29 April 2020 - Day 18 – Debark at Le Havre; Amiens
Slipped under the door about the time I was finishing up my preparations for bed, the ship advised me my debarking time slot was to start at 8:45. Knowing this, I slept in a bit, got ready to leave and headed out to Waves for a final breakfast. On my way I ran into Ron, and was able to thank him and give him a tip for all the care he and Lydia had performed as stewards. As I expected to have lunch in Le Havre, I stuck to my healthy regime of oatmeal, a bowl of fresh berries and a banana, with OJ and decaf coffee. I was at a table for two, so didn’t have company, and due to its location, spotted none of my acquaintances.
Returning to the cabin, I did one more sweep, brushed my teeth and put my electric toothbrush in my backpack, and headed down to Deck 4 so that I could check myself off the #Meraviglia one last time on this trip. Out onto the concrete platform, I found my blue roller and began pushing it towards the Douane so that I could pass through Customs and Immigration for the final time in EU until my departure in early July. Switching to French, I had an easy time with Immigration, and only got stuck on one question in Customs. Soon I was out walking along the pier edge wearing my yellow slicker towards #LeHavre proper. The weather was iffy, and cool. I expected to have to deal with a few light rain showers in the morning.
Crossing on Cours de la Manche, a bridge in the marina, I continued rolling my bag towards the Quartier Saint-Francois along the Avenue Lucien Corbeaux, with an objective of a restaurant called Le Taj Mahal. I was due there at 10, to drop my bag off for 3 hours while I went over to the downtown area and visited the cathedral. I was a bit early, but Ash, one of the proprietors, was cranking up the grates and soon had my bag and me inside. I declined the offer of tea, confirming that I’d be back and hoped to have lunch, and began walking eastward.
Google Maps had me cross on the Pont Notre-Dame approaching the Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Havre from its rear eastern end, and along the south side. Sole occupant of a pentagonal shaped block, I was able to walk around its perimeter easily, noting the tall imposing bulky bell tower to the south of the western main entrance.
The bell tower dates back to the founding of the port of Le Havre, in 1520, which may be why it looks so fortress-like. The cathedral itself was a parish church, Paroisse Saint-Yves de la Mer, until the diocese of Le Havre was formed in 1974, and the cathedral was renamed as yet another to Our Lady (Notre-Dame). The west facade includes a tall three-story arched stained-glass window and vault, set above the two-story nave building. Apparently, the unstable ground has kept the vestry from building a bigger, taller structure.
The central door was unlocked, so I entered that way, admittedly a bit surprised as center doors in cathedrals are usually kept locked except for the bishop and papal visits. I found the two side doors led to smaller separate chapels, with the connecting vestibule blocked. Entering into the actual church, the organ sat overhead in the loft directly under and blocking that big stained-glass window I’d seen from the outside. The long center aisle was lined by wooden pews over to the columns setting the side walkways apart. I spent some time reading about the building: restoration after bombing was needed post World War II, with subsequent work done especially on the memorial window depicting the visit by King Henri IV to Le Havre, considered a nineteenth century masterpiece.
Walking down the north aisle, the walls were covered with large naval art, similar to what I’d seen in the Cathedral of Saint-Louis in La Rochelle. There isn’t a transept, so the main altar is in the curved apse at the eastern end, behind a metal gate and the quire. Unfortunately, that gate was not opened, so my view of the sanctuary, its high altar, the cathedra and the details of the reredos and adorning statues was limited. As I walked back towards the entrance, the Henri IV window was splendid, particularly today as the sullen skies kept the bold sunlight from beating through the glass.
With no tour available, it became evident that I wouldn’t be able to climb the tower. Departing the building, I made one more circuit of the outside before heading back to cross the Pont Notre-Dame and find the restaurant. The lunch menu at Le Taj Mahal promotes a buffet, but I was more interested in enjoying an Indian or Pakistani dish recommended by my hosts. After Ash determined that I wasn’t vegetarian, he recommended (Indian) garlic naan to go with (Pakistani) Taj Goshatte, a curry of lamb and almond cream. Great recommendation, I was full with the large portion I got, and was so happy to have had curry.
I collected my bags and began my half kilometer walk, pushing it in a slight misty shower as I headed to the train station. Upon reaching the Gare, I went to the ticket counter and presented my Eurail Pass and my passport, to get it activated, and got directions for the 2pm train that would begin my travels to Amiens, where I would spend two nights. The local SNCF train was available ten minutes before the departure, and I found a comfortable seat by a window facing both the luggage rack and the direction of travel for the 55-minute ride to #Rouen.
Three stops later, the train pulled into Rouen, a city I’d visited in 2010 on my “Cathedral Pilgrimage” cycling trip, done to honor the memory of my recently departed mother, an active Catholic.
I had loved my time there, and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen became my favorite French cathedral. My research from the States could not discover a storage place to leave my bag for the 80-minutes of layover, but I was very pleased and surprised to find a Consignée within the station.
Leaving my bag and most of my backpack, I headed off for a 15-minute walk to see the cathedral. Unsurprisingly, the scaffolding of 10-years ago was no longer over the main door, but was around the north side, workers cleaning the limestone with power hoses. A few outside pictures, a quick visit inside to light a candle and say a prayer, and I began heading back.
However, I had great memories of the Church of St Ouen, a stunning Gothic church with a brilliant organ where I’d spent an afternoon years back. I guess I was fortunate that no one was practicing, as I’d probably lose track of time and miss my train.
Back at the Gare de Rouen, I collected my bags and found my 1617 train to #Amiens. With my luggage in the rack, I wound up In a double – seating 4 -and riding backwards. I used the center table to add to the notes in my journal that I’d written over lunch, and the 75-minute ride and its 6 stops went by speedily. The Gare d’Amiens is a terminus, so when I walked off the train, using he lifts to get up from the platform and then down to the street, I pretty much kept walking in a straight line to cross a wide boulevard across from the post office (La Poste) to go another block. A block to the left and the Hotel de Normandie greeted me.
Multistoried, I pulled my roller up the two steps and through a glass door, to stand in the reception area. I detected no elevator, so I was hopeful I’d be on a lower floor to avoid hauling the 50+ pound bag up stairs. In luck, my reservation was for a courtyard view, and I had merely three steps to deal with as I moved around behind the reception to a nice quiet room looking out into a garden. I opened my suitcase on the floor in a corner. After pulling my toiletry kit to put into the bathroom, I hung out my two sports jackets and found my electrical adapters.
With a bit more than two hours before my next engagement, I had about a kilometer to walk to get to the Maison de la Culture d’Amiens, which, after reaching the park down the street, was an easy flat walk without turns. I was looking for an easy restaurant for a light dinner.
As I passed Les Bouchées Doubles (Double Bites), I saw it was a neighborhood place. Getting a table for one inside, I opted for steak tartare, with pommes frites and a small salad. Since Picardy doesn’t grow red wine grapes of note, I asked for a glass of Beaujolais, from the close by region to the south. Great light dinner, very tasty and, given that they did a lot of burgers and steak, it was probably the right place to eat raw beef.
Leaving the restaurant without having a dessert, I walked the block to come to the square out in front of the theater. A small crowd was entering, presumably they’d been waiting for the doors to open. Strolling after them, I entered the foyer and pulled out my printed ticket for the evening’s performance. Tonight would probably be baptism by fire, but my ViaHero guide Vivienne had researched performances, and this was all that was scheduled, and so here I was. Tonight was a presentation of the Molière play, Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme. Traditionally a five-act comédie-ballet including singing, dance and music, it ws first performed in 1670 with music composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully. While I’d read a synopsis while on the cruise, I fully expected that I might catch enough to know where they were in the story, but probably not understand too much.
Per the program, only two intermissions, which bode well. Editing had been done, and while the actors and singers seemed (to me) to be machine-gunning the words, I did follow along well enough to chuckle at the right places. The dance was baroque style, elegant, despite the buffoon’s bumbling. During the interval, my seat mates insisted on sharing a glass of champagne while they quizzed me on this great adventure, as they called it. They were impressed with my program for tomorrow, as designed by Vivienne, and they felt I’d cover much of the city well, as well as have a superb dinner. With such encouragement, I relaxed into the play and continued to enjoy.
Ending about midnight, I begged off an after-theater drink and pulled out my phone to guide me back to the hotel. I had done some crafting of this narrative aboard the train, but I needed to finish, download pictures, start charging camera batteries, phone and the laptop. With no missteps, I found the hotel and headed to my room. Completing my prep and writing tasks, I have a post to upload and populate with pictures, and then to bed.