We had planned one day trip during our five days in Paris--to Giverny, to see Monet's house and gardens. The Rick Steves book had been lukewarm on this visit, saying that a day trip to Versaille or to Chantilly would be more impressive. So I secretly hoped that all those other Rick Steves-toting tourists would head elsewhere and Doug and I would have Monet's garden all to ourselves.
Our plan was to get off the train in Vernon, rent bicycles at the little place across the street from the train station, and pedal a blissful and quiet four miles through the french countryside to Monet's house.
This is not what happened. We got off the train at Vernon, and so did about 150 other people, all carrying Rick Steves guidebooks. There was the sound of footsteps running, a big cloud of dust, and a rattling noise, and when the air cleared all the bicycles were gone.
The 75 or so people who were left were lining up for the one bus to Giverny, which looked like it was only going to hold about 50 of them.
Doug and I looked at each other. "Shall we get lunch?" he said. "Good idea," I said. We found a cafe, sat down in the breezy sunshine, and ordered a couple of drinks.
Two beers and a pizza later, we hailed a cab and rode the four miles to Giverny in peace.
There was a pretty long line to get into Monet's house, which surprised me, since it was just a random Tuesday in April. But fortunately the gardens are absolutely huge, and they easily swallowed up the crowd. I gasped when we walked out of the ticket house into the yard. The colors were vivid, the flowers in full bloom (though I guess later in the summer there are roses galore), bright red tulips poking out of a sea of blue forget-me-nots.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house (though of course a bunch of people did). Each room was painted a bright color--the dining room was yellow, with canary-gold trim--and the furniture was painted to match. It was fun and pretty and kind of Dr. Seuss-like. The walls were covered with the Japanese prints that Monet had collected, and the big windows opened out into the garden. Monet must have lived his life absoutely drenched in color.
To get to the famous lily pond gardens, you have to go through a tunnel that goes under a busy highway. There, the crowds started pressing in on me in an annoying way. Lots of school groups of small children, who swarmed around and chatted and climbed on the benches and pushed each other and tusseled and screeched. They're little flowers, I told myself, though after a while they made me grit my teeth; for some reason they kept ending up wherever I happened to be, and the garden paths were so narrow it was hard to get out of their scrum. Sweet little flowers of joy, I seethed.
Oh, come on, Doug said. What will you remember about this place when you get home? The annoying crowds? Or the beautiful flowers? Of course he had a point. Now, a year later, in my mind the crowds are thinning, the children behaving.
When we emerged back onto the street, we realized we were temporarily stuck. Our cab was long gone back to Vernon, and there was no bus, or at least no bus that we could find. All the bicycles, of course, were spoken for. We wandered through the parking lots, hoping for a line of cabs (one of Rick Steves' helpful transportation suggestions had been to walk to Giverny along the bike path and then cab back, so there had to be some cabs somewhere), but no luck.
"Let's just walk back," Doug said, but I was determined to find a cab. If Rick Steves said take a cab, dammit, then there had to be a cab to take. Rick Steves would not lie. I found a little concessions stand and asked the man if he spoke English.
"Very little," he said. I asked him where we could find a cab, but I think he mixed up the meaning of the word "where" with "how," and he told me to just hold out my arm to stop one. He kept demonstrating in what was almost a Nazi salute.
I thanked him and bought some bottled water.
"Let's just walk back," Doug said again, but I insisted on one more sweep through the parking lot. There had to be a cab here somewhere.
There wasn't. "Where's the bike path?" Doug asked. "We can walk it."
I had no idea, which was one reason I was trying to find a cab.
"Let's just walk," Doug said a third time, and so we set off down the street. Traffic whizzed by. Cabs whizzed by, but they were all occupied. Where in the heck were they coming from? We passed a gas station. This was going to be a horrible four miles. Crowded, contested, too much traffic, no sidewalk.
I admit, I was stomping a bit. Showing my frustration through my gait.
Then I noticed that Doug had crossed the road and was walking on--well, on the bike path. I'd been stewing so much I'd missed it.
I trotted over, but I was still in no mood to talk. I stomped off ahead of him, barely looking at the lovely farms and the blooming lilacs that edged the path. hardly even glancing at the ostriches--yes, ostriches--that were poking around in one farmyard. Or the piglets. Or the blooming, fragrant apple trees.
Then I heard a voice behind me, a teasing voice. Doug's voice. "If you weren't so crabby, you might notice this is actually kind of a nice walk," he said.
And I burst out laughing. I slowed down, waited for him to catch up. We walked the rest of the four miles to Vernon side-by-side, through the French countryside.
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