Friday, October 30, 2015

First Adventures with our Car

So a bunch of things to check off today:

  • is the rental car big enough for Wayne without being humungous for French streets? Check. Got a Renault Captur, perfect size. We scored a car with diesel (save on gas) and GPS (save on getting lost) which we hadn't ordered since they'd be so expensive. We even got a car whose distinctive colour pattern will make it easy to identify. Wayne thinks the colour scheme matches my shoes (which Jamie alleges qualifies me as 'hip to the kids')
  • Can we get back to the apartment without getting lost? Check.
  • Can we find a parking place near the apartment to load our luggage (can only take one bag down at a time in the tiny elevator)? Check. Found a convenient place right around the corner.
  • Can we make it out of Paris without getting lost? Check. One minor miss easily corrected by going around one block.
All in all, sad farewell to the lovely Paris apartment but good start to our trip.

Here's us having our lunch of baguette, eggs and salmon pate at a rest stop by the road.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Monet to Monet

We started our trip to France with a visit to the Musée d'Orsay, with a focus on wallowing in Monet paintings there. And we ended with a pilgrimage to Giverny and Monet's (surprisingly large) house and garden. Another item (along with Mont St. Michel) off my bucket list on this trip.

The lily pond didn't have any lilies in bloom, but still managed to exude the serenity of Monet's paintings (or rather the paintings capture the serenity of the pond).

Of course, I needed to have a picture of myself on the bridge, to have the sense of living in a painting:

As I was standing there, a clutch of young Australians arrived and squealed "We're on the bridge. THE ACTUAL BRIDGE". I was of course more restrained, but I felt the same way about being on the actual bridge! And then there were the trellises, familiar from another painting:

The garden was glorious - so much more was in bloom than one would expect for end of September. We met a young intern gardener (from PEI no less) who informed us that there were eight full-time gardeners as well as two apprentices and two interns, the same contingent as in Monet's day. He had started the garden with just his family - mind you, he did have eight kids - but ended with eight gardeners. Despite all the effort put into it, the garden managed to look ever so natural and almost unplanned. My camera was constantly clicking to provide me with a permanent record. Here's a sample:

Giverny was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Rouen. City of One Hundred Spires.  City where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. City of streets and streets of old half-timbered houses.

We stayed in the old town, in a hotel in a historic old 'hotel' (name for a big house in the old days), a scant block from the old market where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

One of the city's big landmarks is its old clock bridging over the pedestrian walkway.

Rouen's cathedral, made famous by Monet's paintings, is indeed a remarkable piece of architecture:

But despite its complexity, you can't get to 100 spires on this church alone! We saw a couple of other lovely churches too, all of them prettier on the outside than the inside.

Then, finally, there was the audacious modern design of the bright and airy Joan of Arc church:

Even given all these beautiful churches, my most enduring impression of Rouen will be the remarkable number of half-timbered houses surviving in the old town, with facades like these:

Friday, October 2, 2015


The Bayeux Tapestry was mind-boggling. You can read about this incredible tapestry, but 70 metres long doesn't really sink in until you walk slowly past it.  (Another clever logistical device here. You are given an audio guide with your ticket, and the pause button is disabled.  So you're sort of forced to go along at the rate of the narration. The French speakers seemed to move more slowly, so I guess the English was a faster narration. With a big bus tour there, we had to skip ahead and find a way to peek in. Still, the view was really quite good.)

The tapestry is actually nine pieces of embroidery and its stitches provide a fulsome tale of how William the Conqueror came to rule England (told, of course, from the point of view of the victor). The tapestry is unbelievably well-preserved. There was a museum as well, which told more about the history and daily living of the time and a bit about the stitches used. As someone interested in knitting, crocheting and embroidery, I would have liked to learn more about the needlework, and how multiple people worked on the tapestry at one time.

We ate dinner in a lovely restaurant on the river by the museum. As was our custom in Normandy, we ate gallettes (the buckwheat crepes with savoury fillings) for main course and crepes (with sweet fillings) for dessert, with Normandy cider for accompaniment. As we heard the many American voices around us, we realized that Bayeux was a tourist destination not just because of the tapestry but as a jumping off point for touring the landing beaches from WW II. It was the greatest density of American tourists we'd seen.

The big thrill of the evening was seeing the Bayeux cathedral lit up as we walked back to the car and came upon the Bayeux Cathedral dramatically lit up. This picture doesn't capture the magical quality but it's the best I could do!

The church was very impressive in daylight as well, although the interior was not as interesting as the many churches we'd already seen.

As we left Bayeux, we decided to take the coastal road to look at the beaches where the Normandy landings took place. The beaches went for miles, much more dispersed than I had realized.