DM and MM's Italy/France 2012 Diary

Day 22 - Giverny

Saturday, 19 May, 2012

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Giverny. 15:14

We are in the Museum of Impressionism in Giverny, where M. is having a toilet stop as we start making our way back to Paris after visiting this tiny village where Claude Monet lived and painted many of his famous works. We took a train to the town of Vernon this morning and then walked to Giverny to see Monet's house, gardens, and famous water lily pond. It's been a very pleasant day and lovely to get out of Paris and into the countryside. The village is fairly small and there are quite a few tourists here, but it doesn't feel too crowded, which is nice. The old cottages and the lovely gardens and wildflowers all over the village make it very picturesque. But of course that holds nothing to Monet's own garden and pond, which are instantly recognisable from the dozens of paintings he made of them.

Biggest word search ever
Concorde metro station

We got up this morning with the alarm at 07:00, our first early start after a series of very late sleep-ins. We had a quick breakfast and left by 07:30 for the Metro, catching a number 1 train to Concorde and changing to number 12 to Gare Saint-Lazare. We arrived in plenty of time for our train to Vernon, and because we left so quickly M. hadn't had time for a coffee. We saw a Starbucks at the station and M. decided to have a mocha from there. By the time we got that, our train had been assigned to platform 29 and was waiting. We boarded but found that the second class carriages were already quite full, and individual people occupied one of all of the adjacent pairs of seats, with a single empty seat next to them. After looking through two carriages, we settled on a bench type seat that ran sideways along the wall of the carriage, with our back to the window.

The train pulled out on time at 08:20, heading north-west through the Paris suburbs, which quickly turned into industrial areas filled with factories. This morphed slowly into suburban style houses on blocks of land, then dots of countryside separating clusters of buildings in strings of towns along the rail line. The train broadly followed the path of the Seine west towards the sea, and we saw the river or nearby canals frequently. There was one stop at Mantes-la-Jolie, about ten minutes before Vernon, then we arrived at Vernon and debarked on time at about 09:05.

Medieval Vernon
Old houses in Vernon

I'd looked up on a web site how to get to Giverny from Paris, and it said that once you get off the train at Vernon you can either get a shuttle bus, a taxi, or walk to the village. The walk is about five kilometres, which sounded like a nice stroll to us, so we elected to do that. The web site said to walk through Vernon and cross the bridge over the Seine, then ignore the road sign pointing to Giverny to the right and keep going straight until you reach a pharmacy. Here there is a walking track that follows an old railway line, so it is nice and flat and more importantly separated from the road and any traffic. Vernon itself looked like quite a nice town, with a centre full of old buildings, some much older than any in Paris, with medieval wood-framed houses leaning out over some narrow streets. There were various interesting businesses, patisseries, a charcuterie, a poissonerie, and so on.

Old Seine
Crossing the Seine to Vernonnet

As we walked down the main street we saw what looked like a market a block away up a side street, but didn't investigate as we wanted to make good time to Giverny. The bridge across the Seine carried a fair amount of traffic, and gave us good views of the river and the town that straddled it. The railway side seemed much bigger and a sign indicated the place on the other side of the river was called Vernonnet, "Little Vernon". We got views of a large cathedral in Vernon and a lovely medieval house or mill or something by the water on the Vernonnet side. The bridge was decorated with banners on the light poles, in the colours of the French, Italian, and German flags. We figured there must be some special occasion for flying the flags of all three countries there.

Path from Vernon to Giverny
Walking path from Vernon to Giverny

We ignored the road sign as directed and found the walking path by the pharmacy. It led along a crunchy gravel drive for a bit, where cars could access garages behind people's houses, but soon turned into a bitumen paved track with barriers to stop cars but allow pedestrians and bicycles through. This was very pleasant to walk along, wedged between a small wooded ridge on the left, and a series of picturesque country houses on the right which faced the road on their far side. It was quiet, broken only by the songs of birds. There were a few other walkers enjoying the track, and a handful of joggers passed us. The weather was pleasant and sunny, and we'd come prepared with our hats and sunscreen, but cool enough to keep jackets on, though I was a bit sweaty by the time we arrived at Giverny. Along the way we ate our apples and deposited the cores in convenient bins that were posted every few hundred metres along the path alongside benches to rest on.

Walking from Vernon to Giverny
Walking path from Vernon to Giverny

The walk took us about an hour and we arrived at the village of Giverny. This was essentially laid out along a single stretch of road parallel to the main traffic route, with short side streets coming off it at intervals. The village road was closed to traffic other than residents, with signs pointing tourists to a large car park on the other side of the main road. This kept the village road quiet, with only the very occasional car coming down it, largely outnumbered by people walking.

House in Giverny
House in Giverny

Since most people were arriving here by car or bus, the first part of the village was very quiet as we walked in towards the centre. We came across a small church, which looked interesting so we decided to detour off the road to walk through its yard. We had a peek inside the church, then walked around the side of it, and only by doing this did we notice a small sign indicating the way to Monet's grave, in the churchyard. We never would have seen this sign if we'd stayed on the road, and so would have missed the grave altogether. So we walked up the hill behind the church a small way until we came across a large marble plot with numerous flowers planted on top, which was labelled as the resting place of Claude Monet. It also had plaques on it for other Monet family members who we presumed to be his children.

After this fortuitous find we continued walking down the village road, past amazingly picturesque cottages, some of which advertised as B&Bs. The number of people on the road with us suddenly multiplied as we started passing an old hotel and a couple of cafes and artist galleries. Before long we came across a building with a large queue outside. M. reserved a spot for us while I walked ahead to check what the queue was for, confirming it was the entry to Monet's house and gardens. We waited in the queue for about twenty minutes before reaching the ticket booth, where we paid €11 each to get in. The first stop inside was the toilets, where as usual the ladies were queuing while the men walked straight in past them. As I went in to the men's section, a couple of ladies ducked into the men's as well to use the stalls, while men used the urinals next to them.

Monet's shady spot
Monet's garden, and house in the background

Monet's garden was amazing. Being spring, there were numerous flowers of all colours and shapes in bloom: daisies, irises in at least five or six different colours, wisteria dangling from wire archways across the paths, and dozens of other flowers that I didn't recognise. There were thorny stalks that promised roses, but no blooms on them. Narrow paths led up and down the rectangular flower garden, with numerous people wandering and oohing and ahhing at the colourful displays and taking photos. There were also a couple of chicken pens, with fluffy French hens and roosters.

Grand promenade
Promenade in Monet's garden

All this was nothing compared to when we crossed the main road via a tunnel and emerged into Monet's water garden. This was a landscaped area around a brook that flowed through a couple of forks through the garden. A large stand of bamboo separated parts of the garden. The path went down one side, connected through to the other via bridges across the brook. And on the other side of the bamboo was the famous pond, complete with water lilies, willow trees hanging over it, and the Japanese bridge crossing it near the western end.

Pond reflection
Monet's water garden pond

This was crawling with people, taking numerous photos, and the paths here were crowded so you had to move carefully past people sometimes, but still the garden was magical and the trees hid enough of the people that you could get sightlines with few people in them. I was asked a couple of times to take photos of people standing on the bridge or in front of it. Any such photos inevitably had other people in the shot; it was more a matter of timing the shot so they weren't doing anything distracting. Even with the crowds, you could see the beautiful arrangements of water, leaves, and sky that inspired Monet, and replicated very closely the scenes he painted here. It was so amazing we almost didn't want to leave.

The Japanese Bridge
Water lilies and the Japanese bridge

But we returned via the tunnel to the flower garden and strolled through this again before joining the short queue to enter Monet's house. This was a moderately sized two-storey building on the uphill side of the garden, overlooking all of the flowers and beyond to the water garden across the main road. The exterior was painted a dusty pink colour and it had bottle green shutters. Inside, almost all the rooms were hung with numerous Japanese prints. This confused some visitors, including an American who wondered aloud, "Did he paint these?" But we knew that Monet admired and collected Japanese prints, so these were likely his personal collection. There were a few famous ones by Hokusai and a lot by Hiroshige, mostly in the Ukiyo-e style.

Monet's house
Monet's house

We walked through a sitting room into Monet's studio, which had reproductions of sixty of his paintings hung on the walls, in three tiers, angled down into the room. Old black and white photos showed Monet painting in this room, with the walls hung with his own canvases, making the room look very similar to how it was presented now. We went upstairs and through the bedrooms, again full of Japanese prints, then down again to the dining room and the kitchen. The kitchen was interesting in itself; a very large room with about twenty copper pots and pans hung on the wall and an old cast iron stove, with blue and white painted porcelain tiles on the walls.

We exited the house from the kitchen door and then, done with our experience of the house and gardens, went over to the gift shop. This was crowded with people and there was a long queue for the cash registers. There were lots of Monet and Impressionism related products, ranging from the cheap to the very expensive. Books, posters, postcards, bookmarks, plates, T-shirts, framed prints, playing cards, jewellery, and so on. I almost bought a Monet Rubik's cube, but didn't. M. wanted to get something, but wasn't inspired by any of the items and so reluctantly left with nothing.

By now it was about 13:30 and we were hungry. Exiting the gardens we turned away from the direction we'd come to see if there was much more of the village that way. There wasn't, but there was a small booth cafe with a few tables outside under umbrellas. We sat and got baguette sandwiches. M. asked for Camembert with tomato and lettuce. The guy said the Camembert ones don't come with salad on them, and just as M. was about to say that was okay, he said he'd make one up specially. I had a saucisson sandwich, which I think was just the French word for sausage, mostly because M.'s dad always talks about saucisson back home, and we'd finally seem some. It turned out to be a type of salami, which also came with no salad. I looked at the drinks and discovered that a fruit juice was actually more expensive than a beer, so I ordered a Heineken. M. had a hot chocolate.

Baguette lunch
Baguette sandwiches in Giverny

After eating, we asked if there was a toilet we could use, but the guy said we had to walk about five minutes through the village to the Museum of Impressionism, which had free toilets there. So we walked to this small, new museum which we'd passed earlier on the way into the village. On the way we passed a few small shops which we looked in briefly, and an ice cream van, where I got a scoop of strawberry on a cone. We weren't sure what was in the Impressionism Museum (I figured probably mostly displays about the many artists who lived in Giverny, rather than lots of paintings) and didn't particularly want to spend more time in Giverny since it was getting late in the afternoon, so we just made use of the toilets and then left for the walk back to Vernon.

French countryside
Countryside walking back to Vernon

There was a light sprinkle of rain on the way back, but it cleared up and most of the walk was fine, although the sky was getting grey and heavy. Several cyclists passed us this time, headed the same way, as well as a couple with a large dog who walked fast. Along this walk I ate my last piece of nougat, which was strawberry and very nice. Back in Vernon we crossed the bridge and went down the main street, this time taking the small detour to check out the market we'd seen earlier, which was still doing business, although some of the stalls were starting to pack up for the day. It wasn't very interesting, with junky clothes and CDs and stuff, although there was a cheese and meat stall which looked neat. We continued walking around the block and then onwards to the train station.

It turned out the next train to Paris left at 17:54, almost an hour away. We bought tickets and then found seats on the platform under a small shelter. The seats further down the platform by the building were all full of people waiting already. We moved away from the shelter when people started smoking nearby and the smoke drifted in, and waited further up the platform. As we waited, the platform began to fill up with people, and continued filling until it was really quite crowded. We started to be worried about actually getting on to the train, as we knew people would just rush the doors, never mind that we'd been waiting on the platform longer than most of them, and the next train after wasn't for another two hours. And then it started to rain. We huddled under the one small umbrella we'd brought with us as it got moderately heavy, but then it eased off again. A really, really loud group of about ten twenty-something year old Americans arrived and planted themselves right next to us, drinking beer and eating packets of biscuits and generally being loud. The platform was so crowded there didn't seem any point trying to find a sparser area, so we stayed put.

Eventually the train arrived and thankfully the gap between two carriages was right near us, so when the Americans went for one carriage we went for the other. It was a tight squeeze getting on though and we ended up near the back of the crowd pushing to get in the door. There were free seats on the train when it pulled in, but by the time we managed to squeeze on it was shoulder to shoulder standing room only. There was enough room, just, but it didn't help that for the first ten minutes or so of the ride people kept walking past with their bags, apparently traversing the carriages in a vain search for a seat.

Forty-five minutes of standing later, the train pulled into Gare St Lazare and everyone piled off. The stream of people exiting the train and walking along the platform was reminiscent of a clown car. We walked downstairs to the Metro and caught the line 12 train back to Concorde, then switched to the 1 back to Louvre-Rivoli. We were home about 19:30 after a very full day trip. On the walk back to or apartment from the station we passed the patisserie on Rue de Rivoli that we've walked past a few times and saw a huge chocolate tart in the window. The slices cut for purchase were enormous and only €2.50, so M. bought one for me to have for dessert tonight. If the same thing was put on a plate in a restaurant with a blob of whipped cream it'd cost €11.

Chocolate tart
The chocolate tart slice

We went straight to dinner after we dropped off our bags at home. After such a busy day we chose to have a simple and comforting meal close to home, so went back to Cafe des Initiés for burgers. M. had the vege burger again, while I looked at the choice between a cheese burger and a "Cantal" cheese burger, which cost €2 more. Our waiter wasn't the Guy Sebastian lookalike tonight (though he was there and said hello to us when he recognised us), but a more French guy who didn't speak English as well. When I asked what the Cantal burger was, he said it was a type of cheese. I asked him if it was better than the cheese on the regular cheese burger, since it cost so much more, and he just said it was different. The regular one had cheddar, and the Cantal one had Cantal. I decided to go for it anyway, what the heck, since we're in Paris. As it turned out, the cheese was very cheddar-like and I didn't really notice anything particularly special about it, but the burger was excellent anyway.

Cantal cheeseburger
Cantal cheeseburger

As we were nearing the end of our meal, the TV in the cafe started showing the big soccer match, the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern München. Kristyn and Steve had talked about this game being on on Saturday night, and suggested we should go to a pub and watch it with the crowd. That wasn't really our kind of thing though. After paying up we walked the short distance home and M. hopped in the shower while I tuned the TV to watch the game and type up some diary in front of it. It looked to me like Bayern were all over Chelsea and indeed they got a goal close to full time, which made me think it was all over. But Chelsea struck back a few minutes later to put the game into extra time, and then into a tense penalty shoot out. Chelsea missed the first penalty, again putting Bayern into a winning position as the best-of-five shoot out progressed, but Bayern flubbed their last two shots and Chelsea slammed home the winner, triggering amazing scenes of celebration for them and devastation for Bayern. I don't know too much about soccer but it really seemed to me that Bayern had been the stronger team but threw the game away.

Having had my shower in the half time break, I flopped into bed at the end of the game.

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