Timeline: July 24th – 30th
I’ll put it right out there. This ended up being a long day full of challenges, hard physical work, overwhelming conditions at Versailles all capped off by a dinner so full of life, we went well into the night. It’s one I’ll long remember for the way all three of us took the day head on and made it ours.
Up early, checkout from the Cosmos went smoothly and we made our way down to the Oberkampf station to take line 5 to Gare d’Austerlitz to transfer to the RER C line to us take us to Versailles. Each of carried an individual daypack and the following luggage:
- Joanna – 22” Wheeled Carry-On
- Beverly – 22” and 25” Wheeled Carry-Ons
- Jerry – 22” Wheeled Carry-On
We hauled it all down a couple of flights of stairs to the boarding platforms, climbed on line 5 when it arrived and exited at Gare d’Austerlitz as planned. The walk to the RER platform was long with many flights of stairs, as the regional lines don’t cleanly intersect with the Metro. Just as we were about to take the stairs up to the boarding platform, a Metro employee in an orange vest informed us that the line wasn’t running due to maintenance work. We’d have to backtrack to the Metro and make a couple of transfers to eventually get to the RER to Versailles.
It was hard going with much lifting of heavy bags up and down stairs, but we made all of the transfers cleanly and eventually arrived at the Versailles terminal. From here it’s a quarter mile walk to the Palace entrance and as we walked along with a large crowd of people ticket agents offering to sell tickets to the palace approached them. We’d purchased ours on line thinking it would save us time and enable us to avoid lines. Imagine our surprise when we got to the gates of the palace grounds to see a very long serpentine line that would turn out be for the security check.
A helpful employee in the vest near the gates told us the wait would last about 90 minutes and he was surprisingly accurate. The plaza where you wait in line is composed of large cobblestones, making maneuvering the wheeled baggage a challenge and in the warm summer sun, we passed the time as best we could, draining the last of the Fanta Zero Bev had thoughtfully brought along, people watching, and making plans for the next few days.
We cleared security and left all of our baggage at the storage area and exited the office to discover we’d need to wait in another line, for about 30 minutes, to get the audio guide. Finally free of lines, we set off on the self-guided tour along with crowds so sizable, it at times seemed impossible that you would enjoy the experience.
This was our third trip to Versailles and as explained in some prior posts, it is nearly impossible to describe what you see; the scope and magnitude are overwhelming. You tour just a portion of one of the largest palaces ever constructed and it provides a glimpse at a life at court so stylized, wasteful of money and over the top in excess that it boggles our modern minds.
Visiting these great historical palaces and monuments during the season is much like visiting Disneyland at the height of its year. The magical moment you hope to experience, alone with some great art treasure or in a room so full of history the walls speak to you will never come, as you jostle for position, stare over someone’s shoulder, and repeatedly exclaim “Sorry” as you bump into someone by accident.
After a couple of hours all three of us had covered the main part of the tour and regrouped to grab a bit to eat. While Joanna went in search of Bev I sat down on a bench near the two restaurants, setting the camera (Nikon D40 whose first trip to Europe when it was brand new was 2007) beside me. Tired and hungry I wasn’t paying attention when a couple approached and asked if they could sit next to me, I picked up the camera and set it on the ground to my right, between the bench and a wall.
A few moments later Joanna appeared to say she’d found Bev and we could eat. I got up and followed her, bought our food, had our lunch, and as we were about to leave realized I’d left the camera upstairs at the bench. I hurriedly walked upstairs to check and of course, it was gone. I no sooner looked up though than I spotted one of the staff members who’d been standing at the top of the stairs near the bench when I sat there.
As I approached her, she recognized me (also because she saw me looking) and we communicated about the camera and she asked that I follow her down to security, which I did and fortunately, recovered the camera, a happy ending to what could have been a significant loss for us. It is easy to get distracted when traveling and hard to constantly keep track of your belongings, ever mindful of the warnings one receives about pickpockets and thefts from cars. So far we’ve been lucky and hoping that it holds for us.
We finished up the palace by visiting the gardens, themselves worth a full day of sightseeing, collected our baggage and made our way down to the street entrance to wait for Francois to pick us up, agreed upon in advance as taking the train from Versailles to his place would have been tricky. With an hour or so to spare before leaving for dinner at Claude’s, we enjoyed a beer or two and recounted our adventures in Paris to Francois.
We drove to Claude’s house in a small suburban village and were welcomed there by the family; Claude, his wife Nelly and one of their two sons, who is studying engineering at the local college. Greeted by a table loaded up with a bottle each of Jack Daniels, Jack Daniels Honey, and Pastis (Claude knows his Americans) we settled in for what would be a long evening of drinking, eating, touring the garden in back of the house, talking, and drinking.
Very tired, we made our way back to Francois’ place around midnight, thankful he could manage the drive as none of us could have. It had been a perfect ending to a long hard day, full of the good things in life; friends, good food and drink, lively conversation all brought together by this history we share. I was so very glad that we’d been able to let Bev share in this, a rare glimpse inside the lives of a French family, something a tourist rarely if ever gets to see.
In the end you realize we are all the same, regardless of where we live. The same desires, motivations, worries, and hardships; what binds us together is our thirst to connect, to find the spark that drives understanding and friendship. If only we all could spend time in someone else’s home, gaining an understanding of how they live their lives and how similar we all are; maybe the hatred that seems to spread from ignorance would find it more difficult infect this world we all inhabit.
Versailles Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palace_of_Versailles