Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Seine-Maritime

This weekend I was lucky enough to have the chance to stay in Dieppe and Rouen, the Seine-Maritime department’s other two large cities, with one of the teachers from school and her boyfriend. Sadly she’s not a colleague I generally get to work with as she teaches English in the other section of the school to the one I work in so it was really nice to get to know her a bit better.

We stayed in the small town of Quiberville-sur-mer near to Dieppe. It’s a beautiful town in the countryside and the house overlooked the sea and cliffs.
On the Friday night we chatted, drank tea and ate boiled eggs for tea (oeuf à la coque – I was really surprised to find this dish existed in France!). It was really nice to stay with someone who has spent time in the UK and who understands British people really well. We had some really nice discussions about stereotypes of both French and British people (some true, some not so true) and I learnt some interesting new French words such as pèquenaud, the French word for a country bumpkin. One of my favourite new words that I learnt was bobo (short for bourgeois-bohème), a word used to describe someone well-off who appears to be quite bohemian in their fashion sense and lifestyle but is actually upon closer inspection spending a lot of money to achieve this effect e.g. Johnny Depp wearing clothes which give a dishevelled, effortless look but in fact cost an absolute bomb. My friend also has a gorgeous cat by the name of Chaussette. I love that he’s called this because my own cat is called Socks and, whether the English word or the French, they both get this name from their markings. Chaussette took to sleeping at the bottom of my bed which made me happy – a future as a crazy cat man cannot be far away.

On Saturday I got to see some of the sights surrounding Quiberville before heading in to Dieppe itself. There’s a pretty lighthouse (le phare d’Ailly) which I’d been able to see glowing from a distance the night before and is apparently one of the highest above sea level in Western Europe.

After this, we visited a lovely church at Varengeville-sur-mer which was once painted by Monet. It’s on the cliffs overlooking the sea and contains stained windows designed by the famous painter/sculptor Georges Braque. I couldn’t take any photos inside but the view from the church is beautiful. We were very lucky with the weather – Normandy is not generally so kind!

Having looked at these two sights, we headed to Dieppe itself. Dieppe is my clear favourite of the three large towns in the Seine-Maritime (Dieppe, Rouen and Le Havre). There’s something wonderfully alive about it – the streets are bustling with people and, more than that, they’re friendly and welcoming. Le Havre was one of the worst damaged cities in France following the Second World War. A large part of the city was reduced to nothing more than rubble. Thousands of innocent civilians died. The fact that it is a key French port and the place where the River Seine joined the sea made it a priority target for allied bombing once Germany took France. Rouen is also on the Seine but it and its bridges are not so close to the city centre which offered the town’s historical buildings some, though not total, protection. Dieppe has many historical buildings of the kind cruelly denied to Le Havre but has also managed to keep moving with the times in a way that Rouen has not.
Bullet holes scar a Rouen bank, a souvenir of WW2.
We left the town centre by one of the original city walls of Dieppe and walked along by the sea.

The seafront is really pretty and unspoilt by housing which is apparently quite rare in French coastal cities. From the beach, there’s a really nice view of the castle up on the hill and it was this which we visited next.

The castle’s museum is quite bizarre – it tells the story of Dieppe but also acts as an art gallery and a place to display things no one’s quite sure what to do with. I’ll forgive the castle its weird museum because it gives a really nice view over the rest of the city. After visiting the castle we went back in to the town centre where we had some tea in a beautiful old café (the interior of which reminded me of a pub) and did some shopping. My friend bought me the comic of Astérix Chez Les Bretons as a present because of our conversation on stereotypes and me having mentioned that I really liked the last Astérix film God Save Britannia which is based on this book. The film didn’t really do all that well in France but all of the British people/French people who’ve spent time in Britain that I know loved it – the British stereotypes are hilarious! We finished our day in Dieppe by eating moules-frites in one of the restaurants in the harbour. I’d never tried mussels before but they were absolutely delicious. We had them prepared à la dieppois which means that they’re served in a cream sauce with prawns.

On the Sunday, we went to my friends’ parents for lunch. I don’t like that some French people (not all) are very judgmental of British cooking of which I’m a huge fan but it’s very difficult to deny that French cuisine is stunning. We had a gratin of scallops and mushrooms, steak with a courgette, tomato and onion bake, and apple tart. It was gorgeous.

After this, we visited Rouen. This town is the current capital of the Seine-Maritime département, although this used to be Le Havre. I saw the square where the French burnt Joan of Arc (It’s important to make the distinction that she was sentenced by the English but not burnt by them as many Rouennais would have you believe!), the birth place of the French playwright Pierre Corneille, la rue du Gros-Horloge, the palace of justice, the cathedral and some really pretty traditional style buildings.
It should be illegal to do this to a beautiful old building...
We finished the day in Rouen by going to see Alceste à Bicyclette at the cinema. It was alright but nowhere near as good as the other films I’ve seen recently. It’s a tough month for new films. We stayed in Rouen at my friend’s friend’s place and had a really nice night with more tea-drinking, pizza eating and movie watching. We watched the film In the Name of the Father with Daniel Day Lewis and Emma Thompson which is a true story about the Guildford Four, the northern-Irish citizens wrongly imprisoned for the Guildford bombings largely due to police corruption. I thought the film was very well-made and would happily recommend it. By and large I’m a believer in the British justice system but this film is a good reminder that the British don’t do anything by halves, including screwing things up. Let Him Have It, a great film with a young Christopher Eccleston about a man we wrongly hanged, provides further proof of that should you want it.

My weekend in Dieppe and Rouen was truly lovely, definitely one of my favourite weekends in France so far. My post-Christmas appreciation of France is still very much going strong. J’adore la vie française!

1 comment:

  1. Love the old buildings, so glad they weren't destroyed like you say a lot of Le Havre was.
    Have seen 'Let him have it' many times, it was about Derek Bentley I think. The story was told really well in the film and was really sad. Can't remember who played the dad but he was really good too.