Thank you Bev and Gord Simpson, you did a great job with this travelogue, Gord taking pictures and Bev putting her thoughts, and their adventures on paper. It makes me want to return to France again.
The picturesque port of Honfleur
Wednesday Sept 30 Giverny
Today we made the long trip to Giverny to see Claude Monet’s house and gardens and of course the famous Nymphéas. It is another beautiful warm sunny fall day and the trip is lovely but long – over 2 hours and strangely hard to find Giverny.
Not very well marked off the highway, we find it by GPS and of course it is lovely. Even this late in the fall, the flowers are stunning and the light on the lily ponds changes even in the short time we are there. The house and gardens are beautifully kept by the local Monet Foundation. It is surprisingly reasonable to enter, one small fee and stay as long as you like. There are lots of people, but not annoyingly so, as it would likely be in summer.
The house is old with small beds, little tables and lamps – not nearly as comfortable as we live today. But 2 rooms that stand out are the kitchen – all blue tiles, lots of copper pots a big old stove – maybe even wood burning – hard to tell. Lots of beautiful light steaming in from the front windows with their lace curtains. The copper pots are gleaming!
The dining room – with a table that seats 12 – is sunlight everywhere with its yellow paint on the walls and the furniture and light pouring in the windows, lots of pictures on all the walls.
There are a few Monet paintings around – one very familiar– presumably real although they would be worth millions of euros – so are they real? There are many, many Japanese style drawings and paintings – apparently he was very interested in Japanese art. There are guards in the house but very unobtrusive – even at this time of year there are many visitors and we move through politely!
The most stunning part of the house and garden is the walkway to the front gate that at one time was a driveway off the main road in the town. It leads up to the front door of the house and it is just a sea of flowers – at this time of the year, they are dahlias and nasturtiums with climbing roses – all catching the sunlight in a very charming manner.
On the walking path to the ponds you can see how beautifully everything is managed by the gardeners and repairmen. For example the flowing river is caught and held in place with small poles that provide a lovely looking fence like structure that adds to the beauty – how much of the islands in the river are man-made, how much are natural is hard to tell. There are 4 workmen repairing a very small part of the fencing with great attention to detail. It seems they appreciate this piece of “patrimoine” that Monet left for the town and surrounding valley, which attracts so many visitors and helps with the employment of many local people. Below is a view from one of the bedrooms in the house overlooking the garden
There are large pockets of tall stately bamboo on the islands in the river but they don’t seem to be taking over as they are held in place by the river itself. The walking trail is beautifully maintained – the light is stunning even at this time of year. Not sure why – does it have to do with how the sun is positioned on the earth at this point in Normandie? The iconic green of the trim on the house is also reflected in the benches that are here and there for visitors to sit and relax and enjoy the surroundings.
At the lily ponds, the light is most obvious and could never be caught with a photograph. Even in late September mid afternoon, it is beautiful and reflective. There are people sketching – and lots of photographers – and a few iPads clicking away. There are also very keen gardeners who know the names of all the flowers and discuss various forms and colours and how to grow them at home.
It was a long way to get here – it’s an easier trip by train from Paris and it is even longer getting back to Bayeux as we hit end of day traffic but we’re very glad we made the trip.
Dinner tonight is at L’Alchemie in Bayeux which is like many in this town, owned and operated by a husband wife team – he is the chef, she runs the dining room, meeting, greeting, hanging coats, seating people, taking drink and food orders, delivering the amuse bouche – I love that name – so weird and wonderful at the same time – delivering the dinner, topping up the drinks etc etc. very interesting to watch. They work very hard over spring, summer, early fall with tourists and have a lighter load in winter with only locals and the occasional tourist as their guests. Possibly their parents are home with their children – if they have them – since many live in the same town all their lives – and not a bad life it is.
Thursday Oct 1 A day of rest in Bayeux
Today we took it easy, staying in Bayeux and there is a lot to see and do. We visit the museums we have missed, wander in the parks and gardens in the town, sit and drink coffee on the sidewalk where we can watch people passing by, and catch up with our email, photos (Gord) and travelogue (me). Dinner tonight in a local brasserie with lighter fare – onion soup and salad and wine of course. Meals have been lovely – very gourmet and small quantities of excellently prepared foods often with a very fresh salad vert.
Friday Oct 2 Travel to Deauvile and Honfleur
Today we headed north starting off on the highway and then heading to the coast north of the beaches towards Le Havre. Below is one of several carefully maintained thatch-roofed houses on the way to Honfleur. Note the decorative work on the roof. Many of the houses had scrolled flowers into the manicuring of the roofs. Most of the towns we pass are beautifully maintained as are the yards and gardens. The farms are immaculate with very large fields growing lots of corn and other crops we don’t always recognize.
We pass through Deauville and Trouville, busy beach side towns that have a long history of attracting wealthy family in summer. Honfleur is our target and we easily find the busy Quai, which has been hosting people for over a thousand years. Today it’s packed with walkers, boaters, and photographers – the sun lit cafes and restaurants – dozens and dozens of them all side by side – are almost completely full and it’s a Friday in early October.
The buildings on the quai are impressive and iconic – they are very tall and skinny – up to 8 floors high, touching each other, each with its own colour palette and windows new or old. Some are occupied with businesses, often art galleries or second floors of restaurants but some seem to be lived in, with flowers on the window sills. Sailing boats are everywhere and occasional fishing boats although they perhaps have a separate harbour. Honfleur, the home of Samuel de Champlain who found the St Lawrence River, is a bustling tourist attraction with loads of history.
We visit the very old wooden St Catherines Church. The story has it that in the mid 1500s the citizens of Honfleur wanted to thank God for the fact that the British had left their country after the 100 years war. Stone and stonemasons were in high demand and short supply, but the locals were not to be deterred. Using what they knew—building wooden ships—they built a wooden church that has survived and is still very active 500 years later.
Saturday Oct 3 is an early breakfast in our wonderful dining room restaurant at the Villa Lara. It is kitted out in true French fashion with all the best in tableware and linens but with a country flavour to the décor . The food is excellent with all you can eat juices and fruits, yogurts and cheeses, eggs, and meats, breads and jams. And café au lait – my favourite, is de rigeur here. It is so easy to request warm milk that comes to the table in a lovely little pitcher to be poured at your leisure. I am using the hot milk on my granola and oats as well to keep my clicking jaw under control.
This morning we take our little car back to the Hertz at the local gas station and take a cab back to the train station with another group also returning their car – they are from North Carolina.
We walk to the train station in Bayeux with our pull cases – takes about 20 minutes – it’s another beautiful sunny day – and await the 14:40 to Paris. The trains are excellent, always on time with comfortable seating. They travel at significant speeds on the excellent tracks that are common all over Europe. Canada could take a lesson!
At the Gare St Lazare we find a taxi easily to our hotel (too far to walk). We are staying at Le Trianon (another small local one in the Best Western group). It is near Les Jardins Luxembourg. Our driver is very good – it’s a Saturday and the roads are packed with cars, buses, bikes, motorbikes, walkers of all sorts. Some of the streets are one way, others not, the taxi driver has to know his way around. Our hotel is pretty and clean on the outside, the lobby is small but cozy and the lady on the desk pleasant and welcoming. Our room, well let’s just say Gord was not pleased. Quite expensive, it was tiny, about 1/6th the size of our Bayeux hotel – where we were very spoiled! – decorated in black and red, and considerably more euros! Ah well, we are en Paris and near the Luxembourg.
Paris is amazing in the numbers of people it attracts – they are everywhere today on the streets. Tonight is Nuit Blanche when the museums and attractions stay open all night and many are free. We wander St Michel, have a glass of wine by the gardens and people watch, adjusting to our changed location. As it gets dark we find a nice little restaurant for dinner – Gord has a fishburger – salmon delicious and I have a bowl of house made cheese stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce – Delicious but very rich – with a green salad. We share a carafon of Cotes de Rhone. The nights bring an array of lights to the city and the crowds don’t abate but there is lots of room for everyone on the broad streets and parkettes everywhere. We are near the Sorbonne and pass groups of students engaged in eating, drinking, dancing and one group of 6 women dressed as cats playing a game with a mouse in a bowl…..and laughing their heads off. We give a couple of euros to a street musician playing the trombone but after he collects from the crowd he heads home! We have barely heard him play. We return to our dark tiny room – the walls are covered in a black fabric, curtains and bedding are red and white – and sleep well.
Sunday Oct 4
Today we headed out with no particular plan in mind and found ourselves headed for Notre Dame which had an unusually short wait time to enter. It is again a beautiful sunny Sunday and the church is full of worshipers. The priest is giving the sermon. Lots of tourists are watching and snapping photos but respectfully. Outside 5 cute young “boy scouts” are selling cakes to make money for their troop. We are a new team he says and so we must raise funds for our activities – they are dressed in scout uniforms. The cakes are all home made they tell us as we choose a brownie and they are truly home made and delicious! Give what you can he tells me when I ask the price and so of course he does well on the transaction. – and others are lining behind me – they are well positioned at the exit gate to the cathedral.
Our next stop is a wander along the Seine taking in the sites – several tourist boats pass us riding swiftly up the river their top level full of smiling picture-taking tourists. Les pompiers are training on one bank of the river climbing ladders and getting their hoses full of water to be able to spray what would be a fire but now is just back into the river – they are very slow so must be new recruits.
The stalls on the riverside are just opening up to display their myriad of books of every sort, old magazines with famous people on the covers, Marilyn Monroe, Serpico, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman ….
And the people watching is excellent.
Over time we make it to the Musée D’Orsay which has a huge crowd in line – 45 minutes I am told but since it is closed Monday I line up and Gord goes off to take some pictures. After 40 minutes of easy waiting we enter through the cursory security check-line. It turns out on the first Sunday of the month there is no charge so we are ahead about 25 euros and in one of the most iconic galleries in the world!
We head straight for the Impressionists. The D’Orsay holds the best collection in the world and there are many enjoying them. An added bonus is the views of the city from the large windows on the top floor of the musée are spectacular, especially the ornate rooftops of the Louvre and the placement of Sacre Coeur on the hillside.
We enjoy several Monets, Renoirs, and Sisleys among other beautiful works and appreciate the fact that the Impressionists committed an act of rebellion when they encouraged each other to paint exactly what they saw ‘en plein air” (outdoors) and as such we are able to enjoy these beautiful works of art so many decades later.
From the quayside of the Seine, we move into the streets of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), passing the Medical School of the University of Paris and many upscale left bank shops – mostly closed on Sunday – and restaurants filled with people enjoying their café on the sidewalks in the sun, street musicians finding an audience – this one playing Dixieland.
We head towards St Germain de Pres, a beautiful old abbey church which dates back to the 10th and 11th Centuries and it’s on our path to Les Jardins Luxembourg.
Les Jardins Luxembourg is full of strollers of every age and stage, lots of children, lots of couples, many of them mixed race, it’s nice to see. There is room for everyone on this beautiful day. The flowers are lovely as they always are and the trees sparkling in the sunlight. It’s getting cooler…. apparently winter is coming, there is a feeling in the air but for now we enjoy everything.
From there a snooze in our cozy hotel room, which is quite functional if not at all spacious, and a light dinner nearby about 8:30 – we had a little café lunch around 3 on our walk along Le Blvd St Germain.
Monday Oct 5
We head for the Pantheon after a great breakfast in our little hotel. The Europeans are so smart to offer breakfast in their hotels – often included although this one is not – but it’s a better price than on the street, better food and easy to access – lots of fresh fruits, cereals, breads, yogurts, cafés. Love it!
The Pantheon in the Latin Quarter close to our hotel is magnificent. We have been passing it at night, nicely lit up for the strollers. Inside it’s an ancient delight, fantastic architecture, beautifully restored attracting many Français, Françaises and tourists alike to better understand French culture, values and heritage.
Built around the mid 18thC it feels ancient and it’s very beautiful. It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve to house the reliquary containing her relics. It now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of many distinguished French citizens. Its façade is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. Outside there are large posters of 4 WWll resistants, including 2 women, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion who become the third and fourth women interred among 74 men in this mausoleum of honour. Their stories are highlighted inside in a large interactive display, and represent a change in thinking of what denotes being deserving of the honour of being interred here. It is fascinating.
It starts to rain as we leave the Parthenon so we stop at a little café and I buy an umbrella nearby – one that will fit in our carry-on going home.
This afternoon we stay dry and cosy in the lobby of our hotel to finish off our pictures (Gord) and the Travelogue (me) because we know when we get home, it will be go-go again and we will easily get behind.
Tonight for dinner at Semilla we will meet the adult son of very old and good friends who lived twenty years and raised their sons in Paris.
Home tomorrow and we are ready. We will leave this little hotel and our tiny bedroom a little after 7 to catch the RER to the CDG aeroport. The station is about 300 metres away – we hope it’s not raining too hard. We’d like to avoid a taxi in heavy traffic in the morning to catch the RoussyBus at the opera which is a good distance away. On the RER train we should get into CDG by about 830, plenty of time to have breakfast and be on our 11am flight home.
Kathy has graciously added this Guest Blog to her site and it is fun to see it available there.