Thursday 29 June 2023

Wanna do the Paris Triathlon? What you need to know

Paris Triathlon details

  • The Paris Triathlon usually takes place in June. There is a sprint distance, which is what I did - 550m swim, 21km bike, 6km run - that takes place on the Saturday. The Olympic distance race - 1500m, 40km, 10km run on the Sunday.
  • The event is based at Parc de la Villette in the 19th arrondissement, with the swim taking place in the Ourcq Canal. 
  • The bike route goes into central Paris and back, passing some well-known landmarks. On both distances you go via the Canal St Martin to Republique, through Bastille, and along the River. In the sprint race the riders do a U-turn at Place de la Concorde to return to Parc de la Villette. 
  • In the Olympic distance the riders go up Champs Elysees and do a stint through the Bois de Boulogne before returning to the triathlon event village. 
  • Parts of the course have cobbles, though not extensively. Also be careful of sharp right or left-hand turns, and check around you before changing your line.
  • The race is supposedly non-drafting, but with the numbers and on this type of fast, mainly flat course it's hard to avoid doing so!
  • The run goes up one side of the Ourcq Canal, heading East to the suburb of Pantin, then crosses the canal at the half-way point to head back to the finish line in the event village.
  • This year, for the first time they included a duathlon, based on the distances in the sprint triathlon. Competitors did the same as the sprint triathletes but the swim was replaced with a 5km run.
  • Around 5000 athletes take part across all three distances over the two days.
  • It's a mass participation event open to anyone fit enough. The sprint triathlon is accessible to people who are new to the sport, with a cut-off time of around 3 hours to complete the race.
  • To take part, you need to have either a medical certificate stating a non-contraindication to doing competitive triathlons, or a triathlon licence from your country's triathlon federation. If you don't have an annual French Triathlon Federation licence you need to buy a French Triathlon Federation day licence for a nominal fee.
  • Given the numbers of people taking part in the event, you need to rack your bike in transition the day before the event.
  • The organisers seem quite relaxed about the closing date for entry. I entered the triathlon just a week prior to the event! But bear in mind that when uploading accompanying documents (triathlon licence/medical certificates) as part of the on-line entry process the organisers recommend that you allow a couple of weeks for them to validate your documents.
  • The events start around 7am, so you need to get public transport around 5.30/6am, depending on which part of Paris you're in. The metro is running at that time and the most convenient stop is Porte de Pantin on line 5.
  • On the morning of the event you need to be in your start pen about 30 minutes before your start time.
  • The walk from transition to the start pens is around 800m (half a mile) along grass, trails and cobbles. The organisers advise people to wear old trainers which can then be left in designated boxes and donated to charity. I didn't have old trainers so just wore a few pairs of old socks. 
  • As with all major events, there's a bit of a queue for the portaloos, so allow lots of time.
  • There is a staffed bag-drop area for your post-race gear, though there are no changing rooms or showers. Some people just got changed in the grassy area around the event. I was happy to cycle back to my lodgings after the race and get changed there. 
  • If you don't want to take your bike or a wetsuit, for an extra fee you can hire a "triathlon package" for the event from the organisers. It includes a bicycle and a wetsuit, plus other triathlon gear.
  • There's a great atmosphere at the event, with lots of spectators.
  • The 2024 date has not yet been announced, though it is possible to register your interest in order to receive news about it, including the date.

My logistics for the race
  • I travelled to Paris from London with my bike. I packed down my triathlon gear (including my wetsuit) very small so that they fitted into my bikepacking bags - one on the saddle, and the other on the handlebars. I also carried a small rucksack.
  • I caught a train from East Croydon to Brighton and then cycled to Newhaven. There was the option to catch a train from Brighton to Newhaven Town.  You can also go by train from East Croydon to Newhaven Town (with a changeover at Lewes). There was a further option to ride from Crystal Palace to Newhaven, but I didn't have the time to do that! Train tickets cost anything from £9 to £29 depending on which route you take, and if you book in advance on-line to travel on Thameslink or Southern Trains.
  • I got the 5pm ferry to Dieppe and arrived there at 10pm local time. Ferry tickets cost around £28 each way with DFDS, though can be a bit higher depending on the service.
  • My accommodation for the night was an apartment less than 10 minutes away from the Ferry terminal. Newhaven is quite a compact town. There are also reasonably priced hotels nearby. The flat cost around £40, while the hotels are a little bit more.
  • It was possible to get a train from Dieppe through to Paris (with changeover at Rouen). Both trains are regional (TER) so you just carry your bike on and put it in the provided bike space for free. You can buy tickets at the train station, but these days the French railway company, SNCF, are on a drive to get people to book on-line via their portal SNCF Connect. You are then more likely to get cheaper fares in advance. Also, if you book on-line then you can make changes to your ticket. Fares vary alot - from about 12 Euros to 30 Euros. 
  • If you're feeling really energetic you could ride the 120 miles all the way to Paris. Or you could go part way and ride about 35 miles to Rouen, or 60 miles to Beauvais then get a train to Paris. I cycled 20 miles to Auffay and then got on a train.
  • The train from Rouen arrives at Gare Saint-Lazare, while a train from Beauvais goes to Gare du Nord, both stations being in central Paris.
  • I stayed in an Aparthotel at Maisons-Alfort, a nearby suburb of Paris, just to the East and next to the 12th and 13th arrondissements of the city. It was close to the woods (Bois de Vincennes) and was on the metro (line 8, Balard-Creteil). Bear in mind that Paris is a very compact city, and although I was in the suburbs I was still only about a half-hour bike ride from the touristic parts of Central Paris.
  • Staying in an apartment meant that I could go self-catering and eat the food that suited me for the event. Where I stayed was very conveniently located close to a supermarket.
  • The triathlon took place in the Parc de la Villette, in the 19th arrondissement, North-East of Paris. It was about a 40-minute cycle ride from where I was staying. Once the triathlon was done it was an easy bike ride to get back to my lodgings.
  • The metro took around the same amount of time on the morning of the event, and involved a changeover at Bastille to get to Porte de Pantin.
  • Getting home to London was fairly straightforward. I got a train from Paris St Lazare in the late afternoon on Sunday and then took the overnight ferry to Newhaven, then cycled to Brighton to get the train to East Croydon. I was originally booked onto a Sunday morning train in order to get the afternoon ferry from Dieppe, but a puncture meant I missed my train. However, it was straightforward forward to change my train ticket on-line. As it was the weekend, DFDS phone line was closed, so I did have to buy a new ferry ticket. Then the next day I just transferred the original ticket to a another trip in the future. I will definitely be making a trip to Paris with my bike in the future. It's one of my favourite itineraries!

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Wednesday 28 June 2023

Back again to Paris by bike - Part 2: Paris Triathlon

Given that I have spent so much time in Paris over the course of my life these days my trips there tend to be for a specific reason. I travelled there earlier this year to go an interview the top brass at Amaury Sports Organisation/L'Equipe Media at their offices just in the suburbs at Boulogne Billancourt. This time I was back again to take part in the Garmin Triathlon de Paris. 

It is an event that I had been wanting to do for some time. Originally I had thought of taking part in a swimming event that took place the week before the triathlon, in the same area - Ourcq Canal. That was going to be just an open water swimming event. I have been doing a fair amount of open water swimming and I felt ready to do an event, but getting to Paris in time for this event was proving tricky logistically. So as a kind of "consolation" I decided to do the triathlon, given that that would involve open water swimming in the same canal, plus a bonus of a bike ride right into central Paris. 

Based to the north-east of the city, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, the Ourcq Canal is part of the canal network in Paris that includes the Canal Saint Denis and the Canal Saint Martin. The latter connects to the Ourcq Canal via the Bassin de la Villette, a rectangular artificial lake which is the site for leisure activities on the water, including sailing, pedalos and there is a cordoned-off section to form a Lido during the summer months. The wider area, Parc de la Villette is home to a science and technology museum, concert venues, an open-air cinema, and on this weekend, the Garmin Paris Triathlon.  

The triathlon took place at a timely moment for me because I had a medical certificate, and obligatory document that most French sports events ask that you have in order to participate. In fact it was due to expire on 25th June - the day after triathlon. So that was lucky!

Arrival into Paris 

On my arrival into Paris Saint Lazare station, I had initially thought to do the 20-minute ride straight to the Parc de la Villette where I would sign-on for the event, pick up my race pack, and leave my bicycle there overnight. All participants had to leave their bikes at that the transition the day before, given the size of the field - there were around 2000 participants.

Cycle path on the left-bank of the River Seine

But I was not in the mood to get shot of my bike so soon after arriving into this city that looked even more beautiful on this hot sunny day. So I decided to do a mini tour first. It wouldn't do any harm, especially as I had only ridden 20 miles on my stint through Normandy. So a flat 10 or 15 miles were not going to totally tire me out. 

From the station I headed slightly north towards Rome metro station and then cycled along the grand boulevard to reach Charles de Gaulle Etoile. There were lots of cyclists and scooters out, with some on the cycle lanes while others were on the main carriageway. Traffic is quite dense and can be slow-going, even with segregated cycle lanes. So it tends to be every man and woman for themselves regardless of what mode of transport they are on. I guess, as a regular cycle commuter in London this was nothing new to me. 

You have to be careful on the cycle lanes because they aren't 100% segregated as they have openings, notably for delivery vehicles to pull in. The lanes also melt away at junctions and so it's a question of following bicycle markings on the road surface, though not all road users or even cyclists follow them.

My main issue with riding around Paris is the various cobbled sections. I am sure my road bike can handle those sections, but when I am bike packing I still worry that something might get rattled off or break. 

After a mini photo opportunity stops at the Arc de Triomphe, Trocadero (near the Eiffel Tower), and on the river near Alexandre III Bridge, I rode along the lovely cycle path along the river. This path doesn't just go through the famous areas, but also into the less glamourous parts of south-east Paris, after Austerlitz station and near Ivry Sur Seine. In fact I was able to get to my loggings at Maison Alfort via the cycle paths.

Late Registration at Parc de la Villette 

This was the time to drop off my bags and then continue my ride up to La Villette. When I told the receptionist that I would be cycling up to the Parc in the north-east of city, he looked at me like I was mad. He was saying I would need all evening to get up there! Really? I almost began to wonder if it was a strange thing to do.

Well, in fact the route was around 40 minutes along the cycle path on the grand boulevards via Pere Lachaise Cemetery and Belleville. I remember at the time when I lived in Paris I only ever travelled by public transport, and it's true that the idea of cycling from one end of the city to another seemed a long way. In fact, it is when you cycle that you realise just how compact Paris is.

At Parc de la Villette there was a vibrant atmosphere in anticipation of the event, with various trade stalls up, a bit of music and a commentator contributing to an animated vibe. In a way I was glad to get there when I did - about an hour before they were closing the event village - as I didn't have to queue up. The transition area looked impressive with thousands of bikes. I almost wished I'd brought a balloon or something as an aide-memoire for where my bike was. Would I know where to find my bike when I exited the water?

Sign-on at Paris Triathlon Event village

Getting back to my apartment by public transport was straightforward and I had worked out how to get to the triathlon in time for the 7.15am start the following morning.

Early start for race day

The following morning I took a 5.30am metro to Porte de Pantin. Unsurprisingly the train was full of people all dressed in sports gear, showing off their race numbers. Seeing people with the same wave number as myself made me feel reassured that I wasn't late. 

It's not that easy remembering where your bike is among all this!

Setting up my gear in the transition area was easy enough as all the essential items had been left there overnight. I didn't feel too nervous about the event as I considered myself to be just a Jonny come lately who fancied having a go. I knew that I could do all the individual disciplines. I just had to be mindful of not making a silly mistake like not adjusting my goggles properly, or not eating/drinking enough while on the bike.

There was a palpable sense of excitement and nervous anticipation among the participants, especially as I stood in the rather long queue to the portaloo. The walk to the start was a good 800m along the grass and the canal towpath. Many people were wearing old trainers (which could be left at the startline and collected by clothing charities). As I had to travel light, I wore a few pairs of thick old socks.

After a short delay due to the organisers having to remove some parked cars from the bike course the event began, with competitors and spectators alike cheering and applausing each triathlon wave that began before us, and also the single duathlon wave as the participants ran along the opposite side of the canal from us.

Eventually, my wave (wave 3) began and we eased forward through our holding pen to reach the entry point in the Canal Ourcq. Knowing that swimming is my weak point, and not wanting to be caught up in a bunfight in the water I put myself at the back of the pack. I was fine with that. What I wasn't fine with, was the sight of folks at the front of our pen leaping into the water. I was shocked to think that I would have to do that to. Is this a French thing, for participants to leap into the water? Is coldwater shock just a myth that they dismiss? I wasn't looking forward to having to leap into the canal. 

The Swim

Thankfully, as I reached the pontoon I realised that there were in fact two queues - one for those who would leap into the water, while the longer queue was for the majority of us, myself included, who would gently lower ourselves into the water.

My race had finally begun. In the rather warm water, I did a few breast strokes before beginning front crawl, and I was quickly into my rhythm. This was the first time this year that I was doing an openwater swim in a competitive environment. I then had to remind myself of the need to not just be sighting ahead, but also looking out for other swimmers. Even though I was at the back of the pack, there were a few people who swam past me. I am assuming they were late-comers. Furthermore, I began to catch a few swimmers - something that I don't normally do when swimming - those sessions at my local pool in Crystal Palace had obviously paid off. 

The water was surprisingly clear, and I was a bit surprised at how many ferns and plants were in the water. I was also surprised to see how many people were lined along the side of the canal cheering us on. I didn't know who any of the people were, and they hadn't come to see me, but I still felt very spurred on by their support. After what seemed like a short time, I suddenly reached the finish gantry of the swim, where there were steps to take us back onto the towpath, as well as marshals to give us a helping hand.

Rubbish transition 

My transition (the unofficial 4th discipline) was a mess. Firstly, I struggled to get my wetsuit off. In order to cut down on luggage space I took my smallest wetsuit of the three I own - the swimrun wetsuit. I also chose this one because it zips up at the front, meaning I could put it on myself without assistance, and it would be easier for me when doing the last-minute dash to the loo. 

I hadn't thought about how tricky it would be to remove while running from the canal back to my bike. As I clumsily struggled to extricate myself from this stubborn neoprene while running, a fellow competitor stopped to help me. It was really nice of her, and the offer was much appreciated, but I declined all the same - not just because I didn't want to mess up her race, but also because there'd be a risk of disqualification for giving outside help to a competitor. The transition area seemed to be awash with French Triathlon Federation referees, all ready to pounce and be a jobsworth! So I continued my mini contortion dance. 

Once out of my wetsuit I then had to find my bike. I was sure I had come to the right place, but I couldn't find my bike. I almost thought someone had taken my beloved Boardman in the rush. Then I realised I had got my orientation wrong and the bike was at the other end of the bike park - more time wasted. 

The Bike

Finally, I got out on my bike and felt much more in my element. As this was thexsprint triathlon, billed as suitable for all levels of athlete, including newbies, there were lots of different types of bicycles on the road. 

Naturally there were lots of experienced bike riders on expensive road bikes with aero bars, and wearing cleats. But there were also folks on hybrid bikes mountain bikes, even shopping bikes. One woman had a rear-view mirror attached to her handlebars!

Zooming through central Paris

As someone who is used to cycling around the streets of Paris I was familiar with the roads on the course. The big difference was that we were on closed roads and could ride as fast as we wanted (or as fast as our legs would allow) through some of the most famous parts of Paris, with no regard to traffic signs, delivery vans, or pedestrians crossing the roads. It was like doing high(ish)-speed tourism. 

The route went along the Canal Saint Martin, out to République, Bastille, then along the main road that hugs the River Seine all the way to Place de la Concorde. That was the turnaround point, where we turned back and returned via the cycle path along the River. It was a fast mainly flat course where you could do the whole thing on the big ring. My biggest issue was the cobbles. There was a long stretch between Tuileries and Concorde, where I ended up slowing right down and all the people I had previously overtaken could now get their own back on me. A similar thing happened right at the end of the bike course, on the approach through the Parc de la Villette. The cobbles in this area were much bigger than in central Paris. They were more like the big round Roubaix pavé. Knowing that I would need my bike to get back to my lodgings, and also back to London, I preferred to go easy and lose places on the bike leg. 

The Run

By this time the crowds were quite thick, both at the finish of the bike leg, and the start of the run leg. Even though it was a sprint race on largely gentle terrain, the organisers decided to put a sting in the tail by having the run route go over a long flight of steps onto a bridge to cross the canal.

Tough work on the bridge after climbing up 200 steps!
Then it was case of going along the dead straight towpath into the suburb of Pantin, then over a ramp to return along the other side of the Canal Ourcq. Running has tended to be my strongest discipline in the past, but not today. Injury had meant that I had missed out on running training, so was not on form. 

So this was just going to be a 6km survival run, going past the less visited parts of Paris - train tracks from the Gare de l'Est with disused locomotives, old containers, disused factories. Then later there were working class blocks of flats. There wasn't really anything to keep me going. I just had to steal myself and believe I would get through it in the mounting heat. 

I didn't feel that strong, especially as many runners overtook me. There were still folks going slower than me, with some even reduced to walking. 

Fortunately another runner was going at the same pace as myself, and we ran side by side for a few miles. There was no communication between us. We were aware of one another, but were focused on our respective races - living our own tribulations. I didn't feel bothered to have the lady running close by - it was good to have someone to keep me going. 

Then in the last couple of kilometres she put in a spurt, and I just couldn't keep up with her as she disappeared into the distance. It was hard to know where the finish gantry was as it was around a bend. Eventually, I passed the familiar spot where it had all begun a couple of hours earlier. I therefore knew I had 600m to go. 

The crowds began to thicken again, further confirming that the challenge was coming to an end. At that point I put in a final effort of what I could muster, as well as putting on my most presentable face for the finish line photograph. Immediately after crossing the finish line I felt like I was going to throw up. Thankfully I managed to hold things together, which was the better thing to do, given that there was a camera interviewing an athlete right next to me. 

Glad to have made it to the finish line!

Medal Saturday!

After a minute I had a big smile at the thought that I had completed a triathlon in my favourite foreign city. At the post-race feed station I saw the lady who I'd run with earlier, and we congratulated each other. She said she too had been suffering on the run, but found a second wind after the turnaround point. 

Who knows, maybe I will see her in another race in Paris in the future. After the customary medal and T-shirt I was able to have a sit-down in the park and enjoy my achievement in the sunshine.

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Tuesday 27 June 2023

Back again to Paris by bike - Part 1: Croydon to Rouen

Le Grand Horloge, Rouen

Every time I plan a trip to Paris by bicycle I tell myself "this time I will ride from London to the port at Newhaven." After all, it is just like doing a London to Brighton bike ride, but finishing slightly further to the east, and then letting the boat carry you to foreign shores  well France.

However, when the day comes it just doesn't happen. Too many things to do at home - chores to do, work to complete, deadlines to meet, or just tidying the house means that I get to lunchtime, get stressed that I've cut things fine. I also realise the amount of luggage I have packed won't allow me to ride at a decent enough pace. So I take the "easy living" option. And that's what happened today. I did a London to Brighton, except that it was by train! I took the 45-minute train journey from East Croydon to Brighton.

Trains to there are very frequent, and there is space for a bicycle, though because the train passes through Gatwick Airport, lots of folks with suitcases also want to hog the area. There are regular trains from Brighton to Newhaven Town, but in order to not feel like I had completely copped out of my cycle touring mission I rode the undulating 10 miles from Brighton to Newhaven port. 

Riding through Brighton is always a pleasant experience. The place seems a lot brighter than London, with it being right on the coast, and everyone and everything seems laid back as I amble along the promenade on the cycle path. Lots of folks are out on the pier, on the beach visiting i360 or are enjoying the rides at the fairground - even though it is a Thursday afternoon.

As I continue along on Madeira Drive, the road becomes more sparse as I pass the back-end of the city. Apart from the Marina and the New outdoor swimming venue, Sea Lanes there's nothing noteworthy. 

Leaving behind Brighton for the port of Newhaven

Then the coastal cycle path ceases to be flat, and joins the undulating coast road. That's when the work begins. From Roedean right up to Peacehaven the road had alternate descents and challenging rises. Granted I could have remained on the low path and taken the undercliff route, but I felt a duty to burn a few more calories given that I had bailed out of my 50-mile bike ride. This main road to Newhaven had a shared use path/pavement, so I was largely separated from the traffic. That was just as well because the rod was a bit narrow in parts and I wouldn't have wanted a whole trail of buses, cars and trucks all backed up behind me as I struggled up the hill. 

Along the way I was treated to pleasant views of the white cliffs surrounding the rich blue sea. My cycle path was adorned with colourful flowers. In fact there were little off-road trails which would have been great to sample on a mountain bike. I saw a rider doing just that.

As my route took me drew nearer and nearer to Newhaven the traffic became heavier as traffic jams began to form on the approach to the port.

At these moments it feels so much more convenient being on two wheels. Finally, on reaching the Welcome to Newhaven sign the road plunged down to sea level and I was very quickly in the port, ready to join a few vehicles and loads of cyclists. It's that time of year again when lots of groups come out for a London to Paris ride, or just a merry jaunt around Normandy.

I don't tend to say much to them, but I must say I saw one woman who looked like someone I knew from my racing days. I was more focused on resting up, knowing I had a biggish day ahead.

Arrival into Dieppe

On arriving at Dieppe I thankfully passed through passport control speedily and within a few minutes I was at my lodgings. It was the same apartment I stayed at last year, so there was a nice feeling of going to a home from home, albeit for roughly 12 hours! Accommodation in Dieppe is fairly easy to find and is inexpensive. I tend to favour apartments where possible, though I have stayed in a couple of decent hotels, and they can accommodate a bicycle in an indoor designated area.

I should've gone to bed immediately given that it was around 11pm, but I couldn't help watching the news reports of the missing Titan sub vessel, which had imploded leaving no survivors. The story had been captivating but tragic. The French were particularly keen to cover it, given that an eminent explorer, Paul-Henri Nargeolet was among the occupants. I certainly like a bit of an adventure - I like embarking on bike trips and making it up as I go along, but there was no way I would've done something as risky as the folks who took part in this Oceangate exploration, given the lack of proper certification of the vessel. It seemed that the panel of French experts were of the same opinion too.

The following morning, after having given myself an early tight schedule to follow, I woke up feeling slightly lazy and more like taking things at a more leisurely pace - which is what I did.

So an 8am start to ride to Rouen - a 35-mile bike ride, became a 10.30 am start to a little known village called Auffay, less than 20 miles away! I was quite relaxed about my route there and improvised the route as I missed a turning here or there, once I'd passed the historique village of Arques-la-Bataille, and then had to "recalculate". But I must say I enjoyed the quiet undulating roads through rural fields and passing little villages in the Val de Scie, with the Normandy buildings reminding me a little of market towns in England. Eventually I reached Auffay, where I was able to get a train to Rouen.

When I arrived in Rouen, at 1pm, I had an hour to kill until my train to Paris. So it was a no-brainer to do a mini tour around the city in between trains. Rouen, the capital of the Normandy region and of the Seine-Maritime departement has the commensurate air of importance, and with it, a lot of beauty too.

I followed signs for the centre historique though was ready to remove my cycling shoes, even dismount as I figured there would be lots of cobbled streets. Indeed, I was right. Thank goodness for Crocs. They're perfectly fine for pootling along at a slow pace.

Rouen City Centre

In the warm June sunshine, seeing many people in small cafés and eateries in the narrow cobbled streets, while others browsed in stylish independent clothing or art shops, gave the impression of being in a well-heeled town. 

As well as all that, the architecture was quite striking. As well as Normandy-style edifices, there are also medieval buildings with timbered beams across stuccoed facades, and various monuments from its rich history. It all looked very pretty, even if they looked somewhat anachronistic, with a shop sign stuck to it saying Monoprix or Burger King! The showpiece sights had to be the 14th Century archway with its clock, called Le Gros-Horloge as you entre the old town, and the cathedral. There are a few grandiose looking churches in the city centre - Saint-Ouen, Saint Maclou, and I was a little confused about which one was the cathedral. Eventually I found it - an imposing, august construction in three parts with architectural styles from different periods including a Gothic part with a very high spire. It was built over 800 years - a bit like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona - or closer to home, the HS2 London to Manchester railway line!

Onwards and I headed further downhill to the river and into the newer part of the city. Rouen seems to be quite a bike-friendly city, with cycle lanes and also one of those streets where cyclists and pedestrians have priority over motorised vehicles, meaning they can pull out into the road and cars, buses and vans (which can only travel at 18 mph) have to be ready to stop and give way. 

That's bliss for those on foot or using pedal power, though a bit of a mare more motorists! 

Rouen Cathedral

I crossed the River Seine via the Corneille Bridge and did a little amble along the river through a park, the Prairie Saint Sever, where people were having picnics or going for a jog. Returning to the station was straightforward. It was a case of crossing the Boieldieu Bridge and heading uphill. The station tower and clock was visible from a good kilometre away, so there was no difficulty in finding it. 

My mini stint around Rouen had been a very pleasant revelation. It seems like the local council has gone to town in its bid to be designated the European City of Culture for 2028, with various sevents taking place. I almost feel embarrassed to have not spent time there before now, given the numerous times I have passed through the station en route to Paris. I will make a point of spending a day here next time. 

Just when the station clock struck 2pm I was scuttling down to the platform to catch my Paris-bound train.

As much as I had enjoyed Rouen, I had a big smile on my face, knowing that I would soon be alighting at my favourite foreign city.

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