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Les nymphs in bloom near the Japanese bridge

If the lazy days of summer could have a poster child, I would make the perfect candidate. Late night movies and even later morning coffees.  Easy going schedules, or even better, no schedule at all.  Well, all that laid-back living comes to a screeching end on Monday as our kids go back to school.  So, I thought what better way to mark the end of all the pleasures of summer than with a trip through Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, a 45-minute drive west of Paris.

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Le Petit Giverny just as they opened for lunch

Two friends from the States were visiting, and we planned to take the train, but this being France, there was a strike. Rail schedules across the country were cut in half or canceled altogether.  Either way, the rental car agencies were happy as could be, and so were we when we found an available car at Sixt in La Defense, on the far western edge of Paris.  We were eager for an adventure, but not one that involved risking life and limb, okay, my rental insurance deductible, navigating the traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe!

Giverny Lunch 2 Part of our derailed travel plans included picking up picnic supplies and renting bikes in Vernon, then pedaling the half hour to Giverny.  Instead, we enjoyed a lovely lunch on the patio at Le Petit Giverny, located right next to the gardens. Seasonal dishes of market fresh veggies and delicious meats grilled simply over an open pit, served with a side of charm by our host.  They say travel requires flexibility and we were certainly rewarded for ours.

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The main alley in the garden

Next door, the sprawling gardens surrounding Monet’s home are bursting with color and displayed in a very natural style.  No perfectly trimmed boxwoods here.Monets garden 3Paths wind lazily through the lush landscape surrounding the iconic lily pond, encouraging visitors to linger while they enjoy the wide variety of flora.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by such a lovely setting?

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Monets gardens 4You know we’re going to talk a bit of history, so here it is. These beautiful grounds and house are the result of years of restoration beginning in the ’70s.  Following Monet’s death in 1926, his son, Michel, inherited the property, but never lived there. Instead, Monet’s step-daughter took care of it.  Unfortunately, after World War II, both the house and garden were neglected, leaving both in a terrible state of disrepair.  In 1966, Michel left it all to the Academie des Beaux-Arts.  Thanks to generous donations, repairs finally began almost a decade later and took nearly as long to complete.

To be perfectly honest, I’m having a terrible time breaking my lazy days habits…it’s now Tuesday and the kids have already started school.

 

 

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As many of you know, I began the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris back in March. It has been such an amazing experience, one filled with excitement, anxiety, and joy while living and studying in the most beautiful city in the world.  It has also kept me very busy.  With just a couple of school weeks remaining, now seems like a good time to go back to the beginning and share some of my Paris experience with you.

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During my first week in Paris, I was fortunate to take part in a private tour of the Hôtel de Ville with a wonderful group of ladies from the American Women’s Group, an expat club I joined before leaving home.  The original building, completed in 1628, was burned to the ground by protestors during the Commune government of 1870. Reconstruction, from 1837 to 1892, combined a copy of the original Renaissance façade with a more “modern” interior.

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Inside, the Neo renaissance-style décor is as detailed as it is magnificent.  Using the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles as inspiration, the architects and artists created the Hôtel’s glorious Salle des Fêtes, which plays host to celebrations both state and cultural. Paintings between the arches feature activities specific to the various regions of France.

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Murals include works by prominent artists of the day such as Raphaël CollinJean-Paul LaurensPuvis de Chavannes,Henri GervexAimé Morot.

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All chandeliers in the Hôtel were created by the world-famous French crystal maker, Baccarat.Hotel de VilleAmidst all the is grandeur, the Hôtel de Ville serves as the seat of the local government, housing the offices of the mayor and the city council among many others.  Our tour was stopped at the doorway due to official city business in the next room…

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Strolling down the rue du Four in Paris’s 6th, we discovered the smallest bakery in Europe. Literally. Cupcake & Macaron boasts about its diminutive size on a sign outside the door, and they are not overstating the facts.  The interior is barely wide enough for two.  It can best described as a nicely decorated closet…

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Our daughter, Avery

only this closet features a jewelry case full of delectable sweets!  We waited for just a moment before a delightful young man appeared from the other side of a slender door to take our order. Now, it’s important to know that while French cupcakes resemble those buttercream-covered sweets from birthday parties past, they have a style all their own.  Most notably, these aren’t as sweet.  Instead, emphasis is placed on flavors in combinations like coffee and hazelnut, vanilla and jasmine, even lemon and coconut.

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After much discussion, we chose lemon meringue and chocolate raspberry.  When we turned to leave with cupcakes in hand, our dessert advisor asked if we might stay and eat our treats right there.  He said he wanted to see our faces when we tasted them. O-kay, like that’s not weird at all.  Alas, the French habit of eating everything with a knife and fork applies to paper-wrapped, handheld desserts as well.  No peeling the baking cup off the cake, nope, use a fork.  Turns out this is a good idea because the filling tucked inside gushes out the bottom when bitten into.  Maybe our charming consultant had attempted to save us this embarrassment by inviting us to stay? C’est possible.  The lemon cupcake had a bright flavor with a balanced sweetness, while the chocolate raspberry was delicious, or so I was told.  Avery didn’t offer to share her cupcake.

 

Cupcake and Macaron, 1 rue du Four, 75006

 

School update: I fly to Paris tonight! I hear spring is already in full bloom so you can expect some photos of a gorgeous Paris soon!