If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads. – Anatole France
Gare St. Lazare: Grand Central Station of Paris
I thought about this on my way to France. Initially, I had planned to visit both, but after jet lag ate one of my days, I decided to go hang out with Monsieur Monet. The SNCF mobile app is a doozy. You’re better off buying the ticket online through their site then downloading the app to retrieve your ticket. I know, seems like a lot of hassle, but very much worth it.
Losing my favorite black scarf along the way, I skipped breakfast and watched as passengers ran to and from trains. It was way too early for my liking and of all days, this was not the day to lose my scarf. I could already feel the cold slapping my face around. At Gare St. Lazare, there are places to eat, shop, and trains to get you to any part of the country. The app was useful since trains often changed platforms without warning. I saw a line starting to form with confused anglophones pointing and asking, “Giverny?” That must be it.
I haven’t started my trip, and I’m already cold and hungry. I grab a window seat, lay my head against the window and let out a sigh of relief. As the train begins to move, my eyes are fixated on the graffiti laced walls on the gritty side of Paris. Suddenly as if someone had drawn a curtain, the scenery changes. Tall apartment buildings reminiscent of the projects in 1980’s Los Angeles sporadically littered with rubbish is a far from the postcard Paris we all have grown accustomed to, the one that sends us into a spiral of wanderlust. The only thing I had heard about Saint-Denis, is to avoid it.
It was unreal to me that I was on my way to Giverny. Only two years ago I was standing in front of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ painting at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. I had the old tired ‘someday’ conversation with myself. Seeing the painting up close was an experience, but I had yet to be rendered speechless. For the next 40 minutes, I would watch France change before my eyes, and I fell in love with it as each kilometer when by. I could hardly contain my excitement and stared out the window hoping the other passengers didn’t think I was some lunatic for having a smile on my face.
Gare Vernon-Giverny to Giverny
Arriving at Vernon, felt like arriving in San Francisco as in it was COLD. More than ever I was missing my scarf. I don’t know where to go so I enter the gare. It’s small. I mean like a thimble small with only a few rows of seats, a convenient store, and a ticket counter. The ticket counter closed and the store clerk looked less inviting. I kept walking through the next set of double doors that led me to the bus stops. To get to Giverny, you’ll need to take a shuttle. The question was, do I take the Navette bus with Wi-Fi and comfortable seats, or the children’s sized train that looks like something your toddler begs you to ride at the mall. By the way, the mini-train is only a euro less than the shuttle. Unless you plan on staying the night, get the aller-retour (round trip) ticket. Greet the bus driver! When s/he hands you the map don’t be a jerk and just take it. In the brochure, you will find the timetable. You can also look up the timetable online, but phone batteries die, and you can’t go wrong with carrying a good ol’ fashioned map. If you’re more adventurous, there is a bike rental across the street from the train station. This is a great option if you decide to take some time to explore Vernon. When you’re excited to go somewhere, it seems like an eternity to get there. Don’t worry; the shuttle takes only about 10 minutes.
We pulled up to a dirt parking lot, stones digging into the tires and all. I’m ready to get off and get my day going. Still, I wait for the herd to get off. Most people are going to miss it if they blink. I almost did, but I stopped at the bust statue of Claude Monet. After all, this is why we come here. I took a few selfies of course but stood there to have a moment with Claude. The winds started to pick up, and I could feel a few raindrops on my face. Once I saw that the coast was cleared, I made my way into Monet’s Giverny.
It was like walking through a fairy tale. I slowly made my way through Giverny, taking every bit of fresh Norman air and soaking up the little sun that peeked through the clouds. Picturesque. How light struck every surface, you soon start to understand Monet a bit more. Even a pedestrian underpass covered in maple and hazel leaves was dripping in color. This is the closest thing to time travel. Narrow streets are enough for pedestrians and bicycles. There is plenty to see and eat, but I was here for one thing only, Monet’s Gardens. It’s the only thing I wanted today, my birthday. General admission is 9.50 €, and the Fondation Claude Monet is opened from April 1st through November 1st between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm. Your ticket has a picture of one the gardens. It’s a cute souvenir.
Note: Don’t bring anything that you wouldn’t like TSA to confiscate because you will get searched before entering the gardens. If you have photography gear, it’s best to take your camera gear out because you don’t want anyone mishandling your equipment. Flash a smile, say ‘thank you,’ and keep it moving.
The arrows will guide you through the gardens. Of course, there will be plenty of tourists who will ignore it, and you’ll end up getting stuck behind a clusterfuck of people. It happens and all you can do is kindly ask them to move if you feel you’re time is valuable. I tried to move at a slower pace. Often moving to the side or taking a seat at one of the several seating areas available. Whatever your reason is for visiting the gardens, just respect them. I often saw people trying to pick flowers. Don’t be that asshole.
The gardens and the water lilies pond are two separate attractions within the same compound. Just follow the drove of folks squeezing their way in. I had to wait a few minutes for some tourists who couldn’t figure out the concept of space. It was funny and sad all at the same time. Once you’ve passed through, you’ll see a creek and bamboo appear. Go right and follow the path. I stood on the footbridge to meditate a bit. It’s quite lovely.
Making my way through the crowds, I find a small marshy inlet where I catch my first glimpse of the water lilies. Before anyone sees me, I take a few moments to myself to capture any images while I can. The light is reflecting upon the water running away from the shadows as if it were playing a game of cat and mouse. The weather is changing from partly sunny with a slight overcast to gloomy, chilly with intermittent showers. I feel lucky to see the varying hues. While others are rushing to take pictures and get out of the pond, I’m slowing down time. From afar I see a group of people sitting on a bench and start walking towards them. It’s as if they had been saving the seat for me the entire time. It was just enough space for me, and it gave me the perfect view of the water lilies and the green Japanese footbridge.
Next, to me, a woman from London asks if I’m with the tour group. Her husband next to her is taking a siesta, which gives me the opportunity to engage in a friendly chat. We talk about how the tourists are being shuffled in and how quickly they dismiss the location they traveled far to visit. A group of 10 walks by only to obstruct the view momentarily for their souvenir selfies. In less than 20 seconds they are gone. We couldn’t understand it since we ended up on that bench for roughly a half hour together just gazing at the pond. After the bench cleared, I stayed for an additional half hour thinking about Monet and how this place inspired some of the most magnificent works art.
Serenity and light.