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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 05.27.15
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL
All photos by author and Kathy Cavanaugh

Rendevous with Monet

The Viking Pride got underway as we slept and traveled fifty miles downriver through two locks to reach Vernon. The River Seine is much straighter through this section, with steep chalk cliffs that were visible in early morning.

The main features of the small towns that we passed are the church and the castle. Vernon has the ruins of a 12th century castle; only the keep, a type of fortified tower built within castles during the Middle Ages, remains standing. Vernon also has several piers of a 12th century stone bridge with the toll taker's house intact. In later years, the house served as a mill. The Pride docked in downtown Vernon.

I never heard of Vernon, France, and why would anyone want to go there? Vernon is a small town of 25,000 people about 50 miles, by road, northwest of Paris. It is, of course, on the Seine River, which flows northwest. Unlike what we are used to in parts of the United States (northern Vermont is one exception), many rivers in northern Europe flow north. The main reason for our stop in Vernon was to meet our coaches for the ride to Giverny, which was the home of Claude Monet. Monet's garden in Giverny was the part of the trip that Kathy was looking forward to with high expectations and anticipation.

Monet with his model and wife, Camille, moved out of Paris to Vétheuil and lived with his friend, Ernest Hoschedé. Camille was diagnosed with uterine cancer and died in 1879. She was thirty-two. Alice Hoschedé helped Monet to raise his two sons as well as her six children. Monet, Alice and the children moved to Giverny in 1883 and in 1892, after the death of her estranged husband, Alice and Monet were married.

Giverny

Giverny is a very small town, and Monet lived there until his death in 1926.

We were treated to a guided tour of Monet's garden and then his house. The garden is spectacular and includes a diverted stream, a pond. and an amazing number and variety of native and imported plants. The pictures tell the story.

Giverny

Giverny

Monet painted many pictures of his garden and the features such as the Japanese Bridge can be seen in his paintings as well as in the photos.

Giverny

Giverny

(The first picture is: In the Garden, 1895, Collection E. G. Buehrle, Zürich and the second is: Water Lilies and the Japanese bridge, 1897-99, Princeton University Art Museum.)

I think it takes the entire village to maintain the garden. The gentleman in the boat is collecting dead water lilies. The garden was a 20-year design project for Monet for which he provided daily written instructions to his gardeners. In addition, the garden served as the subject for many painting over the period. The white water lilies are native to France and served as a subject for Monet for the 20-year period.

Giverny

Giverny

From the garden we went into Monet's house. Our guide kept up running narration even though guides are not allowed inside. She was amazing because her discussion kept pace with Kathy and my progression through the house.

The Monet paintings in the house were copies; the originals are in museums to keep them from being damaged. Monet's amazing collection of Japanese woodblock prints was still in the house and many had faded. We were told by our Paris guide, Thierry, to make sure we visited the kitchen of Monet's house; it was great.

The kitchen was painted bright yellow with yellow table and chairs. One wall had blue and white tiles with a big black stove in the corner; windows looked out over the garden and a wall of copper pots and paintings.

We had time to stroll the village of Giverny and have un café et tarte aux pommes; apples and apple tarts are local specialties in Normandy. We then boarded the coach to return to Vernon and lunch on the ship.

After lunch we had a guided tour of Vernon. The attractions of Vernon include the remains of the old bridge and castle, mentioned earlier, timbered houses dating from the 15th century and Notre-Dame of Vernon, which was started in the 11th century and completed in the 17th century.

During the 100 Years War, Vernon spent about 35 years under English control before the French won. In WWII, the residents of Vernon played a large part in the resistance, destroyed the bridge impeding the German army's retreat and essentially liberated the town from the German army.

One of the things I like about the guided tours is that the guides are local and knowledgeable. This provides contact with local people that the ship does not and tidbits of data. For example, Philippe Nguyen Thanh was mayor of Vernon from 2008 thru 2014; it speaks volumes.

The first picture is of the Rue de Saint-Sauveur showing the church on the left. The second shows the remains of the castle and an 18th century residence.

Vernon

Vernon

Our guided tour ended near the old castle and we were on our own to wander the town. Kathy and I checked out the city hall and decided we would go into the church. Inside the 11th century original walls were clearly visible. I was shocked that the entry to the church had no donation box, Notre Dame de Vernon may be the only one in Europe.

On the way back to the Pride, just two blocks from the church, we met our guide. Based on her discussion during the tour, it was clear she attended the church. I mentioned the lack of the donation box. She expressed surprise and I offered her a bill to give to the church. To my surprise, she returned it; I looked, and I had given her 10 Swedish Kronor. I replaced it with Euros, which she accepted.

Vernon

Time for a glass of wine in the ship's lounge. Santé!

And on to Rouen

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