A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013


A short visit to Normandy

overcast 9 °C
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We got here in morning and our friend Quentin came to pick us up at the train station. We took off immediately and went to Giverny, a small town not that far from Rouen, not that far from Paris, where Monet spent most of his life and where his house and garden have now been turned into a museum. Luckily the rain held off for a few hours, for the first time in what feels like a year, and we got to enjoy the gardens and town. If you've seen Monet's work, it's no surprise that his gardens are unbelievable. The water garden was of course the inspiration for his most famous pieces, and it's stunning. Unfortunately there were no water-lilies in bloom, but it was still really something to see. It's definitely worth a visit, and although I think it's easiest to reach by car there are tons of shuttles from surrounding cities to the gardens. We left when it started to rain, which I'm told is a lifestyle in Normandy, not a weather condition.

That evening Quentin's (volunteer) theatre group had a rehearsal and kindly let us sit in. They're putting on the play “Why torture is wrong and the people who love them” (in English) in about a month, and so far it's hilarious. I wish we could come back to see the show.

The next day we met Quentin in town and he took the day to show us around the city. We're lucky to have such awesome friends. We saw the cathedral there, which was the subject of over 30 of Monet's paintings. There's a special impressionist exhibit on at the fine arts museum which we went to, and we also went into the museum in the clock tower in Rouen. We spent the day walking around the city and got an awesome tour from Quentin, who grew up here.

There's a market downtown now in the place where Joan of Arc was burned alive and a really nice, new church in the same square. It doesn't look like a church at all, but it's quite nice on the inside. The windows are huge stained glass ones which they saved at the beginning of the war, from a church which was destroyed in the bombardment of the city. I thought that it was really beautiful for a more modern church.

Our last day in Normandy we were going to go to the coast, to Étretat and Dieppe, but we had some car troubles and ended up staying in Rouen for the afternoon. It turned out to be a great day anyway. Rouen is a great city. That night we headed back to Paris on the last train of the day and met up with Thibault once again. We originally had plans to visit a friend in Poitiers for the last few days of our trip, but it turns out he had to stay in North America longer than expected and won't be there. A few more days in Paris doesn't sound so bad, though.

Posted by kmclean 16:04 Archived in France Tagged france monet rouen Comments (0)


An extra long weekend in France.

rain 9 °C
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After getting off to a good start in second semester we set off on our next trip, this time to France. One of the best parts about living among Catholics in southern Germany is all the holidays. Second semester started on April 15th and the first holiday was right around the corner on May 1st. May 9th was also a holiday and next week May 30th everything is also shut down. And if you think that might be enough time off for one month, you would be wrong. May 16th-24th is also holiday (that's right, the whole week). That adds up to 8 days off in May, no questions. Add that to our class-free Fridays – not necessarily by choice, but because virtually no courses are offered on Fridays; smart professors – and we end up having quite a bit of time on our hands. Needless to say, with a week off we started thinking about new destinations and we still hadn't been to Paris, so France it was.

We left last Friday morning and got to Paris in just over three and a half hours, from downtown Freiburg to downtown Paris. If you haven't studied the map lately, Freiburg and Paris are almost 600km apart! The slowest part of the journey is getting to Strasbourg, and then the TGV (“train à grand vitesse”) takes you from Strasbourg to Paris in just over 2 hours... 2 hours for over 500 km. Amazing. It takes over 3 hours to get to the airport and through security! Anyway, if you can't tell, I'm extremely impressed by the transportation in Europe. In August (unfortunately about 2 weeks after we leave!) they're opening a direct TGV line from Freiburg to Paris. Freiburg to Paris in 3 hours and I can barely find a way to get to New Minas for groceries. It's unfortunate that North America is regressing so severely in what little public transit it has while the rest of the world is looking for new cities to connect. I can only hope that someday someone comes to power who's had to rely on their own two feet and the public transit to get around.

Anyway, we made it to Paris and started wandering around. Walking around new cities with my backpack trying to find hostels and apartments seems to be the story of my life lately. We finally got in touch with our friend who so generously put us up in Paris and then went out for the evening. He studies Norwegian at the Sorbonne and that night the Nordic studies department had invited him to a talk on Kierkegaard at the Danish house on the Champs Elysées, so we tagged along. Afterwards we went out for a chinese buffet since it was past “supper time”, which is unfortunately very strict in France. If you're not hungry at meal time, you don't eat! Restaurants are open for lunch and supper, but not in between and not before or after. It's definitely a change from the perpetual snacking eating culture of Spain! That's one country I can't wait to visit again. The only food stands open after “supper time” in France are Algerian or Chinese, but at least it's always delicious. The next day we smartened up and went out for supper at 7:30, although that's apparently also a little early, since the place filled up around 8:30. It can always be a little tricky figuring out how and when to eat in a new place.

That day we were at the Musée d'Orsay which must have one of the most amazing art collections in the world. It's full of impressionist and post-impressionist work, my favourite. The next day we went to the Musée de l'Orangerie, where eight of Monet's water lilly murals are. They're breathtaking. There are also quite a few other really amazing pieces in the basement of the museum. As a bonus, museums and galleries in France are free for EU-resident students under 26 – that includes these museums, and even the Louvre, so we're taking in as much as we can, while we still can. We still haven't visited the Louvre yet but we're coming back here in a couple of days after a visit to Normandy, so we'll make sure to go in then.

Between museum visits we walked around the city quite a bit to see the other sites. Of course the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomph, even though it's been raining here the entire time! We've also visited the grand Mosque and the very cute café in the back of it, where they serve (extremely) sugared mint tea... reminiscent of our recent trip to Morocco. Thibault also took us to an old Tunisian patisserie for some delicious desserts. We stopped by the Sorbonne and rubbed Montagne's golden toe for some luck in academia, which we'll probably need to get back to reality in the fall. As a side note, the statue kind of looks like my uncle Russ, who also recently appeared in a Rembrandt painting in Amsterdam. Apparently he's a very generic-model-looking kind of guy.

We walked to Montmartre and up and down what must be the most hedonistic street in the world. We stopped by the Sacre Coeur and Thibault took us to a kind of artists district where some of the most beautiful (and expensive!) street art I've ever seen was for sale. Somehow paying 300 Euros for a painting off the street just doesn't seem right, though. I guess you have to be pretty confident to try to sell your art in Paris. In that part of town we also stopped by the Lapin Agile, the oldest cabaret in France. We spent another afternoon walking around and saw the ruins of the Bastille. It must be the most anticlimactic monument to an epic revolution in the world. All that's left is basically a few stones in the middle of a kid's park which are completely over grown with grass and trees. I can't decide if it's better to just let the ruins rot away with the rest of everything that old or if they should be preserved and monument-ified. Is it better to glorify the French Revolution and the way they did it, or just know that it happened and move on? Probably the latter. On our last evening in Paris Thibault took us to the outskirts of the city to see the Château de Vincennes. It's a massive castle just sitting on the edge of the city like it's no big deal. I guess there are just too many epic sites in Paris, only in this city could such a massive castle get so little attention.

Between the amazing art, delicious food, and catching up on our sleep, Paris has been absolutely amazing. There's enough to keep someone busy here for about a lifetime, but at least we have a few more days later this week. For now we're off to Rouen to meet up with another friend from Acadia and see a bit of Normandy for the first time.

Posted by kmclean 06:37 Archived in France Tagged food paris france Comments (0)

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