Giverny, France - Some people have really high expectations for themselves. Take Claude Monet, for example, who once complained, "Apart from painting and gardening, I'm not good at anything."
I already know about his artistic gifts. I'm hoping a trip to Monet's house and garden 70 kilometres outside Paris may satisfy my curiosity about his green thumb.
Getting to Giverny is easy even for someone who speaks limited French, as I do. I take an express train from the Gare St.-Lazare to the ancient city of Vernon in Normandy and then hop on a bus for the final few kilometres.
I arrive early enough to enjoy lunch nearby before touring Monet's house and gardens. Dining in the dappled shade of plane trees outside the Hotel Baudy, a hangout for American and French artists in the late 1880s, I share my omelette, but not my glass of wine, with a marmalade cat that politely meows merci.
It's achingly picturesque. Even the walk to the bathrooms meanders past a rustic studio on a path bordered with roses and daisies.
The museum grounds are entered via Monet's old studio, now a first-class shop. No photography is allowed inside, so it's advisable to stock up on postcards and books on the way out.
I catch a glimpse of the verdant gardens but start my visit with the house. Like Monet's paintings, the interior is awash in vibrant hues. One hallway is covered in antique Japanese prints. Alice's (Monet's wife) bedroom has leaf-green walls and sky-blue trim. The living room is the colour of a robin's egg, and the curvy moulding around the wood panelling is outlined in peacock blue.
I feel like I've stepped inside a ball of sunshine when I walk into the dining room. Everything, including tables, chairs and walls, is painted in shades of brilliant yellow. Two enormous china cabinets look cartoonish with their elaborate Rococo styling. The room is accented with piles of blue and white pottery.
The kitchen next door is plastered floor to ceiling with blue and white tiles and overflows with copper and brass pots and pans. I could live here easily.
Outside, I marvel at flowers blooming in harmonized colours. Masses of roses, dahlias, sunflowers and nasturtiums glow like brilliant jewels in the September sun. Monet's secret was to plant not in a traditional way but with an artist's eye for how the garden would be best reproduced on canvas.
The pond is dotted with lily pads and surrounded by stately weeping willows. It holds a perfect reflection of the cloudless afternoon sky. In the past, coal-burning trains used to chug by here, and I recall a bizarre story - that Monet asked his gardeners to brush soot from the lilies before he painted them.
I fall in love with one particular aspect of the exterior, a vivid green that appears everywhere; on the doors, shutters, benches, trellises and the Japanese bridge. It makes everything from the pink stucco on the house to the pots of red geraniums appear more vibrant.
I'm disheartened, thinking I'll never remember this exact shade of green, but then I notice a small blister of paint peeling from the bottom of the front stairs. I bend over to examine it more closely and - voila! The chip magically hops into my tote bag.
Two hours later, I'm almost cross-eyed from all the colours and sensory overload.
Back on the tour bus to the station, I have an argument with the driver, who wants to see my return ticket. It's lost in the maze of paper and postcards in the bottom of my bag, but he grudgingly lets me ride. It's unlikely anyone would buy a one-way ticket anyhow. The road to Giverny is narrow, hilly and without sidewalks.
In Vernon, waiting for the train to Paris, I quaff a cold Kronenbourg beer, examine my tiny sliver of paint and smile. I may never have Monet's green thumb, but at least I'll have his green paint.