Normandy’s countryside made for a picturesque day of driving, the most we would have this week. Quilted fields of yellow-flowering rapeseed and white-flowering orchards bordered pastures where cows of all colors grazed by half-timbered barns.
The sun was warming the air beneath deep cobalt skies as we arrived in Giverny. Here was where Monet had lived for exactly the second half of his life, from 1883 until his death in 1926. At 80 rue de Claude Monet, we found ample free parking in a spacious lot just across the street from his house. The ticket was a bargain at 9.5 euros.
The large rectangular flower garden behind Monet’s house was a riot of brilliant hues. Having just left the dull brown landscape of wintery Maine, I drank in the color. Bright green grass, tulips, azaleas, poppies, and pansies lined the walkways, while vines climbed trellises, arches, and ancient stone walls.
What I’d been dreaming of seeing, though, was Monet’s water garden, which has been recreated in its original design. A passageway took us under another road and toward the Etang des Nympheas, the lovely French translation of “water lily pond.” And there it was, with the curving bridge and the rowboat and mysterious carp hovering near thick lily pads not yet in flower.
There were plenty of paths to wander. All of the bridges had been painted rather a shinier, brighter green than I would have chosen, but the other touches blended easily into the garden’s natural design. Bamboo railings were lashed together with dark brown twine and rustic wooden borders lined the tiny, fast-moving stream.
This was a garden of textures, merging with colors, creating the living painting that Monet had intended. People strolled, their voices hushed, as if around the next bend they might come upon Monet intent upon his work.
Inside, the house overflowed with art, as Japanese engravings mingled with the paintings of Monet’s contemporaries and his own. The yellow dining room and blue kitchen made me feel right at home; they were my favorite rooms.
Our next stop, a detour to Etratat, on Normandy’s north coast, was well worth it. White cliffs bracket the beach on either end like encircling arms and tower high above mere humans. The sea in places has carved out arches and tiny caves. Mom and Dad sat on a bench looking out over the English Channel, perhaps remembering early days on a beach on the other side of the Atlantic.
We ended our day with dinner in the scenic town of Honfleur, where tall narrow houses, some 2 windows wide and 7 stories tall, marched along the far side of the harbor. We will have one more day in Normandy, then head to Brittany.