- Travel Topics
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.
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.
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.
Dave labelled this look sloppy childish but I quite liked it.
We tried to do a tour of the Armada area but swarms beyond swarms of fellow tourists cut our tour short.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.