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Couchsurfing and Exploring Normandy France

Rouen

After over a week in Paris and our driving tour through France we were ready to explore a different region.

Normandy seemed perfect. Easy to get to from Paris and with a slew of different picturesque towns and villages to explore and some vital World War II history spots.

Rouen

So we bid adieu to Paris and headed to Rouen. Upon arrival we noticed something fishy in the air. A sense of excitement and crowds beyond crowds. What was going on?

Luckily our couchsurfers, Alex and Kristel, clued us in to the fact that we had happened to plan our Rouen trip right when the Armada festival was in town. The once in four years boating festival that is. Pretty good timing on our part.

rouen armada

We started our tour of the city in the old town, eavesdropping on a British tour group, to get the scoop on why Joan of Arc was burned at the stake here back in 1431, before wandering off on our own to admire the amazing architecture of the wooden panels smack dab in the middle of the houses.

where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake

where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake

Dave labelled this look sloppy childish but I quite liked it.

Rouen

We tried to do a tour of the Armada area but swarms beyond swarms of fellow tourists cut our tour short.

armada-boat

For dinner our hosts prepared a traditional Normandy dish, tender chicken in a sour cream based sauce. Lip smacking good.

Made even better, when followed up by a cheese plate, as seems to be the mandatory way to end a meal in France. To finish off our tour in Rouen we went to a cabaret show with our hosts.

Cabaret

The show started with a girl parading herself as a boy slowly stripping off all her clothes and showing off her acrobatic skills on a pole. I think the effect would have been the same without her wobbly butt cheeks for all to see, but as Kristel appropriately noted, it wouldn’t be a cabaret show if it wasn’t a bit “cheeky”  Well said.

Our favorite part though was the hand puppet man – the things he could act out with just his hands was truly astonishing and a welcome change from the almost naked acrobatics act.

Le Havre

Le Havre

Le Havre is a small port city that has always been the harbor for French good traveling down the Seine to Paris.  The city was virtually destroyed during the Battle of Normandy in World War II mainly by allied (British) forces. Though the architecture is not quite as charming as it is in other French towns, it is instead an example of optimistic post-war planning. You’ll see practical structures, concrete buildings, and the like.

So yes, there might not be too many star attractions in town, but it’s a perfect base for trips to other areas. A great museum to visit is the Malraux Museum, which contains the largest collection of impressionist art in France, outside of Paris. We skipped the Musée d’Orsay in Paris but luckily got our fill of impressionist art here.

le-havre-impressionist-art-museum

And then being just as entertained by a group of teenage skateboarders and rollerbladers.

We couchsurfed twice, always good to get a feel for a place through multiple eyes, and luckily both apartments were located in the same area of town – by the train station – the dodgy area where the flats come cheap.

On our first night Eduard, a student studying naval engineering took us out to the town of Etretat and then to a beach side bar, said to be his favorite. The second night our host Jeriam, a bartender with a fluffy cat named le chat (translated to ‘cat’ in English) took us to the same bar, also claiming it as his favorite.

Though there might be a shortage of good bars in town, there are at least 2 friendly and hospitable couchsurfers.

Etretat

Etretat

Just a short drive from Le Havre, Etretat is truly breathtaking. A walk through the town takes you to the sea where the view opens up in front of you to the towering cliffs on both sides. A short hike up provides an ever better angle.

Etretat

 

Etretat

I couldn’t stop snapping photos in every direction. The cliffs reminded me of New Zealand and the Cathedral Cove area which I visited back in 2009. In my mind I instantly pictured little hobbits frolicking about the mossy green trails and Lord of the Rings scenes being shot.

Etretat

Etretat

I highly highly recommend coming here. We were lucky enough to have Eduard drive us here and be our guide, but there are daily buses from Le Havre.

Etretat

 

Etretat

 

Honfleur

Honfleur

Another perfect day trip out of Le Havre is to the port side town of Honfleur. As you hop off the bus and walk into town you’ll notice the beautiful 17th century harbor lined with restaurants and cafes on all sides.

Honfleur

There are several museums in town but the best way to spend an afternoon is simply to wander around and enjoy the regional specialties – cider and cheese. You don’t even need to slow down, as you can sip your cider as you walk around. Ah the joys of drinking in public in Europe.

cider

We had a great few days couchsurfing and exploring Rouen, Le Havre, Etretat and Honfleur. If you’re looking to do something a bit off the regular France tourist trail head up to Normandy and explore some of the smaller towns. For us, couchsurfing was a great way to meet some locals and learn more about the French culture and traditions.

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6 Responses to Couchsurfing and Exploring Normandy France

  1. Awesome story! I’m so happy you guys had a great time, your hosts sounds perfect.

    Happy surfing!

    Marian @ Couchsurfing August 22, 2013 at 6:05 PM Reply
  2. How amazing! Honestly, I’m just jealous. Kids have just gone back to school this week, so no more travel for us for a while.
    Thank you so much for sharing, and for all the effort you put into this.

    Jon Patrick August 23, 2013 at 10:41 AM Reply
    • Glad you enjoyed reading! Where are you heading next?

      Vicky September 2, 2013 at 6:17 PM Reply
  3. Thanks for the amazing post!!! The snaps are really awesome. I too had a visit to Normandy and i was really surprised hearing about sacrifice of the soldiers. Thanks for the post…

    Cathleen Thomas October 26, 2013 at 6:13 AM Reply

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