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Normandy: Day Two

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We began the day with a fine breakfast at our restaurant-avec-chambres: excellent croissants, pains au chocolat, escargots aux raisins (the French version of our snails; our TC loved them), fresh orange juice, delicious bread, that creamy European yogurt, cereals?and the usual beverages. That bounty made us sorry to leave such a delightful spot, but the road beckoned.

Our first stop after a scenic drive was the village of Lyons-le-Forêt, which has a fine old covered market and a house where Maurice Ravel once lived. We had hoped to stop at the Abbaye de Fontaine Guérard and the Basilique Notre-Dame, but we needed to get to Rouen and drop our luggage off at the Novotel Rouen Sud. Our maps got us nicely through the maze of roads, and all went well until?the bridges of Rouen. All five of them!

At that point our directions failed us, and despite our best attempt to get in the correct lane, we were forced to go over one bridge after another, through the streets of Rouen Sud, back over another bridge?round and round for nearly two hours. We thought of the book A Bridge too Far and observed with concern that our car seemed to be enjoying all this to-and-froing. Noon had come and gone, and all we wanted was to get to our hotel (if we ever found it) and collapse.

We finally gave up on the detailed maps, pulled out the driving directions, and drove back out of Rouen to start all over again. We were tired and hungry and extremely frustrated; Bob was tense from all that difficult driving. Finally we went over the correct bridge and, by making some lucky guesses, got to to where our hotel was supposed to be?but in fact was not. Finally we found the convention center and our hotel. Then things got better?our rooms were ready, there was an elevator (the no-smoking rooms were on the first floor, our second), the air-conditioning was working well to cool off our overheated bodies and brains.

After stowing our luggage we got back into the car and cautiously made our way across the bridge with blue lighting fixtures back to the right bank of Rouen. After only about 20 minutes we found our way to the town center and left the car in an underground lot near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. We had a quick lunch at a nearby café and walked to the immense cathedral, whose size was truly overwhelming. Then we walked through the cobblestone streets of the old town to the church of St-Maclou, built in the Gothic-Flamboyant style, and finally the church of St-Ouen, our definite favorite of the three because of its simplicity of line and beautiful stained glass. Bob and I enjoyed watching people playing boules in the churchyard court, something one does not often see.

By then the cobblestones had made my knee and back very unhappy; so into the belly of the beast we went again and returned to the hotel. By then we knew the route all too well and had, thankfully, no problems. After our good pasta dinner in the Novotel restaurant, Bob tried out the hotel's lobby computer but was very frustrated to find that the exclamation point, essential for checking his e-mail, was nowhere to be found on the keyboard, which was not a standard French one. No one on the hotel staff could solve the mystery; so he gave up and we went to bed, wishing our experience of Rouen had been less hectic. We should have stayed on the right side of the river.

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