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?
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.
Then, we road bikes to Monet's old house in Giverny, France.
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:
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!
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 château 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.
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:
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:
What else did we see? Lots of tempting food in Paris's many pâtisseries:
Painters in the street at Montmartre:
Notre Dame Cathedral:
Where I went to mass:
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:
I took this picture of a picture especially for you, my V.com friends, because what more could you want? A fiddle player, naked people, archery, exotic birds...
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:
Standing under it:
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:
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