"" Writer's Wanderings: Return to France, Le Havre

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Return to France, Le Havre

 Le Havre is the port for Paris but it takes a long train ride, about 2 1/2 hours. Been to Paris, didn't need to go again. Closer is Honfleur but still about an hour and while I would love to sit in one of their cafes and sip some coffee with some pastry, we've already done that as well. Let's see, another choice was the Normandy cemetery and beaches. Again, we've been there and it was a bit of a distance and costly excursion. 

Oh wait! We haven't been to Le Havre and we're docked at its doorstep. Duh.

Our arrival was in a bit of sunshine but it soon clouded over and a cool breeze and the possibility of a little rain made a jacket necessary. I had found an online walking tour that highlighted the sights to see and had put it into a doc. I discovered that I hadn't used Google Map to plot it and save it so we went on the written instructions, a paper map and of course searching for the sites on the map on my phone. It all worked and the area is really not hard to figure out.

Le Havre was mercilessly bombed by the Allies in September of 1944. Not much was left but rubble and ashes but the Allies were successful in reclaiming the area from the Nazis who had still occupied it. Left with a "clean slate" to rebuild, after approximately 12,500 buildings were destroyed and 80,000 left homeless, France made the rebuilding of Le Havre a priority under the direction of architect, Auguste Perret.

Under Perret's direction, the rebuilding began in 1945 and continued until 1964. HIs building material of choice was reinforced concrete which made the rebuilding move along at a faster pace. The apartment buildings are very uniform and the city is laid out in more of a grid pattern than the typical European towns where roads meander around. In 2005, the unique architecture was recognize as a heritage site by UNESCO.

From the ship we shuttled on a large bus into the center of town. We could have walked, about 25 minutes, but it was a bit chilly and the walk back might have been tiring at that point. I'm trying to justify the 10 Euros each it cost. The shuttle dropped us off at the Place Perret near the Le Volcan, the cultural center designed by a Belgian architect in 1982. It's quite a contrast to all the very square buildings.

Our first stop, for whatever reason was to be the pedestrian bridge that spanned a rectangular area of water called the Bassin du Commerce. There was a little school for sailing there and two different kinds of small sailboats were out with children on them learning to sail. I hoped none would fall in. The water had to be icy cold. Their enthusiasm was anything but, however. We enjoyed hearing the chatter and occasional scream as they maneuvered their small sailing ships.

Next up was Les Halles which was a large market building. It wasn't quite what I expected. There were small market stalls inside around the periphery but the center seemed to be just a huge grocery store. We didn't spend a lot of time exploring it but I do enjoy seeing the produce so beautifully displayed and the butcher stand, my goodness, if only our meat counters looked as good at home.

A little longer walk and we found the iconic church of the area, St. Joseph, Actually it is the fourth church of that name to be there. The first dates back to 1871 but no mention of a building. The second was never fully completed and opened in 1877. Then came the war. When everything was destroyed, the abbot created a church in a former warehouse of corrugated iron. 

Perret also designed St. Joseph's and did so with the intention of dedicating it to those lost in the war. It's tower reaches over 300 feet in the air and is decorated with deeply colored stain glass. From inside it is astounding to look up. The stained glass work was done by a woman, Marguerite Hure, who used an ancient technique of glass blowing causing the colored glass to give subtle shades as the sun bathes them. Unfortunately we didn't see the sun through them but the whole tower is amazing.

A good ten minute walk away is the cathedral of Le Havre. The cathedral suffered a lot of damage in the bombings (did I mention the city took 132 bombings) but a good part of the outside foundational structure remained as well as a good part of the facade of the front of the building. 

The arches and stained glass window were impressive. So was the fact that the cathedral was actually used for worship. The ladies of the church were preparing the floral arrangements for the coming service. Too many churches we've explored are no longer places of worship.

We didn't realize we were so close to the cruise terminal until we saw the sculpture that we'd seen from the ship. The arches are made from multi-colored containers and designed by Vincent Ganivet are said to symbolize the importance of Le Havre as a port. I guess the locals have dubbed it the "Eiffel Tower of Le Havre."

On our way back to the center of town, we searched for a seafood soup or stew that is supposed to be famous in the Normandy region. Before we could find it, Bob felt a few drops of rain. "Back to the ship!" Have I mentioned that Bob melts in the rain? 

The shuttle bus arrived about the same time we did and we beat the rain back to the ship. Well, what little rain there was. Bob didn't melt.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...