Welcome to Normandy, a French province in the north full of greenery, good cheese, and wine that also houses a few towns not to be missed along with Giverny Monet house.
It takes a two-hour train ride from Paris to get to the town that became popular as the place where Joan of Arc was executed in 1431.
But, this is also a very charming place with narrow cobblestone streets dominated by the Cathedrale de Notre-Dame, famously painted by the father of French Impressionists Claude Monet, over and over again.
And yes, that was the reason I went to – Rouen.
The Imposing Cathedral
The 12th-century Rouen Cathedral was imposing. It took me a while to go around and admire the facade decoration. I wasn’t able to take one picture the whole structure would fit into, so I tried to capture details from different angles. The building was breathtaking.
And I wasn’t that surprised that Monet was so blown away by the place. He was impressed by the reflection of light on the Cathedral’s facade surface and how it changed in different seasons or times of the day. Painting it over and over again during the 1890s, trying to catch that moment the light hasn’t changed yet, Monet created the 30 canvas series that became extremely important for the whole Impressionism movement.
So, this is how I planned my trip. I went to the Orsay Museum in Paris first, home to a few of Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, and then took the train to the town itself to see the church with my own eyes. You expect to see something imposing and impressive after Monet’s presentation, and let me tell you – you can’t be disappointed when you see the building in person.
I was rushing around, staring, trying to remember as many details as I could. There were a lot of tourists there even though it was terribly hot (as I mentioned in the previous post about things to see in Paris, it was 2003 when Europe was hit by the heatwave), but it was still charming, given the atmosphere of the town itself with local shops and cafes, terraces decorated in wrought iron and flowers, street lanterns. There is a nice pedestrian part that stretches from the square with the cross where Joan of Arc was executed, all the way to the Cathedral. Just take a walk, and enjoy the scenery.
Giverny Monet house
Halfway from Paris to Rouen, there lies the small town of Vernon. Right next to the railway station, there is a bus stop, and 15 minutes and a few Euros later, you will reach the famous Giverny town. This is how to get to Giverny Monet house.
A nice settlement with small houses seemed to be all green, given that parks and nature areas were so beautifully looked after. Why Giverny, you wonder? Oh well, this is the place where Claude Monet himself owned a house and where the famous “Water Lilies” paintings came to life.
This is a charming little French town on the bank of a river. But what a treasure it holds!
Along the small street towards Giverny Monet house, you will find people selling local cider. This was a nice little entree into the artist’s home. They say that Monet had a glimpse of the house and immediately fell in love with it, deciding immediately he was to live there. Since his wife died of tuberculosis before that, he was determined to buy the house and move there with the kids.
All his plans were implemented and thus the beautiful garden came to life with walking areas, dense trees, and ponds. He even redirected a part of the river to go through his land, making a lovely water garden. Being passionate about flowers, Monet ordered many species from various parts of the world to be delivered to his garden and so, no matter what the season was, there were always some plants blooming and flourishing.
“Water Lilies” in person
This is where you will come across weeping willows, lush vegetation, but also famous water lilies. Monet himself said, they say, that he felt like he was preparing his whole life for painting these water lilies.
(And I remembered when friends gave me the “Water Lilies” poster for my birthday during my faculty years – when I was still taking French lessons and reading about 19th-century French artists like obsessed. That is when I decided to see them in person someday, right there in Monet’s garden.)
I saw a few paintings at Musee d’Orsey in Paris and now there they were, the genuine water lilies, right before me!
Giverny Monet house and the garden are turned into a museum. Walking through its premises, you will notice how charming the house is. It gives the impression as if somebody still lives there, in this nicely decorated, original, and stylish home.
There is a dining area dominated by yellow decorations with a large table that was famous for soirees Monet has organized for his fellow painters.
Just imagine one of those evenings when Monet was a host welcoming Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and other iconic French artists, serving wine in the dining room or taking a long walk with them through the gardens, discussing art. They were also stepping over that green Japanese Bridge and observing sun rays dancing upon weeping willow branches on the pond surface. Such a vibrant place with so many colors, and such a genuine Monet legacy!
The Impressionists’ spirit
There is also the Museum of American Art in Giverny since painters from across the Ocean were thrilled by Monet’s work and have been coming here to learn from the grand master. They stayed at a charming hotel, the genuine small legacy of the 19th-century way of life (with delicious French salads, I might add).
“Sitting with a full stomach at one of the hotel tables decorated in wreath iron under the huge yellow parasol, sipping another small cider, you will enjoy the view of the vintage cars in such a variety of colors. The Impressionism spirit is still so alive in this town. Look to your left, there is a nice little gallery wrapped in dense vegetation. And a living and breathing Impressionist selling his work, welcoming visitors to his own garden. Such a picturesque scene!” I wrote back in 2003.
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