We were not up early enough to see any birds catching worms but we were up earlier than yesterday in preparation for an early start to beat the crowds. This was our day to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny and we planned to be there when it opened at 9:30 am or as soon as possible after that. Before breakfast Majella and I found time to record a video of us singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for Ben and send it to Nick to pass on.
Breakfast of our usual cereal and yoghurt with coffee was supplemented by scrambled eggs that Majella made from eggs provided by our hosts. That was all done and cleared away soon after 8:00 am and I was driving down the road just a couple of minutes after our scheduled departure at 8:15 am. Giverny is about 60 km away and estimated driving time was close to an hour, so our schedule left us enough time to park and be ready to enter close to opening time. We had bought tickets online months ago and had them printed and ready for scanning at entry.
Our drive to Giverny was mostly through broad farmland with occasional patches of forest. Traffic was light and we made good time, even over the winding stretch through some hills. We arrived at Giverny before 9:30 am but made the mistake of turning into the first parking lot which was about a 10 minute walk from the entrance. There was closer parking but we did not know that until we walked past it on the way to the entrance. Our tickets allowed us to use the entrance for pass holders rather than stand in line with those needing to buy tickets so we lost no time there.
Our expectations for the garden were high, based on prior knowledge of Monet’s work, much of which was inspired by his garden. Those expectations had been raised in Paris by our viewing of some of his work at the Musée d’Orsay and especially the large waterlily paintings at the Orangerie. We were not disappointed. The garden is in two major sections – one built around a series of ponds on which the famous waterlilies grow and the other laid out on the slope in front of his house.
At entry we were directed to the water garden which is across the road and accessed by a pedestrian subway. We were early and the crowds were light at first but they built quickly. We spent almost 30 minutes wandering the paths in that section, crossing the bridges and enjoying the variety of colours and textures in the garden and reflected in the water. There were a few partly open waterlilies but it was evidently not the season for their full display. Eventually the crowds became too great for easy movement and we headed back through the tunnel to the other part of the garden.
It was no less spectacular though quite different. Rows of plantings interspersed with paths ran down from the house. The central feature had a series of vine covered arches over a path bordered by nasturtiums and gladioli with a variety of other plantings mixed in to add colour and height. After walking up and down as many rows as were open we popped into the shop for a look around before joining the queue to access the house. Majella bought a coffee cup as a souvenir.
The house has two floors, with bedrooms upstairs and living areas downstairs. Each of the rooms was decorated with a dominant colour and the walls were thickly hung with artwork. The paintings there now are reproductions of the originals by Cezanne, Renoir, and other contemporaries of Monet, which are in various collections elsewhere. There were also a large number of Japanese drawings and paintings that evidently provided inspiration for Monet. We were surprised by the number of pans hanging in the large kitchen. Evidently somebody in the household did a lot of cooking.
It was after 11:00 am by the time we exited the house. That was time for coffee but too early for lunch. We strolled further up the street where we found La Musardière, which was prepared to serve us coffee despite being in the process of preparing to serve lunches. In the end we decided to eat something light with coffee and save ourselves for dinner this evening. Marie-Françoise and Roland had crème brûlée. Majella and I had crêpes.
As we were preparing to leave the restaurant, my phone rang. It was Nick on Facetime with Ben thanking us for our video message. We chatted for a few minutes, wishing Ben happy birthday again and promising to get him a gift when we could. Lucas popped his head into the video too.
Giverny is an interesting village that has evidently been influenced by its artistic history. There are several galleries along the main street, which is named for Monet, and most of the houses have well kept and colourful gardens. We considered visiting the Impressionist museum but decided against it for various reasons. Instead we walked up the street to the church of Saint Radegond and back. The church yard includes the grave of seven British airmen who perished when their bomber went down in the area. The church is a much smaller and simpler building than many we have seen recently.
It was barely 1:00 pm and we had done all we had planned to do in Giverny. Majella had checked her Lonely Planet guide prior to our excursion and suggested we drive along the river to Les Andelys where there was a castle, Château Gaillard, and a view of the white limestone cliffs along the Seine. That was only 30 minutes or so away and would take us in the direction of home.
When we arrived at Les Andelys we headed for the tourist office but it was closed until 2:00 pm, 20 minutes away. I drove to the area by the river where we walked around for a while. There were views of the cliffs downstream, the castle above the town upstream, and many old buildings in that area. There were 2 river cruise boats moored there and passengers were gathering on the bank with guides, evidently going on an excursion in the buses that were parked nearby. We discovered where they were going later when 4 buses had to reverse into the carpark at the castle in order to turn around and get back down the hill.
At 2:00 pm we headed back for tourist information and obtained a map detailing how to reach Château Gaillard. That took us up a narrow winding road and required a few hundred metres of hilly walking after finding the parking lot. The castle was worth visiting for historical reasons and for the views over the river and town. It was built by Richard the Lionheart late in the 12th century to help secure his lands in Normandy but was breached by the French early in the following century and gradually lost relevance as armaments evolved. We also learned the history of the two Andelys. The original, Grand Andely, is a small distance from the river and Petit Andely was establishedon the river by Richard as part of his defensive arrangements.
Walking at the castle had made us thirsty so we stopped in Grand Andely for refreshment. As we had driven through on the way to the castle we had noticed a large church and we parked nearby for a look. The church of Notre Dame at Grand Andely has a long history. The site was first used for church purposes in 511 and the actual church was built starting in the 12th century. Much of it was closed off because it is undergoing some restoration work.
Our drive home was an easy 25 km because we had come back so far on our afternoon excursion. Once home we relaxed with iced tea and made plans for dinner. Our hosts had recommended some local restaurants but calls by Marie-Françoise established that some were closed tonight. She found one open in Ry, about 6 km away.
I drove us to Ry just before 7:00 pm. It took us a few minutes to locate La Melodie du Bovary because we first turned the wrong way down the main street. Our various choices included terrine, roast chicken, chicken with linguine, trout with rissotto, crème brulée, chocolate mousse and camembert with salad. Everything was tasty and well presented. We shared a bottle of red wine and enjoyed it, the food and conversation before heading back for a well earned rest.