I find train journeys very captivating and enthralling. Train stations to me are like a magical portal , a doorway to a land of wonders, beginning of an amazing adventure. They are very dear to me and have a nostalgic connection,having travelled extensively on trains during childhood years, while growing up in India. I am also a huge fan of book, ‘The Railway Children’. Rail and railway stations have been an integral part of my life. Such is my fascination for trains and train stations, that I had breakfast in Kings Cross station this year as a birthday treat. Any opportunity of travelling by train, I hardly ever would miss. We have been planning a trip to Rouen for a while now and this Easter break we did a journey to Rouen, by train.
We took the early morning Eurostar from Kings Cross St Pancras to Paris Gare Du Nord, which takes you in to Paris by 11 am. Although I would have liked to take the tube from home in to Kings Cross to make it an all train journey, given the fact it was Good Friday and the tube lines were closed, that part of the journey became a four wheeler instead of a train. Arriving at St Pancras, with bags in tow, the big white tree like columns, stretching on to the ceiling of the station, spreading over my head like a white and blue canopy of concrete, made me dizzy with excitement, just like way I used to be when I was a child, all those years ago, on a train platform in Asia, trying to dart behind my father, who would be darting behind the Porter, with quintessential sound of “Kaapi,Kaapi,Kaapi” ( coffee,coffee,coffee ) ricocheting on the platform, along with announcements blaring on the loudspeaker, “Madras se Delhi janewali Grand Trunk Express platform no …”, twinned with the chugging and whistling of trains. Ahh the sweet smell and sights of a train station and nostalgia !!!!! The early morning boarding queues of Eurostar are less serpentine and gives you less opportunity to gaze around and take in the setting. Having arrived a bit early we had a time to wander about in the station and take some pictures . After finishing the immigration checks we sat in the Eurostar waiting area for the platform to be announced. Unlike my childhood days, the announcements here were in French and English. Even after all those years, I still find train stations mesmerising. We had our breakfast in the train, watching the green countryside from the train window, the train chugging along towards the English Channel Tunnel.
Arriving at Paris Gare du Nord, we printed our tickets to Rouen Rive Droit from SNCF kiosks. We had booked our tickets online from SNCF s site, we were required to print the tickets as e tickets are not accepted on this route. We walked over to the nearest restaurant, which serves Idlis in Paris and that day happened to be the World Idli Day. And being a vegetarian; aspiring to be vegan and an ardent idli lover, I was not going to let opportunity slip by.
We took a metro from Gare du Nord to Paris St Lazare, from where were to catch our train to Rouen Rive Droit Station. St Lazaré has many artistic connections, the station has been painted by Claude Monet, steam engines standing with smoke rising on the Gare St Lazaré’s platform.Artist Edouard Manet, is said to have lived not very far from the St Lazare, who also painted the iconic Gare St Lazare, called The Railway. Claude Monet s painting can be seen at Musée D’orsay in Paris and Manet s work is on display at Washington DC National Gallery. Another artistic connection to the station is to Giverny, where Monet lived and painted, you have to take a train from Gare St Lazare to visit Giverny. The station has not changed much architecturally and looks as ethereal in real life as in the paintings. I sat on the platform admiring the alluring sight, while waiting for our train, slowly blending and fusing in to the buzz of the station, becoming an integral part of the moment on the platform scene at that instance.
The train arrived at the platform, we boarded the train , and the train chugged along the picturesque French countryside, passing various stations including Giverny, arriving finally at Rouen Rive Droit.
Rouen, is the capital of the Normandy region of France, is a medieval city with full of gothic architecture and buildings. It is full of charm and character ; has museums, churches, cathedrals and cobbled streets. We dropped our luggage at Hotel, which had amazing views of Notre Dame Cathédrale of Rouen from the balcony of our room. The Hotel was situated in the Vieux Rouen/Old town. Vieux Rouen is an instagrammers paradise, filled with pretty little alleyways, half timbered medieval houses full of colour and character. We tried to have a light snack before venturing out on a walk in the town. A word of warning , there is no food served at the restaurants in Rouen after 2 pm, only drinks and may be dessert and pastries. I was having a salt rush, if there is such a thing, I was not in a mood to have anything sweet. But unfortunately, it was not my day and it was my lack understanding of ways of Rouen Restaurant times. We ended up having a cappuccino, mine was with no sugar.
Walking around in Old town Rouen, is a wonderful way of exploring the town, and take in its medieval gothic architecture. The streets are not that crowded and are not filled with toursits, in comparison to other towns and cities I have visited, but given that it was a Easter break, the town was bustling with activity. We went in to the famous Notre Dame Cathédrale of Rouen, which is a beautiful gothic architecture, with its tall spire looming over the city. The Cathedral has been painted in a series of painting, in different light and different times of the year, by Claude Monet, two of the paintings can be seen in Musée D’orsay in Paris and one in Washington DC.
The other architecturally fetching building in the town is the Gros Horlage/ Great Clock. It is a fourteenth century astronomical clock tower, and is the oldest in Europe and even older then the Big Ben. The clock shows the time, chimes every hour, has a moon dial, which corresponds with the 29 days lunar movement, and moves accordingly. It also has seven days of the week represented in allegorical paintings at the base of the dial. The day painting changes at everyday at 12 noon, we watched the painting change from Friday to Saturday. You could do a tour of the clock and climb up the clock tower. We got to see the amazing view of whole town from the top of the tower. The Gros Horloge is the most impressive work of art, architecture and engineering. And the Gros Horloge has appeared in the J W Turner s painting, and can be viewed in Tate Gallery, London.
Rouen is also the town where Joan D’Arc was tried and finally sentenced to death. It was in the city centre , at the age of 19 she was burnt alive , in the market Square. There is now a church in the market centre in memory of Joan of Arc. It’s a very sad fact and part of the town s history. Often she is remembered for her courage, conviction and her belief in God. Yet the pamphlet in the church also talk about how she broke down at the time her renunciation, was aware that she was stuck in a situation with out a solution, but of her own sacrifice. This makes her as human as us, reminding us we have the courage, conviction and character in us, we need to look deep in to ourselves and stand up for what we believe in. We need more people like Joan Of Arc, full of conviction and character, especially now in the year of metoo and Gender equality.
We all have our reasons for travelling, mine is the need for a journey, a journey inwards and I find travel very inspiring for it. Recently I saw an advertisement for an airlines. It talks about miracles with in our body -our senses ; see, hear , smell, taste and touch and how we never tap the potential of our senses. I love the thought behind the ad and the emotion attached. I have found travel to be very rejuvenating , both for my body and as well as mind, travel awakens the senses, travelling reminds me to be myself, makes me seek the miracle within us .
“Live life with no excuses, travel with no regret” -Oscar Wilde
Rouen – Full of character, medieval/ gothic architecture, Churches and charm.