2016-07-23 (Day 37) Saint Pierre du Vauvray – Roumare

Today’s photo features the Notre Dame cathedral in Rouen. In 1876, a new spire was built of cast iron to replace the old spire which had been damaged by lightning. From 1876 to 1880, at 151m in height, this spire was the tallest structure in the world until surpassed by Cologne Cathedral in Germany. It was one of the first buildings ever built to surpass the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, which is 146m tall. 120 years ago, the Seine valley between Paris and Rouen was the Silicon Valley of it’s time. It was between these two cities that the world’s first cycle race (1869) and world’s first motor-race (1894) took place. Indeed, the Seine valley was one of the the most industrialized regions in the world at that time, which French people now refer to as the Belle Epoque.


Travoy all loaded up about to leave Camping Saint Pierre. Out of all the campsites I visited on this year’s Tour de Travoy, Camping Saint Pierre was one of the best. Set in the grounds of a 18th Century chateau, it is beautifully laid out. It is located only 60 km from the centre of Paris  and about 30 km from Giverny and with space for about 50 campers, I was surprised there were so few other campers there. Last year, I visited a lovely campsite at Chatillion-sur-Indre and the campsite here at Saint Pierre reminded me of there in that it is lovingly maintained but worryingly underused.


Total cycled today – 50 km. Total cycled so far – 1610 km. Easy spin today until I got to Rouen where the climb out of town had me struggling.


Sign for an evening market in Pont de l’Arche. There had been an evening market here the day before which started at 6 and probably went on until near midnight. Pont de l’Arche means the Bridge of the Fortress in English. There has been a bridge across the Seine here since the 9th Century and a fortress was also built at each end of the bridge. The fort on the southern end of the bridge is now the town of Pont de l’Arche while the fort on the northern end has long since been demolished and is now a quarry. Pont de l’Arche was famous for its shoe and slipper factories and 120 years ago, there were over 20 shoe factories in the town employing over 5,000 people. All of these factories have long since closed and the town is nowadays mostly a commuter town for people working in Paris and Rouen.

Pont de l’Arche across the Seine. The bridge crosses the Seine at the same place as the River Eure enters the Seine. A wooden bridge was first built across the Seine here in 862 but the present bridge dates from 1955. It is supported by 2 piers in the river Seine and its longest span is about 50m. At the time of it’s construction it was the longest continously welded box girder bridge in Europe.

The Pont de l’Arche was crossed in 1894 during the world’s first long distance motor race between Paris and Rouen. The 126 km long race was won by Albert Lemaitre in an early model Peugeot car with a 3 hp engine.In all, only 17 vehicles completed the race that day out of 21 vehicles that had started. Lemaitre took almost 7 hours to drive from Paris to Rouen and was one of only 14 petrol powered vehicles to complete the route. Lemaitre won the first prize of 5,000 francs which would be the equivalent of €50,000 today. His speed averaged only 19 km/h but within 10 years, cars were being built with engines which produced 90 hp and were capable of driving at speeds of up to 140 km/h.

Paris Rouen was also the setting for the word’s first bicyle race in 1869. The race in 1869 was won by James Moore, who cycled the 123 km distance in 10 hours and 40 minutes at an average speed of 11 km/h. Nowadays, professional cyclists would cycle the same distance in under 3 hours but back in 1869 bikes didn’t have any gears or even a chain. Instead, they were propelled using pedals attached to the front wheel. Obviously, the bigger the wheel the faster the bike and Moore’s bike made by his neighbors in Paris, the Michaux brothers, had a 48″ front wheel and a 15″ back wheel. 120 cyclists set out from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but only 32 made it to Rouen within 24 hours. Paris – Rouen was originally meant to be an annual race but the 1870 Franco-Prussion war led to its cancellation. In the 1880’s the invention of the safety bicycle with a chain driven transmission led to bicycle speeds doubling and numerous races being organised throughout France. By the time the most famous cycle race nowadays, Paris – Roubaix started in 1896, cyclists were averaging over 30 km/h. The same year, a race for motor vehicles took place between Paris and Marseille and back and that race was won at an average speed of only 28 km/h. In contrast, the first Paris – Roubaix cycle race the same year was won by German cyclist Josef Fischer who covered 280 km from Porte Maillot in Paris to the velodrome in Roubaix in 9 hours at an average speed of 31km/h.

Panhard Levassor car from 1896 (left) and 1903 Renault 3CV (right). Karl Benz had invented the first motorcar in 1885 and his wife Bertha then famously took the first long distance trip in a car in 1888. 8 years later, the Panhard Levassor car shown above won Paris – Marseille in 1896 at an average speed of 28 km/h. So, even 11 years after Karl Benz had built the first motor car, bicycles were still faster than any car built up until then. But that was to change drastically over the next 7 years. In 1898, the first major international race took place between Paris and Amsterdam and the winning car traveled at a speed of 43 km/h. By 1903, in the Paris – Madrid race the fastest cars had 90 hp engines and a maximum speed of 140 km/h. Over 200 cars took part in the 1903 Paris – Madrid race including 11 cars from Mercedes in Germany. However, 3 spectators and 5 drivers were killed during the race and it was stopped when the leading drivers had only got as far as Bordeaux. One of the drivers killed was Marcel Renault, who along with his brother Louis Renault, owned Renault motor cars at that time. Shortly afterward, racing cars on open roads in France was banned by the French government and races were confined to closed circuits. The 1894 Paris Rouen was the first and the 1903 Paris Madrid race was the last race to be held on open roads in France. But in the space of those 9 years, cars had gone from averaging 19 km/h to averaging 89 km/h the same speed as what most cars travel at today.


Narrow verge nowadays along road used in first cycle race anywhere in the world. In 1869, the road between Paris and Rouen would have been mostly cobbled and much hillier and narrower, so the present day version with its smooth asphalt and easier gradients is a big improvement. But for a road that hosted the first cycle race in the world, I  expected it to be much more cycle friendly. The road was very busy and very narrow in places for the volume of traffic. It would not cost much to add a verge a foot or 2 wide along most it’s length to improve a cyclist’s safety. Certainly, if the Paris Rouen road was located in l’Ain departement of France, the verge would be much wider.


City of Rouen in the distance. With a population of half a million people, Rouen is one of the largest cities in France. Rouen was founded in Roman times and in the Middle Ages, was the second largest city in France behind only Paris. During the Hundred Years War, the city was occupied by English troops for 30 years between 1419 and 1449. It was during this period that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake here in 1431.


 Joan of Arc being burned at the stake in 1431. In 1430, Joan was captured by Burgundian troops near Compiegne and handed over to their allies, the English in Normandy after a ransom was paid. She was kept in a prison in Rouen and then put on trial for heresy. Because she wore men’s clothes and kept her hair cut short, she was convicted of being a heretic and sentenced to death by being burned at a stake on 30 May 1431.  After Joan of Arc was burnt to death, the English then raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive. They then burned the body twice more, to reduce it to ash and prevent any collection of relics, before throwing her remains into the River Seine.


Eglise Sainte Jeanne d’Arc at the Place du Vieux Marche in Rouen. The site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake is now marked with a cross. Beside the cross is a large, modern church which dominates the square. The design of the church represents an upturned viking boat and is in the shape of a fish. However, it looks a bit out of place in such a historic location.


Panorama XXL building in Rouen. The Panorama XXL buiding opened in Rouen in 2014. It is 35m in height and 34m in diameter and shows a 3D panorama of historical towns. It has proved to be very popular with an average of 100.000 visitors annually since it opened. In 2015, it offered a panorama of how Rome looked in 312 AD but in May 2016, it started displaying a panorama showing Rouen in 1431.

Panoramic view of Rouen in 1431 inside Panorama XXL. This 360 ° panorama is the result of 3 years of work by local artist Yadegar Asisi. More than 50,000 photographs, drawings and paintings were looked at and incorporated into the panorama. From the top of the 15-meter platform, you can discover major scenes of the life and death of Joan of Arc which took place in Rouen. At this time, Rouen was the 2nd largest city in France, just after Paris. The panorama portrays the daily life of the city, with the churches, the half-timbered houses, courtyards and the Mathilde bridge on the river Seine.

Regeneration of Rouen dockyards. There has been a port in Rouen since Roman times and for a long time in the Middle Ages, it was the busiest port in France. However, more recently, due to the construction of a container port on the mouth of the Seine at Le Havre, volumes at the port of Rouen have gone into decline. As a result, in common with many port cities around the world, the docklands area of Rouen has been re-generated. The re-generation has included a marina and there were numerous small craft tied up here.


Bulk carrier Kotor in the port of Rouen. However, Rouen is still one of the biggest ports in the world for exports of wheat. Last year, over 7 million tons of wheat and barley was exported from Rouen. Only New Orleans in USA (56 mm tons), San Lorenzo in Argentina (24mm tons) and Vancouver in Canada (12 mm tons) exported more grain than Rouen. The ship pictured above, which has been named Kotor, is a 23,000 ton bulk carrier which was built in 2014 and is currently registered in Saint Vincent in the Carribbean. I have no idea where this cargo of grain was headed but port records show that the ship delivered a load of grain from Poland to Algeria in October and again in December 2016. The Kotor is currently in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil with a cargo of grain on it’s way from San Lorenzo in Argentina to Morocco. I took this photo of the ship in Rouen in July which coincides with the wheat harvest in Europe and it then went to Argentina where the wheat harvest occurs in January. The wheat harvest in New Orleans is in May-June so it may go there next before returning to Rouen again in the late summer.

Source : Bloomberg

Chart showing the 3 main wheat exporting regions of the world. Last year, about 25 million tons of wheat was exported by the EU. About 6 million tons of wheat was exported via Rouen so that means about a quarter of all the EU’s wheat exports passed through the port of Rouen. This would explain the one thing that has astounded me the most so far on the Tour de Travoy i.e the amount of wheat and barley being grown in northern France. In places, there are fields of wheat and barley that stretch for miles as far as the eye can see. A lot of this grain is obviously being grown for export and most of it ends up passing through Rouen on it’s way to Morocco, Algeria and even China. These 3 countries are the 3 biggest importers of French grain from Rouen. Traditionally, Egypt was the biggest importer but in recent years, it has been importing more grain from Romania (via Constanta) and Russia (via Rostov). The drop in the value of the ruble has also helped Russian wheat exporters and French growers have had to cut their prices in order to compete on the world market.


Pont Gustave Flaubert across the Seine in Rouen. The Pont Gustave-Flaubert is a vertical-lift bridge over the River Seine in Rouen.. It officially opened on 25 September 2008 after four years of work. The bridge itself cost approximately €60 million to build, but the associated approach roads and other infrastructure made the total cost €137 million. The bridge has a maximum span of 120 m and a total height of 86 m. The clearance is 7 m  when the deck is down, which still allows the passage of barges and smaller craft. It is 55 m above the Seine when raised and is reputed to be the tallest lift bridge in the world.  The lift section is expected to open around 30 times a year, in particular for the Rouen Armada and for cruise ships who dock in the city centre.


View of Rouen from Canterlou. This photo shows the Quevilly district of Rouen but in the distance is the commune of Saint Etienne de Vouvray. Just 3 days after I passed through Rouen, this district made international headlines after a local priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was stabbed to death by 2 jihadists. Father Jacques had stood in for the local priest that morning for the 9 o’clock Mass. Soon after the Mass started, he along with 5 members of the congregation were taken hostage by 2 ISIS jihadists. Father Jacques was made to kneel at the alter and recite verses from the Koran and when he refused to do so,  his throat was slit. The jihadists had forced one of the congregation, a 86 year old pensioner, to film the attack and after killing Father Jacques, the jihadists then stabbed the defenseless pensioner. Fortunately, one of the hostages then escaped and she alerted the police who soon surrounded the church. About an hour after the ordeal began, the remaining hostages tried to escape as the jihadists negotiated with the police. When the jihadists ran out after the hostages, they were shot dead by the police. This horrific attack on an innocent defenseless congregation in Saint Etienne de Vauvray happened less than 2 weeks after the Bastille Day attack in Nice, and it left the whole of France reeling as once again innocent people were targeted.


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