The Tour de France was all over, but I still had a day to spend in Paris. My train back to England wasn’t going to leave until that evening, so I was eager utilise the time I had to do something exciting. I had already been to Paris a couple of times before and had done the usual touristy things like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe. It was also summer, so I wanted to do something away from the tourists that wasn’t really an option in the winter. So I decided to head out of the city to the town of Giverny, a small village in Normandy famous as being the home and gardens of the impressionist artist, Claude Monet.
I left my bag with the hotel concierge and my bike chained to the bike rack outside, and took an early morning metro train to Gare Saint-Lazare, the railway station that serves the north-west of Paris. I found my way inside and bought return tickets to Vernon from the ticket machine, but it would be nearly three quarters of an hour before my train would leave. I went in search of breakfast. Dissatisfied with the options available in the station, I found a small sandwich bar a few streets south and fulfilled my hunger with a few pastries. Soon enough, the time came to go to the train, and we raced through the outer suburbs of Paris.
I had to change trains at Mantes, which was a rather uninteresting railway station at the edge of Ile-de-France. Due to a lack of paying proper attention, I missed the connecting train to Vernon, and so had to wait even longer. Eventually, I arrived, along with a throng of other tourists, and we all exited the station to find many signs indicating ways to get to Giverny. There was a bus down the street, but most of the attention was directed towards a slow, tourist road train, which eventually turned out to be comparable in price, but would have felt so much more touristy and less authentic. Instead, the overpriced bus drove us a few minutes down the road to a large car park, opposite the village itself.
We piled off the bus and followed the signs through an underpass under the main road and up to the tiny village. There were a number of cafes and shops clearly benefiting from the tourist trade. Eventually, I found the entrance to Monet’s house and gardens, and eagerly went inside.
The attraction roughly divided into three sections. First, there was the house itself, coloured yellow, pink and green and standing on top of the hill overlooking the gardens. Inside, were a number of exhibits and prints of Monet’s life and work. As someone who isn’t that interested in impressionist art, I meandered through without taking in every little detail, but the many elderly American tourists seemed enthralled. The second section, was the garden above the main road. This was laid out in rows running down the hill, typical of many European botanical gardens. There were many flowers blooming in the warmth of the late summer. I walked slowly through this, taking in as much of the colour as I could.
The third and most exciting part of the garden was through another underpass under the road. It was the famous water lilly lake, crossed by several little green bridges that formed the subject of some of Monet’s most famous works. It being relatively quiet, I found a bench and just sat and consumed it all. I did this several times, sitting at several different benches throughout the garden. One of the pitfalls of travelling alone is that you can often brush past scenic attractions quickly, whereas travelling with others means you slow down and appreciate them more. I was adamant to avoid this trap, and ended up spending over an hour in the lower garden, just watching everything. The beauty of the garden was enough to keep me entertained all that time.
When eventually it did come time to leave, I wandered slowly back up past the house and walked down the main street of Giverny. With time remaining until the bus took us back to Vernon, I bought a crepe from a food stand, before it started pouring with rain. Fortunately, it cleared while we were on the bus. I waited even more among the tourists at the station for the train back to Paris Gare Saint-Lazare.
I took my final Metro train across Paris back to my hotel in Oberkampf to pick up my bag and bike, and rode the mile or so back to the Gare du Nord station. Again, I still had time before I needed to check into the Eurostar, so I found a nearby restaurant for a final, and early, French dinner: a four-cheeses pizza. Then came the unusual process of being border-checked and having my passport stamped while looking over the concourse of a 19th century railway station, and thence boarding the Eurostar back to London. It was well and truly night time now, so the English and French countrysides all looked the same: black.
I walked off the train in St Pancras and across the road into the ever-familiar King’s Cross station for my final journey of the trip, the late night train back up to Cambridge. It was a relief to finally be getting back into my own bed after over a week on the road in France.