Sunday 21 June 2015


With thanks to Avalon Waterways for this cruise
I have waterlilies in my pond, and my dining room is yellow, but I went to Giverny anyway. More is, sometimes, more, and Monet's ponds are much bigger, and his dining room is very much yellower, and was all lovely to see. What wasn't quite so lovely was the sheer press of people there to do the same thing - Giverny gets over half a million visitors every summer - but we were there as early as possible and missed the worst of the queues.
Even though the morning was dull, the gardens were just gorgeous - very English, full of flowers I forget about back home and recognised again with delight - and were quite as much an attraction as Monet's paintings. He claimed, in fact, that the garden was his greatest masterpiece. So the art enthusiasts were happy, and so were the gardening fans, and so too the photographers who used both as an inspiration to get arty on their wanders around the grounds and the village.
I'm really liking the French version of half-timbered, which is brown and cream rather than the English black and white. The village is self-consciously gorgeous, neat and pretty and full of flowers, many of them wild; but it stops just this side of being twee and truly does deserve all its visitors. Having had a poster of his Poppies on my wall for years, way back, it was a treat to see the real thing.
The simple pleasures continued as we sailed further along the Seine, each bend bringing new delights: cows knee-deep in the river, swans and herons, farmhouses, trees, hills, occasional mansions; and the ship so silent that the sound-track was ripples on the banks, the breeze through the leaves, and bird song courtesy of blackbirds, chaffinches and doves. It was so relaxing to sit in the sun in my suite, the ranch sliders wide open, and have it all to myself. Well played, Avalon.
We arrived at Les Andelys where the locals were enjoying live music in a park by the river, while we climbed the steep hill to its castle, Chateau Gaillard, a romantic ruin of white limestone with wide views over the river's bends and the rural countryside. The guide here was easily puffed so I left her behind and climbed up to explore it myself and, though it was scattered with irritating Chinese tourists, the familiar charms of old rock sprinkled with poppies prevailed. It's a twelfth-century castle and has, naturally, an eventful history but its lowest moment surely must be during the 1204 siege when the soldiers, alarmed at how the villagers who had taken refuge there were eating all the supplies, declared them 'bouches inutiles' - useless mouths - and ejected them to spend a miserable winter caught between the castle walls and the attacking forces. Harsh.
And the final simple pleasure of the day was the success of the manoeuvre to reclaim our rightful table in the dining room, after it had been usurped by interlopers at lunch. It took planning, determination and some small personal sacrifice, but victory was ours.

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