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|Marco Polo 2013-14
A Christmas Cruise from Tilbury to the Canary Islands & Madeira - part 6
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Brochure route is in red, actual outward journey in green and return in blue
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Because of the bad weather and rough seas - it was decided to miss the port of Lisbon, which itself had been an earlier replacement for the planned call at Leixoes.
There were thoughts of travelling non-stop back to Tilbury, but then it was announced that we would call at the ferry port of Le Havre for the afternoon, and excursions to nearby Rouen were offerred. In fact we arrived in Le Havre early, which was announced by the grating and scraping noise of a tug against the side of the ship just beneath our cabin. We spent time collecting email and sending messages to friends so they knew we were safe and then caught the shuttle bus into the city centre.
Le Havre is not a place we would have chosen to visit on a cruise. Le Havre is situated on the right bank of the estuary of the river Seine on the English Channel. Its port is the second largest in France after that of Marseille for total traffic, and the largest French container port with over 2 million container units per year. The name Le Havre just means "the harbour" or "the port". There is a tram network round the town and nearby Rouen can be reached by public transport using train or bus (No. 20 Green Bus). Paris is probably beyond range from a cruise ship visit.
The central area was completely razed to the ground with virtually no buildings left standing with more than 80,000 inhabitants homeless by the end of WW II. Auguste Perret, the famous architect, designed a new city built in concrete, making a clean sweep of the old structures and rebuilding in the structural classicism style he largely created. The material used was concrete and the general layout was on an orthogonal grid. Only the town hall and the Church of Saint Joseph (107m high) were personally designed by Auguste Perret. Outside of Le Havre his works were largely eclipsed by the younger media-savvy architect Le Corbusier, who he trained.
UNESCO declared the city centre of Le Havre a World Heritage Site on 15 July 2005 honouring the "innovative utilisation of concrete's potential". The 133-hectare space that represented, according to UNESCO, "an exceptional example of architecture and town planning of the post-war era," is one of the rare contemporary World Heritage Sites in Europe.
The weather was not good and much of the time the town had a stark appearance but the concrete came to life in the sun. It is the sort of architecture you will either love or hate, very open with big blocks and paved areas interspersed with plenty of green space. You need to look closely at the buildings and they finally reveal their individual and interesting styles.
We spent a while in St. Joseph's Church which is completely different to any other church we have been in. Auguste Perret's work dominates the new town centre proudly making great use of concrete with no effort to hide it. The tower which soars to 107 metres and the whole inside is visible from within. A major feature is the lighting through a large number of small stained glass windows and the inside is an ever changing kaleidoscope of light as the sun moves round. At night, when illuminated, it is is a beacon visible from far out at sea.
A contrasting and extremely ugly architectural work in the central city is the House of Culture built in 1982 by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and nicknamed "the Volcano" because of the shape of the building. It was undergoing serious work and part or all is becoming a library.
The Cathedral Notre Dame du Havre is well worthy of a visit and we spent some time there before our return to the ship. It started as a parish church in the 16th and 17th centuries, and is the oldest building in central Le Havre to have survived the devastation of World War II. The bell-tower dates from around 1520 and the main façade is Baroque. The building was kept unusually low because of the difficulties posed by the unstable ground. The fine church organs were the gift of the Cardinal de Richelieu in 1637, when he was governor of the town and have been extensively restored - the magnitude of the restoration can be assessed from the variation between the old darker wood and the new carvings. It became a Roman Catholic cathedral in 1974.
We left at 1700 and it was the Gala Dinner, postponed because of the weather. The Captain had offered a glass of wine or beer with the meal and £25 of on-board credit to pacify the many upset passengers. The dress code was optional as many of the cases were already packed so Pete compromised with a suit, a few did were Dinner jackets but most were extremely informal. The meal was rounded off with the Parade of Chefs and the Baked Alaska Ceremony which we had already had once on the first night aboard.
We elected to have the express departure and carry (drag) our own bags off and we moored at about 0830 and were off and calling Cliff who was meeting us by 0910. It was nice to be safely on our way home.
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