Sunday, May 10, 2009

First full weekend in Paris...

Well, the first full weekend of our trip was incredible. On Saturday, I joined a group of folks on the trip in making the trek out to Monet's country home, Giverny. When I traveled to France as a little girl with my family in the mid-1980s, Giverny had not yet been refurbished and turned into a tourist attraction. Tourist attraction makes it sound so much less beautiful than it really is, though. It does not do the place justice.

The journey out to Giverny, which is in the Normandy region of France, was quite an adventure. It started off with an incorrect train time (we were told 10:20 and actually it was 12:30) and went, well, downhill from there - at least with respect to the journey itself! I'll spare you all the details except to say this: if you are in France and wish to visit Giverny, do yourself and your fellow travelers a favor and RENT A CAR! The regional transit system in France leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of directions, order, ticketing, correct schedules, and so forth. I don't think the French quite understand how bizarre it is, they just know that it is the way it is. For my part, I can understand now a bit more why the French strike so often. If I were a bus driver in France, I'd strike too if that many people in one day yelled at me that there were not enough seats on the bus, nor enough buses. Mon deiu!

Once we arrived in Giverny, due to the multiple mishaps in traveling there, we had an abbreviated afternoon in which to see the home and gardens. Unfortunately, we had no idea that another huge wait awaited us. Here is the line that we spent an hour and a half in to enter the gardens...

After our wait, we sped through some of the most incredibly beautiful gardens I've ever been in - and that's saying something, as my mother is famous for her love of gardens and making sure to detour to as many as possible on each European vacation we took while I was growing up! Consequently, I've actually become quite a fan of lovely gardens myself, but don't tell my mother that! Oh wait, she reads this....

Though our time in the garden was short, it was fantastic. Visiting during May meant that we saw the tulips in their full glory, and there were so many different kinds and colors! I know in my heart that I will go back there someday (makes me think of Kermit singing in one of the Muppet movies) and get to experience it all again. For now, I have the 60 photos that I took during our 45 minute visit - no joke, that was how long we had. Why, you ask? Because the last train to Paris was one we couldn't miss, and due to our travel challenges getting to Giverny, we anticipated (correctly) troubles returning. Click here for photos of the garden (posted on my facebook page).

Our return journey consisted of a short bus ride, followed by lots of elbows and shoving while trying to get on a bus, then an unplanned cab ride, and finally, blessed arrival on the last train back to Gare St. Lazare in Paris. We made it! The story makes for interesting dinner conversation, so if you want me to share it with you feel free to ask!

Today, I met Paula and Debbie, two of my travel buddies from Saturday, and headed to Montmartre. This is an area in northwest Paris where artists and thinkers congregated - Gericault, Corot, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others - and celebrated their art. At the top of one of the highest hills in Paris lies the Basillica of Sacre Cour (the Sacred Heart) and a magnificent view of Paris. We first trekked to the top (without counting the stairs, I'm sorry to say) and took in the view, then filed into the church to have a look around. Being Sunday, a high mass was being conducted while visitors and tourists plodded slowly along the sides, guided by what must have been volunteer staff who vehimently prevented photos and video. No matter, it was beautiful.

We proceeded on, following Rick Steve's guidebook walk through Montmartre, dawdling along as we pleased. The sun came and went, never gone for long, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! Lunch was at a cafe from which we could see Picasso's studio (wow!) and one of many breathtaking views of small, crooked, cobbled Parisian streets.

After lunch we passed Van Gough's former residence and made our way down the hill, passing the moulins (windmills) that exist along the walk, finally ending up in front of the famous Moulin Rouge where it now costs 180 Euros for dinner and a show (right now they say the conversion is 1 Euro = $1.33 approximately). Along the way we laughed, visited shops and a patisserie, and read to each other from the guidebook. What an afternoon! We concluded with our usual happy hour in the lobby of the hotel with inexpensive French wine and cheese, and lots of good stories of they day to share with our fellow travelers on the trip. Click here for photos from the day.

Tomorrow means the start of a four day run of classes here in Paris before we leave on Friday for Bordeaux. Each day I have class beginning at 8, and then again at 11, and plan to spend some of the afternoons doing work on my dissertation (boring, I know, but necessary and at least I can say I worked on it in Paris!). Somewhere in there, I plan to fit in a visit to the Musee d'Orsay, which I sped through when I was here in 1994. I can't wait to be immersed in Impressionist art and feed my fantasy of what it would be like to have been an art history major and now be a curator at such a fabulous museum!

Love from Paris....

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