Visiting Monet’s Waterlilies at Giverny

I have been kind of obsessed with Impressionism since, well, since I learned what Impressionism was. Monet, Degas, Renoir… I was hooked. Something about the colors and blurred perspectives and, I’m sure, the French aesthetic just drew me in in a way no other genre or period of art ever had.

I was lucky Boston’s Museum of Fine Art has a nice collection, but the very first time I went to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and walked into the dedicated Impressionist gallery, I nearly cried. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by the magnificent paintings I had only ever seen in books, and to see them up close, down to every brush stroke. To this day, the d’Orsay holds the title as my favorite museum in Paris.

However, this is not about the Musée d’Orsay. All this is just to set the scene for how excited I was for a visit to Monet’s home and gardens – including the infamous waterlily pond, in Giverny, France.

Visiting Monet in Giverny

As we explored Normandy with my parents and in-laws, the idea surfaced to try to stop in Giverny on our way back to Paris. As soon as the seed was planted, I was resolved that we had to go, whether my parents liked it or not! We had no plans other than the drive that day, so we had plenty of time to stop and stretch our legs with a stroll across the Japanese bridge over the waterlilies, so why not go for it?

Just 45 minutes or so outside of Paris, Monet’s home sits just off a busy road, but is nicely secluded by pedestrian walkways, quaint buildings housing small shops, and plenty of trees and gardens. For just 10€, you gain access to explore his beautiful home (so brightly colored!) including his studio with replicas of all the paintings that hung there when he was working. You can also wander among Monet’s extensive gardens which apparently are true to how he kept them himself, as he was a prolific gardener. (Who knew?)

Monet Giverny houseMonet Giverny studio

And of course, the pièce de resistance, you can take a stroll around le bassin aux nymphéas, the waterlily pond that inspired so many of Monet’s most famous works.

It was like stepping into another world, turning the corner of the pathway to suddenly see the pond, waterlilies, and green arched bridge. Like Mary Poppins jumping into a sidewalk drawing, suddenly there I was, leaving the real world and stepping into Monet’s paintings. It was incredible.

Maybe I’m overselling it, but it was so surreal to stand in the middle of art that has inspired the world. And it made it feel so real and so much more impactful when, a few days later, we visited the d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie, which together house some of Monet’s most impressive works, including giant waterlily panoramas.

Monet Musee lOrangerie

We didn’t have enough time, but just down the road, there is also an Impressionist museum dedicated to Monet, of course, plus the history of the movement, that I would like to check out one day. There are also a few impressive chateaux in the area, if you want to make a whole weekend of it! As always, so much to see, so little time.

Monet Giverny house garden

To the beaches of Normandy

Warning: this is a long one. But there are lots of photos, I promise

I’m finally recovering from Parents in Paris: Part 2.

After more than a year since their first trip, my parents finally made it back to Paris. We’ve been planning this since last year and I was so excited to see them.

Their first trip to France was a big deal, so getting them back for a second year in a row was a challenge… until we dangled Normandy as an option in front of my dad, a big WWII history buff (like everyone’s dad). From there, convincing them to make the trip was a piece of cake.

A long weekend in Normandy

My parents came over for about 10 days, but the main event was our road trip to Normandy, along with Frenchman and his own parents for a car full of family fun. We all piled in the clown car bright and early to head straight to Étretat, a place I’ve been eager to see in person.

You arrive at the water’s edge between two tall, green hills looking out over the water. To the right, beautiful cliffs topped with a little church. To the left, the iconic view of the cliffs, the arch and the needle (“aiguille”).

After exploring a bit to take it all in, we headed off to Honfleur where we walked around the old port town a while before dinner.

For the night, we had found the most charming B&B I’ve ever seen (shout-out to Manoir de La Guérie). The B&Bs are, I think, my favorite part of this whole trip, as each one was beautiful and such a fantasy in each their own way.

The next morning, after a delicious homemade breakfast including an old Normandy rice dish and local stinky cheeses, we set out for Caen. The Mémorial de Caen, also known as the Peace Museum, was at the top of my dad’s to-do list, and for good reason. This incredible museum is absolutely a must-see. It’s not fun, but it is incredibly moving, impressive, and very very full of information about every minute of the invasion (débarquement) at each site, powerful video footage, and what happened next.

The day continued on to Omaha beach, the American Cemetery at Colleville, and finally to Pointe du Hoc. This sequence of sites was, I think, well conceived, as we began with many images and powerful films and difficult information, then moved on to the beaches where the D Day landings took place including remnants in the water, then to the vast cemetery honoring those who fought, and then ended in a place so scarred with craters, even over 70 years later, that you can really see the literal impact the war and the D Day invasion had on the area.

This was a powerful, emotional day, and I am so glad I got to visit these places, especially to be able to bring my dad there as well.

Normandy Memorial de Caen museumNormandy Arromanches

After a heavy day, we lightened things up with a stop at a Calvados producer – located in a building built in the 12th century. Nbd. We tasted some calvados (a very strong apple-based aperitif) and, of course, all walked out with a few bottles of pommeau, cider, and calvados each.

For our B&B for the night, we stepped into another world as we stayed in a legitimate chateau, tower and all. My parents got the room attached to the tower (it was their bathroom!), but I wasn’t jealous because I got to sleep like a princess…

Day 3 and still so much more to see, despite the weather failing us a bit and turning grey and misty after getting so lucky with sun the days before. First stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, famed for the parachutist who got caught on the church steeple and hung there for hours through the battle and, incredibly, survived. Today, a model hangs on the church as a reminder.

After this final stop on my dad’s D Day landing must-see list, our next stop was Mont Saint Michel. An incredible sight to see anyway, this had special interest as it had been over 40 years since my mother visited it and stayed in the now quite famous Mère Poulard inn on the mont. The weather cleared a bit and we had beautiful views as we explored the medieval hill street and ramparts, the abbey, and the vast bay in low tide.

We left Mont Saint Michel to head to our last dinner and final B&B, of yet another sort, which turned out to be a 1200s-era building on a full hectare of meticulously kept French gardens and the most amazing breakfast of a dozen homemade jams, a tarte, fresh (homemade) breads, fruit salad all picked from the garden, and more. Such an excellent finish to the B&B tour (shout-out here to Le Clos Saint Gilles).

After such a wonderful few days, we were all sad to pack up and start the drive home from Normandy.  But! we snuck in a stop in Giverny to stretch our legs and check out Monet’s home and famous gardens, which I will save for another time as I think this story is long enough already.

My parents then had a few more days left of their trip to spend in Paris and Saint Germain en Laye, which were spent checking out our new hometown and visiting a few museums that we missed in their whirlwind tour last spring.

All in all, we had a packed 4 days in Normandy, and we managed to see just about everything we set out to and lucked out with some gorgeous weather in a place not known for sunshine and blue skies. Everywhere we went was lovely, and I can’t wait for an excuse to go back for more rolling countryside and picturesque villages.

Normandy Mont Saint Michel sunset purple

Visiting Sainte-Chapelle

I’ll start by saying yes, I admit it. I kind of abandoned you. You the reader, you the anthropomorphized blog. I was going strong for a month or so there at the start of the year, feeling enthusiastic and creative. Then I got distracted by work and felt like I didn’t have anything new to say.

So, sorry about that. But here’s a new tale about an old place, the church of Sainte-Chapelle.

Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle

This place, you guys.

I’ve been twice, the first time more than 10 years ago on my high school “exchange” trip. And honestly, after two weeks in France and countless awe-inspiring sights seen, Sainte Chapelle was the one that really stuck in my mind years later. It truly is breathtaking.

I was excited to visit it again last year, when the parents came to town. As one of my favorite sites in all of Paris, I made sure that it was a priority on the to-do list of their trip.

Located practically across the street from the much more well known Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle is unassuming in comparison. A gothic chapel dating from the 13th century, the age alone is impressive. Inside it’s even more impressive, and interesting.

Then you go upstairs.

Sainte Chapelle Paris upstairs og.jpg

Up until this point, Sainte-Chapelle is beautiful and interesting, but not necessarily moreso than any other medieval church you may visit. But upstairs, you step out of the stairwell into this chamber that just glows with vibrant stained glass and stretches skyward in beautiful arches. It’s breathtaking and magical.

Sainte Chapelle Paris windows

I could sit and stare and marvel at the stained glass in this place for hours. You have to wonder how on earth they could create something this magnificent in the 1200s. And it’s amazing that the chapel has been so well preserved and maintained over the course of it’s long history, surviving to gleam gold and glitter with blue and red and yellow well into the 21st century.

A Brief History of Sainte-Chapelle

In case you’re curious, here’s the Cliff’s Notes of the history. Located on Ile de la Cité, Sainte Chapelle was built as the royal chapel of Palais de la Cité, which was the royal palace residence of French kings at the time. Construction began in 1284, commissioned by Louis IX to hold his collection of Christian relics.

Approximately 2/3rds of the stained glass windows are original from the 13th century, despite the church suffering some damage during the French revolution. At this time, whole pieces of the chapel were damaged or removed, and the extensive collection of relics was looted. Sainte-Chapelle was restored in the early 1800s.

More than a decade after my first visit, and plenty of impressive, ancient churches and historical sites visited all over Europe, I still come back to this place as one of the most beautiful and unique I’ve ever seen.

Salon de l’Agriculture

Every spring, Paris plays host to a massive agricultural expo, called the Salon de l’Agriculture. Held in the exact same location as my beloved Salon du Chocolat (but about 18 times larger), this event is something I’ve been curious about since seeing it featured briefly on TV once, and since wondering whether there was a Salon du Fromage or something of equally delicious interest.

With a mind to see some cows and taste some cheese, Frenchman and I decided to pay a visit to this festival of French agriculture.

We did not know what we were getting into.

Salon de l’Agriculture

salon-de-lagriculture-pavillons

We bought our tickets and made our way to the Porte de Versailles convention and expo area, blissfully unaware of the chaos that awaited us. I honestly cannot convey to you the immense scale of this event. Continue reading

Love at the Musée Rodin

What’s more romantic than an evening spent in the company of the most iconic kiss in the world?

rodin-museum-night-the-kiss-baiser

Forget your impossible-to-get reservations for overpriced 18-course meals you’ll only partly like. For Valentine’s Day, Frenchman and I took romance to the next level. We went to the Musée Rodin.

rodin-museum-night-romance

I was lucky enough to get my name on a list for the exclusive #SoiréeLove event at the Rodin Museum, so we gratefully gave up trying to find affordable romantic plans (we did just buy a home, after all) and took the even better idea that fell in our laps.

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Lunch at l’Église de la Madeleine

Here’s the thing about living in Paris. There are hundreds of “major” sites to visit, all of them surely spectacular, but unlike when visiting on vacation you’ve got work and real life to attend to so you never even get to half of them.

Literally so much to see, so little time to see it. How many things in your own hometown have you not visited except maybe when friends are in from out of town?

Fortunately for me, I work with a fun office manager who has a penchant for planning visits to nearby things to see. Our office is right in the heart of the city, so we’re perfectly placed to zip out and back during a lunch break. We’ve got a couple other expats, but quite a few French like to come as well because, like I said, it’s hard to find time to see everything in your own city when you’ve got everyday life to do.

So where did we visit this time?

La Madeleine

madeleine-paris-day

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Romance in Paris

It’s February! My how time flies when you’re having fun up to your neck in cardboard boxes.

The Monsieur and I are officially moved into our new place and things are looking good (we finally have a couch!). It got a little hairy in there when some door handles got broken and a dryer was delivered without the washer it’s supposed to go on top of (even though we had already paid for it…?) but the course of a move never did run smooth. All things considered, it went well. The trick now is furnishing the place so we have places to put our stuff away and more than 1 pot to cook in. Baby steps.

Anyway, we’re here now and I thought what better time to think about romance in Paris than now, after moving into our very own place just before Valentine’s Day?

valentines-day-paris-love-romance

Romantic Things to Do in Paris for Valentine’s Day

In the lead-up to V-Day, here’s my list of romantic things to do in and around Paris, prefect for Valentine’s Day (or any day!)

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My Calendar of Paris Events 2017

It’s January, the start of a new year. Everyone at work, though just back from their holiday breaks, has been talking about what trips and vacations everyone has planned for the year. While I don’t have all of my weekend jaunts and 3-week retreats scheduled just yet, it got me thinking about what’s on deck for 2017.

So here it all is! A schedule of all the events and noteworthy Paris things to come this year that I’ve got on my radar. Give or take a few dozen, that is:

Paris Calendar of Events

January 1st – New Year’s Day

Everything’s closed. France is hungover. Everyone starts wishing each other Happy New Year, “meilleurs vœux” for the new year, “plein de bonnes choses,” health and happiness and all that good stuff.

January 6th (ish) – Galette des Rois

The “King Cake” is not like the New Orleans Mardi Gras version. This flaky, buttery, almond-flavored pastry is shared around the 6th of January (Epiphany) between family, among friends, and even very commonly in offices. In the galette is hidden a little “fève“, a tiny figurine, and whoever finds it in their slice is King (or Queen) and gets to wear a crown. There are whole traditions surrounding cutting the galette, the youngest person hides under the table and picks who each slice goes to, etc. Point is, it’s a delicious tradition and everybody loves it.

events-paris-galette-des-rois

Bonne Année Bonne Santé

Wishing one another a happy new year is an important custom in France. To not wish someone ‘bonne année‘ when you first see them after the holiday is a real faux pas.

New Year’s Day, while I was lounging around contemplating another mimosa, Frenchman was busy calling every relative one after the other for a quick, repetitive but heartfelt new year’s greeting. For each when the conversation turned to me I called a quick bonneannéehappynewyear from across the room. Thorough emails went out to everyone not reachable by phone.

At work on Monday, everyone pointedly wished each other happy new year first thing. As each person entered to room, bonne années were tossed around. If you sent someone a question, it was immediately followed up with “oh and happy new year!”

It’s an interesting social obligation to have to wish each other good health and happiness in the new year. Not a bad custom, but interesting to see how seriously it’s taken. It is, for sure, an obligation.

New Year’s in Paris

This New Year’s Eve was a quiet one, once again. When a nice dinner for two is nearing the cost of a washing machine, the appliances win out. So we had a nice meal at home, starting with the requisite foie gras of course, sipped our champagne and enjoyed a simple night in. We ventured out at 11:30 or so for a walk to the Seine (maybe to catch a view of the fireworks at midnight?) but very quickly decided it was just too cold and packed it in. We watched the fireworks from the comfort of our pajamas as the clock struck midnight.

Recapping 2016

Frenchman and Mrs. Frenchman have had a big year. We became Mr. and Mrs., for one. I’ve been on more planes in 2016 than I think I have in any other year. I experienced lots of travel, lots of stress, and lots of exciting milestones in the last 12 months: Continue reading

We bought an apartment

Frenchman and I are officially homeowners!

After months of apartment hunting, filing paperwork, and waiting for French bankers to come back from vacation, it’s finally official.

We’re key-carrying owners of our very own place.

homeowners-keys-sq

We bought a place in France!

We just barely made it by the skin of our teeth, thanks to the banks losing our paperwork and not mentioning it to us until 3 days before the signing. After running like crazy to get them new papers in the mail, and a few angry emails and phone calls from Frenchman and our notary, we made it just in time, with the expedited wire transfer arriving in the account about an hour before our appointment. Phew.

After all that stress and living in various states of temporary, I’m very much looking forward to having a permanent home with my own stuff and no deadline of having to move out.

saint-germain-en-laye-apartment

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