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Meeting in May

A month exactly after returning from meeting one dear friend in Paris, I have the good fortune to be spending a few days in the Irish Republic staying with my oldest friend and soul-mate from school days P, (we’ve been friends for over 54 years!). She and her husband live in an old cottage in the hills an hour’s drive West from Cork, ireland 2015 007 and you can see the sea from their South-facing fields! ireland 2015 004 Before coming she warned me to bring warm clothes because the weather had been so chilly.  But here I am on my first morning sitting outside the kitchen door on a bench with a mug of coffee, drinking in the sun and the views. Looking South up to the old Stable block (now unfortunately empty of equines), hen house and run, veggie garden and polytunnel: ireland 2015 002 and looking East down over the apple trees into the valley (with the woodshed at the right at the end), from the same bench ireland 2015 003 going through the gate, you first cross the boreen (sorry for the dreadful lack of focus but it gives you an idea of the lushness this Spring) – looking down the hill from the cottage ireland 2015 009 the top part of the boreen looking down to the cottage ireland 2015 012 Having crossed the boreen you see the tool shed and veg garden on the left, with the polytunnel ahead of youireland 2015 013 The veg garden planted up with onions, leeks, carrots, broad beans, peas, early and maincrop potatoes, beetroot, French Beans, Runner Beans, Cabbages and Sprouts, and –  I have probably forgotten some. ireland 2015 008 Inside the wonderful tunnel, with a super vine producing sweet white grapes, carrots. beetroot, Runner Beans, French Beans, early potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, courgettes, salad leaves, and numerous flower seedlings.  We ate good sized, delicious new potatoes most of the time I was there, all from the tunnel and a few delicious strawberries.  They were coming along beautifully but each night some creature got to them before we did.  Last year P was getting a bowlful each day. ireland 2015 005.jpg 1 ireland 2015 006 Looking to the right after crossing the boreen you see the old stable block and the hen house and chicken run.  We ate fresh eggs all the time, so very good!

Ireland December 2014 541Joseph and his five ladies.

ireland 2015 049They are very sociable chooks and enjoy visiting us in the kitchen:)

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This Spring seems to have brought a veritable munificence of birdlife: there is a Blackbirds’ nest in the woodshed, another in the Quadbike shed, a Robins’ nest in the toolshed, a Wrens’ nest in the workshop, a Starlings’ nest in the first stable bay  and several Swallows nesting in the end bay, So, that is five buildings temporarily out of bounds!  Then there are Crows, Magpies, Great Tits, Bluetits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, House Sparrows, Dunnocks and a Wagtail all feeding merrily at or around the bird feeders, suggesting nests fairly nearby in the numerous trees and hedges.

The fields in front of the house are let out to a local Stables at the moment and two young horses are spending their days growing and filling out on the ample grass and resting in the sunshine: ireland 2015 024 My little bedroom, partly in the roof, view from the bed: Ireland December 2014 519So this is my rural Irish idyll for a few days!

Midwife to a moth

About three months ago I went to do my greengrocery shopping at my usual shop: a whole-food cum organic co-operative in my area of Sheffield.

It is run by lovely people and quite a few of the part-time staff are university students, which gives me a glimpse of the youngsters I used to teach.  Useful for when I miss that age group.

Part of my shop consisted of a bag of mixed salad leaves, my own as yet unplanted yet alone ready to pick!  Far too cold.

As per usual I left them to soak for about 45 minutes to remove dust, grit, dead critturs and any aphids therein, being organic you know.

Well I got sidetracked and over an hour later I came down to process the leaves: bear with me, there is a point to this story and we ARE getting there.

I removed all leaves and spun them in my lettuce spinner and went to pour away the soaking water.  At the very bottom was a small green blob, which turned out to be a very drowned caterpillar.  I felt dreadful at causing its death: if I had been faster off the mark I would have found it earlier and put it outside in the most sheltered spot of greenery I could find.  The poor thing would probably have died of cold anyway, but what can you do?

Instead of letting the corpse run down the drain I put it on a piece of folded loo-roll, the better to absorb any water, in the undoubtedly vain hope of a resurrection, and left it on the sitting room table whilst I went back to my work elsewhere.

Another hour passed and when I came downstairs I remembered the caterpillar and went to have a look.  It had disappeared.  After a fruitless search crawling round the floor and looking under chairs and sofa I gave up and had one last look in the cracks on top of the table.  (It is an ancient folding table and over the centuries the hinge areas have crumbled and broken, leaves quite deep fissures.)

Nothing to be found so I picked up the loo roll to throw it away and issue warning to my other half to beware of caterpillars when walking through the sitting room.  And there, in the fold of the loo roll was the caterpillar.  It had lost water to the tissue, awoken, and crawled into the crease.  Eureka!  I was not a murderer after all.

But what to do next?  In the short term I placed it in a small container with some of the salad leaves it had come in, and air holes for ventilation of course, and then went to look up all my wildlife books which could throw any light on the kind of caterpillar it could be. angle shade moth caterpillar No joy there: a small green caterpillar with few distinguishing marks could be one of many. So there it remained for some weeks, gorging on greenery, growing immensely, and poohing heroically (and astonishingly).

Then one day it became comatose and I worried that I had missed out on some vital ingredient in its diet and it was now dying. A google search of caterpillar husbandry gave me some useful tips which suggested it was about to pupate, so I set to, making a small hatching container –  a large glass jar with kitchen roll around the outside to give cover and privacy,  more on the top to allow air inside, and some folded lengthwise leaning up therein for climbing and support if it wanted, some salad leaves at the bottom and bob’s your uncle.  Over the next four or five days it refused to eat or move: one evening I looked into  the jar before retiring to bed and found a chrysalis.  In the matter of four hours it had turned from a fat, succulent green caterpillar, into a hard, dark brown chrysalis. Presumably its insides had been slowly transforming over the last few days, but the the surface had only suddenly changed.

angle shade moth chrysalisPhoto from: http://abugblog.blogspot.ie/2011/01/angle-shades-caterpillar.html

which has a blog post illustrating the life cycle in photographs for anyone interested.

Thus it remained for weeks.  Of course I kept referring to my books and google, all of which said it should have hatched by now.  Then I had to leave for Paris, having written down instructions for husband in the event of any hatching.  Regular texts to and fro during my trip informed me that nothing changed.

Two days after my return home I was giving an evening meal to husband, son and grandson: roast pork and all the trimmings and a ‘catch-up':  when I returned to the kitchen at one point to fetch something I noticed that there was a fluttering at the top of the glass jar.  The chrysalis had hatched and a browny-pink moth (I assumed), had climbed up the folded kitchen-roll and was beginning to use its wings.  Huge excitement on my part.  I immediately left the others to their meal and vanished upstairs to look up the identity of my moth.  It was an Angle Shade Moth: very beautiful in an understated way, with serrated wings, little horns on its head and gorgeous green, pink and brown markings on its wings.  Apparently they are not particular as to foodstuffs.

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It being about five o’clock on a bright sunny evening I decided to release it at once so that it could warm up/feed/find shelter and generally do what it wanted, before night fell.  I went up to a patch of dense, gloriously flowering pak choi and put the moth on a stem below the yellow flower heads.  And took some photos of course!

Mine are not brilliant not being a photographer and not having the necessary equipment for really close up pictures but they were OK, and I found more and much better on the web.

https://i0.wp.com/www.glaucus.org.uk/angle0251e-RH.jpg

Photograph by Ray Hamblett (Lancing Nature) from
ADUR NATURE NOTES 2005 at http://www.glaucus.org.uk/May2005.html

 The above photo shows the ‘horns’ better than mine does: there are three on the head, one in the middle and one at each side.  The bottom one is at the front beside the antenna.

Waiting for a while to make sure the moth was comfortable and well suited to its situation, as far as I  could ascertain, I returned to the dinner table and my cold plate.  Enthusiastically, I showed pictures, opened books, told the tale, to a mesmerised and unenthusiastic audience.  Husband to give him his due was also very pleased at a happy outcome and interested, but the others looked dumb with –  well it was not boredom exactly, more kind of expressions of polite interest masking complete astonishment and actual non-interest.  You could see them putting up with, “her usual eccentric behaviour”, which means they never knew what I would do next and therefore from that point of view there was a little interest, but the actual situation bore no interest or excitement for them of any kind.

Some times I wonder how I find myself in the family I inhabit.  Surely genetics is not meant to work like this?

But the pleasure and pride I feel on this little caterpillar’s clever transformation is immense.  On a par with sowing seeds and watching the final transformation to strong plants.  The change from apparently dry, lifeless form to vigorous, glowing life always uplifts.

So, back home and what have I been doing?

Muck spreading, that’s what!

In order to prevent the garden turning into the Brazilian Rain Forest before my eyes I need to get straight onto gardening duties now I’m home again. It was really hot here when I first returned and so much needs doing at this time of year as all you gardeners out there will know only too well.

The muck heap is enormous (measuring 17 feet long, 7 feet deep and over 4 feet high) and we have run out of space for any more addition: the fruit garden has had no muck on it for years and years so that is the first port of call:

The raspberry patch

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The pears, gooseberries and currants

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The roses in the front garden have also been neglected so a goodly dollop for them too

    muck spreading and road works 009                 Then in rotation I put muck on different parts of our little veggie garden-

the runner bean trench (of course the runner bean trench gets it every year)

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and the extra pieces of field that I am trying to incorporate.

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  The compost bins were a disgrace: a new compost bin needs erecting, and one of the older ones dismantling: well to be honest, it has dismantled itself but I need to sieve and spread the compost to clear a space to put up a new compost bin. A friendly farmer has let me have five pallets and I put one at the bottom to allow for aeration and used the other four to make the sides.  It became full almost immediately but at least the compost is looking organised

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and the muck spreading is nearly finished.

This is all that we have left and it has a home waiting for it as soon as we get round to it.

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A good thing too because look what we have waiting for us to build into a new heap:

  muck spreading and road works 014 Fuelled with energy after my superb holiday, I’m fairly speeding through the jobs.  I’m one of those people who needs physical exercise in the fresh air and to feel surrounded by the natural world to stay ‘grounded’ and it is a perfect foil for my mental activities, wanderlust and desire for occasional glimpses of city life.

I’m feeling very pleased with myself:)

When I arrived at the flat at the beginning of this trip, one of the things I did was to buy a white azalea in a pot to decorate L’s room:

later on it had looked gorgeous in the sitting room.

With our imminent departure I was wondering how to find it a good home since it was still in full glory:  I had been watching out for the concierge who waters the plants in the courtyard in case he might like to have it, but I kept missing him.

This morning at about 7.30 am I heard him in the courtyard watering the plants so dashed out to catch him: I was actually still in my PJs which are more than decent, however, I don’t think that is what the fashion conscious Parisian woman would do!  On my way down the stairs with the plant I encountered a very distinguished grey-haired man coming up them with his morning baguette and a bag of croissants – incidentally smelling wonderful: on impulse I asked him if he lived here, and looking rather surprised (whether at the question, my clothing, or both I don’t know) he answered, “Yes”.  I explained that I was going home today and asked whether he would like the plant: he looked delighted, readily agreed and wished me a good journey:)  So that is one thing sorted at the beginning of a very ‘sorting-out’ kind of day.  Job done: but I wish I had not been in my PJs.

Looking out of the front window I saw the soldiers still on guard outside the Synagogue.  They had the plain-clothes policemen with them again: sad, but we have got used to their presence.

paris last days 2015 021.jpg 1.jpg 2

L and I have done most of our packing and since she does not leave until the early hours of tomorrow, 3.30 am to be precise, and I leave at 3.0 pm this afternoon, we had decided that we would try to do something this morning.  You remember me mentioning that French detective series Engrenages?  Well on one of our bus routes we had passed the Bistro L’Engrenage over on the other side of the third arrondissement,

paris last days 2015 022very close to the Police Headquarters there.

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Therefore I rather fancied going over there for lunch, to scope out the area and see if it was named with reference to the Series.

We caught the 29 bus over to the Bistro only to find it closed until the early afternoon: I had not read the website correctly.

So I took a few photographs paris last days 2015 023

and then we caught the bus going back the way we had come.  We got off on the Rue de Turenne and walked over to the Italian Bistro in the St. Paul’s district where we had such a good meal a while ago, remember I had the aubergine dessert?  Well, we were the first there and the Proprietess who had been very friendly was not there and we were met by a surly chap who actually made us feel very unwelcome.  We tried to be pleasant and thaw the icy reception: I ordered bream with fresh orange segments, pistachio nuts, new potatoes and broad beans, and it was really wonderful.  The broad beans had been shelled and then had their skins removed so they were soft and delicious.  I have never had broad beans that tasted like that.  L had a pasta dish and this time the pasta was well cooked: clearly the chef was on form but we managed no improvement in relations with the patron and we felt most uncomfortable.  I hasten to say he was Italian and not French!!!   It was such a shame as it made it hard to enjoy our meal and we left as soon as we could, refusing coffee or dessert.

Not the most marvellous way to pass our last morning:)  Anyway, unwilling to give up we walked over to the super ice cream shop by the Place des Vosges, Amorino,

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and bought one small tub each.

and spent a happy time sitting on a bench in the Place in the sun eating our ice creams, soaking it all up.

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At 2.0 pm we reluctantly decided we had to drag ourselves away and go back to the flat.  We walked back past one of my favourite shops which contains bronze sculptures covered in some kind of enamel or resin and others set in glass/acrylic.

I have never dared to even go into the shop let alone ask for any prices

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but I would love to have this one to take home

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We returned to the flat for me to pop the last few things in my case and make sure all was organised for the taxi.  This came promptly and by 3.45 pm I was at the Gare du Nord, through Security and waiting for my train.  The place was packed with Brits returning home after their Easter holidays, and a few French going over for a trip:  a kind woman budged up to make space to allow me to sit down beside her and wait for my train.

Eurostar left late and then waited for a further 15 mins outside the station, so we were over half an hour late into St. Pancras.  I was extremely pleased that I had not booked any particular train home as I would have missed the one I had been thinking of.  So I had time to buy something to eat on the last leg of my journey and I went into M&S to buy some gluten free brownies: normally I can buy quite a lot of gluten free things in M&S but this outlet did not have them.  A very kind Indian lady came out from behind the till and walked round the shop with me to show me the one thing they did have but it was a shock after Paris where there was always something, and it was always lovely.  It was strange being surrounded by the English language and suddenly, lots of fat people, and I felt rather ill at ease for a little while.  A quick coffee upstairs near my platform and then 8.0 pm found me on my next train bound for the North.  I eventually arrived home at 10.40 pm.

I have had the most wonderful trip: Paris just gets under your skin and it will always have a part of my heart.  I am so lucky just to be a couple of train journeys away, but however much I love going, I find it is never as pleasurable by oneself as it is if one can share it with somebody else.  And no-one in my family or circle of friends in England shares my love of France.  Thanks to the generosity and kindness of my friend L, I have had the opportunity for both the pleasure of her company and her equal appreciation of things French.

Today is our planned-for trip to the Château de Chantilly

(front of the Château – taken at midday)

DSC00466 located, rather obviously, in the town of Chantilly, 60 km (37.5 miles) due North of Paris.  Apparently it takes about one hour eleven minutes by road, but only 25 minutes by train.

We read about it before coming to France and gathered that, after the Louvre, the Château’s art gallery, the Musée Condé, houses one of the finest collections of paintings in France specialising in French paintings and book illuminations of the 15th and 16th centuries:  also after Versailles it has the finest gardens and grounds.

All in all it comprises: a French formal garden, featuring extensive parterres and water features, including a cascade, laid out principally by André Le Nôtre who designed the gardens at Versailles: a large park containing pavilions and a rustic ersatz village –  the Hamlet (Hameau) de Chantilly, which inspired Marie Antoinette to have her little Farm built in the Gardens of Versailles: Chantilly racecourse  and the Great Stables: and lastly, an ‘exhibition spectacular’ of horse dressage.  Wow!!  Somehow I don’t think we’ll be able to visit everything.  But we read that there is a small road ‘train’ which tours the grounds, so our initial planning is that we will eat at the famous Hameau, watch the Dressage Spectacular, visit the Great Stables and take a tour of the grounds on this train.  If there is any time or energy left over we will visit the inside of the Château and the paintings.

We gathered that it is far less well known to tourists and consequently not as crowded as Versailles, so  all in all, we thought it might make a ‘grand day out’.

After careful planning we chose a day forecast for good weather which also had the dressage exhibition (this does not take place every day) and booked tickets for this as well as a table in the Restaurant in the Hamlet which had much better reviews than the one in the Château (although even these were luke-warm to say the least).  Booking tickets was a nightmare since we have no printer and have to get everything booked to our mobile phones.  Sounds simple but it had taken us hours negotiating websites on our phones and speaking to people who seemed busy, not bothered, and refusing to speak anything but French.  This  was not a problem for me but L got the brush-off.  Finally we got all our bookings made but have to collect our tickets in person on arrival at  the box office in the Great Stables.

So, after the first great write-up we set off with a few misgivings, I have to say.

We rose early expecting to have to react to all kinds of fall out from the national strike, and set off on our adventure.  However, our bus came promptly much to our surprise, taking us direct to Gare du Nord.  In fact all the buses we could see appeared to be running normally.

Once at the Gare du Nord we wondered whether there would be any trains running but nothing appeared to be out of the usual.  In fact, apart from crowds and posters in the Place de la Republique on our way over, we saw nothing that would suggest any kind of a strike.  So we were far too early and had to sit at a horrid fast food outlet, drinking dreadful powdered drinking-chocolate and coffee at exhorbitant prices, noticing too that the woman handling the food was not very hygenic. We thanked our lucky stars that we had not bought any food.  It was chilly, draughty, noisy, and we were persecuted by people begging for money.  In fact it epitomisied everything bad about travel, and not what we have come to love about Paris.

However, the train was prompt, clean, fast and efficient.  We easily got seats upstairs in a vacant coach and settled in for a pleasant ride looking out at the countryside.  Blue skies and bright sunshine greeted us wherever we looked.  The Château is situated in the Parc Naturel Régional Oise pays de France so the last part of our journey took us through a lovely area. (Picardie region this time).

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The station for Chantilly is called Chantilly Gouvieux and is a little outside town so we went to find a bus to take us there: we found the Bus Station which was  right beside the Train Station, through a small passageway, and asked a bus driver for directions.  He told us that there was a free bus into town and where to catch it.  A kind lady also waiting at the bus stop told us which stop to get off at in town for the Château: it was only a ten minute drive and once alighted we walked for 20 minutes from town to the Gates.  Immediately inside we found the Great Stables, went inside and retrieved our tickets without problem: everyone was pleasant and helpful but we needed our French.  Actually I rather like this because I do not go to another country and expect them to speak my native language: it is fun to try to communicate with people in their own (except for emergencies of course!)  And L manages perfectly well with her slightly more limited French skills but with her lovely personality.

By this time we only had twenty minutes  before our Lunch reservation: we asked how far it was to the Hamlet and were told “15 minutes” walking through the wood beside the Château .  Well I don’t know what kind of speed they walk at, but we almost ran and then we were five minutes late.  We saw the road train standing idle, clearly it is not in use today which is a blow, but there were golf carts for hire: it may be silly, but all the people hiring them looked middle aged or old, and I did not feel I wanted to join their ranks.  How stupid is that?  Actually on a more practical level, since we were going to be sitting eating, and then sitting watching the dressage, it would have been a waste of money to hire one, they are not cheap.

(I found this map on Wikipedia, and it shows the distance we had to walk.)  We came in on the left hand side, in the middle, by the Jeu de Paume.  Then we had to walk down to the bottom of the image where you can see the bridge over the water, leading to the Château.  Then straight up the middle of the picture on the cream area to the large lake/pond.  There we had to turn at right angles following along one of the water course in the middle of the map leading directly to the right hand side of the picture.  You can see the caption of Le Hameau on the top of the map pointing towards the Hamlet.  This might not look far to you, but after walking a mile already in town in the heat of noon, and it being so hot with the sun beating down on the limestone all round us and being reflected back up again, this was a very hard and fast 25 minute trek.  Gasp!

dscf0078However once under the trees and beside yet more water, it was cooler and fresher and smelled wonderful.

The Hamlet is sweet,

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The Hamlet Restaurant( from http://www.domainedechantilly.com/en/accueil/prepare-your-visite/)

http://www.domainedechantilly.com/en/hameau/

and the Restaurant is out of doors under the trees – basically in the garden of one of the cottages.

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It was a wonderful setting:

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we were met by a cheerful and very friendly young waitress who left us to choose our table, then came back and took our order.  The food is dispensed to the waitress from a hatch in the end of the cottage and it all felt very medieval.

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We both had salads with different meats and mine had some hot potato chunks in it too. Since we were at Le Hameau at Chantilly where the french Chantilly Cream was invented (see below) we decided to have a dessert and it had to contain the famous cream of course!   L had hers with pain aux epices (gingerbread) andrestaurant-du-hameau I had a strawberry tart with mine. I was worried about the pastry and decided I would just have to leave  that part but it turned out to be made from ground almonds not flour, how lovely.  The cream was not just plain whipped cream: it had an aromatic quality, perhaps rose water, I’m not sure, and tasted – not sour exacty – but sweet with some kind of yoghourty/mild soft cheese undertones.  I cannot place the flavours but they were gorgeous.

So we sat under the trees surrounded by about six tables of people, with nothing to hear but dishes clattering quietly in the kitchen, people murmuring over their lunch and insects and birds going about their business above and around us. So peaceful and domestic.  It could only be described as blissful.  Another ‘Giverny day’.  The food was delicious and the only draw back was no decaff. coffee, but no problem, I just went without.  We ate in a leisurely fashion because we had left ourselves two and a half hours to order, eat, and then get back to the Great Stables for the dressage performance in the afternoon: we had read on Trip Advisor of other people finding they were short of time to make the long walk back.

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From Wikipedia:

Crème Chantilly is another name for whipped cream. Whipped cream, often sweetened and aromatised, was popular in the 16th century.  It was called milk snow (neve di latte, neige de lait). A 1545 English recipe, “A Dyschefull of Snow”, includes whipped egg whites as well, and is flavored with rosewater and sugar. In these recipes, and until the end of the 19th century, naturally separated cream is whipped, typically with willow or rush branches, and the resulting foam on the surface would from time to time be skimmed off and drained, a process taking an hour or more. By the end of the 19th century, centrifuge-separated, high-fat cream made it much faster and easier to make whipped cream. The French name crème fouettée ‘whipped cream’ is attested in 1629, and the English name “whipped cream” in 1673. The name “snow cream” continued to be used in the 17th century. 

The invention of crème Chantilly is often credited incorrectly, and without evidence, to François Vatel, maître d’hôtel at the Château de Chantilly in the mid-17th century. But the name Chantilly is first connected with whipped cream in the mid-18th century, around the time that the Baronne d’Oberkirch praised the “cream” served at a lunch at the Hameau de Chantilly — but did not say what exactly it was, or call it Chantilly cream.  The names “crème Chantilly”, “crème de Chantilly”, “crème à la Chantilly”, or “crème fouettée à la Chantilly” only become common in the 19th century. In 1806, the first edition of Viard’s Cuisinier Impérial mentions neither “whipped” nor “Chantilly” cream, but the 1820 edition mentions both. The name Chantilly was probably used because the château had become a symbol of refined food.

After lunch we decided it was time to leave for the Dressage performance, since we wanted to stop and take photographs on the way.

The footpath from the Hamlet, through the woods

chantilly 010We crossed a small bridge over one of the grand water channels leading back to the Château

chantilly 014and noticed that the water was full of very large trout

chantilly 013As we came out of the trees and approached the back of the Châteauchantilly 016

the heat just beat over us: we had to walk back through with both the reflected heat from the the buildings and the stone on the ground and then up a limestone path up a hill to the Great Stables.  I began to struggle despite the glorious view in front of us.

DSC00451We had noticed on the plan of the grounds that there was a path parallel to where we needed to go, through some more trees and out of an opening right opposite the Stables:  so I headed off in that direction for shade while L  went back the  way we had come to take photographs.  This was my view:

chantilly 019When I got to the  top of the hill I discovered that the ‘opening’ was in fact a gate, which was at that moment being closed by a young woman in a hurry, who said as she went past me that  there was no exit that way.  She would not stop and open it for me.  so I was faced with going all the way back down the hill, round the back of the chateau and retracing our steps back to the Stables.  At  this point L met me looking for more photos and I said she should go on ahead and get our seats and I would join her if I could make it, but time was now getting short and I was just exhausted.

With some apprehension she left me and went back and I found a place to sit and try to recover.  Sometimes I just curse my M.E. although I know that I manage to do a lot of things that others cannot.

Anyway, to cut a long and difficult story short, I did finally struggle back and got to the Great Stables and the Dome (which is the wonderful domed school [for horses] built in 1755 by the Prince de Conde) where the dressage event was being held, in time.

A word of history now from Wikipedia and the guide book:

The site of the Château comprises two attached buildings: the Petit Château built around 1560 for Anne de Montmorency, and the Grand Château, which was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s by Henri d’Orléans, duc d’Aumale, who bequeathed the property to the Institut de France upon his death in 1897..  However, the Stables and associated buildings survived.
The estate’s connection with the Montmorency family began in 1484. The first mansion (no longer in existence, now replaced by the Grand Château) was built in 1528–1531 for the Constable Anne de Montmorency. The Petit Château was also built for him, around 1560. In 1632, after the death of Henri II, it passed to the Grand Condé who inherited it through his mother, Charlotte Marguerite de Montmorency. A couple of interesting pieces of history are associated with the château during the 17th century: firstly, Molière’s play, Les Précieuses Ridicules, received its first performance here in 1659 and secondly, Madame de Sévigné relates in her memoirs that when Louis XIV visited in 1671, François Vatel, the maître d’hôtel to the Grand Condé, committed suicide when he feared the fish would be served late.

It was the descendant to the Grand Condé, Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon, the Prince de Condé, who was so passionate about horses and in 1719, he asked the architect, Jean Aubert to build stables suitable to his rank: and along with the stables was built, the Dome. According to legend he believed that he would be reincarnated as a horse after his death!

This is my attempt at a panoramic view of the Great Stable yard, the entry to the Dome is through the double doors at the bottom left.

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Inside the Dome school (from http://theequestriannews.com)

Interior of the Grand Stables during a live riding demonstration.

We were not  allowed to take photographs while the performance was taking place, but I managed to take one or two when it was finished – the windows had been covered and coloured lights were switched on so I  could not any photos by natural light.

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chantilly 021The ‘Spektacular’ as it was promoted, lasted for an hour.  I am not quite sure how to describe it.  The performance was accompanied throughout by a trio of close harmony Italian singers who sang folk  songs from Italy.  Unfortunately, although I think they probably described some kind of story, but as we could neither understand them or the story, the interaction with the riders and animals they were trying to put together was quite incomprehensible!

Also, sorry to sound so philistine, but the songs all sounded more or less the same  too, rather gutteral, rough and droning.  So from that point of view we did not enjoy ourselves. But it was so good to be sitting down out of the sun, in the magnificent cool arena.

The horses were glorious: there was a huge Percheron and a man on his back who conducted extremely athletic circus antics; a troupe of Shetlands who were remarkably well behaved for Shetlands; and at one point, a troupe of horned goats who looked rather like Soay sheep, and behaved impeccably.  The main emphasis was on the Thoroughbreds though who were spectacularly magnificent and unbelievably well trained.  They and their riders performed with grace and agility and were a joy to watch. One movement disturbed us both though: a couple of horse were required to cross their front legs and then pirouette on one front ankle,  so all the weight of the horse was just on that one fine ankle.  It looked very dangerous to us and made us uncomfortable.

When it finished we were led back out into the stable yard: we decided to visit the Great Stables at this point:

(I  found this photograph on Google images attributed to various sources amongst which were CNN and http://www.francaisdeletranger.org so I am not sure whose copyright it actually is, but it isn’t mine.)

and found that we were beside some of the animals being led back to their stalls:

chantilly 023the goats came rushing past

chantilly 024and joined an equine friend

chantilly 025We wandered around the stables for a while

chantilly 026speaking to the horses and making friends, then had a quick look at the Museum of the Horse but it was geared to racing, not unnaturally, and our interest in that was slight, although it looked very comprehensive.

By now a cup of tea was more than calling, it was shouting, so we hastened to the Stable Cafe where we were just about the last people around, most having left by now.

We thought it would be pleasant to walk back to the station through the woods as the plan we looked at suggested it was not a huge distance, but when we asked the attendants about that they looked quite horrified and said that it was a very long walk and not to try it.  I must say that everyone we met was very friendly and helpful and not at all like some of the reviews on Trip Advisor: perhaps it helped that we were early in the season.

So taking a last look back we left the Château and its environs:

The Great Stables and Chantilly Racecourse

View of the Grand Stables as seen over a river.

(from http://theequestriannews.com)

and retraced our steps back into town. It has been such a day of contrasts and impressions: we were so sorry to miss the inside of the Château and the famous art therein, but we had done as much as we possibly could. We did find that our original timings were not quite accurate: but the area of the gounds was actually much, much larger than we had suspected from looking at the plan on the website and we must have walked at least four miles, often very fast.

I must admit that by now I was absolutely done in: however, there were no means of transport from the Château (the last having left an hour before), so it was a question of just putting  one foot in front of the other as we walked the mile back into town.  At the bus stop we were prevented from getting on the wrong bus by some pleasant teenage girls whom L had befriended: they were horrified and said we would have to pay on that one, but the next would be free!!  It was, but it was also a school bus, absolutely full of lively kids all about 11 or 12 years old, and we had to stand all the way.  Clearly on  a school bus and with few adults around they did not feel it incumbent on them to give up seats.  Or perhaps it would not have been cool to be the first to offer!  So we made the journey back to the station, waited for about 20 minutes to catch a train,  and thence back to Paris uneventfully, all buses and trains running to time.

On alighting from our bus at the Bastille at about 6.30 pm we could not resist a cold beer at an outside cafe after all the heat, dust and walking of the day.  At least that is what L had, I just had a shandy and even that made my legs go numb:)  It was great just sitting there being part of the hustle and bustle of people stopping on their way home

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as the city, and we,  began to unwind from the  day.

chantilly 031Tomorrow will be our last full day in Paris, so we are imbibing all we can, while we can.

Esoteric facts about Chantilly:

1.  The château and the Great Stables were featured in the 1985 James Bond movie A View to a Kill, as the home of villainous Max Zorin who had already aroused the suspicions of MI6 with various business activities. It was being infiltrated by Bond (Roger Moore) in his quest to find out more about Zorin, and ultimately eliminate him.

2.  Every two years, in June, the “Nuits de Feu” international fireworks competition is held in the château’s garden.
3.  Every May, a rowing regatta, the Trophee des Rois, is held in the grounds. French university crews compete in the 750m race for a trophy.

We decided to visit the Orangerie today, then walk up through the Tuileries and over to Rivoli for a hot chocolate at Angelina’s. Since we have another long day out tomorrow I suggested that we have a reasonably easy day today.

Our passes to the Musee d’Orsay include a free pass to the Orangerie and I really want to see the huge Monet paintings for which it was altered and adapted, to compare with what we saw in his gardens yesterday.  Even though it was early Spring in his gardens when we were there, the colours of the willows and reflections on the water in the shade should be similar.

As I am sure many of you know (if I have any readers that is!) the Tuileries Gardens run parallel to the Seine from the Louvre down to the Place de la Concorde: Rue de Rivoli also follows the same route, just outside the Tuileries.

So, we took the Metro to the Place de la Concorde

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and walked up to the Orangerie.

According to the museum’s website, the Orangerie was originally built in 1852 to shelter the orange trees of the garden of the Tuileries which belonged to the Palace of the Louvre.  Citrus trees grown in tubs and wintered under cover were a feature of Renaissance gardens, once glass-making technology enabled sufficient expanses of clear glass to be produced.

During a span of 25 years between the 1890s and 1920s, Monet had been busy painting diverse renditions of the Nymphéas (Water Lilies) in the pond of his gardens at Giverny. The feverish pace of his work produced nearly 250 canvases on this subject.

“Suddenly I had the revelation of how magical my pond is. I took up my palette. Since that time I have scarcely had any other model.”

Claude Monet.

At the end of the First World War he offered to donate eight giant (2x6m) panels of Nymphéas to the French state, as a monument to the end of the war, if a suitable venue could be found for their display.

” Dear and close friend,
I am on the eve of finishing two decorative panels which I wish to sign on the day of Victory, and am asking you to offer them to the State… It’s not much, but it’s the only way I have of taking part in the victory.”

Claude Monet to Georges Clemenceau, November 12th, 1918

Working according to Monet’s exacting specifications  –  ” Imagine a circular room, the dado below the wall molding entirely filled with a plane of water scattered with these plants, transparent screens sometimes green, sometimes mauve. The calm, silent, still waters reflecting the scattered flowers, the colors evanescent, with delicious nuances of a dream-like delicacy.”  –  Clemenceau suggested that Monet install the paintings at the newly-available Orangerie.

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the architect Camille Lefèvre created a space for the works in the form of an oval gallery, whose curved walls would hold the huge paintings, incorporating natural light, plain walls, and sparse interior decoration. The eight paintings are displayed in two oval rooms all along the walls

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/Panorama_Interior_of_Mus%C3%A9e_de_l%27Orangerie_2.jpg

(From wikipedia    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_de_l%27Orangerie)

 The Musée de l’Orangerie had been born, although Monet’s paintings were not installed until 1927, a year after the artist’s death, as unwilling to relinquish his final works of art, these water lilies paintings stayed with Monet until his death on December 5, 1926.

The Second World War saw damage to the Orangerie as, in August 1944 during the battle for the Liberation of Paris, five shells fell on the rooms of the “Nymphéas”; two panels were slightly damaged and immediately restored. In 1984, this restoration work was renewed and a general cleaning was effected.  In January 2000, the museum was closed for renovation work, completely reviewed and restructured, and re-opened to the public in May 2006.

This morning there were long queues waiting to visit the Orangerie but with our passes we were allowed to walk straight past them and go in at once.

I just sat for ages looking at parts of the paintings trying to work out the colours and exactly why he had used some of the brush strokes he did. I cropped parts of the photos I took yesterday to compare with parts of his paintings, and when I did so I began to see some of  the colours he had seen.  I could not see them when I was there, or when I looked at the whole photo.  Very interesting!  You will see that I have interspersed some of these cropped photos amongst photos of his paintings to show what I mean.

I also tried out the panoramic view on my new camera.  Sometimes it worked quite well,

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and others very badly, but I am so new to this, I hope I will improve.

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08.04.2015 012Other artists’ work is also hung in the Orangerie but after looking at the Monet paintings we had no more mental room for other pictures, so after an hour or so we left, and walked up through the Tuileries,  (Photo looking up towards the Louvre)

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leaving behind us the large pond at the bottom of the Tuileries where people were enjoying the sunshine:

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turned left past a small cafe and a children’s Merry-go-Round which seem to be a feature of public places in Paris

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and exited onto Rue de Rivoli.

We saw lots of police cars and police motor bikes parked along the street,

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and as we walked under the arches up towards the Louvre and Angelinas we saw more police herding people off the pavement.

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Finally, they placed a cordon across and we all had to stand and wait.  I asked a policeman who was coming and he appeared to say, ‘President aux Etats Unis’.  Then a lady beside me in the crowd said how lovely his wife was.  So I got really excited thinking it was President Obama. But then the policeman began speaking to someone else and I realised he had actually said, the ‘President of La Tunisie’. Such a let down.

Apparently we had exited the Tuileries almost exactly apposite the Hotel Meurice which an extremely up-market hotel: well it would be overlooking the gardens wouldn’t it?  And that is where the President was staying for his two days.  His visit began the day before and he would be going home the next day.

Hoteles de lujo en París |  Le Meurice Paris | Dorchester Collection

(from the website: http://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/paris/le-meurice?gclid=CPj01_zOkcUCFSzMtAod0xQABg)

A tourist who was desperate to get to her tour bus and to find her hotel was unable to understand that the policeman on duty keeping us back did not have the authority to let her past: she could not speak French and he could not speak any other languages and he asked me to translate for her!

08.04.2015 027We waited for a while but then everyone dispersed saying that the plans had changed and that the President was not now coming out: turning round we found that we had been standing just beside Angelina’s so all we had to do was walk straight in, and there was no queue at all, so we were seated immediately.

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By now we felt more like lunch than hot chocolate so I ordered an omelette with truffles and salad and L had a Croque Monsieur.  Hers was delicious she said, but I thought my omelette was rather leathery and not at all light or puffy or fresh. However we were enjoying sitting in such splendid surroundings:

08.04.2015 031 We decided to splash out on dessert and ordered the specialite de la maison, which was ‘Mont Blanc’, a confection of meringue with firstly whipped cream and then chestnut puree piled on top. I also had a de-caff espresso which is something I have developed a taste for while here.  I like the bitterness after a good meal:

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My mother was always very fond of chestnut puree so we have grown up with it, but L had not had it before and was not sure she liked the taste.

The people at the table beside us were an American couple who began to talk to us about the proposed strike starting tomorrow.  We had heard nothing of any strike and became concerned: apparently it is the Air Traffic Controllers who are initiating the strike, but it is becoming a National Transport Strike, including of course all the trains: we are booked to go to the Chateau of Chantilly tomorrow – Thursday, I go on Eurostar on Saturday and L flies out of Charles de Gaule on Sunday.  We decided to leave Angelinas and make our way home to then look up any information we could find out about the strike.

We caught the metro back to St. Paul and wandered down St. Antoine as we both wished to buy a couple of things at the hardware shop.  I wanted a couple of their small paring knives which are so good: in choosing I managed to cut myself and bled all over the place.  How stupid.  Luckily I usually carry tape in my handbag so several strips of that were hastily wound in place just to get me home.

L then went off to Monoprix and I took myself back via the Hotel de Sully, Place des Vosges, and home.

We spent the rest of the afternoon anxiously looking up alternatives in case of transport problems tomorrow and at the weekend.  Finally, we gave up, since we gathered that nothing we read could be relied upon –  SCNF itself suggested that their own website could not be depended on for up to date information!  One thing we did do was to book a taxi each for the day we are meant to be leaving, just in case.  It would make little difference if no planes or Eurostar were running but we felt better having done something.

Having worked out all possible contingencies we finally gave up trying to plan any further.  So we decided to submit to the inevitable, whatever happened, cooked supper and had an early night, to be ready for anything the morrow might bring us.

.

I have already published the posts covering  the Easter weekend, so this sees us into the week after Easter.  By now I was feeling absolutely fine.

Well, this was one of the days that last week we spent time planning for.  A trip out of Paris when the weather was likely to be good to visit Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny, 47.5 miles NW of Paris.

Getting to Giverny involved the Metro or Bus to Gare St. Lazare, and then a mainline express train to Vernon, and then a Bus or Taxi to Giverny village.

The weather duly obliged as we woke to blue skies and sunshine.  We left the apartment at 08.50 and waited for the bus, but despite several updates to the digital display promising us transport, no bus ever came.  A quick regroup and trot to the Metro station and we were on our way.  Line 8 to Madeleine and then a change to Line 14 all the way to St. Lazare.  Speedy and effortless, although a lot of walking through a maze of stairs and escalators.

We found the correct platform, ‘composted’ our tickets (which is the word the French use for punching your ticket before you get on the train, which is compulsory!) and still had time left over for a quick coffee.  When the train was opened up for passengers hordes of people began to stream onto the platform: the first four coaches were full and it was a ‘double-decker’, so L began to panic and said we must just sit anywhere.  But she is not used to train travel and I said few people bother to walk more than four or five coaches up the platform unless they have to, so we walked on past another two coaches and found plenty of space in a four-seater bay on an upper deck from where we had an excellent view.

As I saw this couple walking slowly along the platform I was reminded of an artist whose paintings I like, Charles Cambier.  He often paints elderly people battling against wind and rain, usually by the seaside.

Bol Trad Breton???????????????????????????????

(Copyright of Charles CAMBIER)

 Gare St. Lazare

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We’re going off to the Normandy region now!!

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The train was headed for Rouen, and as we set off and the huge engines picked up speed I felt the blood beginning to surge with excitement and wanted to keep going, on and on!  (We had already found out that we could get right to the Mediterranean coast and back for 28 euros each courtesy of last minute booking on the SCNF website.)

However, L restrained me and said if we had several more weeks we could go further, but as it was, “no”.

Pulling out of central Paris

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It turned out that most of the train passengers were also headed to Giverny: this was a little daunting as we had heard horror stories of crowds making visits quite impossible.  Anyway, nothing to do but go with the flow.  The Ticket Inspector came round and said that we had not ‘composted’ our tickets: we explained that we had.  He replied that we had not because the correct markings were not on the tickets.  So we had a little exchange, perfectly friendly on his part but rather serious since we had infringed the rules, and then he came back with a correctly ‘composted’ ticket to show us what it should look like for a future trip.  Very decent of him.

The journey lasted 52 minutes, and it was interesting looking into peoples’ back gardens from our eyrie.  At Vernon the contents of the train erupted and headed for the local bus to take us all to Giverny.  I’m afraid we did not: I had read about someone else who had taken a taxi and therefore arrived ahead of the rest of the crowd, so that is what we did.  And in fact it worked because we had an extra 45 minutes to enjoy the gardens before everyone else got there. (It turns out that there is a 15 minute walk at  the other end from the bus stop to the Gardens, as well as waiting for the buses, which come every 20 minutes, and then they had to queue to pay and get in. We had bought our tickets previously, on-line.)

http://giverny.org    is a good website for information on Giverny and for seeing photos of the gardens at other times of year.

Claude Monet lived here for forty-three years, from 1883 to 1926. During this very long time, he had the house and garden laid out to his own tastes, adapting it to the needs of his family and professional life.  He lived here with his wife and two sons and four step-daughters.

Monet’s garden comprises two parts: a flower garden called Clos Normand in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road.  The sections are meant to contrast and complement each other. He did not like organized or constrained gardens despite the appearance of neatness and order we saw today.  I gather that later in the Summer the plants run riot: if you look at pictures of the garden on the web you can see how they flourish!  He chose flowers according to their colours and then left them to grow rather freely.

Ten years after his arrival at Giverny in 1893, Monet bought the piece of land neighbouring his property on the other side of the road. It was crossed by a small brook, the Ru, which is a diversion of the Epte, a tributary of the Seine River. With the support of the prefecture, Monet had the first small pond dug ; even though his peasant neighbours were opposed. They were afraid that his strange plants would poison the water.

Later on the pond would be enlarged to its present day size. The water garden is full of asymmetries and curves.

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It is inspired by the Japanese gardens that Monet knew from the prints he collected avidly. He was always looking for mist and transparencies and would dedicate himself less to painting the plants themselves than to their reflections in water, a kind of inverted world ‘transfigured by the liquid element’ as the guides say.

As he grew older he developed a passion for botany, exchanging plants with his friends Clemenceau and Caillebotte.  Always on the look-out for rare varieties, he bought young plants at great expense. “All my money goes into my garden,” he said. But also: “I am in raptures.

He was the first painter to shape his subjects in nature so exhaustively before painting them. And so he created his works twice!

Apparently it had been very busy indeed over the Easter weekend, but we found it really pleasant today, and a joy to wander round.

giverny 2015 008 Although it is very early in the year and most trees and shrubs are only just beginning to get their leaves the weeping willows were advanced

???????????????????????????????and the bamboo seemed to be in full leaf

???????????????????????????????Of course there were no water lilies to see but there were a few lily pads which suggested riches to come

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and I particularly like the man in the boat: it is a scene which could be over 100 years old!

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There was a lot of Spring planting which added welcome colour

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  Monet’s house from the garden

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There were several groups of very young schoolchildren, some of whom were practising their English colour names when looking at the plants, and they were delighted when we spoke a few words of English to them, and their teacher taught them to say “Goodbye”.  They could only have been about four or five years old:)

It was getting extremely warm too, with very bright sunshine.

???????????????????????????????Looking up the main path to the house

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The green on the windows and doors of the house is echoed throughout the gardens, on all woodwork, chains, supports etc.  Not sure that I like the shade with green leaves but the idea is clever. Apparently the pink colour of the walls and the green of the woodwork was chosen by Monet. In those times, shutters were traditionally painted grey. Monet added a verandah in front of the house, a pergola covered with climbing roses, and grew a Virginia Creeper on the facade: he wanted the house to blend with the garden.

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By this time we were desperate for some food, and especially a drink but unfortunately one cannot exit and re-enter on the one ticket, so we had to stay and finish our visit first.  We wanted to see Monet’s studio and look round the house so we just girded ourselves against the hunger pangs and dry mouths and went round the house.

We did not think much to the studio which was a double height room with long windows but they were to the West and South, very off for a studio.  There were rather second rate works of art on the walls.  Nice to know that even the ‘greats’ have off-days and experiments which do not work.  (Later on while walking back through the village we noticed that the other house on the property had HUGE windows facing north in its roof and walls, and I suspect Monet worked there more than in the ‘official’ studio we were shown on our tour round.)

Monet’s bedroom

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(His bedroom connected with a bathroom which in turn connected with Alice’s bedroom  a fashion very common until the 1950s amongst middle-class people in Europe, I don’t know about elsewhere).

 Other bedrooms

This one belonged to Alice, his wife.

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This room belonged to one, or more, of his four step-daughters, who all had bedrooms over the kitchen.

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We took our time, especially ‘Oohing’ and ‘Aahing’ at the Dining Room and then the Kitchen.

When Monet decorated his house and chose his colours the Victorian fashion was for very dark and heavy colours.  He did not care for fashion!

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You can just imagine the dinner parties with family and friends, which took place here.  The food, wine and discussion!

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The dining room is connected to the kitchen to make service easier. Monet wanted a blue kitchen so that the guests would see the right color in harmony with the yellow dining room when the door to the kitchen was open.

This is a room which takes cooking seriously, the size of the range alone, and then the spit roast fireplace beside it:

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Again one can imagine a busy, sometimes flustered, cook, with her staff, catering for a large, perhaps, rumbustious party next door.

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and the battery of copper pans and moulds of all kinds

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All  these downstairs rooms opened out onto the South facing verandah

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and by this stage we were looking for any shade to sit in.

I could see the intelligence in planting those two yew trees outside the front of the house: as well as adding structure to the main path they provide blessed shade.

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Beside the house, at the end of the verandah is the chicken house and run:  no doubt whence some of the ingredients for the kitchen came.

giverny 2015 059I’m sure the gardens are even more spectacular when the Roses and Waterlilies are out but we did not feel short-changed being early Spring: everything looked so fresh and pretty.  It would make anyone want to paint!!

I feel that this view shows the house and garden in the local landscape well.

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And it was worth coming so early in the season to have time to breathe it all in and enjoy the tranquility rather than have to wander round in a crocodile of people as can happen in summer.

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So, by half-past-one we rather felt we must eat, since breakfast had been at 07.00.  So we left the garden and wandered along the main street of the village, past the very pretty but very crowded cafes and bistros close to Monet’s house, right through to the other end of Giverny, looking for a Restaurant we had read about before we came.  And we were so pleased we had pushed on: when we found it we were thrilled.

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It was a French country Hotel in the old style, not jazzed up for a modern crowd

.(This photo is from the hotel website at  http://www.restaurantbaudy.com/ since I did not take one of the whole front)

Restaurant Baudy - Giverny

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Although the road was tarmacked there was no traffic and it had the air of an abandoned country lane, I almost expected to see dust rising up from a muddy track!  All the shutters and doors stood open to the fresh air and sunshine and the inside was very dark and felt remote in time. As you walked inside you were met immediately by a large bar along the back wall behind which were cheery staff, in black with large white aprons tied round their waists, all smiles and ‘Bonjours’.

Just across the lane from the hotel was its open-air dining-room, with a few people already eating.

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So we sat down on metal chairs beside a small round metal table, all a rather ‘distressed’ blue that I always associate with C19 French kitchens, and placed our order for the Menu du Jour.

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We both chose the same thing: confit of duck with apple, walnuts and salad as a starter:

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duck with prune and cinnamon (only slightly so) sauce and new potatoes and a stuffed tomato for our main,

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all finished off with a baked apple with frangipane stuffing and caramel sauce.

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The apple was a variety which did not go ‘puffy’ or foamy when cooked but kept its texture: it was perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender and the flavour was divine:)

L ordered a glass of burgundy with her meal which smelt heavenly!  I just wish that my body liked alcohol, even just a little bit;)

So there we sat for two hours, slowly eating under the trees in the sun, surrounded by birdsong and butterflies, an orchard beside us with chickens in it and the occasional lazy cock-crow.

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The glasses and cutlery were kept cool under an umbrella

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which seemed to embody the atmosphere of the day.

The lane almost felt as if it were still a dried earthy path, as waitresses and waiters crossed and criss-crossed carrying trays aloft.  There were enough other discerning diners to make it feel sociable and vibrant but without a crowd.  Verily, it felt as if we were in another century and living very different lives.

To use the Ladies or just wash one’s hands, one had to go into the Hotel, through a dining room, out the back through a play room which had an ancient rocking horse in it, turn right in the yard and enter a glazed door in the barn.

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We then discovered, by reading a plaque on the wall, that this old hotel was where Monet’s painter friends used to stay, and in fact, where the American Impressionists had formed a studio and presumably founded the ‘school’ of American Impressionists!! From 1887 onwards a colony of foreign painters, mainly Americans settled in Giverny: Sargent, Metcalf, Ritter, Taylor, Wendel, Robinson, Bruce and Breck came first. For thirty years about a hundred artists stayed one after the other in Giverny, although, we are told and I have no way of knowing how much truth there is in this, they did not have much contact with Monet who apparently considered their presence a nuisance.

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While going out the back we saw the painters’ studio in the lovely gardens

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and realised what a dreamy place it must be to stay in now, and back then.

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Everything reminded me of the France I had known 50 years ago as a child: bare feet, earth paths, shadowy cool rooms, nothing quite spick or span, but serviceable with quality of life more important than possessions.  We were so relaxed and warm and well fed.  When we came to leave I felt full of sun and as if I had just been on holiday in the country:)

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Reluctantly, we made our way to the bottom of the village to a huge coach park to catch the local bus back to Vernon, the express train to Paris, and make our way home.  All went well, although the train was really full, until we got to Paris at 5.40 pm where it was rush hour.  We made our way down to the Metro which involved going down four levels underground and walking quite a distance: it was mesmerising as people walked like automatons, not looking at each other, just like something out of a science fiction film where people are brain washed into behaving like ants.  Hordes of them rushing hither and yon, on automatic pilot.

We pushed our way into a crowded carriage with no vacant seats but immediately two people gave up their seats for us: this has happened everywhere, on all transport.  Young men and women are brought up to give up their seats to  people older than they.  So kind and thoughtful.  And much appreciated.

And so to home, via our little butcher for some home made terrine with prunes and a thin steak: food for tomorrow as we are quite out of provisions after the holiday weekend.

We have had a fabulous day.  A gift of a day.  A shining day.

As I lay in bed that night I felt washed in a golden glow of happy memories, both old and new. I did not want to go to sleep and have the day end: I just wanted to lie and bask in the feelings the day had engendered.

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