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Monet’s House and Gardens at Giverny just might be my favorite place in the world. It is seriously one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. You can see many of Monet’s paintings in his gardens, which were carefully planned and cultivated over many decades. The flowers look as though they were planted haphazardly with roses mixing in with poppies, and irises, and daisies. It makes for an explosion of color that dazzles the eye. Walk through a tunnel at the far end of the garden and you emerge in the water garden, where you can see Monet’s water lilies in the flesh.

Yes, there are hoards of people, but the garden somehow still manages to evoke a lazy summer’s day. I spent hours just wandering through the gardens, drinking in the scene, stopping to smell flowers here and there and take photos.

Monet’s house is also on the grounds, but it doesn’t prove anywhere near as interesting as the gardens themselves. There are a couple of cool Japanese prints in the house, but the real attraction is definitely the flowers.

This is one of the few sites where I would actually recommend visiting the gift shop. If you, or anyone you know, has a green thumb, you can purchase seeds from the actual garden, so you can build your own little piece of Giverny back home.

An easy day trip from Paris, Giverny is one of my top sites in Europe. Enjoy life at a slower pace and take in these beautiful gardens at your leisure.

Pro tip: For an even better experience, go see Monet’s water lilies paintings at the Orangerie first. You will be able to pick out the exact spots in his garden that the paintings depict, and it adds a much greater depth to your appreciation for both the paintings and the gardens.

February 15, 2017 0 comment
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I so desperately wanted to love Versailles. The history, the splendor! Marie Antoinette! But sadly, Versailles was a bit disappointing. Don’t get me wrong – it is beautiful and opulent and worth seeing, but you better be prepared for the thousands of other people pushing in on you from all sides. That’s right – Versailles has been overrun.

There were so many people that I could barely move around. I’m sure the Hall of Mirrors is spectacular, but there was so many people packed in there I could barely see it. Forget getting to the front of displays: you’ll be fighting with hundreds of other people just to move from room to room.

And you better be prepared to wait a really long time to get in, even if you have advanced tickets or a Paris Museum Pass.

The gardens were slightly better. You at least have room to breath. And the other two sites, the Petite Trianon and Marie’s Antoinette’s house are far less crowded than the main palace.

I guess what I’m saying is not that you should skip Versailles, but that you should manage your expectations. If you are a romantic or a history buff like me, you might be a little disappointed by how tourist-ridden the site is.

What do you think? What was your experience at Versailles?

February 1, 2017 0 comment
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There was one part of my France trip that I was more excited about than any other – canoeing the Dordogne and visiting the opposing castles. You see, during the 100 Years War, the French and English built castles on opposite shores of the Dordogne River. The castles are usually considered “paired” – one English to one French.

Today, you can visit the castles by land or, more excitingly, by canoe, traveling the Dordogne river. There are many canoe outfitters and tourist companies who will drop you off and pick you up at various stops along the river. You just canoe from one castle to another, hiking up to each one, and paddling on to the next.

I wanted to do this – badly. But remember what I said about all that rain in Spain? Well apparently is had been raining a lot in France too, and the river was far too high and fast to boat. How high, I learned the hard way.

Unable to take the river, I decided to follow my travel guru and personal hero Rick Steves’ advice to walk the river path between Beynac and Castlenaud. The signs submerged in the river should have been a clue. But oh no, I kept going. Water across the path – I took off my shoes and waded it. More water, kept going. Finally I got to a point where a whole field was flooded and the water was moving fast. I waded up to my knees before I realized  – this was not going to work. So I walked across some fields and out to the road and walked to Castlenaud that way. Was I sad about the river – hell, yes. But the way I made the trip makes for a pretty good story and a day I will never forget. Disappointment happens on trips – what matters is your ability to make the most of it.

October 27, 2015 0 comment
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