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June 4th 2013
Published: June 23rd 2013
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I bought train tickets to Rouen for us in advance, but Luda was unable to accompany me because of sickness, and it was such a happy coincidence, as we'll shortly see. This time Luda made for me some sandwiches, which we found to be an excellent way of sustenance, tasty, cheap, and fast. The train was due to depart at 10.40 or so, but when I came to Gare St. Lazare and observed the information display, a feeling crept all over me that something went wrong, because there were captions “retard indefinit” – we can translate the second word, and deduce the meaning of the first one, ‘delayed indefinitely’: meaning that train would not depart for an unknown amount of time, maybe an hour, maybe two, maybe three…

There were public address notifications delivered in French of a certain trouble which occurred in the morning, forcing the delay and even cancellation of trains. My train did not depart as scheduled; I went to the information desk pro forma, confirming the indefinite delay of train. As I gathered, some fool committed suicide somewhere, or an accident occurred, that's why traffic was interrupted. However, on June 11th or 12th, staying in Chamonix, we saw the news that SNCF (French rail carrier) went on strike, reducing the number of trains by more than a half, so my case was a lucky one, because after only two hours of waiting I finally boarded the train and arrived in Rouen, curses trembling on my lips because the ticket was not exchangeable. I had only an hour of spare time, but naturally decided to take a later return train, though the boarding of a different train was a violation of the rules.

My express expedition was limited to two hours. I grasped a guide from a stand and began sightseeing: first, I saw the Tour Jeanne d’Arc, where she was brought in 1431 to be threatened with torture, and was amazed at the city's architecture: there were everywhere beautiful little multi-coloured houses, a prominent ornament whereon was the X-and I-shaped pattern of painting. I then came out to a large square, featuring Hotel de Ville, a horseman statue, and the Church of Saint Ouen (12th–15th cc.), which I mistook for the Rouen Cathedral. I entered inside it for a minute, breathed the stale humid air, and escaped outside in the small green Jardin de l’Hotel de Ville with trees, a fountain at the background of Hotel de Ville’s rear, and people relaxing on the grass plots. The atmosphere of the city was different from Paris, and in several parts there were not many people. I followed the path described in the guide, thus managing to squeeze everything in two hours. I saw Eglise St. Vivien, Eglise St. Maclou, but the most spectacular sight were the aforesaid half-timbered houses analogues whereof I have never seen. Some of them are as old as the 14th century, 200 were restored since World War II bombings. They are buildings with wood framing filled in by masonry: much stone was available to builders, but the surrounding forests provided abundant amounts of oak.

Then I saw the Rouen Cathedral, paying little notice to it as some restoration works were underway, marring its view. The Impressionist painter Claude Monet produced many paintings of the building. Proceeding along rue du Gros Horloge, I came to the Gros Horloge (the Big Clock), then ruins of Eglise St-Vincent (I adore ruins), Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Temple St-Eloi, and, finally, the very singular contemporary Eglise Ste-Jeanne-d'Arc on the Place du Vieux Marché (Old Market, the site of Joan of Arc's pyre). Its form represents an upturned viking boat and fish shape. Not far from it was the Palais de Justice, once the seat of the French court of law of Normandy.

I hurried to the train station to board the train just five minutes before departure. The ticket inspector came, looked at my ticket and asked why I took the ‘improper’ train. I explained that there was a delay. It would be impossible to see Rouen in an hour. He simply warned me and let the thing pass unnoticed. Nevertheless, more trouble was looming ahead: in Mantes La Jolie, so close to Paris, all the passengers were asked to leave the train and change to another, because traffic was interrupted…

It completely ruined my spirits, because that route was roundabout, instead of arriving home at 5 I arrived at 8pm!

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