This little village was as far down the Seine as the Joie de Vivre would travel. From here, we could choose to take a bus ride through the Normandy countryside for a guided walking tour of the pretty village of Honfleur, which is on the opposite bank of the Seine from Le Havre, or opt to play a round of golf on the cliffs at Etretat. Those who were prepared to pay extra could take a retro sidecar ride along the coast, or opt to visit a monastery of silent monks who make beer.
As so often happens after unseasonal hot weather, today the clouds had rolled in and the temperature had dropped. We opted to take an unguided walk around the village of Caudebec. We enjoy wandering around villages, looking in the various shops at all the wonderful fresh produce, not a supermarket in sight. Ah me. Gorgeous vegetables, baguettes to die for, a butcher’s window full of fabulous meat and small goods, lovely local cheese. We dodged between intermittent drizzle, taking in the atmosphere.
We visited the local Notre Dame, which was virtually empty – and free of scaffolding. The church is mainly 15/16th century, although there has been a church on this site well before then. It features well-preserved stained glass windows, a magnificent organ, and some wonderful art.
After a stroll through the village, we went to the Seine Museum on the bank of the river.
The museum documents the history of the river and the people who lived along its banks. One entire wall is devoted to a satellite image of the river from source to mouth. The Seine was an important trading route so there was plenty of work for sailors, merchants, tradesmen and the like. Pilots were necessary to navigate the shifting sand bars and wrecks were not uncommon.
The Seine, like the Dordogne and the Severn, used to have a wave known as a tidal bore that swept up the river from the mouth as far as Rouen. “Bores occur in relatively few locations worldwide, usually in areas with a large tidal range (typically more than 6 meters (20 ft) between high and low tide) and where incoming tides are funneled into a shallow, narrowing river or lake via a broad bay. The funnel-like shape not only increases the tidal range, but it can also decrease the duration of the flood tide, down to a point where the flood appears as a sudden increase in the water level. A tidal bore takes place during the flood tide and never during the ebb tide.” [source] Essentially, the river is trying to flow out to sea and the tide is trying to come in over the top, hence the wave.
Levees have been constructed to prevent the wave’s destructive force but it was a source of entertainment as recently as the 1960’s. It also illustrates why it was important to navigate the Seine with men who knew the river. Note all the visitors lined up along the banks to watch the performance in this short video.
While we were perusing the exhibits we came across an interesting typo. See if you can find the blatant error.
Got it? In the French version Henry set the number of pilots in 1596. In the English version, it’s 1956. When we left we had a word with the young man at the entrance. Peter showed him the picture, saying, “I expect you already know about this.” He grinned and said, “I’ve been here for six years and no-one has mentioned it.” Yay Pete.
Heather and Ali visited the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Wandrille. As with so many monasteries, churches, and castles, the buildings are comparatively recent although the site had been settled by monks as early as the eighth century. The monks endured Viking raids, destruction by fire, and the depredations of the French Revolution but the monastery was always rebuilt. “The chapel of St Saturnin, which stands on the hillside overlooking the abbey is one of the most ancient ecclesiastical buildings now existing and, though restored from time to time, is still substantially the original construction of Saint Wandrille. It is cruciform, with a central tower and eastern apse, and is a unique example of a 7th-century chapel.” [source]
Much was made of the ‘silent’ monks but from what I’ve found, silence is part of the Benedictine tradition. It doesn’t mean you can’t talk to other people, just make the conversation meaningful. Silence and contemplation leaves room for God. Benedictine chants are a part of their devotional, which is hardly silent.
As an architect, Ali could appreciate the buildings. But he’s a Muslim. To my knowledge Islam has no monastic traditions and he wanted to know why would men join a celibate monastery with no prospect of marriage and children and no social interaction? Why? One monk talked to the tourists through an interpreter but although Ali asked his question it was never answered. He was disappointed.
If you’re new to this journey and want to find other parts of the trip, go to France 2022. That page has all the posts.
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