Feeling a distinct cheese hangover I dose myself up and we make our way to the train station & set out to the Province of Normandy, en route (it’s about a 40 odd minute train ride) I use the backpack as a cushion and with the soothing motion of the train am soon snoozing. I wake up with ‘Tri-way’ imprinted on my cheek but feeling far more chipper.
Normandy has 5 districts and we were now in the town of Vernon close to the District of Giverny ..old stone houses, coffee shops, narrow streets..it’s a quiet looking village watched over by Notre Dame a towering stone church at it’s center..in fact it dates back to the Roman period but it’s construction continued from the Gothic period to end somewhere in the 17th century. Apparently in 1658 the pavement was raised about 2 feet to keep it out of reach of the swelling of the river Seine. It felt a bit Goth and foreboding to be honest…I can imagine Bram Stoker living there and it seems at odds with the sweetness of the village.
We bused out about 5kms to Giverny …the story goes that Claude Monet noticed the village of Giverny while looking out of a train window and made up his mind to move there, promptly renting a house and the area surrounding it. Later, as he became more well known and thus successful he bought it. Looking out at the hillside covered in trees, so many of them wearing white and pink blooms, little stone cottages and houses scattered at the feet of the hill, green lawns stretching out in front of them and winding paths taking one past lush fields sequined with pretty flowers it is obvious what drew him. ….it’s both quaint and idyllic, the colours of the surrounding countryside reminding me of nothing less than a painters palette.
We get off and walk a few meters to the Normandy version of a ‘tuisbedryf’ little chairs and tables scattered on the lawn and shaded by trees..again the flash of surprised a smile when I (hopefully) ask for something to eat for us and in a moment Pierre has a plate of cold meats, pickles and cheese while I have a lovely fresh salad and fresh bread to share.
Thus fortified we go onward to find Monets Garden. Wandering along the path I notice a sign on a pointing down a winding little lane with a brick wall on one side a hedge on the other and we take it to find a lovely little cobbled square with cafe’s, an ice-cream vendor and a soap shop where the clever proprietor has set atop the old stone wall a bubble machine much to the delight of all the children (big and small…..) and here we find the entrance to Monet’s Garden – a brief queue gets us in.
Instantly one is surrounded by arches of climbing roses, boughs heavy with blooms dripping pink blossoms on us, tulip like flowers explode in yellow and reds, cooler blooms in whites and blues nestle under shaded trees..everywhere so much colour and in the background the lazy buzz of bees in the heat.
We wander through his home, though sadly we cannot take pictures of it it was clearly the home of a man who loved colour and light. The sun comes streaming in the many large windows, his kitchen tiled in blue and white, his dining room a soft yellow..so many Japanese prints bearing testament to the influence this had on him too. Photo’s of Monet himself with fellow artist Sisley and others at a wedding held at this very home, a Renoir on the wall, all make it feel as though he was here just a moment ago..his bedroom, ah for a bedroom like that – large and airy it looks out over his garden and is the one place indoors from where we are allowed to take a photo. He himself looks like a nice grandfatherly type of man fairly content with life. I hope it is so, that someone who created such beauty both on paper and on gods canvas was rewarded with a peaceful old age.
After wandering through the garden we take the winding walk to his famous Lily Pond with it’s Japanese bridge. Frogs cackle and croak loudly, competing with one another, large fish move sinuously beneath the water, sunlight occasionally glinting off their scales.
When it is time to go I know that this garden will always be imprinted on my memories. We wander lazily back to the bus and ‘home’ to plot our plans for the evening.
Should we try some cabaret? There’s a Crazy Horse saloon here too though you may recall that it was rather underwhelming back in Vegas…mmm the website shows a totally different scene though, this is more burlesque than strip and it claims to be the unofficial home of Dita von Teese of whom I’m a big fan. Researching some reviews however there is no mention of Dita and it seems that the website is probably the most tantalising thing about it ..nor is the price cheap.
We decide we’d rather blow our money on some great food…a bit more research on Pierre’s side led us to Le Part des Anges in Montmatre …how quickly the scene changes as we move from our crazy, noisy, smelly area of town up towards the Sacre Coeur ..the streets become neater, less littered, more cafe’s and restaurants. The pace more leisurely. People enjoying post work drinks spill onto the street….no one here really thinks of dinner until 8pm, certainly not in this beautiful Spring weather where it’s light till nearly 9pm.
We arrive at Le Part des Anges and slide into our tiny table among all the locals, our waitress is friendly and helpful with excellent wine suggestions. I have a starter and grilled fish as a main, Pierre has Entrecote – a steak with yummy mushroom sauce – superb, by far one of the best meals we’ve eaten…so good I’m even tempted into dessert and a glass of champagne ..lovely fresh fruit with a fluffy topping of barely there custard combine perfectly with the soft bubbles from the champagne.
a long slow walk back is in order to stretch our legs and digest our food and we take the scenic route climbing the stairs to the Sacre Coeur – it seems so has the rest of the world.. on the slanting grass hill at her feet dozens..maybe a few hundred, mostly, students sit and stand drinking, smoking, strumming guitars – a ‘band’with microphone play on one side while surrounded by clapping, singing, laughing youths. Above them the church looks down benevolently, lit not only from the lights surrounding her but also from the glowing full moon which hangs above. The smell of cigarettes, piss, lawn and booze mingle in the night air – we stop a bit further along past the hill for a nightcap at a little bar / cafe. We sit outside on the pavement just soaking up the beauty of the Sacre Coeur across the way and listening to the singer from the cafe next door ..his music spilling out onto the street through the open windows mingling with the smell of cigars.
A perfect Parisian night!
Tomorrow I think will be a quiet day as the two weary travelers gather their strength, catch up on some sleep (it’s hard to get to bed before the wee hours what with the night life and the way the days are so long but one is up early with the sun too) and to do some shopping & quiet wandering around the streets. The plan is to meet some of my French colleagues at the office for post work drinks and then hopefully another evening like this one.