Giverny to Paris, France
July 8, 2019
Today we leave the Norman region and head to Paris, our final destination on our itinerary. After checking out of our hotel, we made our way back to Notre Dame Cathedral Rouen to see it during the day. Unfortunately the Cathedral is closed Monday mornings, so we walked the exterior. With four bell towers and gothic architecture, this Roman Catholic Cathedral is the “Kong” of all cathedrals. It was disappointing to not have the opportunity to explore the beauty of the inside, but a highlight was a crew of archeologists working outside the front of the Cathedral, digging out the original cobblestones from underneath the asphalt that exists today.
Back on the road we departed Rouen and instead of using the highways (more about that later) we took side roads following the Seine River. Our first stop is Giverny (pronounced Jeeverney) to Monet’s house and gardens. The one hour drive was quick and scenic arriving into Giverny around 11:30am. We did not purchase timed tickets, so the line was about an hour to enter the property. Once inside you can see the entire site in about an hour to an hour in a half, but could spend the day if you are passionate about plants and/or impressionist art. The definite highlight here is the Japanese water gardens. We spent the majority of our time here. Not only beautiful, but seeing the famous paintings come to life was a real treat. We went here first and then headed back through the row gardens to the house which paled in comparison to the water garden. A small country home, the highlight is Monet’s studio where you can see samples of his works hanging, reminding you of what you saw live and other impressionist artists who are influenced by and painted the area. We enjoyed our visit but a secret gem is the village that sits behind Monet’s property up the hill. Giverny village has some eclectic shops and small cafe’s. We stopped for lunch at a small family owned restaurant, Au Coin du Pain Tre, for beautifully served, salads, sandwiches and Charcutcherie.
Full and satisfied, we got back in the car and drove to Paris and made our way to the West Bank to our next stop, Chateau Malmaison. Home of Napoleon Bonaparte and his socialite bride Josephine during their tumultuous relationship. The one constant was their home here which despite the stereotypes and expectations as an Imperial Chateau, was very humble for the once emperor of France. An audio tour is included which offers sufficient information into the lives of Napoleon and Josephine, his rise (and fall) in French history and life on the property. The home has been restored to as it was Napoleonic era, but the park has not been maintained. Being 15km outside of Paris and very limited hours to visit the property, mostly open on weekends, is probably why we were one of the few visitors.
We headed back towards the Right bank to the Gare to return our rental car. This proved to be more a challenge than expected. It was rush hour in Paris and with street closures, due to construction, and one way streets, we found ourself gridlocked for 2.5 hours to get to the train station. Driving in Paris is not for the faint at heart, not for anyone really. Having driven in Los Angeles, NYC, Washington DC…. does not prepare you for the intensity of roundabouts, motorbikes, rude drivers and fearless pedestrians.
Driving Recommendation; If you are adventurous like us and want to expand your visit with a self guided driving tour to or from Paris, some food for thought; – Pick up your rental car at CDG airport. Outside the city limits, you can avoid the central area and the intensity and stress of driving there completely. – Avoid a car with diesel. There were many gas stations that did not have diesel and some that would not accept US credit cards. – Be prepared for tolls. There were not many in Paris, but driving through the Normandy region tolls were our biggest expense. – If you do choose to drive through central Paris, make sure you have some sort of insurance, not saying you will have a wreck, but the odds are not in your favor. Driving the Arc de Triumph roundabout, however, was a once in a lifetime experience!