Saturday, October 24, 2015

a day of two villages and 37 photos

You have to travel by train from Paris to Vernon (pop. 25,000) in order to access Giverny (pop. 500), which confuses tourists no end, so much so that they now put up a sing on the train station that this is the Vernon-Giverny stop.

In fact, the two places are only four kilometers apart. That's enough to make me hesitate about combining both in one day of ramblings. And so for today, I choose only one -- Vernon.

The reason for this? Well, the weather is good, but tomorrow it's slated to be great. That means I want to go to Monet's gardens tomorrow. Too, the hike into the hills rising above Giverny will be finer on a sun dappled day. And so today, I do the "remains" -- the secondary stuff, all concentrated around Vernon. As you'll see, the secondary stuff may sometimes be finer (or as fine) as the primary stuff.

Since I do want to post many photos (see title above), I'll keep my text short. I'll announce photos as they come along.

Out my bedroom window I see that the sun is ready to finally crawl into our day. We're looking out at the village church (this is where Monet is buried).


Breakfast at Les Arceaux is lovely! Francine and Michel wheel the food cart out. At the bottom level, you'll see the bakery products from Giverny's boulangerie, along with three northern France cheeses: the little goat cheese, the square Brie, and the Normandy Neufchatel cheese (the heart shaped one in the photo; story has it that the French farm girls fell in love with the English soldiers of the conquering army back in the 11th century -- and so they made cheeses that spoke of their affection).


Michel makes rice pudding and also pears stewed in red wine. I am to have some of each, plus a wonderful mango apple kiwi salad. I ate (nearly) the whole thing! You see all this on the top level of the cart.


My put together breakfast:


As I eat and look out at the garden of my hosts, I'm thinking that it must be hard to maintain a yard if you live in Giverny. The pressure! Most gardens here are lovely. I mean really lovely. Michel and Francine (my hosts) too, pay attention to detail, including in the rear garden to the back of the house. Here is one view of it:


Here's the view to the front, beyond their yard.


As I said, I spend the day in and around Vernon. Michel drops me off downtown. There is an old section to this Normand town (you'll see it further down), but here, I want to show you the commercial heart, which, too, is rather pretty, I think.


(Passing the bakery makes me wince. The cake that gave our wickedly attacked cheeper her name...)


Today is market day in Vernon and so I head to the square first. Here's a wise man, doing the perfect shopping run for his wife (I'm making guesses here), with a bouquet of roses thrown in to honor her loveliness.


The market is vast and has a little of everything, from oysters (Michel is picking up those) to lobsters, to produce, to shoes...


... to beautiful mushrooms of the season. Cepes would be porcini in Italy and maslaki in Poland.


Here, you see several generations of family attentively listening to the vendor's explanation of the sausage selection. Everyone is fascinated. The steam is from a boiling pot of cabbage for a choucroute dish.


I am in Normandy. You can never forget that. In France, each region has an architectural style. Here is a sampling of buildings that are oh so typical of this area!




(The skies turned momentarily blue at about midday. What an unexpected surprise! Normandy tends to be wet, hence the great pastureland, the cows, the apples, the superb cheeses.)


I'm just at the outskirts of Vernon now, heading toward the Chateau de Bizy (a Renaissance castle and park). The avenue leading up to the entrance is gorgeous!


I only visit the park. I'm not sufficiently appreciative of chateau interiors to justify the entrance fees. But the park here is well worth the 4 Euros. It's beautiful, especially now, as the colors of the trees turn to their radiant fall hues. I honestly think they planted trees here with Fall in mind, they are that lovely now.


Here's a surprise: cyclamen flowers, wildly in bloom! Guess who hasn't had their frost yet! (And just to make you weak with jealousy if you hate your own winter weather, Normandy escaped a hard frost all of last winter.)


(Mushrooms, because it has been a wet fall.)


Hills in the distance, chateau parks in the foreground. Beautiful!


If I lived here, I'd get a year's pass and come with a stroller (in which there should be a grandchild) every single day of the year.


The walks we would take!


The flowers we would get to know!


The beauty of Fall is ever present today.


Okay. Let me not overwhelm you. I walk back to town. I do a little shopping. Perhaps it seems odd to you that I should pick up little thises and thats for Snowdrop when I am in France (as there are plenty of nice thises and thats for toddlers in the States). Or perhaps you've guessed that it's more than just bringing her stuff from France. In shopping for my granddaughter (or for my own daughters for that matter), I feel like I am not just a spectator -- I am participating in life here. I have a grandchild. I must pay attention to her even while I am here. This is one of the many ways in which I do just that. Today's Snowdrop stuff (note the warm cap!)


And now I pass a bakery. I'm tempted, especially by this tray of very small pastries. I move on.


In the old part of Vernon, you'll still see the timbered buildings that are so typical of Normandy towns.


I'm making my way to the Vernon Museum. Michel recommended it to me - I'd never seen it before.

The Museum is small and I am actually interested in only one third of it -- having to do with Impressionist paintings. I am the only visitor in the entire museum. Imagine that!

Michel told me that 700,000 people came to Giverny this year (the gardens are about to close, so we can hold on to this number as a firm one). He says that next year, they're expecting 800,000. I remember reading last year that the Monet house and gardens have a new director. Is he responsible for the uptick? My host says it's too early to say that. Still, there are just a boatload of tourists making the trip here each year (mostly by tour bus, but a sizable minority come by train; Japan has contributed more than it's fair share; the US too, though Michel says the Chinese are making a spectacular appearance as well).

So why are there no visitors at the Museum, where you can actually look at authentic Impressionist paintings?

The person who is manning the rooms (is he the curator? the guard? a friend of either?) and who is making sure I don't cut out with one or two of the canvases wrapped and stuffed underneath my jacket tells me that most people just follow the guide to the gardens and that it takes an inquisitive type to make the trip here. He tells me that the main Monet canvas (donated by Claude's family to the museum) is at this moment on loan to Denmark, but they have another that can fill the gap. Here you see three canvases -- to the left, by Claude Monet, to the right -- by Blanche Hoschede Monet.


Claude Monet's life was full of drama (or, you could say that he lived long enough to experience a human being's full range of turmoils), but perhaps what bears mentioning here is his complicated family life: a wife, two children, then the wife Camille's premature death of cancer at 32. When she dies, Claude moves in with his friends Alice and Ernest Hoschede and their six children and Alice helps Monet raise his two sons as well (meaning she probably single handedly raised eight children). Soon after, Alice and Ernest split up and Alice and all the kids move with Claude to various places until Claude discovers Giverny. They settled there and when Ernest dies, Claude marries Alice. Story's not over! Her daughter, Blanche, marries his son Jean. An interesting twist, no?

It is the art of Blanche that especially dazzled me. (As the museum person explained to me, she was at once Monet's step daughter and his daughter-in-law, which, I learned today, in French happens to be the same word -- "belle-fille.")

I'm told that this particular painting of hers shocked and horrified the community. Why do you think?


The museum person explains that she chose to put summer haystacks into a winter landscape.
Well so what? I ask. It could be leftover hay that was never picked up by the farmer.
Oh no, he tells me. See how there is no snow covering the haystacks? The painting has deliberately mixed the seasons.

I finish my museum walk through and I pause at the teeny tiny gift shop. My guard/explainer and the ticket agent at the desk are the only people in the building. I thank them for all their generous help and detailed stories. One of them shoots up and goes off for a minute, bringing back a picture of the mill at the edge of the River Seine. He hands it to me. A gift. To allow you to think back to Vernon.

I'm touched. I feel we're friends for life, though of course I know that I'll not likely see these two wonderful, earnestly helpful men again.

So this is it for my own encounters with Vernon. I leave...


... and I cross the bridge over the River Seine and admire for the n -th time the mill and towers of a palace that was important to the region once...]


And then I walk back to Giverny.  (Yes, there are reds!)                                                         


Along the River Seine.


Past Normandy homes.


Dinner. Here's a thing to note about Giverny: it has a handful of eateries and they cater for the most part to the tourists who pass through here. I noticed last night (and this is confirmed in reviews of the favored restaurants here) how friendly and eager the wait staff is, despite this roving clientele. Michel and Francine rarely (ever?) eat in Giverny. They'll pop over to the more sedate village next door for their night out. Still, the food in Giverny is not bad. It's not spectacular and perhaps not something I'll remember ten years from now, but honestly, I've now had two very good and inexpensive dinners here.

Today, I went to the Restaurant-Creperie Musardiere, a family run place that serves a fixed price menu or (as was my choice) an a la carte selection of buckwheat crepes (northern France's favorite). So, vegetable soup, followed by the Crepe Giverny which had apples and camembert and (by my choice) an egg. (That's a half bottle of white burgundy you see at the side -- pretty much my favorite wine, tantalizingly inexpensive in France.) It was delicious!


The moon shines brightly over Giverny tonight. It should be a beautiful day tomorrow.