Castles, Distilleries & Pubs Cruise
Monday August 6 to Wednesday August 8, 2012

Normandy, Paris and Rouen

One of the great things about being on a ship the size of Azamara Journey is the ability to dock in ports that larger ships are unable to fit. This port of call was just such a situation. At some point in the night our ship passed the busy port at Le Havre on the Normandy coast of France where large ships had to stop, but Azamara Journey kept going all the way to Rouen.

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  • Monday August 6, 2012

    Remembering the D-Day Landings at Normandy

    By the time we woke on Monday, Azamara had already travelled quite a bit of the meandering six hour trek along the River Seine. It was cloudy and cool but the scenery was still nice with a combination of small towns and areas with stately homes along the way broken up by the occasional industrial area. For the last part of the trip along the Seine we arranged to have breakfast on our balcony. Breakfast arrived at 7:15am and we stuck with our plan to eat outside even though it was a bit chilly in the shade. It was a great way to have breakfast - quite memorable.

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      Our arrival at Rouen was scheduled for 8:00am. We had booked a tour focussing on the Normandy beach landings of World War II. Our tour started with a visit to Mémorial de Caen - translated as the Peace Museum in Caen. It was a fitting start to the day's tour in this region. We followed that with lunch at lovely farmhouse resort called Ferme de la Rançonnière. The food and the ambience were both very good and the time at this location was quite enjoyable indeed.

      The next stop after lunch was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. The cemetery actually sits on a bluff overlooking the beach that was code named Omaha for the Allied Forces beach landings of June 6, 1944. We started at the Memorial and Reflecting Pool and could see an incredible number of graves with a small building off in the distance. The small building turned out to be a chapel, but was once we started walking towards it that we realized the chapel was in the middle of the cemetery so there were many more graves beyond it. It is a harrowing sight to see the shear loss of life, with this cemetery only representing the Americans involved in the D-Day landings. In total there are 9387 graves and a memorial for the 1557 men whose bodies were never found. There was a sign we had seen at the entrance of the cemetery that was ever so fitting:

      Look how many of them there were
      Look how young they were
      They died for your freedom
      Hold back your tears and keep silent.

      We did take a look at the bluff edge towards the serene sight below of the beach today. It is hard to truly imagine the horror that this beautiful seafront had seen just 68 years before. When we finished our time at the cemetery we made our way down to the beach front via some narrow windy roads though small French villages. Located at the centre of the beach is a memorial sculpture called Les Braves by Anilore Banon. It is a stainless steel sculpture designed in three elements known as the Wings of Hope, Rise Freedom, and the Wings Of Fraternity. It was created in 2004 as a temporary art piece for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing but remains today because of public interest to keep it. It is quite striking and is a fitting memorial to the fallen soldiers of this pivotal event in World War II. It was interesting and a bit harrowing to also see the remnant of some of the German fortifications along the coast.

      We returned to Azamara Journey after our time at the Normandy beaches. There was a planned White Night barbecue dinner planned on the open deck but we opted to go to the main Discoveries Restaurant instead. We did head back to the open deck after dinner to check out the music part of the White Night evening. That and a customary espresso at Mosaic Cafe made a nice end to our first day in Rouen.

  • Tuesday August 7, 2012

    A Day in Paris

    Our second day in Rouen would be our most extensive touring from this port of call - with our trip planned to the French capital of Paris. Were up early and grabbed a quick breakfast in Windows Cafe before heading off for the trip to Paris. Initially we had a bit of an orientation tour by bus around the city before being dropped off at Place de la Concorde so that we could explore Paris on our own.

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      We needed to be prudent in where we went for the day - Paris is actually quite a large city with some of the move famous attractions being spread out somewhat. The good news was that the weather was perfect for a day to walk around Paris. Our starting point was an interesting one - the largest public square in Paris and one that has had a few name changes throughout its history. It was initially commemorated in 1763 as Place Louis XV in honour of the king of the day. During the French Revolution it was renamed Place de la Révolution and it was here that both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (as well as many others) were executed by guillotine to the cheers of the gathered crowds. In a spirit of reconciliation after the French Revolution it was named Place de la Concorde in 1795 but flipped back to Place Loius VX and Place Louis XVI before its last change back to Place de la Concorde in 1830 and at least so far that name has stuck. Phew. In the centre of the square is an impressive obelisk that over 3 thousand years ago stood at the entrance to the Luxor Temple in Egypt. It was given to France in 1829 and has been in its current position since 1836. Impressive.

      After a bit of time looking around Place de la Concorde we made our way along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées - which spans between Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe. it was nice to stroll along the famed road with some incredible retail shops. By the time we had reached the Arc de Triomphe we needed to back track a bit to find a shop to purchase a compact flash card for our main camera. The one that was in use for the day was failing to record properly and we had left spare ones back on the ship. The failing card was a fresh 32GB card for the day, so we weren’t concerned about filling it while in Paris - but we didn’t consider the possibility of failure. It was harder than expected to get a replacement card - we could have bought any number of luxury cars, watches, jewelry or clothing but not what we were trying to find. We eventually found an extortionist tourist shop on a side street where we bought a poor quality 4GB card that should have been plated in gold for what we paid for it. With new card loaded we went back to the Arc de Triomphe at he centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle on the western end of the Champs-Élysées. It is an impressive triumphal arch that was inaugurated in 1836 in honour of those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars.

      From the Arc de Triomphe we decided to wander around some of the paris back streets to meander our way to the Eiffel Tower. By the time we made it to the tower what impressed us the most was the size of the crowd gathered at there. The tower itself is pretty cool - having been built as the entrance arch for the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair). It is still the tallest structure in Paris and is the most iconic and recognizable structure in France. We made the choice not to wait the time with the assembled crowd to head up to the tower, so we just enjoyed the views of the tower from the ground level before moving on.

      We walked along the River Seine and crossed the river on Pont Alexandre III. The bridge is quite attractive - probably the best looking bridge in Paris. The bridge was built between 1896 & 1900 and does fit the style of the adjacent Grand Palais - both were constructed for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. We noticed at the Grand Palais a sign for a restaurant/lounge called Minipalias and figured it would be a good spot to stop for an afternoon respite. We were seated outside between some of the impressive imperial columns of the Grand Palais and it was a wonderful venue for some champagne, cheese & bread to close out our touring day in Paris. We weren’t too far from where we’d need to get the bus back to Rouen, and we had a wonderful relaxing time here with a terrific view of a portion of this historic city.

      Back on Azamara Journey for the evening we had dinner at Discoveries and finished in time to be able to catch the show at Cabaret Lounge. Maybe it was being in France the provided the incentive, but we closed out the evening pretty much the same way we closed out our time in Paris - with some nice champagne.

      Parfait, as they say.

  • Wednesday August 8, 2012

    Walking tour of Rouen

    For our third day in Rouen we actually thought it would be a good idea to tour Rouen - the historic capital of Normandy. History records that Rouen was a prosperous city in medieval Europe that held the seat of power in this region of Europe between the 11th and 15th centuries. Unknown to us until we went there, Rouen is the birthplace of King of England Edward IV in 1442 and the location of Joan of Arc being burned at the stake in 1431.

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      We got up early to have breakfast at Windows Cafe then make it to catch an early shuttle into the city. We needed to make the most of the time we had available with Azamara Journey scheduled to set sail early in the afternoon. We caught the 8:30am shuttle and it dropped us in a convenient spot near Pont Boieldieu. From the we started our walking tour of Rouen. We realized that we were actually in town before a lot of thing were even open, but it did give us the opportunity to get our bearings as we wandered around the town.

      Our first stop was at Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen. To say the least it is an impressive building. A church in one form or another had been in this location from the latter part of the 4th century. Construction on the cathedral in its present form started in 1202 although construction continued all the way until 1880. There was much reference on information boards outside the main facade to Claude Monet because of his series of paintings of the cathedral from one location (clearly identified outside the church) in which he showed the church in different lighting and weather conditions. At this point we were a bit too early to go inside, so we decided to continue our tour through the quaint streets of Rouen and come back to the cathedral later in the day.

      Our next major stop was at L'église Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc (Church of Saint Joan of Arc). The church itself is quite new (completed in 1979) but it was built in the location of an ancient market square that was the location where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431. The exact spot of the execution is marked by a very tall cross. Strolling back towards Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen we picked a route to be able to see Gros Horloge - an impressive astronomical clock installed in a building arch over the Rue du Gros-Horloge. The clock has been in this location since 1529, but the mechanism itself is considered to be one of the oldest in France with it dating back to 1389.

      For our return visit to Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen we actually went inside this time. This early Gothic style church is definitely worth the visit. We were fascinated by one tomb located inside the cathedral - for Richard I (also known as Richard the Lionheart). The tomb contained the heart of the king - his body was buried in Fontevraud Abbey in the French village of Fontevraud-l'Abbaye near Chinon. The Cathedral turned out to be the last attraction that we toured on the cruise portion of this vacation - by the time we were done exploring the inside of the impressive Gothic building it was time to make our way back to Pont Boieldieu to catch the shuttle back to Azamara Journey.

      Back onboard the ship we grabbed lunch at Windows Cafe and then went out to the open deck for the sail away from the port in Rouen. When we got outside we could see all sorts of activity going on. There was soot all over the deck - something we had never seen before. The captain made an announcement shortly after to explain that there was a problem with the fuel that was sourced in Dublin. That fuel had just been put in use and the combination of fuel and wind direction created the soot problem on the open deck. They offered free dry cleaning for anyone’s clothes affected and it looked like it was all staff hands on deck to quickly clean up the mess. We weren’t affected, the soot deposit had occurred before we came outside, so we turned our attention to watching the ship depart Rouen.

      About one hour into then travel along the River Seine we returned to our room. When we had arrived onboard Azamara Journey at the beginning of the trip there was a complimentary bottle of champagne in our room. We figured even back then that it would be perfect for the trip along the Seine, so we had arranged for the champagne to be put on ice for the departure. On cue, it was waiting when we got back to our room and we sat our on our balcony to watch the scenery pass by as we enjoyed the champagne together with some chocolate we had purchase in Rouen.

      Nice way to travel the Seine, we’d say.

      For the evening we enjoyed one last time at Discoveries Lounge before heading to the restaurant for dinner. We did make our way to see the tail end of the show going on at the Cabaret Lounge and that was followed by a crew farewell. All good things must come to an end, they say - so after that we returned to our room to pack before the final night of sleep on board. We’d be waking at the final destination of Southampton England where we would disembark. The good news, though, was that wouldn’t mean the end of this vacation. Not yet, at least.

Rouen Image Gallery

Vertical lift bridge Pont Gustave Flaubert viewed from our parking spot in Rouen
Ferme de la Rançonnière
Ferme de la Rançonnière
Omaha Beach viewed from the Normandy American Cemetery
Some of the 9387 graves at the Normandy American Cemetery
Les Braves memorial at Omaha Beach, Normandy
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Obelisk of Luxor at the centre of Place de la Concorde
Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation
Arc de Triomphe
Pont Alexandre III
The Grand Palais viewed from Pont Alexandre III
Champagne at Minipalais in the Grand Palais
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen
Timber framed buildings of Rouen
Remains of marketplace where Joan of Arc was executed
Gros Horloge in Rouen
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WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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