Monday, October 8, 2012

Sunday Morning Market

A postdoc in the lab who just arrived a month ago from India gave me the heads up for this one. Every Sunday in the center of town is a huge open air market, and if you happen to be in Caen on a Sunday morning, I highly suggest you go. It's several blocks long, stretching from the church in the town center all the way to the harbor, so you really can't miss it. I happened to enter right next to a crepe stand, so I got a nutella crepe and munched as I meandered. 

The Main Church (St.Pierre, I believe)

They sell everything. I mean everything. I defy even Walmart to have such a variety. You can buy clothes: used, new, sweatsuits, designer jackets, kids, babies, adults. You can get scarves, jewelry, make-up, shoes, purses.  You can find all kinds of food, be it produce, cheese, meat, or sausages. They have books, cds, and dvds. They have street food vendors selling everything from crepes to moroccan food. They have electronics, kids toys, gutter systems, and leather goods. If you want it, you can buy it. 

Just as wonderful as wandering through the maze of stalls looking at all the wares is flowing with the crowd watching all the people. I'm a great people watcher, and this was like going to the beach or the state fair. You get all walks of life. Parents scolding small children to watch where they are going, high school girls rifling through the box of nail polish for the perfect shade, little old ladies haggling over the price of apples. There were also some furrier visitors to the market. Quite a few dogs walked by me, kept on a cautiously short leash, noses hopefully scanning the ground for anything that might have been fortuitously dropped. In the crowded areas the little dogs get scooped up into the owners' arms, but the big dogs, like the many german shepherds, simply muscled their way through the forest of legs. I could have wandered among the stalls all day, but I think some of those dogs would've been happy to just sit in front of the deli stand. 

I did move on however, up to the Caen castle. The fortress there had existed for some time, probably originating as just the fortified walls of the city. 

Entrance to the castle
View from the ramparts

Interesting design feature, presumably for a canon? 

However when William Duke of Normandy (who later conquered England) decided to make Caen his officially home base, he built himself a nice little palace. At the time, all that really constituted was a banquet hall, private apartments, and a chapel (because who wants to go to church with regular people?). This is all that's left of his 'castle':

William the Conqueror's Castle
 The banquet hall is the 'building' in the foreground, which probably also housed his private apartments on the upper floor. The 'building' in the background is the chapel, which actually survived up until WWII when it was bombed into its present state. The hall was gone long before that, almost certainly taken down when they built a new one. His son was the first to build a proper castle in the true meaning of the word, with a keep and a high wall with round towers at each corner. You can see what's rest of it:

The Caen Castle
This one was a hate crime. The French Revolutionaries hated all things royal, and they pulled it down basically by hand. They didn't quite finish so we can still see parts of it, like what you see above, as well as this gate thing (below).

Gate thing
Pretty interesting, even if there's not much left. I also popped into the Normandy museum on the castle grounds, and the Fine Arts Museum, also on the castle grounds. On the first Sunday of every month all the museums are free. Free happens to be my favorite price, so I certainly wasn't going to say no to a little cultural lesson. The Normands as it turns out are basically an agriculture people. They had several miniatures of farms from various centuries set up so you could see how things changed over time, and they had a nice exhibit of cattle raising and an interesting map of racehorse versus plow horse breeding by area. Normandy is also known for its lace. The royals of France decided at some point that making lace would be a good gig for the farmers to do during the evening and the slow times of year, and consequently sent up some merchants with supplies and patterns. It turns out they were right, because Normandy quickly became one of the lace capitals of Europe, until the Industrial Revolution. Once lace could be quickly and easily made by machine it was no longer a luxury item and business dropped off. 

The art museum was also nice. It wasn't very large, so you could wander through the whole thing and come out feeling cultured and still have enough energy to go about your day. They had a nice collection of 17th/18th/19th century stuff, the usual beautiful landscapes and portraits that I'm personally drawn to. I like landscapes for the same reasons that I enjoy travelling: you get to see some place new and different. Portraits are fun because you get to people-watch without feeling awkward for staring. They also had a collection of 20th century art which I did not enjoy as much. It just doesn't seem to represent the same quality of work, and much of it isn't very beautiful either. If you're going to make an ugly canvas, at least make a poignant ugly canvas. There was a statue (entitled "Student") in the garden outside that I think really captures my feelings about some of the modern art. 

Surprised and confused, just like me
 Still, a worthy investment of time, and as I said, it was free. You just can't complain about free. I rounded out my day with a quick visit over to the former convent. It was founded by Queen Mathilde (William's wife). Their marriage was a little questionable, so to make up for it they each founded an abbey and kept the church well funded.
The church at the Abbaye aux Dames


  1. They sell stuff on a *gasp* SUNDAY???

    But yeah, Cole would have never made it through that crowd. Some little kid would have gotten his crepe stolen and it'd be all over ;-)

  2. Oh I know just what you mean. Calbert would not be able to keep his nose to himself either. His face would be covered in nutella, without a trace of remorse.