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Floating through France

by Jessica Pook | 21 December 2017

I reach for my phone as part of my morning ritual, dazed and confused, in an attempt to stop the buzzing of the alarm, but today my phone was not the cause of my rude awakening. I gingerly go to investigate the violent tap… tapping on the window to find my impostor - an inquisitive family of swans bobbing below me.

Rouen: We dock in Rouen, the first stop on our four-night Seine rivercruise with Shearings Holidays, and I’m instantly transported back to the middle ages. This northern region of Normandy is paved with cobbled streets and medieval half-timbered houses that look steeped in history and full of secrets.

Many historical figures have graced the city of Rouen, it is the place where William the Conqueror often held court, Richard the Lionheart was crowned Duke of Normandy here and, most famously, Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake having been tried for heresy. A cross still marks the spot where she met her gruesome death in these streets.

Wondering through the town centre and almost out of nowhere I’m confronted by the most impressive piece of gothic architecture, the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen. The detailed arches and spires date back to the 12th century and the impressive stained glass windows remain proudly on show thanks to the initiative of Jean Lafond who ordered them to be removed from churches until the end of the war.

Vernon: We cruise further down the river Seine and come across Vernon on the second day, this picturesque town is within walking distance of Giverny, the place where painter Claude Monet spent most of his life. Visit Monet’s garden and you’ll instantly recognise the subject of one of his most famous works, the Japanese bridge seen in his Nympheas paintings. Some of his original works can still be viewed at the Musée Alphonse-Georges Poulain in Vernon town centre.

The Old Mill of Vernon was another of Monet’s favoured compositions. This 16th century wooden-beamed structure lies suspended between two stone pillars above the river, supported by nothing but a few timbers. It neighbours Chateau des Tourelles – a small 12th century castle that transports me to a time when knights and kings roamed these lands.

Paris: We reach Paris by the third day, which brought with it the dizzying heights of the Eifel Tower, the wow factor of the Sacre-Coeur, the bewilderment at the fashonistas that totter along the Champs Elysees and the reality that you simply cannot do all of Paris in one day.

In a desperate attempt to conquer the metro I signal in my broken French to an unimpressed ticket officer, who simply prints a ticket and points at the price without uttering a single word. I’m ready to experience the famous Christmas markets that I have heard so much about. In preparation I had exchanged many more euros than I could afford, promised personal trinkets and Parisian gifts to family and friends and driven our group members insane with Christmas playlists to ‘get us in the mood’.

I’m greeted by some sorry looking empty huts, cornered off by metal fencing as I’m told that the Christmas markets have been cancelled this year due to security threats…it took crepes, chocolat chaud, a few churros and some festive macaroons before I was able to come to terms with this devastating news and I’m still unsure how to convince my parents that their airport-bought fridge magnets are handmade.

Shearings Holidays will feature A-ROSA River Cruises in 2018, which are packaged into commissionable, all-inclusive tours for agents to sell and include 19 departures on 12 itineraries on 6 rivers.

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