As we have noted in our Trip Album page, we’ve enjoyed Viking’s Heart of Normandy cruise twice; once in 2012, and again a second time in 2015 along with Tracey’s mother and her sister so that they could also visit a family member’s grave at the American Cemetery in Normandy.
This cruise is not that long, especially when you compare it with Viking’s Rhine or Danube itineraries. The ship’s farthest destination is Rouen, which is less than 80 miles away from Paris as the crow flies. Of course, the Seine travels more like a snake than a crow, so there is more cruising than that distance would suggest. Plus, you double back to return to Paris at the end of the cruise, stopping in different locations in each direction.
Our 2012 trip was on the Viking Pride, an older ship that Viking no longer sails, but that was small enough that it could dock in Paris. In 2015, we traveled on the Viking Rinda, one of the first longships to sail on the Seine but that started out in Le Pecq, a few miles outside Paris. (In 2020 Viking is set to launch a new, slightly smaller version of their longships known as Seine Ships that can dock in Paris once again.) When we sailed into Rouen on the Rinda in 2015, we were surprised to see our old ship tied up there:
Later on, the two ships shuffled around and were docked side by side (also known as “nesting”). You can tell from this picture that the Rinda is a bit longer.
On this cruise, the ship spends two days and two nights in Rouen. The second day features a trip to the Normandy beaches and the American Cemetery, while Viking has a guided walking tour of Rouen on the first day.
One of the stops on the walking tour was a medieval ossuary or charnel house, where the remains of victims of the Black Death were placed when the death toll grew so high that burial room in the cemeteries was exhausted. Now a Regional Fine Arts School, the structure surrounds a courtyard:
Carvings on the outside of the building reflect the macabre nature of its medieval role:
Note: You can click on any of the pictures in this post for an enlarged view.
The cemetery that the charnel house replaced was associated with a nearby church, Saint-Maclou. This church, along with portions of the Rouen Cathedral, was built in what’s known as the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture for its flame-like decoration. See for yourself:
As the capital of Normandy, you could expect that Rouen has its share of the typically Norman half-timbered house as part of its inventory of buildings. Here are some examples below. Note that the last photograph below with the yellow and white half-timber house is straight; it’s the house that’s leaning over a bit in its old age:
Perhaps the most famous site in Rouen is its cathedral, whose façade is the subject of many Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet, who painted it over and over in the changing light. The cathedral is pictured at the top of this posting at night, and here it is at mid-day:
Here are a series of exterior and interior pictures of the cathedral, including some of the stained glass windows:
Looming over the main shopping street that leads to the cathedral is Le Gros-Horloge. This large astronomical clock from the 14th century not only shows the hour, it also displays the phases of the moon with pictures that symbolize each day of the week.
More recently built at the center and marketplace square of Rouen is the Jean D’Arc Church, a mix of new and old. The modernistic profile and the ribbed interior ceiling suggest the shape of a ship sailed by Vikings, who used to raid Normandy. The shape is also meant to suggest the flames that burned the French saint for which the church is named; the site of her demise at the stake is marked next to the church. The stained glass windows came from a nearby church that was destroyed by bombing during WWII; the windows had been removed and relocated for safety during the war.
On the marketplace square stands La Couronne restaurant, made famous (to Americans, anyway) as the site of Julia Child’s first meal in France. It wasn’t our first meal in France, but it was certainly one of our best.
After a leisurely dinner at La Couronne, we strolled through the streets of Rouen, enjoying the evening along with many locals as we made our way back to our ship: