I'm going to Paris at the end of May and wanted to know if anyone has been to Monet's house/gardens. If so, how difficult would it be to go without being on a tour?
Monet's home/garden/pond are at Giverny in the country northwest of Paris, about half way to Rouen. It takes most of a day to visit. You probably already know this: NONE of his original paintings are at Giverny, all paintings at Giverny are copies. His big water lily panels are at the renovated L'Orangerie museum, and much more Monet is at the Marmottan and the Orsay museums, all in Paris. You can sign up for a tour that will pick you up at your Paris hotel or a nearby location. If you do it on your own, Rick has a half page in his book "Paris" giving exact directions, to summarize it, take a train to Vernon and then take a bus or taxi to Giverny. And since 2007 there is a shuttle bus from the Vernon train station to Giverny, at least at certain times of the year (I don't know about off-season).
Rick does have very detailed instructions on how to get to Giverny and train services are (generally) reliable in France (just watch out for Tuesdays ... they seemed to be "strike day" every few weeks when I lived in France). Get the earliest train to Giverny as possible. The gardens fill up quick and there is nothing like getting in as one of the first admissions and having the waterlily ponds all to yourself. Bypass the house and gardens and head straight to the tunnel that goes under the road and into the pond area. If you're early enough, see that first before the crowds descend.
I found the gardens more memorable than the house itself- and agree to go to them ASAP upon arrival. If it's a nice day, the main "road" (quite small) itself was like a painting, with hollyhocks everywhere. You can walk up to the charming little church (about 10 minutes each way) and see his grave.
I would suggest you try and go during the week or early if you can. May is prime season. The gardens as well as the train get very busy with locals on the weekend. If you can go mid-week you may not fight as many crowds.
Also, consider going to Musee Marmottan Monet before going (day or two for example) and look at the Monet paintings. It then gives you a bit of a true sense of what he was seeing while painting.
I was there in April one year, & the masses of pink & blue tulips by the house & the wisteria on the bridge were incredible. Another time in July the roses were in full bloom. It's definitely worth the trouble to get there if you're a Monet fan or a garden fan. Does anyone have a recommendation for a lunch stop there? (not too pricey, if that's possible) I can't remember the name of the place we ate before...but it seems as if we exited the house in the back (?) & walked a short way down a street to the left. (That was more than 10 yrs ago, however!) We'll be there in early May.
Very easy to do without a tour.
I'll add to the general info about Giverney that the French system of walking trails, called randonees, pass though Giverny and the countryside near Monet's house is lovely. (The trail picks up at the other side of the village from the house.)
It is even possible to walk to the train station, though I think that walk is not so pleasant.
My sister and I went 2 summers ago and had no difficulty with the directions in Rick Steves book. The only issue we had was that we went on a weekend and missed the last bus connection that meets the train(We didn't miss it-it was actually full). We had to wait about 30-45 min. for an available taxi which made us rush a little..SO leave early and you shouldn't have any problems...
I visited in May years ago. We went on Sunday of a French holiday weekend. There were so many visitors that we were unable to get a taxi, so being young & dumb, walked. Then we stood in line to get in for hours. The garden was so full of people that all of my pictures are filled with people except for those of the water.
So, my suggestion: don't go on a Sunday or a holiday. Otherwise, It's worth going to. I'm going to have to try it again especially if there's now a shuttle.
I would like to thank everyone for responding to my question. Your advice will be put to good use. And thanks for the tip about where to get lunch!