Monet, Jeanne d’Arc, and the Euro

Our flight here lasted a paltry 6.5 hrs. – an hour ahead of schedule. We took it as a good sign for better things to come.
Not so fast.
We rented a small car to better navigate the narrow streets of the medieval towns, and it was delivered. Sadly, European cars do not account for American luggage, so our suitcases didn’t fit into the puny trunk. The car with a bigger trunk was older and refused to recognize our phone’s Bluetooth. Two hours and three rental car workers later we finally left the airport for Rouen.
The drive here was pleasant and uneventful. We passed richly verdant velveteen grass fields interspersed with succulent ochre-colored fields of blooming flowers. En route, it poured a few times, but by the time we arrived in Rouen, the sun was shining. We made our way down the narrowest of streets where no cars should be allowed to go, and proudly parked half-way on the sidewalk, like any self-respecting Europeans.
The b&b we are staying at is an ancestral home of the b&b owner’s wife.
We were admitted into their walled garden cuddling the mansion, and were presented with a skeleton key to our room, which is complete with a marble fireplace, a balcony overlooking the garden and the spires of many Gothic churches sprinkled all over the old town, a huge bathroom with a claw-foot tub, a shower, an enormous sink, but also a basin with a pitcher – in case you want to do it like they did it in the 18th century. This is one of the most charming inns we’ve stayed in, in a long time!
But outside, it is really cold, low 50’s. The owner said they haven’t experienced weather this cold in May since 1888.
But still, we went into town to see the cathedral made famous by the brush of one Claude Monet, and then to the square where Jean of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. The exact place where the pyre that consumed her was erected is now marked with a giant cross; and a church was built next to it, on the main market square, to commemorate the saint. The church is somewhat Frank-LLoyd-Wrightonesque, reminiscent of his Elkins Park Synagogue. Its modern structure is not loved by everyone in this traditional city, but I certainly didn’t find it offensive.
Our next stop was going to be the Medical History Museum, allegedly, with some really gruesome exhibits on display. So spurned by the sight of the site where a human was burned alive mere 600 years past, we were really looking forward to behold more horrors. But first, we went to take euros out of the nearest ATM machine. Well, the machine rejected our cards even though we had notified the bank of our upcoming trip. Two hours later, after a live chat and skyping with our bank, we were freezing cold by the atm machine in this frigid weather, missed the last entrance to the museum, but still had no money. The bank promised we’d have access to our account after 6 AM tomorrow.
So despondent, we went for dinner to a little restaurant at Place Barthelemy circled by a cluster of half-timbered houses dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries and haphazardly forming an irregularly shaped square around a Gothic Cathedral. Now overall, Rouen is rich in handsome edifices but short on charm. It reminds me of Milan in the overall spirit and feel. It does have a fair share of very appealing-looking chocolate shops! But there is a real mishmash of architecture here – from half-timbered, to Romanesque, to Beaux-Art, to the buildings built after World War II to replaced the bombed out houses. It just doesn’t add up, but this crooked little square was perfectly charming.
We ate in a local joint on the square and, having no euros, offered a credit card. The card was rejected, we pulled out another credit card, it followed suit. We offered to wash the dishes… well, not exactly. we did have some dollars, but mind you, not much having relied on the ATM and the credit card. We also have to pay the b&b and they only take cash.
Back in the b&b, we told the owner about our predicament. And you know how obnoxious the French are..not. I never thought so, contrary to the common opinion, never had a problem with the French, they were always perfectly nice to me, and indeed, our Frenchman b&b owner told us we can pay him later and he even offered to lend us euros!!!!
So if you come to Rouen, stay here, Villa La Gloriette. Not only is it perfectly charming, but Christoph, the owner, is a mensch!
And now, at 10 PM it is still light – Rouen is that far north. It’s dusk, and the dreamy light is magical outside our French doors (how appropriate 🙂
So our biggest fear now is if the atm refuses us again, and the credit card will not work once more, what are we going to do about our lunch tomorrow, reserved at a 2-Michellin star restaurant in Honfleur, the finest restaurant we planned for this trip?
Stay tuned….

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