Visit to Paris

July 19, 2012, 5:21 PM · This week I have indeed been an American in France, taking in all kinds of new sights and sounds -- though many resonate so fully through the culture I know, a lot feels familiar.

Take this garden, do you feel you have seen it before?

Monet's Garden
Monet's garden, in Giverny

During college, a print of one of Claude Monet's many paintings of the bridge in his garden hung on my wall -- I know it like the back of my hand. And here it was, in real life. When I saw it last week, it had a fresh coat of green paint -- somehow that seemed strange. But the new significance, for me, lay in getting there. First, we took a train out to the countryside.

On the train in Paris

Then, we road bikes to Monet's old house in Giverny, France.

Biking in the French countryside

Hilariously, our leader, Justin, with the American company Fat Tire Bike Tours, hailed from my own hometown of Denver, Colorado. But he could not have been more perfect, for leading a group of Americans in this journey, which included buying items for a picnic in the little town of Vernon (a fresh baguette, Camembert cheese, fruit tarts, etc.), eating a little picnic by the Seine River, then biking about 5 k/3 miles to Giverny. Not only did we see Monet's famous Japanese garden with its bridges and waterlilies and willows, but we also saw some amazing Gothic churches along the way, visited Monet's grave, and of course, we walked through Monet's house, which has many Japanese prints and is painted in rather garish colors on the inside. Monet was quite the botanist, creating the gardens that he wanted paint, exactly the way he wanted to paint them. We looked at a lot of the exotic breeds he cultivated; here was a flower that struck my fancy, and no, I can't tell you its breed:

Monet flower

We then walked around the town of Giverny, which prides itself on both art and flowers. I found wonderful coffee at a little place called the Botanic Cafe, and as I drank espresso and had a few macaroons, I realized that we were sitting right next to a garden store or market, which had all kinds of plants for sale -- even a little hutch with bunnies (though I'm not sure why you'd want them anywhere near your garden!). I noticed that they had water lilies for sale -- of course!

Water lilies for sale

Because this was our first trip to France, we had to visit some of the famous sights. One day we (and a kazillion other tourists) went to the Palace of Versailles, the ornate, gold-gilded ch√Ęteau that became a symbol of the excesses of the French aristocracy. Here is its famous "Hall of Mirrors," and you can see not only its excess of gold, elaborate murals, marble statues and sparkling chandeliers, but also a great excess of camera-toting TOURISTS! In honesty, I can't complain: I was one of them.

Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles

And look what I found, just around the corner, over an archway:

Versailles detail

I think one could find an image of just about anything in this palace, but it was good to see my old friend the fiddle. We took a healthy (ie. long) walk through the Gardens of Versailles, full of statues and trees:

Gardens of Versailles
In the Gardens of Versailles

We arrived at the Petit Trianon, most famously known as Marie Antoinette's retreat from the palace. Robert took this picture at the "Temple of Love," a gazebo located on the grounds of the outside of Petit Trianon:

Temple of Love in Versailles
The Temple of Love in the gardens of the Petite Trianon at Versailles

What else did we see? Lots of tempting food in Paris's many p√Ętisseries:

French pastries

Painters in the street at Montmartre:

Street paintings

Notre Dame Cathedral:

Notre Dame

Where I went to mass:

Mass in Notre Dame

On Bastille Day (when admission was free!), we went to the Louvre, a museum that is rather intimidating for its vast art collection and enormous physical size:

The Louvre

I took this picture of a picture especially for you, my friends, because what more could you want? A fiddle player, naked people, archery, exotic birds...

Louvre painting

I can't quite remember, but I believe the above picture was somewhere very close to the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa required that we fight our way past many aggressive tourists, so that we could take a look at the comparatively small painting. We used our eyeballs to view the Mona Lisa; how many times has it been reproduced? No need to take a picture, though that didn't stop everyone else -- we even had to strain to look around someone taking a picture with an iPad!

There were so many tiny details, beyond all the famous paintings, like this one, just a little gargoyle built into the wall:


Of course it wouldn't be a "first trip to Paris" without visiting the Eiffel Tower. Here it was as we approached it:

Eiffel Tower

Standing under it:

Close-up of Eiffel Tower

And here, you can see the great view, as well as my reaction, after we'd walked up 674 steps to the second level, which was as high as I could bring myself to go:


July 20, 2012 at 03:30 AM · Delightful, Laurie. Even filled with tourists, the Hall of Mirrors is spectacular. And you got quite a panorama from the Eiffel Tower, regardless of the tourists.

The Disney World videos that came with the Eiffel Tower video were interesting to watch. I think the Little Mermaid music is quite clever. But I was shocked to hear bagpipe music when I put on my headphones half way through the "World of Color". Was that from Disney's latest animated film?



July 20, 2012 at 10:41 AM · Great blog and pics! Thanks.

July 20, 2012 at 02:36 PM · Looks like you had amazing weather for your trip. I remember walking in the Versailles gardens in a mild drizzle--just as lovely, but very different.

The Rodin museum is worth visiting, if you have time (ha, ha!)

July 20, 2012 at 03:04 PM · Gorgeous, thanks for sharing! Although I'm from Europe and have seen these places, it is a beautiful report. Your daughter (?) is very pretty by the way...

July 20, 2012 at 03:27 PM · Engaging narrative, indeed. Love the photos, too, especially the flower and architectural shots. France is one of my ancestral homelands. Never saw it in person but felt like I was right there -- thank you.

July 20, 2012 at 04:11 PM · See if you can catch a concert at La Sainte-Chapelle (even better if it's Bach) - truly unique and amazing visual and acoustic musical experience! Unfortunately there is no opera/ballet at Palais Garnier until September, otherwise it would have been memorable too.

July 21, 2012 at 12:05 AM · where is the "like" button?

July 21, 2012 at 09:53 PM · Francesca, sorry to be so late in responding, but the answer is yes! The bagpipe music is from Brave (which, by the way, I noticed in France is called Rebelle!) You see all the Disney-related videos because my husband is the editor of the website

July 24, 2012 at 04:05 PM · Laurie,

In your picture of Notre Dame: if you cross the bridge you show, from Ile de Cite to the left bank, there is a luthier's shop. Right off the top of my head, I remember Jean Pave. Pretty interesting location. I didn't have the time or the nerve to go in, the times I was there.

Looks like you are really enjoying this trip! Thanks for sharing it...

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