. François Hollande, the president was in town.

This summer Rouen celebrates it’s strong link with the Impressionists with the  ‘Festival Normandie Impressioniste’, This is the second time this event has taken place, the first being in 2010. Hollande had come for the official opening of the Exhibition. Most people probably recognise the famous series of 33 paintings of Rouen cathedral by Monet, but what many don’t know is that the art collector and patron of many of the struggling impressionists, François Depeaux had at one time in his collection 600 of their works of art, including at least one of the cethedral series. A messy divorce forced him to try to offload the paintings, and in 1903 he offered them all to the Musée de Beaux Arts at Rouen. The board of governors at the musée refused them all thanks to their ‘avant guard’ status, and by the time they finally changed their mind in 1909, the collection had dwindled to a mere 60. Nevertheless the Musée has a superb Impressionist wing, and to celebrate the Impressionist Festival, is exhibiting another 100 from private collections from around the world. The theme this year is Eblouissant Reflets (dazzling refelctions) celebrating the Impressionists love of painting the movement and reflective quality of the water – particularly on the Seine and the Normandy coast. The exhibition runs from now until 29th September, along with several other large exhibitions in Normandy, and the wonderful Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show on the cathedral facade after dusk.

Whilst we were sitting in the café, we picked up the local paper and were amused to see that ‘les effectifs des guides conferenciers ont été augmentés. Ils passent de 42 à 47 pour prendre en charge le flot de touristes.’ (The numbers of Conference Guides have been augmented from 42 to 47 to take charge of the flow of tourists) I, and my new colleagues had made it into the news! Rouen by all accounts was set to be busy this summer!

In the week preceeding ‘husband à l’etranger’s return, with a mere week left until my final exam for Guide, the arrival of a close friend from England allowed me to suggest a last bit of Impressionist revision. A visit to the home of Monet at Giverny, only 30 minutes by train from Rouen. Arrivals at the station at Vernon, the nearest station to Giverny have the choice of shuttle-bus or taxi to run the final 5 kilometers. Luckily my friend and I think alike, and although an overcast day, delighted in the idea of a bike ride from the station along a disused railway track to the home of Monet. (Bikes can be hired from the café next to the station). The sun blazed as we headed out along the Seine valley and on arrival we avoided queues for entry thanks to pre-booked online tickets.

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The unseasonably long winter had kept in check the spring flowers, but it was still pretty, and the house was lovely, mostly for its modest and familial proportions. Monet was passionate about his garden, and though I am not a great lover of crowds, I must admit that I really want to go back to see it in its summer prime.

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Just as we left the Japanese garden, the first drops of rain began to fall, and by the time we had hopped back onto our bikes in search of our favorite of the  handful of cafés, the heavens opened, and we flopped into the seats at our table bedraggled. My friend wasted no time in ‘selling’ my guiding ‘talents’ to a neighbouring American couple!

Giverny 022

We were charmed by our hilarious waiter who offered us Psssscht (pronounced sheet)(an alternative lemonade to 7up) to quench our thirst. When we could barely contain our laughter, he looked a little concerned, and asked what he’d said.

When we explained that it sounded a little rude, he mumbled

‘merde’,

to which we replied

‘exactly’, and promptly fell about again!

We countered the continuing rain to visit the other art gallery, the Musée des Impressionists in Giverny, and visited the exhibition of  Signac, before climbing back onto our bikes, and back into warm sunshine for our return journey home.

But for now on the agenda, is my own visit to the Musée de Beaux Arts to see the visiting works of Art in the ‘Eblouissant Reflets’ exhibition, before I start presenting, amongst other things, the permanent Impressionist gallery to the summer visitors.

The Son et Lumiere at the cathedral is worth every minute of the late-ish night required, the scaffolding for the restoration of the cathedral facade being removed just in time to allow the Impressionist images to be projected onto it. Perhaps i’ll see you there?

Sunday Breakfast in Rouen.


When I heard someone say that on a recent visit to Rouen one sunday morning, they had finally found sustanance in the local Macdonalds, I nearly sat down and wept!

Had they only known to turn left out of their hotel door and not to the right, they would have found ‘le monde’ in all its colour and vivacity, the air full of aromas and scents and the hubub of the masses going about their business at the big sunday market at Place St Marc.

I stopped a few people to ask where would be the best place for ‘petit dejeuner’, and they looked about smiling at the surrounding crowds- well you do what the French do of course.

Firstly:

…park your bike and find a seat in a local cafe, if indeed a seat can be found!

…have a strong coffee and muse over the ‘marché’ on the other side of the street. Many cafés are right next door to a patisserie, and most will provide a croissant or two when asked!

Then get down to business: the real french business of ‘petit dejeuner’ – which of course literally translates as ‘little lunch’…

A fresh crèpe would be a lovely start – nutella, citron sucré, confiture…

…then there are little morceaux of home made ‘Pain d’Epîces’, a local honey producer’s spicy honey cake to try.. and maybe a pot of honey to take home…

a few strawberries would be nice..

..or an apple or two. But being Normandy, with over 13 varieties of apples on display it becomes a difficult choice. More than likely, I will be sweet-talked by the producer, and will wander away with several bottles of  locally produced cider!

..before I know it I am sampling the cheese..

The cured salami and olives are delicious..

…and I am impressed by the queue for locally grown cress and mushrooms. It must be good!

There is Neufchatel cheese, formed in the shape of hearts and traditionally given to the allied soldiers by the Normandy dairymaids. Little morsels are on the counter to sample!

… perhaps a spicy paella?

Appetite appeased, it’s time to wander through the brocante at the far side of the market..

I can’t resist the flowers

But wait – If a strong cup of coffee and sampling all the produce at the market don’t constitute a fully satisfying breakfast, why not try either of these…

Appreciate the  interior of this great café, dedicated to discussion and the meeting of ‘minds’. One might expect to meet the great thinkers of the ‘Belle Epoque’. Open every sunday morning from 10-2, the owner serves food on weekdays, but is open to clients selecting their vienoisserie from the Boulangerie next door to enjoy with their coffee on a sunday morning.

..or if a formal breakfast is in mind – Try the Couleur Café on rue Eau de Robec where for 5€ an immense ‘petit dejeuner’ can be ordered with the most incredible selection of teas and coffees and vienoisserie.

Now there’s just time to drop the flowers, cider and ‘finds’ from the brocante off at the hotel before going to visit the…

Musée de Beaux Arts

…or the Musée de Ceramiques,

both open for free the first sunday of every month.

or perhaps the Jardin de Plantes,

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for a game of petanque,

or perhaps just a stroll along the Seine before dinner.

Bon Apetite!

A trip about Rouen – in English.


Last month I took you all on a tour of Rouen gare, to show you my own neighbourhood. Today I’m heading into the ‘Centre Ville’ to shop you what a fantastic city Rouen is.

This tour starts at the ‘Gare’ or central station, only five minutes walk from the hyper centre.

The first notable point of interest is the Tour Jean d’Arc less than a minute into our walk, the tower (of which there were several) made part of the Chateau of Rouen in 1204.

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 This tower, or Le Donjon as it is often referred to, is said to have been the place of imprisonmant of Joan of Arc. In reality she was actually imprisoned in one of the other slightly smaller towers, now not in existance, but of the same chateau. For a small fee it is possible to visit the interior.

Jean of Arc features strongly in Rouen with squares, and roads named after her. But before we head to the Eglise Jean D’Arc, pause and admire the intricate stonework of the Palais de Justice, before giving a few moments thought, provoked by the many signs of artillary damage, to the effects of the war on this vibrant city and its historic buildings and its people.

The Vieux marché is another site profoundly affected by the war. Stop and take in the ruins of the old Eglise St Vincent in the centre of the square.

Admire the oldest auberge in France decked in flags and geraniums, before visiting the new Eglise St Jean D’Arc which spans the square.

 The Vieux marché houses its own small market of meat, fish, vegetables and regional produce under the shadow of the Eglise St Jean d’Arc. This recent church, which was built in 1979 houses the amazing stained glass safely removed  from the existing  Eglise St Vincent formerly on the same site, and which was stored before the the church was completely destroyed by a direct bomb blast in the second world war.

A short amble through the cobbled streets takes us past excellent shops and boutiques to the Gros Horloge, a small tower with its one-armed clock which is open to visitors.

the-gros-horloge-

The  Rue du Gros Horloge ends at the cathedral  square where the Cathedrale de  Notre Dame de Rouen dominates, and the first stones of which were laid in the middle ages. It is considered a legacy of the gothic style. Monet obsessed over this edifice and painted it no less than 30 times in a six year period. To celebrate his genius, the city projects each of his wonderful renderings of the cathedral onto its facade from 10pm every summer evening. An event worth watching!

Image illustrative de l'article Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen

Another short stroll takes us to the river Seine which passes through the centre of the city. During the “summer of impressionists” the Pont Boieldieu hosted it’s wonderful sculpture by artist Arne Quinze.

 Every five years the city hosts the Armada, the next being in 2013 when the Pont Flaubert, the highest lift bridge in the World, raises the road to allow the Tall Ships to moor on the Quayside in the city centre.

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But for now we must stop wistfully thinking about the events of the summer and return to our tour, where we move on to the Rouen historic quarter.

marrou cafe

I suggest a stop at this wonderful Salon de Thé, just in the Rue de la Cathedrale, on the north  wall of the cathedral for a cake or two!

rue damiette

And now refreshed, let’s visit the antiques quarter with its quirky and lopsided colombage architecture.aitre st maclouTrapped behind a glass screen in the walls of the courtyard of the Ecole de Beaux Arts is a mumified cat.  Take a minute to absorbe the quirky angles and leaning aspect of the buildings that surround it; look at the fabulous french antiques in the surrounding boutiques; and visit Les Halles, the large market just a stones throw from Eglise St Maclou.

cafe

Then refresh with a glass of Kir at the Cafe les Espiguettes in its cobbled square. There is time still to take in a few more boutiques as we head back through the main shopping thoroughfare and on to the Musee de Beaux Arts. This majestic building dominates the small Square Verdrel with its pond, trees and grassy lawn. Take time to enjoy the museum’s temporary collection, which changes month by month, or enjoy one of their mid-day lecture series and mini tours (in French). The museum holds many works that the Louvre has no room for, including some delights by Monet and manyof the  other Impressionists.

But now my feet are tired and its time to head home. Lucky then that I can already see the copper clad tower of the station building a few hundred metres further up the hill!

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