Seine River Valley

There are interesting sights to see up and down the Seine River, which snakes its way from Paris
through Normandy and Rouen to the English Channel. Giverny is not really one of them. It was
the home of Impressionist painter Claude Monet, who tended an enormous set of gardens here,
including a pond of water lilies, which he painted and are among his most famous paintings.

His house and gardens are open to the public--and, boy, are they ever open to the public!
They swarmed with so many people, dumped by the tour bus load, that it was difficult to
get away from the crowds. The gardens were nice, but hardly worth the effort to get there.

The irises were in bloom, though, in huge banks of varied colors.

Not far from Giverny lies the twin villages called Les Andelys. Not much going on there,
but it did allow us the chance to get away from the mobs of tourists at Giverny.

The real sight at Les Andelys is the ruined castle of Château-Gaillard. It was built by Richard the
Lion-Hearted, back in the twelfth century when he was King of England and also Duke of Normandy.
Then, it protected the border between the English-held lands in France and those belonging directly to
the King of France. But the King of France, Philip II, was uncomfortable with so powerful a fortress on
his borders, not all that far from Paris, so while King Richard was off on crusade he captured the castle
and demolished it. So it only existed for a dozen years. Even so, what remains of it is still impressive.

Also along the Seine River are found the remnants of three huge medieval monasteries.

One is the monastery of Saint-Wandrille, also called Fontenelle Abbey. It was founded in the
seventh century by Saint Wandregesil, after whom it is named, and though it was closed and
abandoned twice in its history, it is still a monastery, and we listened to the monks singing
some Gregorian chant while we visited. Most of the medieval buildings have fallen into ruin.

As ruined monasteries go, though, none can really compare with Jumièges. It was built
by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century, and was one of the largest monasteries
in Normandy. It survived up until the French Revolution. When Christianity was briefly
abolished in France, it was sold to a man who began to demolish it to sell off its stone to
be used for construction material. Only the gatehouse surives intact of all its buildings.

What remains of the main church is hauntingly beautiful.

The third of these monasteries, only a few miles from the house where we stayed, is called Le Bec-Hellouin.
It was also a large monastery, but one almost entirely demolished during the French Revolution,
so only a single bell tower survives of the medieval church.

It, too, houses monks once again, but in the monastery's other buildings that remain.

Below, the former refectory (dining hall), is now the monks' chapel.

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