June 12, 2014, Laval- I woke very early on that Thursday morning, in mid-June, got myself and my bags together, speed-walked to the Train Station, and was still admonished, “Vitement! Le tren est departant!!” So, I jumped aboard, found a seat, and headed east, once again. Brest would be the furthest west I would get, this trip. Actually, it’s almost as far west as one can get on the European mainland.
We headed past St. Brieuc,and stopped briefly in St. Malo. It was the only stop before Rennes.
I was somewhat surprised to find that, in St. Malo,there were nearly 100 people lined up to get their tickets transferred to this train. I got a seat as far as Rennes. There, I inquired about using my France Pass on a train to Rouen. “Of course, monsieur, you may use the pass on any train in France. To get to Rouen, simply take this train- to Paris Montparnasse, and transfer to the Rouen train, at St. Lazare” .
Using the existing rail line between Rennes and Rouen was simply not possible, as the railworkers’ union was on strike- primarily to cause problems for the President of France during the D-Day observances, of all things. The strike was “scheduled” to stop the following Wednesday. That would be two days after I planned to leave France, for Belgium and Luxembourg.
What I faced, however, was nothing compared to what French commuters to Rouen, Amiens, Reims and Le Mans were facing, every day during the duration of the work stoppage. 200 more people got on the train at Rennes, 40 more in Laval and 15 more in Le Mans.
I was appreciative of these scenes from the train window, in Laval, Mayenne, west of Le Mans.
This introduction to the region known as La Maine was fleeting, and was accomplished as I move from one seat to another, twice, to accommodate people whose seats bore the number where I was sitting. The third time, I did the same, for a gentleman who not only had a ticket with the seat number of that wherein I sat, but who had two hours to finish preparing for a scholarly talk at a yeshiva in Paris.
So, I found myself in standage, with twelve other people: A married couple with two small boys, a married couple with no children, an Italian tourist who had also been rousted from his seat, a social worker, a couple of college students and a high school girl who was thoroughly disgusted at having to share standing room with any of us. The school girl left our standage at Le Mans. The rest of us shifted around, shared the fold-out seats, two to a seat, and all were kindred spirits, in a stifling hot area, in between cars. The mother of the two boys was surprised at two foreigners standing with the rest, for two hours, twenty minutes. To me, though, it was a First-World problem.
I was once in Mexico, going back to Arizona, on Easter night. The standage was 110% full. I was guided by a Mexican soldier to an open car, with no seats. This was the Third Class car, also 110 % full. I took a seat on the floor, with everyone else, sweated along with them, waited with them, for two hours, while the car sat still on the tracks. I drank from the same water jug, and got thoroughly sick the next day. It wasn’t hepatitis, but giardia, so I count myself lucky.
In France, though, everyone drank their own water, and went their own ways at Gare Montparnasse. I got across town to St. Lazare, on the Metro, and was in Rouen, for one more day, by 3 PM.
Back at Hotel Le Morand, I quickly showered, and headed to Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen. Along with Abbatiale St. Ouen, Palais de Justice and L’Eglise Saint- Maclou, the cathedral is what gives Rouen considerable gravitas, in the architecture department.
Here are several shots I took, of the exterior and interior of this magnificent edifice. I also include a file photo of Claude Monet’s painting of the cathedral. The first thing I notice about a cathedral is its spire. The second thing is the sculptures and engravings above its doors.
St. Peter is honoured here as well.
The Twelve Apostles are lined along the east wall of the Main Church.
I capped the day with a fine dinner at Restaurant Rive Droite, owned by the parents of the proprietor of Hotel Le Morand, and managed by another lovely and hard-working woman, who MAY have stopped moving about the establishment for, say, twenty seconds or so. At one point, I helped her regain her balance, as she tried to tend to three matters, simultaneously. It could have been worse, though. When I first sat down, a gust of wind knocked down a shade umbrella, at an establishment across Le Vieux Marche, nearly hitting a waitress and two seated patrons. If you are ever in Vieux Marche de Rouen, I do highly recommend Le Rive Droite, for the food and for the service. Turn right at Rue du Pie.
I had come home, alright, to one of the springboards of my ancestors. Funny thing about this word, “home”. I find myself feeling that way about a growing number of places- not just where I was born and raised, or where I live now. It is where I feel loved.