Tuesday, October 25, 2011



This past week I have been to Rouen twice! Rouen is the biggest city in this region, and it is where the major government buildings and offices are for Northwest France. I've come here a few times in the month I've been in France for formation days for my job, but these past two visits have been the most time I have been able to spend exploring the city! Last Tuesday, I went into Rouen to finalize my visa and become an official temporary citizen. Although I had to take care of some administrative business, I still had time to have fun. And then yesterday, I got to solely be a tourist!

the Great Clock of Rouen, an icon of the city

Last Tuesday ended up being a rainy, gloomy day--typical of Normandy--so the other Americans from Evreux and I didn't do as much exploring as we had wanted to. The rain and chill put a damper on that, but we still did get to see some pretty neat things in the city!

Tour Jeanne d'Arc--where St. Joan of Arc
was imprisoned and tried in 1430-31
a medieval McDonald's? this is down the street from the
Cathedral, and it is ironically in the oldest
building on the street!

Luckily, the weather yesterday ended up being much nicer. It was a beautiful, crisp fall day--the perfect start to a two-week break! I was in Rouen with some French friends, including one who went to college in Rouen and knows the city quite well. We visited the main tourist sites, but with an insider's tour. What we were all most excited about was seeing the new altar that was just installed & consecrated in the Cathedral in Rouen. All of the bishops in Normandy (including our own) went to the Inaugural Mass on Sunday--we were among the first tourists/faithful to see it!

the beautiful Cathedral of Rouen, which Monet
famously painted

The Cathedral is beautiful, and the interior is very well maintained--both for tourists and for Catholics in Rouen. Rouen was heavily bombed in World War II, and there are ruins all around the city. The Cathedral in particular was hit fairly significantly, so there has been heavy restoration work done in the past 60+ years. What is amazing, however, is that the Cathedral did not collapse completely! Two major structural pillars supporting the roof were hit, causing some damage. However, if the bombs had exploded less than 20 feet south of their actual location, they would have hit columns supporting flying buttresses, and the Cathedral would have collapsed. It's really miraculous that it is still standing!

the tomb of the heart of Richard the Lionheart

There are many people buried in the Cathedral, although they are mostly former Archbishops. Rouen has a long, and at times tumultuous, history, as this region of France had been for centuries a contested land between the French and the English. One of the most iconic historical rulers of Normandy/Northwest France is Richard the Lionheart. As a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, who invaded and conquered England in the 11th century, Richard the Lionheart ruled as the King of England and the Duke of Normandy, thus he had complete political power over this region. He participated in the Third Crusade in the Holy Land, and is also for his military zeal. His heart is buried in the Cathedral of Rouen!

the Cathedral, from behind the main tabernacle
the Church of St. Joan of Arc

This church above, the Church of St. Joan of Arc, is a very modern, yet still beautiful, church. It was finished in the late 1970's, and it was built next to the site where St. Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431. The current church has a really interesting story, actually. The former church on this site was called St. Vincent, but it was badly damaged by bombing during World War II. Thankfully, the stained glass windows were salvaged, and installed in this new church--most likely it's most redeeming quality. It was sunny when we visited, and the sunlight poured through the windows. It was stunning! Just oustide of the church, there is a large garden with a cross and a plaque honoring the place where St. Joan of Arc was actually killed.

Walking, and just being, near such a historically significant place inspires a very particular feeling, one that I have constantly been experiencing in France. Some of my French friends joke, when we see old structures/churches/monuments, that these are older than the United States, but it's true that the history of this region and this country is something that I am not used to--and I relish in that. I find it exhilarating to think about the millions of people who have walked on the cobblestone streets, prayed in these churches, lived in these towns that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. I appreciate that history so much and I don't expect to get over that feeling of being overwhelmed!

So now I'm off for a week vacation in Bretagne! Bonnes vacances :)

pax christi.

ps--I'm writing with the windows open in my apartment. At the end of October. I love this weather!

Friday, October 21, 2011



chateau champ de bataille

Last Saturday, I went to a castle. It was only about a half an hour from Evreux, and it has plenty neighbor castles too. Because it's France, and they like to build castles!

This particular castle was called Champ de Bataille, which in French means "battlefield". It's name comes from the 10th century. Two families were fighting over this land to build their family castles & farms. One family won the battle, and therefore the rights to this land. What was most significant about this defeat, however, was that Normandy won its independence through this battle!

The current castle was built in the 15th century by the French nobleman who was exiled by the government to this location. He built 2 main structures, connected in the middle by a courtyard, and surrounded by expansive gardens. For the next 3 centuries, the castle fell in and out of disrepair, until it was finally pillaged and abandoned during the French Revolution. For the next few centuries, it remained uninhabited until, in 1992, an interior designer named Jacques Garcia bought the property with the intention of restoring it. He spent over a decade working on the property, refinishing the interior, filling it with his own personal collection of antique furniture, artwork, tapestries, and china--all from the 17th and 18th centuries.

view from the edge of the gardens

And that is how we come to this. Sprawling gardens, surrounded by forest and a golf course, a castle with both private accommodations for the owner as well as an entire wing dedicated to public display of period pieces, artwork, and acquired furniture. During our visit, we took a self-guided tour through the interior of the castle. It is designed according to what it would look like around the 17th/18th centuries, complete with a billiard room, formal bedrooms, sitting rooms, and the 5-room kitchen--including storage room and wine cellar.

the castle's own chapel

After the interior tour, we spent well over an hour walking around the gardens outside. We were blessed with a beautiful day outside, so we took advantage of it! The gardens are very well manicured--a true garden à la française! There were even some grapevines, protected by wooden arches that reminded me of the Arboretum at U of I!

view from the castle
one of the several ponds, with vineyards and an outdoor chapel
roses, in the middle of october!
another fountain

pax christi.

Friday, October 14, 2011

apples and fall in normandy



Life has been moving quickly here in Evreux. Not only has fall settled in easily, but I have also started working! Being in two French elementary schools has been fun, but there are a lot of differences from the American education system! I've been getting adjusted to that, but also trying to bring in a little more fun--probably a result of three summers of teaching Totus Tuus! We'll see how this all progresses; the transition in the schools is still a little awkward. I'm trying to find my place, but I know it'll all work out!

On a much more fun note--I have gone apple picking twice in the past week! Just outside of town, there is an apple orchard where you can pick your own apples--and plenty of other delicious fruits and vegetables! I've biked there with the two other American language assistants--Emma and Faustyna--twice, and I'm sure we'll be back again soon! Going to the orchard is a wonderful reminder of home, and Midwest falls. It's not exactly Curtis (in Champaign--I miss apple donuts!), but it is a worthy French equivalent :)

As I have already mentionned, Normandy is known for it's apples, and we are in prime apple season right now. So not only am I taking advantage of freshly-picked, delicious juicy apples, I also get to enjoy yummy apple pastries! I have been a happy camper lately!

riding a tractor. we're both imports from the midwest :)
strawberries--in october!!!

What amazed us all, walking around this orchard, was that there are still strawberries, perfectly ripe and amazingly delicious! It is probably due to the wonderful weather that we've had and the prolongation of summer that they have survived into the middle of October. I'm certainly not complaining! I was just beaming enjoying strawberries right off the stem!

Life has been great here. I continue to feel so blessed that I have this opportunity, and I'm still smitten with Evreux :)

pax christi.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

here comes fall!


Fall is making its way into Evreux! After two weeks of beautiful, nearly-summer weather, it is starting to really feel like fall here. Evreux is surrounded by hills, trees, and apple orchards! So the leaves are starting to change color and fall. It's really beautiful :) Today is the first overcast, drizzly day since I've been here, but the locals all say that this is typical weather for the region. Normandy is known for it's apples, as well, so I'm looking forward to apple picking--it'll be a little reminder of a Midwest autumn that is also culturally relevant here!

Last Thursday, I finally moved into my apartment! I live in a humble studio in Centreville (downtown). It's a great location, close to my 2 schools, the bus systems, the library, plenty of restaurants and shops, a grocery store, you get the picture. It really is prime location and I feel super blessed to have found it! Now when I say humble, I truly mean that--it's tiny, but it's enough space for me! Expect pictures when I've done a little bit more decorating :)

More exciting news is that I start observing in the classrooms that I'll be assisting in tomorrow! I met with the principals of the two schools that I'll be working in, and they were both very kind and excited to welcome me into their schools. My official title is English Language Assistant--I won't be the English teacher in the classroom (there is a trained English teacher in that role), but I'll be working with that teacher to lead class lessons, encourage students to speak, explain American culture, and offer any other personal experience that I have. I'm sure I'll be using plenty of songs and games from growing up and Totus Tuus! All of the teachers I have met have said that most of these kids think that America is paradise--due in large part to what they see on tv and in movies. So they'll have lots of questions for me! I'm very excited to meet the students and start working!

L'Abbaye de la Trappe

One more quick anecdote: this past weekend I went on a retreat at a Trappist Abbey about an hour south of Evreux. It was only from Saturday-Sunday, but it was a great opportunity to see more of this region, meet more French people around my age, and to have a little peace and quiet to meditate and pray. The Abbey was beautiful--very serene. We took a few walks around the property, which includes a few lakes and a forest! And we also shared some delicious, traditional French meals. It was a wonderful weekend :)

The church at La Trappe

pax christi.