Thursday, 8 March 2007

FRANCE - Rouen, like ducks to water

The Newhaven to Dieppe Transmanche Ferry seems to be quite an under used route to France. The yellow ferries, about the size of the Dover route ferries offer basic facilities but sufficient for the three and a half hour crossing. Our boat was a brand new ferry, with a twin level bar at the stern, very comfortable and modern in style.

On arrival in Dieppe, we immediately joined the main road to Rouen. Forty minutes later, we arrived in the town centre. It took another twenty or so minutes to locate our hotel, partly due to road works and partly due to ad-hoc road closures put in place by the police / Gendarmes on account of labour protest marches and riots. Aside from large crowds of marching protesters, fortunately we witnessed no disturbance. The hotel was a bit of a disappointment, described as ‘all rooms having a view of the cathedral or the River Seine’. Ours had neither. It did face the river, but the only glimpse was one of a road bridge crossing the river and then only if you strained to see it.

Abandoning our luggage, we set off on foot around the town centre, following a suggested route from our Michelin Green Guide to Normandy. Taking in the cathedral, some other old churches, the shopping areas, streets lined with ancient timber framed houses (typical of the town) with streams flowing through the road. The town centre is quite compact and ideal for a walking break. We visited a bar or two for refreshments and later in the evening, where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake on Rouen's Old Market Square (Place du Vieux-MarchĂ©), we settled in a restaurant that served the local specialty – Rouenaise Duck. First, the duck is roasted and brought out for the diner to inspect. It is taken away again and when returned, it is served in a rich dark brown sauce, with vegetables and potatoes. Having filled yourself with this course, they waiter presents the other half of the duck, this time served in a lemon flavoured light breadcrumb coating with a green salad. The two servings of duck compliment each other perfectly.

The next morning we checked out and again using our Michelin book, followed a driving tour through the Ile de France area, stopping once or twice to admire the countryside.
In the afternoon, arriving early in Dieppe, we enjoyed a good stroll around the old fishing port, finding a corner café that served Belgian beer. Once check-in had opened, we boarded the Transmanche ferry, this time to find that instead of a brand new ferry, we were sailing on a 1970s Sardinian ferry, complete with gold panelled ceilings, aqua blue carpets and warm beer served in small plastic beakers. The two ferries were chalk and cheese. It had been a pleasant and amusing one night trip to a pretty old town.

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