If you ever want to step back in time and into an impressionist painting, I know just the place for you. Go to Giverny and visit Claude Monet’s home and gardens, where he lived from 1883 until his death in 1926.
We took the train from Paris to Vernon and rode bicycles the four miles to the village of Giverny. Evidently, Claude Monet also first spotted Giverny while looking out of a train window. He chose to move there, leasing a house and the surrounding area. Eventually he bought the home and property and set out to create the magnificent gardens he wanted to paint. Many of his well-known paintings were of his grounds in Giverny, famous for its rectangular walled garden, with archways of climbing plants entwined around colored shrubs. Equally striking are the water garden with the Japanese bridge and the pond with the celebrated water lilies (the subject of the iconic paintings hanging at the Musee L’Orangerie in Paris).
When planning our Paris vacation, I plugged Giverny into our itinerary toward the end, but labeled it “optional” since I was skeptical we would still have the energy or will by that point. Plus, I was dubious that my husband would be super excited about florae. I was pleasantly surprised when he checked out Giverny on-line and enthusiastically declared it a Must Do. He even researched and led us to a local SNCF office where we pre-purchased our train tickets.
With that, we arose at zero dark thirty the next day and, having now become experts on the metro AND train (due to our previous trip to Normandy), embarked without incident. We located the bicycle rental shop across from the Vernon train station and rode a bike path along a train right-of-way through the quaint French countryside. I felt as if I was riding a magical bike back in time.
We arrived at Monet’s house and gardens not long after it opened and the crowds were surprisingly sparse. We entered the gardens and it was a “Wizard of Oz” moment. You know — where Dorothy steps out of the house into Oz and the movie changes from black and white to Technicolor. It was a veritable explosion of color. And I needn’t have worried about my husband as he was equally or more taken with the place than I. My ex-military, sports-loving husband was besotted with flowers. We couldn’t walk more than five steps before he’d stop to take a picture. “Look at that flower!” “Oh, look at that tree!” “Wow, look at this!” By the time we left Giverny, he had taken over 500 pictures. When I later tried to put together a slide show of Giverny, after coming home, I was hard pressed to leave any of the photos out…each one was spectacular, unique, colorful and unforgettable.
There is an unfortunate coda to the story, when I ate salmon in cream sauce for lunch at an historic hotel café in Giverny, got sick to my stomach and threw up in a baguette bag on the train to Paris. (Based on the very French-like reaction, I got a definite sense it was a very un-French thing to do.) But regardless of its less than classy ending, I’m so glad the Giverny agenda item was upgraded from optional to mandatory. It was a lifetime memory and a beautifully joyful complement to our other day trip to Normandy D-Day beaches.