Thursday, December 16, 2010

Paris: Day 6

Today, Andi and I decided to take a day trip outside of Paris to Rouen, which is the upper Normandy valley on the Seine River. Rouen is about 1:15 minutes outside of the city by train. We packed up our bags early this morning and hopped on the Metro, then switched trains at the St. Lazare station where we boarded a high-speed train out of the city. Train tickets cost us about 25 Euro/$30 each.

Before we left Paris this morning, Andi called and booked a night at a bed and breakfast in Rouen called Un Jardin en Ville for 70 Euro/$80. Agnes, the house owner, said she'd be expecting us around Noon and looked forward to our arrival.

The train into Rouen was a smooth and easy one, but Andi and I couldn't help but shrug as they announced the arrival into the city. Is this it? Do we get off here? Not sure, I guess we get off and see. Not speaking the language adds a bit of intrigue to this trip, but at times it'd be just a little easier if one if us knew what the heck people were saying around here!

We walked out of the Rouen train station and hopped into a taxi. The driver dropped us off at Un Jardin en Ville where we left our bags for the afternoon. Agnes gave us a key to our room, but told us our room wasn't ready yet so we could only leave our bags.

Un Jardin en Ville Bed and Breakfast

Our room

How cool is a b and b when this is your room key?

Agnes gave us a map and recommended a few restaurants for lunch. We walked back into the main city center and strolled around a bit. It was about 33 degrees and rained for most of the day. Luckily, we packed a travel umbrella, but after witnessing 2 seconds of my umbrella maneuvering skills, Andi told me I could keep it. Something about almost poking out his eye? I'm not sure ...

Anyway, we walked around the curvy Rouen streets looking for Le Ptit Bec, a restaurant Agnes recommended with good French food. I think we walked for 2 hours finding ourselves turned around on the cobblestone streets. Half of the streets aren't labeled here and the ones which are have placards on the buildings so you have to hunt to figure out where you are. With trusty map in hand, we half looked / half wandered until we were soaking wet, cold and hungry. I, at this point, suggested we just stop somewhere. Who really cares anyway, it's all foreign to us. But Andi was insistent we find Le Ptit Bec since we'd been searching for it so long. Finally, I looked up and said "there it is!" and we happily walked inside.

Right away, I liked Le Ptit Bec for a couple of reasons. First, the place was bustling and that's always a good sign of things to come. Second, we were greeted at the door by a little pooch. Not sure what kind of dog, but any establishment which allows a house dog is a friend of mine. Lastly, the waitress didn't treat us like dumb Americans. She greeted us with a "Bonjour" and allowed us to order in French (the best we could) and spoke back to us in her native language. I loved having the chance to be "us" in France.

We ordered 2 cappuccinos which were to die for! The menu was in all French and we had no idea what it said. I recognized pommes de terres (potatoes), salade (salad), confit (duck) and that was about it. So we took a shot in the dark. I ordered a Salad Normade with toast gratine au camembert, salade, pommes, lardons and noix for 11 Euro / $14 (which turned out to be salad with smoked salmon, some sort of white fish, roe (fish eggs), clumps of dill pickle dip, tomatoes and potatoes with a balsamic dressing). Andi ordered Le Gratin de Cabillaud with pommes de terre, cabillaud, champignons, creme fraiche and emmental rape for 10 Euro/$12 which turned out to be potato o' gratin casserole with mushrooms and white fish. Actually, both menu items had really good flavor. Andi loved his potato dish and I ate everything but the fish in mine (I don't particularly care for fish, so I tried to be brave when mine came with 3 different kinds). One thing we've found surprising while eating in France is the baguettes. First of all, they're absolutely delicious. Delicious! So soft and warm - the baguettes here make you realize how crappy they are in the U.S. comparatively and also how much we pay for them. They're about 1 Euro here (aka: dirt cheap). But here's the surprising part: we were warned restaurant bread baskets aren't free in France; restaurants charge you for every piece of bread you eat at the table. We haven't found this to be the case and therefore, we've indulged in a fair amount of warm, toasty, soft baguettes. Yum!

 Cappuccinos at Le Ptit Bec

Le Ptit Bec's little pooch

We sat in Le Ptit Bec for quite a while. It was raining pretty hard and my feet were soaked. I even wore 2 pairs of socks today and still the water soaked through. (Sadly, they were worse by the end of the day).

But, because this was our only day in Rouen, we decided to keep exploring. The city is really beautiful; I only wish the weather held out better for our visit. Rouen is about 2 hours from Normandy Beach (which we're contemplating visiting tomorrow) and also the city where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431. Andi and I made several comments about how beautiful this city must be in the summertime. The cobblestone streets and characteristic buildings are so unique (even under an umbrella).

Rouen's Cathedral

Do you find it strange all French door knobs are in the center of the door?

Rouen city street

Soaked to the bone, Andi and I decided to take it easy tonight. We stopped at a grocery store on the walk back to the b and b and bought a block of cheese, fresh baguette, Toberlone chocolates and a bottle of wine for 8 Euro/$10. We watched good ole' American t.v. from our new Slingbox on the computer and relaxed. It just may be our best night yet. Let's face it, our legs could use a little break!

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