Today was a wonderful day. (Warning - there are lots of pictures today. I probably took about 400 photos today and it's hard to choose which ones to include. The pictures tell the story better than I do anyway.)
After a quick coffee meeting with our DMC at the cafe near our hotel, we headed to Giverny, Monet's home in the country, in a private car (yes, we're getting spoiled). It was about an hour drive, and we first made a quick stop in the town of Vernon so I could take a quick look around. We poked our head into the town church and continued to Giverny.
Giverny is a small town, full of tourists due to the Monet home. We had bought tickets in advance, so we didn't have to wait in the long line at the main entrance. There are two large gardens that Monet developed (and planted) himself, and then you can walk through his house as well. First we walked through the main garden, which was absolutely, incredibly beautiful. Magical. We both thought it was the prettiest garden we'd ever seen.
It was enormous, and filled with so many different flowers. Although the garden itself was laid out in a grid pattern, inside each grid section and along each path the flowers grew like wildflowers, mixed with other flowers. The gardens were tall enough that you couldn't see from one row to the next. Some of the rows featured flowers of certain colors - there was an orange row and a yellow row. It's hard to describe how beautiful it was... we were both saying how amazing it would be to walk through it alone, without the other visitors there.
The house was not as interesting as the gardens - except the kitchen, which looked like something out of Julia Child's house. Blue and white tile walls, an enormous stove and a wall full of hanging copper pots. Then we walked through a short passageway to the the Japanese garden, which features the water lilies Monet painted so many times. This garden is completely different, featuring large sections of bamboo, small creeks and a large lake in the center, filled with water lilies.
Walking through these gardens was like walking through Monet's paintings. There's no other way to describe it.
I poked my head into the small Impressionism museum down the street to see if it would be good for my group to visit, and then we headed off to lunch at Moulin de Fourges where my group will be dining. The setting is an old house along a small river where kids are swimming, people are fishing and cows are grazing. We sat outside under umbrellas and had a wonderful meal. Champagne, gazpacho soup with ricotta cheese and french bread, seared tuna with sesame seeds, filet of beef (I didn't like that but Rachel did) and potato gratin. Everything was really delicious and it was a very pleasant experience, especially people watching as it seemed as if we were the only tourists there.
We both dozed off during the one hour drive back to Paris. On the way to the hotel I asked our driver to drive down a street called Rue Cler, which Rick Steves says is his favorite shopping street in Europe. The driver had never heard of it and didn't seem interested in learning where I heard about it - but he drove us down it and we had a chance to check it out.
We went back to the hotel to rest... I looked through my photos from Giverny, Rachel read for a while. Then Rachel napped while I headed off to the cafe for a couple coffees and people watching for an hour or so.
Rachel met me there and we went to a late dinner on Rue Cler at Petit de Cler (found via Yelp), a little bistro that seems to be very popular with both locals and tourists. We sat inside at the only available table and shared warm goat cheese on toast with tomato, olive oil, radicchio and balsamic vinegar (amazing) and chicken breast sauteed in red curry sauce, served with coconut sauce and baked potato (more amazing). Such a wonderful dinner. I used to think French food was so fancy and unappealing, and perhaps in the US it is, but here you can go to a bistro and have basic meals like beef, chicken, sandwiches, salads, soups, fish, etc, perhaps cooked with a French style. It's been a great learning experience for me.
After dinner we walked to the Eiffel Tower, about 20 minutes or so. Once we got to the nearby park (Champs de Mars), there were hundreds of people on the grass, mostly picnicking, many just hanging out or drinking. Many people walking, taking photos, etc. We walked a little, sat on the grass a little, I took a million photos, and we kept walking until we were under the tower itself.
There are hundreds of people walking around there too, mostly tourists now, taking photos, getting in line to buy tickets, eating ice cream and crepes, etc.
We hurried across the river to see the 11 PM lights twinkling on the tower from the other side. It was really beautiful and so nice to have such a great position to just watch and enjoy it.
Tomorrow - Louvre, up the Eiffel Tower and the grand department stores.
A few other random photos from today: