Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Parent's Christmas Trip on the Seine

Because of flooding on the Seine due to heavy rains the week before we arrived we had to start our Seine trip at Conflans outside Paris but at the end of the trip it hadn't rained so the river had subsided and we were able to sail into Paris. 

Rouen - The city of Rouen marks the halfway point between Paris and the sea. Its graceful skyline hides marvelous treasures that reflect a history rich in classic French legends. The capital of upper Normandy and the region's largest city (with about 500,000 inhabitants), Rouen was founded by Romans as Rotomagus.

Christianity arrived in the 3rd century and grew to such importance that the city became the seat of a bishopric. In 876, the region was invaded by the Normans (from whom the province received its name); it became a subject of the English crown after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. In 1204, Philip II Augustus of France captured the city, bringing an independent Normandy to a close. The town prospered-despite some urban strife-thanks to river traffic and trading.

During the dark days of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), Henry V of England reclaimed Rouen and made it the capital of English-occupied France. During the war, an unlikely young girl named Joan of Arc thought it her divine duty to take back France from England. Not one to ignore guidance from God, she came to lead an entire army. The Duke of Burgundy captured and imprisoned her-then sold her to Henry V in Rouen. She was held in a tower during a long trial that condemned her for heresy. In May 1431, she was burned at the stake by the English on the Place du Vieux-Marche'. The prison tower and the spot of her execution still draw visitors. 

Chateau Gaillard - High above Les Andelys-a charming garrison town of half-timbered houses and narrow lanes-the once-mighty Chateau Gaillard broods. The fortress dates back to 1196, the days when England ruled Normandy.

Richard the Lionheart, who was simultaneously the King of England and Duke of Normandy, wanted to block the King of France from getting to Rouen by river. Richard's citadel, built in short order on a large budget in just two years, had commanding views of water traffic coming from Paris. It was a massive redoubt, one that even the brave King Philippe Auguste did not dare attack. But after Richard's death, his successor King John was not so strong a foe, and so Philippe sieged the castle as part of a services of battles that brought Normandy back under the French flag. But the castle was not surrendered easily. With French soldiers ravaging Les Andelys below, locals ascended the hill and found refuge in a well-provisioned fortresss. This increased the number of "residents" fivefold. Supplies dwindled until hundreds of the villagers were evicted, only to face their deaths at French hands. The standoff could have lasted longer were it not for a French soldier who found his way into the castle through a latrine chute that led to the chapel. Several troops clambered in, ambushed guards, and opened the drawbridge. Surrender came quickly. To this day, Chateau Gaillard is considered one of the great castles of its time, even a masterpiece. To many, this comes as no surprise, considering its chief engineer was Richard the Lionheart.   

D-Day Invasion Beaches of Gold, Juno, and Sword - Beach code names are now famous the world over: U.S. troops landed on Utah and Omaha, British, Canadian, and French soldiers targeted Gold, Juno, and Sword. For the U.S., precise landing points were missed because of strong currents. This gave troops at Utah and advantage as they inadvertently landed at a beachhead that was lightly defended by the Germans.

Casualties among British and Canadian troops were also lighter than expected. Americans landing at Omaha were not so fortunate; the beach had been heavily fortified and pre-landing bombings did little to decrease the defensive line. Despite heavy losses, and despite the fact that D-Day goals were not achieved to their fullest (the original objective was to move in as far a Caen, Bayeux, Isigny, and Carentan), Allies pushed German lines back over the next several days. Allies crossed the Seine on the 19th of August, 11 weeks after D-Day. 

WWII Battle of the Pegasus Bridge and the Pegasus Bridge Memorial

Caen and Bayeux - Bayeux is home to the Bayeux Tapestry. Once upon a time in Bayeux, a Duke of Normandy wanted to become King of England.

Here is the history of William, Duke of Normandy's conquest of England in 1066 on an almost 70 m long linen cloth.

The super 11th century production depicts more than 600 embroidered people, 200 horses, forty or so ships and hundreds of animals and mythological figures.

It's definitely worth the trip to see the unique medieval fresco, full of twists and turns, spies and heroes, at Bayeux in the Tapestry Museum. More than 900 years after it was created umpteen times hidden and saved from destruction, the Bayeux Tapestry continues to tell its secrets.

The quite unique document, a master piece of the Middle Ages, is listed in UNESCO's "Memory of the World" register. 

Vernon - Vernon is a lovely, stroll able French town located close to a forest of the same name. The first Duke of Normany, known as Rollo, founded Vernon in the 9th Century. It later fell under the French during the reign of Philippe-Auguste in the early 13th century. Today, it is a very pleasant residential town of about 24,000 inhabitants. The ship docked close to the town center, so the main sights are nearby. The modern bridge that crosses the Seine at Vernon is a great place to see a panorama of the town and the wooded hills beyond. Ruined piles of the old 12th-century bridge still lie along the shore and the old towers of Castle Tourelles rise from the right riverbank. In town, half-timbered houses mark your way. An especially attractive one is next to the Notre Dame Church, a charming collegiate church from the 12th century. The history of Vernon is preserved at the A.G. Poulain Museum.

White chalk cliff dwellings along the Seine on the way to Paris

 The town of Auvers-sur-oise) or D'Auvers s/oise where Vincent van Gogh died and is buried.

 Paris and the end of the trip.

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