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Vernon and Giverny

July 28 & 29
Written July 29 hrough August 3

Dear Friends and Family,

Our plan was to drive to the town of Vernon, near Paris, and leave the car there while we go into the big city to meet with Chris and the family.  The estimated driving time from Trebeurden to Vernon was four-and-a-half hours, but we were doing it on the busiest travel weekend of the French summer: traffic jams should be expected.

The first hour passed uneventfully, but as we got more and more into the mainstream we hit more and more slowdowns.  At the end of three hours, we had made less than two-hour's-worth of progress and our GPS was warning of another hour wait at the entrance to the toll road.  When we needed gas and a rest, we tried stopping at an "aire", or freeway rest stop, and faced long lines just to go through the exit. At that point, we decided to go onto secondary roads, despite the expectation of increased time.  Maybe we would see more.

Our first stop was a small gas station, a kilometer or so away from the freeway:  No lines, in fact no other cars in sight.  We asked the cashier where we might get lunch, and she sent us 20 kilometers away, to Villers-Bocage.  There, we went into the Au Vrai Normand ("The True Normandy") and had one of the best surprises of the day. We ordered the "express meal" and had an excellent  three-course meal of cold gazpacho soup, Sunday-best chicken, and a cheese dessert.  "Express" means something different in French cooking, but we were not complaining.
From Villers-Bocage, it was going to be side roads all the way to Vernon.  In addition to travel through miles and miles of French farms and countryside, we earned the chance to visit Lisieux, the hometown of St. Theresa, "The Little Flower".  Theresa was a rock-star quality saint from Marianne's Dominican school education, so this was a required detour.  The late-19th Century resident of Lisieux had inspired young girls of her time, and after, to a life of simple piety.

Theresa's childhood home is now a museum, operated with great reverence by Carmelite sisters.  My education had not been flavored by the specialness of this saint versus others, but I was impressed that this home and many of its contents had been used personally by someone who did have a role in church history, limited or not.
St. Peter's Cathedral in Lisieux

St. Teresa's house, furnishings, toys, and garden
The rest of the drive was long, but again uneventful, other than the development of a new noise in our eleven-year-old car.  I could see another Porsche stop on the horizon, but not until Monday, after our Vernon weekend.

The Hotel Normandy, our three-star stop until Monday, was easy to find and had good, underground parking.  Beyond that, it was pretty unremarkable.  Probably won't be a recommendation.

Sunday, Monet's House and Garden

After our normal slow breakfast, we made the five kilometer trip across the Seine to the village of Giverny.  It was here that Claude Monet set up a studio, house, and garden that served for decades as both his workplace and the setting for many of his most famous pictures.  Giverny is a must-see for artsy Paris tourists and many of them were out this summer Sunday.  There were crowds in the village street, lines to get into the house and gardens, and thousands of folks wandering everywhere.  While this normally is not my cup of tea, the grounds themselves seemed to soften any irritation.
Monet himself planned the gardens at Giverny and they have reportedly been reconstructed in accordance with his plans.  On this crowded Sunday afternoon, it was hard to imagine the tranquility that Monet and his impressionist friends felt, but everyone with a camera was filling their memory cards with flower pictures.  Me too.
The garden pond, the so-called "nymph pool",  offered the broadest opportunity for recognizing elements of Monet's paintings.  The Japanese-inspired bridge, the weeping willow, the small row boats, and, of course, lilies, were all there.
After the tour of the garden grounds, we went into Monet's house, including the large northern-exposure room that was his studio.  In the studio, the walls were covered with Monet originals, much as they might have been over one hundred years ago when he was painting.  Despite the push of crowds, it was inspiring to study the paintings and notice details of color, composition, and technique.  Pictures just don't do justice and, besides, no photos are allowed.

From the house, we went over to the Impressionism Museum.  Led by Monet, Giverney became a center of the impressionist painters and continues to have several artists who have made the village their homes and studios.  I found the Museum collections extraordinary and enjoyed the time and space to see everything.  Again, no pictures, but you need to visit in person anyway.

So, that was that for the goal of this two-night stop.  After Giverny, we returned to the hotel garage and tried to see if our car would repeat the odd noise that had worried us a couple of days before.  It didn't and we decided to chance avoiding the repair shop.  It's always pretty frustrating reporting a problem that "might" have been happening, especially if we would have to explain across a language barrier.

We did manage to squeeze in one more meal, this time at Cote Marine, a Seine-side fish restaurant, where Marianne and I had beef and pork dishes.  Not too bad and the walk to and from was pleasant. (Across the street, we saw another project we could take on .... not!)
Monday we left for Paris, by train since we won't venture to drive into THAT city.  That meant we traveled very light and left the big camera and this computer behind, so no dairies for a few days and limited pictures when we do re-connect four days later, in Epernay.   Another story.

Until then,

John and Marianne
ps: Maps
Drive to Vernon -- Around Vernon and Giverney


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