When we decided to spend three months in Paris, we agreed we were going to stay in Paris for our entire visit. That way we could get a feel for the ambiance. But having guests is always a good excuse to enjoy things we haven’t seen yet. We decided to take a field trip together to Giverny and Rouen, both for the first time. Giverny was Monet’s home and you can visit the water lily pond that he painted so frequently. Rouen has a renowned cathedral and an awesome light show that is well worth a visit.
Giverny and Monet
Claude Monet is often considered the father of Impressionism. Late in life, he moved to Giverny, a small town in Normandy about two hours by car west of Paris. In addition to his modest farmhouse, he had extensive gardens and a lily pond. The lily pond became famous because Monet created over 250 paintings of the water lilies in his garden. The most famous installation is a series of huge paintings in the L’Orangerie museum in Paris. The paintings were donated by Monet to the French State in 1922 and have been on display since 1927.
Many people visit Monet’s home and gardens each year to see the actual place where he was so captivated by the pond and his lilies. The day we visited in early September was beautiful, so we were able to enjoy the house, gardens, and lily ponds in full sunlight. Before going into the house, we spent well over an hour exploring the ponds and gardens that were planted to Monet’s exact specifications.
The house was spacious but not especially large. The most interesting things were the fabulous view of the gardens from Monet’s bedroom and the paintings by his contemporaries on many walls. The paintings in the house are copies, but we saw most of the originals in various museums in Paris. There were paintings by Manet, Degas, Jongkind, Boudin, van Gogh, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, Rodin, Modigliani, and Cézanne. The house has been restored to the time before Monet died in 1926. We could still see the abundance of light in his large studio, which now serves as the gift shop.
After we visited Giverny, we continued to the town of Rouen, in Normandy. Rouen is most notably known for its gothic-style Notre-Dame de Rouen Cathedral and medieval half-timbered buildings.
The cathedral was immortalized by Monet, who painted it many times in various seasons and times of the day. The inside and the outside of the cathedral are some of the city’s architectural gems. Both are striking and well worth a visit.
Rouen also has the Gros-Horloge (Great Clock), which is a 14th-century astronomical clock. The clock is installed in a Renaissance arch crossing on the Rue du Gros-Horloge. The clock is one of the oldest in Europe, the movement having been made in 1389. A facade was added in 1529 when the clock was moved to its current location. As you walk under the clock, you come to one of the oldest parts of the city.
Joan of Arc and the Medieval Cemetery
The main square here has a relatively new church dedicated to Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake here in 1431. The church has unusual sweeping curves meant to evoke both flames and an overturned longship. The inside is very simple and on the far side is a traditional French Les Halles, a market with butchers, cheese stalls, and produce.
All of the half-timbered buildings around the main square be the oldest in Europe. They are old, but you should judge for yourself just how old they are. Rouen also has an interesting cemetery, Aitre Saint Maclou, dating from the Black Plague. The cemetery is in a cloister of buildings and there are interesting historical plaques along one side. They say as the cemetery filled up they would take the old bones and put them in the attic of one of the buildings. Eww.
We chose to spend our day walking around the town and sampling the architecture, the food, and the living history. But I should mention that there are a number of museums that might be worth coming back to town to see in the future.
Our evenings were spent at what I think was the highlight of summer in Rouen: a free light show on the front of the cathedral. The cathedral is so tall we had to crane our necks for the entire 20-minute presentation. To see the show, you either sit or stand in the main square in front of the church. The presentation was so good, we went twice. There were two segments to the presentation and at the beginning everyone was invited to use a QR code displayed on the front of the building to join in the presentation as an avatar. That was a fun little twist. A counter before the show displayed on the front of the cathedral indicated how many people had checked in.
The entire presentation was accompanied by music and included scenes of what I think was the history of Rouen, sea exploration, and various unrelated topics. Cleverly done, the presentation often incorporated the cathedral architecture. This audio-visual extravaganza was worth a visit to Rouen during the summer. Check here for more information. Watching the videos is the only way for me to impress upon you how phenomenal the show was. We have attended light shows all over the world and this was by far the best.
Our short visit to Giverny and Rouen was a great way to see a little bit of France outside of Paris. We were able to reflect on our experience there during the beautiful two-hour train ride back to Paris. The bottom line, go in the summer and spend the night for the light show.
What light shows have impressed you?