2016-07-22 (Day 36) Dangu – Saint Pierre du Vauvray

Today’s photo shows a wooden gated entrance to a garden in Giverny in France. But this is no ordinary wooden garden gate. For this is the entrance to Claude Monet’s lily pond garden, where he would sit for hours painting the willow trees and the water lilies floating on the water. Monet’s style of painting was known as Impressionism and he painted most of his most famous works behind the gate in the photo above. Apparently, there is now a tunnel under the road which connects his residence on the opposite side of the road to the lily pond garden. Consequently, the wooden gate in the above picture is very rarely opened nowadays but in Monet’s time this was the only way to access the lily pond garden. It is estimated that Monet painted about 250 paintings in his lily pond garden over a 30 year period. But before he started work on any of those paintings, he would have crossed the road here and then opened this wooden garden gate.

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Menzel like photo of all my clothes and equipment outside my tent. My day had began at Camping Etang Fond de l’Aulnaie like any other day by emptying out my tent and then packing it away. But today, because it was such a beautiful sunny morning, I thought I would take a photo of all my equipment outside the tent before I loaded everything onto Travoy. The result reminded me of some of the photos in Peter Menzel’s book “Material World.  Peter Menzel is a famous American photographer who travels around the world taking photos of people outside their home surrounded by their possessions.

Typical Menzel photos of a house in Japan, India, France and Mongolia. It is interesting to compare the possessions most people have in rich counties such as France and Japan compared to in much poorer places such as India. Personally, I probably have more in common with the nomadic Mongolian family than any of the other families shown. Despite living in a yurt, they have a stove, big screen TV, a satellite dish, a wind turbine and a sewing machine. How they manage to fit all this onto their small cart I have no idea. They may have a small truck in addition to their cart but Menzel for some reason, never included vehicles in his photos for Material World.

Some of Menzel’s photo’s are like eviction photos in 19th Century Ireland. The photo of a poor family in India surrounded by some pots and a few earthen jars reminds me of photos of Irish families from 150 years ago just after they had been evicted. India is one of the most advanced countries in the world and is one of the few nations with a space program and nuclear weapons. Some of the richest people in the world reside there but it also among the most income inequality countries in the world with millions of it’s population living in extreme poverty. The Yavdev family in the photo above apparently have no savings and in the past have gone weeks without any food. This in a country with some of the most productive farmland in the world. Peter Menzel’s photo’s highlight this income inequality in a way that economic statistics and GDP growth do not.

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Travoy leaving Camping Etang Fond de l’Aulnaie. The campsite was surrounded by small lakes, known in France as “etang”, and there were quite a few people out fishing as I was leaving. To go fishing in France, you need a permit which can be bought at local newsagents or online from Cartedepeche.fr. A weekly permit costs €32 and entitles you to fish from sunrise to sunset at any public lake or river. The cost of an annual permit varies from region to region but here in l’Eure, annual permits are available from €80.

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Total cycled today – 70 km. Total cycled so far – 1560 km. No need for gears today as the route was mostly flat. The first 25 km of today’s cycle was on a greenway while the 2nd half followed the route of the River Seine.

Greenway between Dangu and Gasny. Near Saint Clair sur Epte, there was a cabinet full of books alongside the greenway. There were about 20 books, mostly novels, inside the cabinet all in French. It is a lovely idea but obviously one more designed to cater to hikers than cyclists. Also, there didn’t seem to be any seats nearby for you to sit down and read one of the books.

Natural gas main being installed in Bray et Lu. GRDF supply gas to 11 million customers in France via a network of 200,000 km of pipes, which is longest network of any gas company in Europe. France produces very little natural gas and instead imports it from other countries. About a quarter of the gas in France comes from Russia and the country also imports large quantities from Norway, the Netherlands and their former colony of Algeria. France has 3 LNG terminals around its coast and there are plans to add a fourth near Dunkerque. But it is incredible to see a small village in rural France which is at least 20 km from the nearest big town being connected to the gas network.

Medieval town of Giverny. The small French village of Giverny is famous the world over for being the home of the Impressionist painter, Claude Monet. Monet moved here aged 43 and continued to live here for the next 43 years until his death in 1926.

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Map of Monet’s garden and lily pond. As you can see from the map above, there are two parts to his garden. The first part located directly behind Monet’s house, called Clos-Normand, is where there are rows and rows of colorful flowers. The second part, which is accessed via an underground pedestrian tunnel, is the part most people want to see as that is where the Japanese-style bridges, willow trees, ponds and waterlilies are located.

Monet’s house and back garden.  Monet was born in Paris and grew up in Le Havre but moved to Giverny in 1883. Initially, he rented this house but as he gained more success as a painter, he earned enough money to buy his house outright. In 1893, he bought a meadow across the road from his house and spent years converting this into a Japanese water garden. Monet died in 1926 but his stepdaughter, Blanche, continued to live in Monet’s house until she died in 1947. In 1966, it was bequeathed to the French Academy of Fine Arts by Monet’s son Michel. After restoration of the house and gardens, Fondation Claude Monet was created in 1980 and in the same year his house and gardens became a museum open to the public. With a total of over 500,000 visitors annually, it is the second most visited tourist site in Normandy nowadays after the Mont-Saint-Michel.

Japanese style bridge in the lily pond garden (left) and how it was depicted in Monet’s painting “Waterlilies” (right). In 1893, Monet bought a two-acre meadow across the road from his home in Giverny. He diverted the River Epte, a tributary of the Seine, to create a water garden, adorning it with water lilies from Egypt and South America. The neighbors and local council objected, convinced he would poison their water with his strange flowers, but Monet proceeded anyway. He’d go on to paint some 250 water-lily paintings in this garden over the final 30 years of his life. In 1899, he built a Japanese style bridge across his water lily pond and that year alone, would paint 17 versions of the bridge with only slight variations due to the light and the seasons.

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Monet’s painting Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas (1899). In the 70’s, this painting by Monet of his water lily pond was bought by Imelda Marcos, wife of Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, and stored at an apartment owned by her in Manhattan. This painting along with other art pieces ended up vanishing after a 1986 “people power” revolt sent the longtime President Marcos into exile in Hawaii. In 2010, the painting was put up for sale by Vilma Bautista, a former secretary of Imelda Marcos. She claimed to have a “Certificate of Authenticity” from Imelda allowing her to sell the painting and the painting was later bought by a Swiss hedge fund run by billionaire British banker, Alan Howard, for $42 million. When they found out about the sale, the Philippines government claimed that the painting was their property and that Bautista be arrested for theft. In October 2013, Bautista was sentenced to 6 years in prison by a court in New York for fencing the painting and not declaring it’s sale to the tax authorities.As to who now owns the painting, i.e either the Philippine government or Alan Howard, I have no idea.

House on the outskirts of Vernon. A plaque on this house says “This house was constructed on the location from where Prussian troops bombed Vernon on the 22nd October 1870”. Germany had invaded France in July 1870 and surrounded Paris on September 19th 1870. The German’s had no intention of attacking Paris and planned to force the French into submission by laying siege to Paris. The French troops in Paris attempted on a number of occasions to break out from the siege including here at Vernon on the 22nd October. But each time they were pushed back by German artillery suffering huge casualties. Due to a severe shortage of food, Parisians were forced to slaughter whatever animals were at hand. Rats, dogs, cats, and horses were regular fare on restaurant menus. Even Castor and Pollux, the only pair of elephants in Paris, were not spared. In January 1871, the Prussians started bombing the centre of Paris with artillery and this forced the city to surrender on 28th January 1871. Paris suffered more damage in the 1870-71 Franco Prussian war than it did in either World War 1 or 2. Defeat in this war also led to Alsace and Lorraine being annexed by the German Empire and this was a major cause of World War 1.

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Chateau Gaillard overlooking the small town of Les Andeleys. Chateau Galliard was built in 2 years between 1196-1198 by Richard the Lionheart. Normally, castles took decades to build so thousands of men must have worked on Chateau Gaillard in order to build it so quick. Despite it’s hasty construction, it is considered today to be the most advanced and formidable castle built anywhere in 12th Century Europe.

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Chateau Gaillard overlooking the River Seine. During the 12th Century, Normandy was controlled by the English but after Richard the Lionheart died in 1199 in Limousin, Chateau Galliard was  captured by the French in 1204.In the 16th Century, it fell into ruin and was abandoned. It has remained unoccupied ever since though it is still safe to visit most of the castle nowadays.

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Source : Telegraph.co.uk

Camp Bastion, the British Army base in  Afghanistan. Chateau Gaillard’s equivalent today would probably be Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. Just like Richard the Lionheart’s castle, Camp Bastion was built in 2 years between 2006-2008 and abandoned within 8 years, when it was handed over to Afghanistan forces in 2014. Chateau Gaillard cost £12,000 which would be the equivalent of a billion pound today, which is roughly what the British spent on Camp Bastion. To put the money spent on Chateau Gaillard into context, it was roughly twice the sum he spent on Dover castle just a few years previously. Dover Castle is probably the finest 12th Century castle anywhere in the world so Chateau Gaillard was obviously intended to be a fortress and a symbol of Richard’s wealth. However, to the French, it was a symbol of occupation and it is therefore very unlikely to ever be restored.

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Freysinnet concrete arch bridge at Saint Pierre du Vauvray. This concrete arch bridge over the Seine is significant because it was designed by none other than the inventor of pre-stressed concrete himself, Eugene Freysinnet. A bridge was first built here in 1923 and at that time was the longest concrete arch bridge (132 m) in the world. In 1940, the bridge was destroyed during World War 2 but in 1948, a replica bridge was built almost exactly the same as the original. In 1975, it was added to the list of protected structures in France but it may need to be strengthened in the near future. Anytime a car crossed over the bridge, it would flex considerably. I have crossed hundred’s of bridges during this year’s and last year’s Tour de Travoy but the bridge here at Saint Pierre de Vauvray was the only one that I could tell was flexing as traffic crossed over it.

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Seine Princess cruise boat on the Seine. As I crossed over the concrete arch bridge at Saint Pierre de Vauvray, a river boat cruised underneath it going upriver on the Seine. The Seine Princess was built in 2002 and is operated by Croisi Europe. It takes 5 days to travel from Honfleur to Paris stopping off in Rouen and Versailles on the way. The boat is 110m long and has 67 cabins on board with space for 138 passengers. A typical cruise costs €800 per person which includes your food and board on the boat though day trips are extra. Croisi Europe are one of the biggest river cruise companies in the world and offer trips on about 20 rivers in Europe, as well as the Mekong river in Vietnam and the Volga river in Russia between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The company was founded by Gerard Schmitter in 1982 and operated it’s first boats on the Rhine near his home town of Strasbourg. Gerard died in 2012 but his business has been taken over by his 4 children and they have continued to expand every year by adding new routes and boats.

Camping de Saint Pierre. It was around 5 when I made it to my campsite for the night at Saint Pierre de Vauvrey. The campsite is located in the grounds of a chateau and is beautifully laid out. The owner had bottles of local apple cider for sale in the reception called cidre bouche or literally cider with a cork. I had the choice of  brut (dry) or doux (sweet). I didn’t want anything too fizzy so went for brut (dry). The owner then offered to put the bottle in a fridge for an hour so that it was extra cold. I collected it later that evening and while I originally intended to keep it, decided to drink it instead as there was already enough weight on Travoy. It was delicious and it was the perfect way to cool down after such a long day’s cycling.

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