Hanging with Monet in Paris and Giverny

Monet's pond.

After my enlightening trip to the Pompidou Center to see modern art (as documented here), the next day I went to enlarge my knowledge of impressionism at the Musée de l’Orangerie.  The main exhibit at this Paris museum is a series of very large paintings by the master of French Impressionism, Claude Monet, called “Water Lilies” (Les Nymphiás).

water lilies
Part of one of the panels of the Water Lilies.

“Both monumental and intimate, Water Lilies are the ultimate expression of Claude Monet’s artistic ideas, an incredible project by a painter who wanted to explore all the variations of light in his garden at Giverny.  The paintings are housed in two elliptical rooms, and encourage the visitor to gaze in endless contemplation. After the horror of the First World War, Monet wanted his work to take on this aesthetic and poetic dimension, and provide a haven for peaceful meditation.”

The curved walls of the exhibition hall at L'Orangerie.
The curved walls of the exhibition hall at L’Orangerie.

Well put, by some pompous art scholar.  Each of the two large elliptical rooms show four massive and colorful paintings of Monet’s pond.  When I was there it was uncrowded.  I almost had the rooms to myself.  This was surprising considering I was in the most touristy city on earth. The paintings demand your attention and reflection.  I was able to sit on a comfortable bench and I actually did gaze in meditative contemplation at the paintings.  It was peaceful but not quite endless, because after a while I had to go to the bathroom.

Monet's pond.
Monet’s pond near Giverny.

Monet lived for much of his life in the Norman countryside near a town called Giverny, about an hour’s drive outside of Paris. For the start of my road trip around France I decided to go see Monet’s pond and find out why he painted it so many times over the last twenty years of his life. Since it was late springtime the flowers were all in bloom when I got to Monet’s gardens. As I walked along the paths I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of this place and how my late mother would have enjoyed it. I could see why Monet liked it here.

flowers in Monet's garden
A sample from Monet’s garden.

I wandered up and down the paths dodging the hundreds of grade school children who threatened to knock me down and trample me like a multitude of ants.  Each child had a paper and a pencil.  They were on some sort of class field trip/treasure hunt. I crossed a road at the far edge of the garden by using a tunnel and came out onto a path in a bamboo forest.  The path led around Monet’s pond.  Yes, the pond was still full of water lilies.

Monet's pond and water lilies
Another view of Monet’s pond.

By this time the sky had clouded over and it started to rain. As I walked around the pond the rain turned into a downpour. I bolted back into the tunnel to wait out the storm. When it started to let up I made a beeline for Monet’s house to dry out.

Monet's house
Hello? Is anyone home in Monet’s house?

The house has been restored to how it was in Monet’s time there (from 1883 until his death in 1926). Monet was friends with many of the leading painters of the day, and he hung paintings by Renoir and other famous artists on his bedroom walls. I also noticed a Renoir in the hallway outside his room.

Monet's study
The walls of Monet’s study are filled with his work.

Could that be an original?

(for more good Monet stuff, check Artsy’s Claude Monet

Four Days in Paris

Eiffel Tower pillar

Paris is the most-visited city in the world.  I recently joined the crowd of more than 15 million people who visit the City of Lights every year.  There is lot to see and do in Paris; more than any traveler has time for.  Here are my recommendations on how to structure a short trip of four days in Paris.

The metro sign at Abbesses in Montmartre, the oldest Metro stop in Paris.
The Metro sign at Abbesses in Montmartre, the oldest Metro stop in Paris.

Day 1

Stay in Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement. This area has all of the charm you came to Paris to see.

Walk the streets of Montmartre day and night, taking frequent coffee breaks in one of the cafes.  Browse the local artwork in the Place du Tertre.  Shield your eyes near the red light district of Pigalle.

Moulin Rouge building
Don’t bother seeing the show at the Moulin Rouge…

Climb the steps to the 19th century Basilica du Sacré-Coeur on a clear day for a view across the city.

Place des Vosges square
The oldest square in Paris.

Ride the Metro to Le Marais, in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. Browse the trendy shops, walk the Jewish Quarter, and see some of the oldest buildings in the area.

When you get tired, take a nap in the Place des Vosges.  This is the oldest planned square in Paris. It was established in 1612 for the wedding of Louis XIII and some of the buildings around the square date from that time.

Day 2

Go to the Musee de L’Orangerie to see Monet’s famous painting called the “Water Lilies.”  The painting consists of eight large panels, four panels each presented in a large elipptical shaped room. Go early to avoid the crowds.

Walk over the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf, to Notre Dame. Take a peak in the church and then go outside to the front left of the building for the entrance to climb the towers.  Huff and puff your way to the top of one of the towers for an amazing photo opportunity of the city center. Try to find Quasimodo.

Pont des Arts locks.
Locks shining in the sun.

Head over to the Latin Quarter and wander the tourist-infested old streets. Don’t bother eating or drinking here unless you like vastly overpriced gruel and drool.

Next, hop back on the Metro for a ride over to the Champs du Mars for a view of the Eiffel Tower.  Then get in the extremely long line to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Bring a book to read while you wait. If you don’t care about getting to the top, don’t want to waste time in the line, and are willing to climb more stairs, go to the other leg of the tower and climb up to the first level.

Cross the Seine River to the Palais du Chaillot. Watch the fountains and take the obligatory photos of yourself pinching the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower pillar
The iconic Eiffel Tower.

Day 3

Go to the Musee du Louvre and notice that the Mona Lisa is actually quite small.  The Louvre is overwhelming in size and scope.  It’s tough to see it all in one day or before your brain turns to artistic apathy (unless you happen to be an art history major).  Determine what you want to see most of all, check on those highlights, and then get out of there.

Rest in the Tuileries Gardens and get a gelato.

Walk the length of the Champs d’Élyssées from the Place de la Concorde to Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe.  Peer into every window and imagine you have an unlimited platinum credit card in your pocket.  Don’t miss the Avenue Montaigne for the big designer stores.

Go to the top of the Arc d’Triomphe to look down the length of the Champs d’Élyssées to see why your feet hurt. Go back to your hotel in Montmartre and soak them in the bath.

Pont des Arts
Thousands of love locks on the Pont des Arts.
Paris graffiti
Ssshhhhh!

Day 4

Shop the giant Galleries Lafayette department store and the other stores in the area surrounding L’Opera.

Choose between visiting the Musée d’Orsay (if you like Impressionism), or the Pompidou Museum (if modern art is more your thing).

Take a “bateau mouche” boat ride on the river Seine.  It starts near the Eiffel Tower and goes around the islands called the Íle de la Cité and the Íle Saint-Louis and back to the Eiffel Tower.  On one ride on the river I was mooned by some rowdy youths!

 

 

 

When it comes to eating, I recommend seeking out the tiny ethnic restaurants in the backstreets and avoiding the brasseries.  The menus in the brasseries seem to be the same everywhere, and the food is mediocre.  However, you can find some wonderful and relatively inexpensive meals in the ethnic restaurants.

Not to be missed are Ladureé macarons!  The flagship store is on the Avenue des Champs d’Élyssées.

Paris is expensive, so bring plenty of euros and watch out for pickpockets.  Despite the high cost and the crowds, there is no other city in the world like Paris.

Musee d'Orsay clock
The clock at the Musee D’Orsay.