I had read about the tall boat show, the so called Armada, to be held in Rouen on the website for Francophiles, The Good Life in France, and it looked like it would be fabulous. My husband got on the website for the event and found that you could even book a ride up the river to Honfleur on one of those impressive ships with lunch along the way. There was room available and before I knew it, we had a reservation.
We arrived at Rouen on the penultimate day of the event. The city itself is a delight to walk around with a centuries old clock tower and, of course, all of those half-timbered buildings – there are over one thousand of them. It is also the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and there is a huge cross in the Place du Vieux Marché where the tragic event occurred, along with a rather strange looking building covering a memorial to Joan of Arc alongside a market.
We had lunch near the Place du Vieux Marché on the first day and then walked over to the harbour to have a look at the tall ships which were in port. They were incredibly impressive with those enormous masts overhead – even more spectacular than in the photos I’d seen. I do believe that the crowds rivalled those you find at Disneyland or New Orleans – we were all squeezed in together on either side on the harbour on the narrow quays amazed at the sight of these beautiful ships.
The next morning we boarded our vessel, the Artemis, and watched as ships set off ahead of us down the river in an enormous Armada. The most impressive one was a huge ship from Russia. About fifty sailors climbed the enormous masts ready to lower the sails as they left Rouen. Soon it was our turn and we pulled out into the line of boats and made our way to Honfleur, a delightful little town down the coast. Our sails were opened about half way and then, after we left Rouen, returned to their original closed state much to my disappointment. I realized that the river was too narrow to get under way by sail but I would have loved to have experienced it. We made our way up the river by motor. I noticed that one huge Russian ship didn’t join us as they had to wait for the lowest tide a few days hence so they could make it under the bridges on the way back to the ocean.
As we left Rouen, the harbour was packed with people watching the ships leave and I thought that we wouldn’t see any more spectators but on every shore and every road or town where cars could park and people could gather, there were hundreds of people viewing the Armada. I’m not good at estimating numbers but I think, in all, there must have been around a million people watching us pass by. We were all waving to each other – I waved so much my shoulders hurt!
It was a wonderful experience going up the river, enjoying the view as we went along, watching the people, looking up at bridges as we passed in a stately flotilla. We didn’t put into the delightful little harbour of Honfleur, being on a ship too large not only to go through the lock but to even fit into the harbour itself and we disembarked just outside the town.
We watched as the Artemis floated serenely past us further up the river and then we walked into Honfleur for dinner talking about what a great time we had had.
It was really a memorable experience and I’m already looking forward to the next Rouen Armada in five years’ time!
Linda Mathieu, a native Texan, lives in France with her French husband. She was a Paris Tour Guide and is the author of Secrets of a Paris Tour Guide, available at www.amazon.com.