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Monday, May 31, 2010

April in Paris

One thing I will never do again?  An overnight bus ride from Amsterdam to Paris.  Em and I saved ourselves around 50 Euros, as the other option was the pricey and sleek Eurostar, but I still don't know if I can say it was worth it.  After a long day outside in the cold and rain, a hard seat and drafty window weren't appreciated.  At some point in Belgium, alternating between sleep and awake every 20 minutes, I wanted to stomp my feet.  I might have whimpered a little bit, but I can neither confirm, nor deny.

Eight hours later, as the clock struck 6 a.m., we pulled into the Paris bus station.  I was beyond drained, and it was all I could do to drag my suitcase through Paris to Emily's apartment.  But, I was there...finally in Paris!

A three hour nap makes the baddies disappear.  The Paris day was bright and Em and I walked around the Hotel de Ville plaza, enjoying the warmer winds and people-watching.  You know you're in Paris when you see lovers displaying their love among the crowds.  Parisians aren't afraid of love.  They're in love with love.  And you can't help but get swept up in the romance. 

We met Emily's friend, Awna, at Parc de Buttes Chaumont for conversation and people-watching.  It was really nice to meet Awna, as I'd heard so much about her from Emily, and she's a part of Emily's Parisian life.  Late in the afternoon, we parted ways from Awna, and Em and I went to the market and the boulangerie for supper supplies.  It was a lazy day first day in Paris, but I prefer to think of it as "slow," and keeping with the culture.

During my visit with Emily, her normal routine of work and school persisted, so I'd made plans for some day-long excursions.  Tuesday morning, I set out for the Paris Vision travel agency, as I was to spend the day visiting Monet's house in Giverny and the Chateau de Versailles.  I can't speak highly enough of the Paris Vision agency.  On my last trip to Paris in 2008, we took a trip with Paris Vision to the Champagne region of France to visit various wineries and the quaint city of Reims.  Not only are their trips organized well, as to maximize the sights, but their staff is very professional and their buses are very clean.

Anyway, the bus set out of a dawning Paris, but not before a drive down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, and a loop around the Arc de Triomphe.

The sun was full and overhead by the time we arrived in Giverny.  We were set free to explore Claude Monet's home and gardens, and the tiny, yet picturesque town of Giverny.  Monet's cottage is stately in pink stucco, with bright green trim, matching the ambling ivy gracing its walls.  Monet was a homebody, and seemed to take great pride in making his home comfortable for his guests.  I especially loved his kitchen, bordered in pastoral blue and white Delft tile, and painted a cheerful, sunny yellow.  In the middle of the spacious kitchen, a long dining room table floated between the stove, sink and fireplace.  If guests always seem to find themselves stationed in the kitchen anyway, why not seat them there as well?  I loved the coziness of it. 

I spent a little while in Monet's front yard gardens, the Clos Normand,  navigating my way around the large Asian tour group that descended upon the grounds.  Behind Monet's front yard gardens, the pond sits, a tributary diverted from the Seine.  It was easy to see why Money painted so many versions of his Waterlilies.  The garden is so quiet and serene, and there are so many angles and perspectives from which one sees the light differently.  I was at peace this morning, and while I would've loved to share the experience with someone else, it was nice to be alone with my thoughts.

Monet's House, Gardens, and chicken.   How pastoral.

After spending a good bit of time at the pond, I wandered into the sleepy town of Giverny.  Most buildings in the town are white, and it reminded me of Alys Beach on 30A in Florida, but without the ocean.  I found a small park, and settled on a bench, soaking up some vitamin D and doing a little bird watching.

My little bird friend singing at my feet in Giverny

The bus loaded up, and hungrily, we rolled into our lunchtime destination, the Moulin de Fourges.  The old restaurant features an operating water mill, rolling the River Epte through it's spokes.  I'm an adventurous eater, but on some things, I have to draw the line.  The first course was a three-fish pate, which I liken to canned cat food.  It was disgusting, and oddly enough, my tablemates practically licked their plates.  One thing I love about the French is the presence of wine at lunchtime.  My glass of rich red wine was never empty, and was a perfect compliment to the traditional French cuisine of boeuf bourguignon.  

The bus was quiet when we set off for Versailles. I tried to stay awake to the French countryside, but my eyes wanted to nap.  Awhile later, we arrived in Versailles.  The city of Versailles is pretty incredible, especially considering Louis XIV designed its avenues and architecture as rays, all pointing up to the Chateau de Versailles.  He called himself the "Sun King," respectively.

Our tour began among the other five billion people touring the Chateau that day.  Seriously, there were hoardes of people there.  And, while the French do wine well, they don't do air conditioning as well...or at all.  Man, it was stuffy in those seventeenth century rooms.  I did see some lovely textiles, ornate furniture, and haughty portraits of French royalty, including many paintings of Marie Antoinette herself.  After our tour, we were given time to explore the intricately landscaped gardens.  It's a majestic sight, for sure.  Monarchy and its extravagant opulence fascinate me.

One of the coolest places in all of French history:  The Chateau de Versailles

On the way back to Paris, we passed the Ile des Cygnes, featuring one of the Statue of Liberty monuments in Paris.  I heard of it, but never actually saw it before then.  It was nice to see a piece of Franco-American history in the city.

Six days left.  Stay tuned...


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