Saturday, May 2, 2015

Hither, Thither and Yon!

From car trips to Giverny, train trips to London, boat trips to Greenwich, and back to Paris, we seem to have covered a lot of ground in the last ten days, all of it immensely enjoyable, some of it utterly unforgettable. Here's a brief rundown:

First stop was a delightful visit to Claude Monet's home and gardens at Giverny, where I had not been for many years, and never at this time of year. School spring break has been in full swing, with lovely sun-drenched days, but for those not able to travel too far from Paris, a day trip seemed like a perfect outing.

Nephew Sean cleverly checked out one of Paris' famous autolib electric cars, packed a picnic lunch, loaded up Miss Florence, her friend Natasha and me, and off we went.
We had a lovely guide, who somehow managed to navigate us around the crowds of other visitors so that we could actually have an uninterrupted view of the main allée of the upper garden.

 Moving to the side beds, we met the main gardener (who is English!) and admired the diligence of members of the relatively small team of gardeners (ten), who take care of everything -- we never saw a single "dead-head"...

Tulips definitely were the stars everywhere you looked, but poppies, pansies, wallflowers and forget-me-nots managed to peek through and add to the canvas of colors.

Most of the tulips are the modern annual varieties whose bulbs are planted and then dug up every year, but there are a few of the perennial "ancient" varieties like these spiky blossoms, whose roots (ha ha!) date back to the "tulip mania" in Holland in the 17th century.

The variety of tulip species and range of colors really amazed us. I especially loved this one that looked almost like a camellia blossom.

Moving to the lower water gardens, we found spashes of intense color from flowering azalea bushes, wisteria almost ready to burst forth, and the lily pads quietly hibernating for a couple more months.

We contented ourselves with watching how carefully the gardener worked his way around the ponds, diligently scooping out any dropped leaves or other kind of "pond scum", so that those lilies would have all the space they need to do their magic.

Maybe we can make a return visit in a couple of months to check them out!

Our drive back to Paris became quite an adventure when we found we were running out of electric power and would not make it all the way. Sean quickly calculated the nearest autolib station in the Paris area, how fast we should drive so we could reach it, then cleverly got behind a semi-truck that pulled us along in its wake. All of a sudden, we were all startled by a loud voice coming from the dashboard: "Attention vous avez moins de 20%"! At first, we thought it was a recording, but, no, it was a real person at Autolib Central, making sure we knew we were running out of electric power! I still can't figure out how he did that, but we assured him we were going to be okay, and I was impressed that he could actually be in direct contact with us. Hmm, maybe he could hear everything that was said throughout the day!

Two days later, we took the Eurostar to London, where this gorgeous Ceanothus tree was in full flower in a quiet mews in Primrose Hill.  Lovely as this was, I was in England for something else, a true trip down memory lane, back to my old High School, St. Bernard's Convent in Slough, Bucks, where I last set foot in 1956!

Imagine my astonishment and relief, when the taxi turned in the driveway, to find the main school building and the adjacent chapel absolutely unchanged. I felt as though I was stepping through a time machine, the years just fell away and I found myself almost running through the side door, just as we all did back then!

Inside, I continued to be astonished. Although no longer a convent school, (it's been a co-ed grammar day school since the 1980s), the floor plan and the "feel", the air almost, seemed identical  Certainly, the floor tile has not changed...

 ...the view from my old dorm window is exactly the same, although the room itself is now a computer lab. The bell tower on the left rang every morning at 5:30, calling the nuns to prayer, and waking those of us who slept closest...

...the main central stairway now features a statue of the Virgin Mary. In my day, St. Bernard stood proudly looking down, and rumor had it that on his feast day (August 15), he would step down and roam the corridors...

A bulletin board in the entry way included a photo of someone I knew as Gillian Levi (two or three classes ahead of me), who took orders and eventually became head of the school. I could never have imagined that back then!

What I also could never have imagined is that my best pal, Sue Warren -- here we are as sulky teenagers on a school trip to Rome -- would join me at the reunion all these years later...

...but there she was, and, oh boy, were we happy to see each other!

I don't think we stopped laughing the whole afternoon!  And I know for sure we won't let any years go by without staying in touch. What a great day!

Meanwhile, Matthew spent the day with his friend Walter, at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, designed by Christopher Wren in the late 17th/early 18th century.

Here, they straddled the meridien...

...ogled all four of John Harrison's brilliant longitude clocks in the Royal Naval Observatory...

...admired the ball on top of the octagon room of the Observatory...

...and were gob-smacked by the ceiling in the "painted hall" in the Royal Naval College. Designed by Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, its original function was to be the dining hall for naval veterans who lived at the Royal Hospital for Seamen.

The painter James Thornhill was charged with the interior decoration and directed to do honor to Britain's naval prowess and not to overlook the King (William of Orange)!

He included himself, modestly hiding his palette behind him, but on completion, he had created such an extraordinary decor that it was deemed to be way too grand to be a mere dining hall. The Painted Room became a venue for formal events, including the lying in state of Admiral Nelson after the Battle of Trafalgar.

With all this brilliant history (personal and national!) swirling around and over us, what could be better than a "circular cruise" on the River Thames, up under Tower Bridge...

...turn and go back down past the Tower of London and Traitor's Gate...

...all the way down to Big Ben...

...and, the most popular attraction in all of England, The London Eye!

We even squeezed in an evening performance at The Globe Theatre, an exact replica of the theatre that stood on the South Bank in the days of William Shakespeare, where the current production is The Merchant of Venice, with Jonathan Pryce brilliant in the role of Shylock. A play I studied at St. Bernard's Convent way back when, and I found myself muttering some of the more familiar stanzas along with the actors ("The quality of mercy is not speak an infinite deal of nothing...all that glisters is not gold", etc.). The theatre itself is "in the round" with standing room only in the centre beneath the open roof, and the entire place was packed. If you ever saw the film "Shakespeare in Love" you will know exactly the layout!

A lovely "Kate and Sidney" pie (Steak & Kidney) on a bed of mashed potatoes, with half a pint of London Pride Ale, and we hopped back on the Eurostar for the quick return to Paris....

...where it's been raining pretty much nonstop since Sunday night. Even the "Passages" are bringing out the umbrellas...

...and for those of us who like to indulge, it's a great excuse to stay indoors for some serious rounds of Machiavelli!

À bientôt!


  1. Adore Monets work sad you had no time to say high in the UK getting used to wig lol thank you for your donation support and believe in me xxx

  2. How great to get to the gardens of Giverny. I've never been. And then your weekend to London left be breathless, and sorry not to have been with you. But it sounded perfect. mxm

  3. Your postings are always informative, entertaining, amusing and fun....This is one of the very best...great photos of these two outings and wonderful insights along the way...THANK YOU so much for sharing!

    1. Nice to hear from you, Rick! I should give credit to Matthew and his friend Walter for the Greenwich photos!

  4. Dear Janet,

    Yes a wonderful set of stories and pictures. (I love how the eyes is perfectly haloing you...) Giverny, ohhhh. What fun at the reunion! hugs, Lyons