Giverny: Jzee-VAIR-nie (click here for pronunciation)
This was the day I went to Monet's home in the countryside, Giverny.
Picking me up from my hotel lobby was Said, a driver with Paris Vision who he had come into work on his day off. He looked exactly like Cuba Gooding Jr. with a limp. Driving through Paris, which is something I'd never done before, we picked up one family from Australia and a couple from Brazil.
After circling the Arche de Triomphe we took a 4 km tunnel under Neuilly and La Defense. Then in the countryside, to avoid the Forêt de Marly, a forest which was once the hunting estate of the French Kings staying at Versailles, we dropped into another tunnel.
After an hour Said asked if we could take the scenic route rather than follow the usual route through Vernon. So we entered Giverny by first driving through tiny winding limestone villages with names like Bonnieres-sur-Seine, Bennecourt and Limetz-Villez.
Giverny was small. I had heard that, but I wasn't really prepared for how small. I think many people believe it's going to be a botanical garden, but it's the Clos Normand, the crazy flower garden of about 2 acres outside Monet's front door and the lily pond.
When Monet and his family settled in Giverny in 1883, he removed the pine trees from the property and filled his land with a multitude of flowerbeds with annuals and perennials, ornamental trees and climbing roses. Although Monet did not like organized or constrained gardens, he planned his garden by hue and let it grow freely, so that that his garden would be a riot of colour at any time of the year. For example, at this time of the year the central alley leading up to his house is taken over by a carpet of nasturtiums.
With the passing years Monet developed a passion for botany, trading plants with his friend Clemenceau and Caillebotte.
Ten years after Monet's arrival at Giverny he bought a piece of neighbouring land, then on the other side of the railway - now the road. He had a pond excavated and developed it in the style of the Japanese gardens Monet knew from the prints he collected.
I had two hours to spend at Giverny. I started my wanderings at the lily pond. At first I didn't think the colours would be that spectacular - but they were.
Everywhere I turned was a photo opportunity and I made the most of it. So did most other people including a Japanese woman on the Japanese Bridge with a Japanese umbrella. She was on the bridge mugging for her husband the whole time I was down at the pond. It was a "once in a life-time" experience, so I can't begrudge her, but she'll be witnessed in some of my pictures.
The upper garden, The Clos Normand, was an explosion of colour, even in Mid-October.
Monet's gorgeous pink and green house was fun to see but not well-curated. The feeling I got standing in his studio was extremely evocative of what it must have been like 120 years ago. Yellow and gray furniture decorated the house as did Monet's Japanese prints and family photos of weddings and parties. A nice touch.
The dining room and the kitchen were my favourite parts of the house. I looked into a silvered mirror in the dining room and thought that once Monet had done the same. The blue and white tiled kitchen with its plethora of copper utensils is amazing. I had drooled for years over it in the book, Monet's Table.
Always a critic, I think the whole house would have been better off being "done" as if Monet had just left the room instead of the "Please don't touch" signs sprinkled throughout the house. But that's just me.
As a group we also had tickets to the Impressionist Museum down the road which I found to be an extreme waste of time, but I suppose it depends on who's on display. Maximilien Luce did not impress.
The rest of the town of Giverny was supremely lovely. But now it's time to let my pictures do the talking.