Paris is, (mostly) figuratively, an island (the region is named Ile-de-France after all), isolated as the capitol, a tourist destination and somewhat ironically, for (let’s say) the cold demeanor of its people. Yet, it doesn’t take much to get out of the city – just a few euros and a quick train ride and you can find yourself beyond the hustle, hurtling through green fields, watching the Seine expand and become the dominant force flowing through the countryside.
At some point early in my time here, I purchased an excellent tour guide entitled “An Hour from Paris”, full of off-the-beaten-path trips, easily taken from the Paris hub and ideal for exploring on a quiet Saturday afternoon. I pledged, upon spending €30 on this slim volume, that I would use it at least once a month to see what lies outside of the city. I have to admit, somewhat guiltily, that this weekend was the first time it at least three years that it has been opened for purposes beyond the wistful planning stage.
In the end, all it took was some sunshine and an enthusiastic and patient guest, until I found myself spending my Saturday on a train platform, leaving the city (and work) behind, and heading to Giverny in order to explore Monet’s famous gardens, lily ponds and country home.
Refreshing. Inspirational. Beautiful. Claustrophobic. The gardens and home were all of these things; although the latter only because of the incredible number of visitors, all carefully scooting around each other in a garden with only a few open access paths. The variety of blooming, intertwined flowers was beyond anything I had ever seen. Lilies and poppies, roses and honeysuckle, irises and violets, not to mention varieties I have never imagined, let alone learned about in my high school ornamental horticulture class. Maybe learning about a place teaming with so much life, beauty and creativity would have inspired me to pay a bit more attention? Probably not.
The estate was extensive, including Monet’s home (covered, wall-to-wall with Japanese prints and off-limits for hobby photographers, unfortunately), the flower gardens directly below and, across the local main thoroughfare, a water lily garden. This was my absolute favorite place on site.
Although jam-packed with people, I was able to find a seat on a bench beyond the throngs and daydreamed of coming here, years ago, for solace, contemplation and motivation. More than the overgrowth of flowers around us, it was the deep, earthy greens of the willows, ferns and lilypads that dominated this part of the gardens. At one point during our tour, it began to rain and, from seemingly nowhere, rose a chorus of croaks and ribbits. We had no idea until that moment that the lily pond was, in fact, filled with large frogs – that apparently loved the rain. Everyone stopped, smiling ridiculously at the cacophony of sound and tried to catch a glimpse of the impromptu performers. I had my fancy lens out, so I was lucky enough to be able to zoom in and catch one, startlingly green, mid-croak, amongst the reeds.
After a few hours, the color and perfume of the flowers all seemed to blend together and the pulsing sun and pushy visitors took their toll. We boarded the bus to take us back to the main train station in Vernon, the small village ajoining Giverny. We spent the remainder of our afternoon peacefully enjoying a panaché at the local bar before our train to Paris arrived. There was so much to take in, absorb and process: the riot of color, crush of people, and echo of past genius kept us both quiet for a while – contemplating the wild garden, which seemed to reflect a restless, maybe cluttered, yet masterful mind that has inspired artists (and the rest of us) for generations.
Following are some of my favorite images from the day. There are so many more photos – what an amazingly picturesque place…