One of our motives in booking a two-week-long trip in the same city (as opposed to our usual cram-as-many-destinations-in-as-possible) was to enjoy a more relaxed travel mentality, one that allowed for plenty of local wandering, rest days when needed, AND day trips if we wanted. When we booked this in September, with a 9-month-old, we had no idea what to expect of travel with a future 18-month-old. All we could do was plan for flexibility and hope for the best.
From the beginning, a day trip to Giverny was one of the two things we actually planned ahead of time. Giverny is a small village about 50 miles west of Paris, famous for its associations with Claude Monet and the Impressionist movement. Surprisingly, outside of Monet, most of the Impressionist artists who resided there were actually American. Who knew! Today, the village is mostly a popular tourist attraction (Monet’s House and Gardens, The Museum of Impressionism Giverny), as well as a rural bed and breakfast destination.
So getting to Giverny seemed easy enough – quick Metro ride to Gare Saint Lazare, 1.5 hour train to Vernon, quick connector bus to the village of Giverny. We had reserved tickets ahead of time for the 9:30 opening of Monet’s House and Gardens (you can buy tickets online for 1/2 day, either beginning at 9:30 or 1:30), so we took the earliest train from Paris at 7:40, arriving in Vernon just after 9:00.
Perhaps I was still stuck in my travel habits of yore, or maybe it was just naive optimism, because I don’t know how I thought this would be no problem with a toddler in tow. Our girl is mobile now, and she gets ANTSY. She required constant attention on all modes of transportation, so by the time we actually made it to Giverny (which, for your average, baby-free traveler, would’ve been stress-free), I was already exhausted. Then, as we disembark the train at Vernon, so does EVERY OTHER PASSENGER. This should have been a sign of things to come.
As should have the long line to get on the “short, easy, connector bus.”
As should have the fact that the village of Giverny actually has its own parking lot.
By the time we reached Monet’s House (alongside the crowds arriving with us) and I saw the massive queue alongside the entrance (despite it only having opened about 5 minutes prior), my dreams of a tranquil day enjoying art and nature fully dissipated, and I had to come to terms that we were essentially in a DisneyWorld village of art.
The “advance purchase” ticket holders do have their own line, fortunately, which helped us avoid one crowd. Unfortunately, on this morning, the queue control staff lumped us together with “group tickets” (despite labeled and intended SEPARATE entrances), and we were put into another crowd with every foreign umbrella tour group imaginable. Here my patience gave out and I refused to stand and wait, opting to stroll around town instead and try again later.
On the plus side, Giverny is beautiful. It’s tucked along a hillside, and its few cobblestone streets are punctuated with charming rural dwellings. I can’t speak to its authenticity in that regard (again, DisneyWorld), but I’ll choose to ignore that for now. Early June is also a beautiful time to visit, because everything is in bloom. There are gorgeous flowers everywhere, making the whole village a lovely photo op, if you can capture a rare moment without people loitering in your shot. Our stroll took us to the far end of the village to an area that is less tourist-packed and instead filled with charming bed and breakfasts. It was an enjoyable walk that, in the beginning, succeeded in its intended effect of allaying my impatience. However, it was also unseasonably hot and sunny on this particular day, so even a quiet stroll became a struggle as the sun beat down.
Sweating and dehydrated, we finally entered the House and Gardens around 11:00 – no long queue this time, until we actually made it inside. Then it was shoulder-to-shoulder crawling through the gardens (which were lovely) to the house, the journey at a snail’s pace as everyone with a iPhone found photographing of every single flower entirely necessary. It would’ve been a nice kid- and stroller-friendly garden, but the masses of people made it nearly impossible to navigate. (Thank god we got the Pockit stroller and could fold it up and carry it.) This slow-paced queue continued inside the house that was lovely and airy (or would’ve been, without the herded cattle pace we were experiencing), and it was full of beautiful paintings – but there wasn’t a single placard to read, so I really have no idea what I was seeing (not that I saw much, as I alternated between carrying and holding the hand of our antsy child who wanted to see and touch everything).
The most relaxing part of the day was the lunch we finally ate at a cafe on the farther end of the village, a spot actually not overrun by tourist groups, miraculously. Colin enjoyed a burger, and I a hearty soup and salad, while chugging the absolute best Perrier I’ve ever had. (Maybe there’s some bias here.) We had booked a 2:53 train back into Paris and had about an hour to kill before catching the connector bus back to Vernon. This waiting part was miserable and reminded me so vividly of exactly why I moved out of New York – the inefficiencies of travel that is dependent on public transportation (be it for weekend pleasures or for your everyday needs) can be mind-numbingly, frustratingly, exhausting.
So here I share the photos that present a prettier representation of our experience (because isn’t that what social media is supposed to do – share a false reality?? haha), and here is my advice regarding a visit to Giverny:
Avoid in the heat; avoid on a weekend (especially what turned out to be a holiday weekend in June) – VISIT IN THE WINTER!