If Rouen were a punctuation mark, it would be a semi-colon. As a destination, it isn’t enough of a draw to make it a full stop, but it’s more than a mere comma.
Commas are the villages you pass on the routes nationales as you make your way south through France. You barely notice them.
Semi-colons, on the other hand, are the cities that you tick off in your head as you drive.
Rouen is the first, then come Le Mans, Tours, Poitiers… These are all places that you can’t help but notice. However, you don’t have time to stop at them in your eagerness to make headway on your journey.
Yet Rouen has a lot going for it. It is the capital of both the region of Upper Normandy and the département of Seine-Maritime. As a result, there’s a lot to do – it has any number of good restaurants and a busy cultural scene.
That’s why I’m making it my base today for a long weekend.
Its medieval centre, complete with higgledy-piggledy narrow lanes and half-timbered buildings, is at odds with the ugly post-war development that is perhaps more familiar to the old me – the one who would just pass through.
So, this weekend, for me at least, Rouen will become a full stop. Whether it will fire up my enthusiasm enough to qualify as an exclamation mark in future remains to be seen.