Friday, April 6, 2012

From Giverny to the Louvre

Today we were visiting Giverny, where Monet lived and painted his famous water lilies. We had to get up really early, but we weren't moving too quickly after the previous day's activities. Mark had been the one to plan when we had to get up, but I neglected to tell him all that our morning entailed. It wasn't until we were walking toward the metro that I even knew what time it was. Our pastry place wasn't open, and Mark said it was 7:45. Really? We had to get the metro to Gare St. Lazare, get money, purchase our overland train tickets, and get on board by 8:20. We started moving faster, but it didn't seem like it was going to happen. We couldn't find money machine. Then we couldn't find the ticket booth at the train station. We ran to it, only to see a great and slow-moving line. One woman stepped out of line ahead of us, and we were called to the counter. It was just in the nick of time that we made our transaction, ran to the platform, put our tickets though the yellow machine that checked us in, and got seated on the train to Vernon. There were other trains to Vernon that day, but it would have been perhaps another hour, and by that time, there would be a lot of tour buses at Giverny. On the train, we got to relax for the 45 minute ride.
Once in Vernon, we got a bus to Giverny. That took another 20 minutes. The village itself is everything you want in a French village. Really, you just want to buy a home there and spend your days puttering and eating French cheeses. Charming and picturesque-- once you subtract the tourists. We had to walk perhaps a 1/2 mile from the bus to the Claude Monet's house and our destination, but it was a chance to be nosy and peer into gardens. It was a grey day but that hardly mattered here. Once at Monet's house, we had our first views of the gardens which were huge, symmetrical, ordered, bright, cheery, colorful, and most importantly-- in bloom. The pink and purple tulips especially played off the pink house with the green trim. The house itself is decorated in sunny pastels. It seems like you are inside Monet's palette. Interestingly enough, the walls are covered in his collection of Japanese art prints, which seem to take the rooms from a confectionery atmosphere to something more like bright seriousness. You can imagine a happy family living here. Happy and cheerful are the two words that kept playing in my head. Especially the lemon yellow dining room and kitchen with its blue and white tiles and long array of gleaming copper pots. I wanted to cook and eat there. I wanted to paint. I wanted to let someone else deal with the gardening.
The path to the water lily pond passed under a road. Along the path, bamboo acted as a divider to give the pond some secretive walls. Fencing along the path was also made up of bamboo-- a nod to Monet's love of the oriental aesthetic perhaps. The paths were beautifully cultivated and landscaped. The pond itself was rather dreary. I was expecting a red bridge. Why? It it was painted the same bright green as the rest of the garden hardscape (the same color as the chairs in the Jardin de Tuileries.). We took the requisite bridge pictures (I promised some of my 5th grade students at Reamstown Elementary that I would send one such picture to them) and a few cool panorama shots. We have been taking a bunch of panoramas on the trip, though I am not sure what we will do with them. The row boat was parked opposite the bridge, almost as if it were forgotten. Still, you could imagine Monet's daughters taking it out in the afternoons. We bought a few ornaments before heading out. The bus tours were starting to pile in. Lots of Japanese tourists who really liked the prints inside.
We had skipped breakfast in all the hubbub of trying to catch our train, so we stopped to eat an early lunch. Lots of shops have baguette sandwiches made and in their shop windows early in the day. They always look so good and the baguettes really hold up well. Maren and I had smoked salmon, cream cheese, lettuce, and caper sandwiches. Mark's baguette sandwich had camembert, blueberry, arugula in a Dijon vinaigrette. Jonah, who prefers absolutely no traces of vegetables got a ham and cheese on croissant.
It was a leisurely walk back to our bus. From there we got the train back to Paris. First stop after getting back was the fencing store. It was a disappointment from the start. We were locked out and had to knock to be let it. There wasn't much beyond basic supplies to buy. The only t-shirt had a female fencer on it. Jonah felt obliged to buy something so he bought an expensive pair of thigh-high fencing socks. We made fun of him for that. Next we went to Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. We spent a good deal of time wandering through. The style and layouts are different than US department stores. Maren liked the bathing suits. I liked seeing the housewares and furniture. We looked through clothing, took in the views from the roof. The food court at Lafayette was overwhelming. I tried my first taste of foie gras. I considered buying a €28 jar of it, but didn't know how well it would fare in my luggage on the way home. The only other time I had foie gras was in an exclusive restaurant in Atlanta. We also bought macaroons in our traditional choice flavors of: vanilla, chocolate, coffee, raspberry. These cookies were so delicious and very concentrated in their flavors. It seems that way for all Paris treats-- flavors are so intense that you only need a taste to be satisfied, from coffee to ice cream to cookies to appetizers.
It was still relatively early when we were done shopping, so we decided to go to the Louvre. The Louvre is open late on Fridays. It would be possible to go after dinner, but it was about 3 hours before the early dinner hour in Paris. Late dinner is at about ten. The Louvre is so overwhelming and big that we went in with Rick Steve's audio tour to get the absolutely bare bones highlights. We concentrated on Greek Sculpture and Italian and French painting. This would give us the trio of grand ladies everyone goes to see: the Venus de Milo, Nike of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa. The Louvre feels more obligatory than anything. We enjoyed our whirlwind tour except for Jonah who gets very annoyed at Rick Steve's attempt at humor. We were once again at the end of our day, tired and hungry. I had scouted out some places, and we headed toward one, even though it was about a mile away.
The place I had picked out did not appear to be serving. It was open, and the door was open, but nobody was there. It was already 7. So we went around the corner to a brasserie. We were among the first there for dinner. Maren got escargot (her favorite food) and penne with tomato and basil sauces. Jonah got a skirt steak with onion gravy and fries. Mark couldn't decide between the duck with mashed potatoes or the veal on fettuccine in a pan sauce. I agreed to get one of them, and we would split them both. We were all pleased with our choices. Mark and I liked our veal dish best, but they were both excellent. We took the metro home and opened our complimentary bottle of wine. Kids read and we wrote and did things on our tablet. We were too tired for more than one glass of wine. Bedtime was nigh. Our gift from the hotel fairies was a luggage tag.

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