Day Three: Does This Bus Go to the Cemetery?

Have I mentioned my husband planned our trip and each day before we left the hotel, in addition to patching my heels with moleskin, I was asked, “Do you have the itinerary?”

Today’s itinerary would take us on the ten cent tour of Paris via bus 69. Bus 69 has no A/C and we still opted to take it, because Rick Steves said it’s an inexpensive way to see a lot of tourist destinations without taking cabs or the metro. Rick is made of sterner stuff than I, that’s for sure.

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I was seriously miserable and frantically fanning myself with the itinerary. (What do ya’ know? It IS totally useful!)  We’d almost get moving fast enough to feel a breeze through the barely open windows when the bus stopped again to do what buses do – let people off and on.

I will admit, driving through the narrow streets of the little neighborhoods was a different perspective than I’d experienced in the past via cabs. Unfortunately, I think our tour was less successful than Rick’s because we didn’t know where we were exactly and were having to refer to the book (via smart phone) to determine if we were passing anything of interest or not.

Robert took pity on me in the early afternoon and we hopped off to eat at a cafe on a busy street. When is doubt – feed and drink Ann. That’s our motto. Cafe D’arsenal was exactly what I needed. We took our time, ate croque monsieur and had a glass of rosé while watching the world go by on a lazy Friday.

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Oops. Wait. Remember the yellow jacket from Day One?  It found me again. Landing all over my plate and wine glass. Lazy time = over. We jumped back on the bus to reach our destination – Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

We fumbled with the trusty (cough)  Rick Steves app after entering the cemetery. Quite a few other people were there obviously looking for Jim Morrison. I was so distracted by everything else I saw, namely tombs, open tombs, collapsed tombs, tombs with opens doors, tomb doors with so many cobwebs I didn’t stop having invisible spider heeby-jeebies for the next 6 hours – I didn’t care if we found Jim or not. I was more concerned about what might find us.  Why were all these open? Had the inhabitants flown the coop? Robert and I couldn’t resist edging close to a large crack in one concrete structure and peering into it to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. Probably all for the best, as I would definitely not have been able to outrun anyone that day.

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(Jim Morrison)

We made our way over to say hello to Oscar Wilde. I was sad to see they’d enclosed his tomb and cleaned the lipstick kisses off of it.  (Although I’m sure the family having to pay to have it cleaned all the time was probably a pain.)

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Back on the bus – and to our new favorite cafe – D’aresenal. It was nearly 5:00 on Friday evening so we made ourselves comfortable and had another glass of rosé. Or two. Then, for some reason, possibly because we scrunched together to open up an additional table for the host, he brought us our check and another glass each. Hiccup.

At this point we decided we were too worn out to go to the Louvre (which was open until 9:45 that night and the next item on the itinerary) and decided we’d better  just get some dinner. We entered Chez Denise – a loud, crowded restaurant and bar and were squeezed in at the end of a long table. Here we experienced our first truly French waiter. We also learned that, unlike in the states, the customer DOES NOT always know best. Robert ordered beef jowl and I ordered cod. I took one bite of that cod and pushed the plate away. It was what I technically call, “Icky.” When the waiter eventually ran out of other people to serve, he returned and looked at my full plate with one raised eyebrow. Robert told him it wasn’t fresh.

The waiter said, “Yes. It’s fresh.”

“No. It is not,” Robert chuckled a bit.

“Yes it is,” Monsieur Waiter snapped. “Where are you from?”

“Texas,” Robert responded. I knew we’d just lost.

“Texas. Harrumph.”

Told you.

He whisked the plated fish away, still proclaiming its freshness. When our l’addition arrived the full price of the week-old cod was proudly displayed. He’s lucky I’d had those three glasses of relaxing, mellow rosé before coming to dinner. And those two glasses with dinner. I’m surprised I didn’t hug him. That would’ve been the final insult, I’m sure.

Day 4 (when Amy (the Countess Magnificent-Joy) & Dave join us for fun and games) AND possibly Day 5 up next!

 

 

 

 

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DAY TWO: PRISONERS AT LE JULES VERNE

In honor of Robert’s birthday – we overslept – surprise! Then we got carried away at the breakfast buffet in the hotel and ate too much before heading out to locate the Eiffel Tower, where we had a 1:00 lunch reservation at Le Jules Verne. We’d been to Le Jules Verne during our previous trip four years ago and it had been a highlight of the trip. At that time it was a two star Michelin restaurant. During our absence they had lost a star. We would soon know why.

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Video ascending the Eiffel Tower.

The service and food were impeccable. I totally won the order war.  Robert requested guinea fowl and I ordered lamb.

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It looked as though we were going to have another perfect experience – until something happened.  I can only assume the manager who had been present throughout the early part of our meal waved goodbye to his staff and left for the day because they suddenly forgot they were waiting on us, and instead every table in the restaurant was waiting on them.

Waiting for a refill of water. A refill of wine. A check. Anything.

We are familiar with lengthy meals and taking our time, but truly, service (or lack therof) was obviously how they’d lost that star. The staff hovered between the dining rooms, chatting with each other and ignoring their tables. It was a sour note on what had been such a promising start. A chorus of “l’addition!” rang out when one of the wait staff mistakenly wandered back into the dining room.

Once we paid the bill – or “ransom” as I called it, we descended and walked through the Champ de Mars toward the Musée de l’Armée.

If you have a chance to visit the Musee de l’Armée and it is more than 80 degrees outside, DON’T GO. Not kidding.

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The museum itself is fascinating, especially the medieval weaponry and armor as far as I’m concerned, but we began to realize as we made our way chronologically through the various sections, that air conditioning was non-existent. There are no words for how miserable we were. Wait. Yes there are: Hot, sticky, sweaty, Sweet baby Jesus…

Much like the Germans, we rushed into WWI haphazardly and made straight for WWII heated, offended and destined for disappointment. 

Eventually, we gave up trying to soak up the history and dragged ourselves toward the exit. The last stop of the day was the Dome de Invalides, where we sought Napolean’s tomb.  Here is where my ignorance knew no bounds. We approached an archway to our right, where I began snapping photos of what I thought was the little guy’s tomb. It was impressive indeed.

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Then we realized it wasn’t his. This is one of those times the ability to read French would be really handy. We noticed a good deal of people looking over a railing in the center of the room and made our way over. What did we see?  A freaking ridiculously oversized “tomb.” Seriously. Talk about compensating!

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Note: Napolean lies within six separate coffins. They are made of iron, mahogany, two of lead, ebony, and an outer one of red porphyry. Don’t ask me why. 

After fooling around and taking photos of Robert with the gargantuan repository of Monsieur Bonaparte, we caught a cab back to the hotel, cleaned up, and strolled to a quaint neighborhood café near the market, L’Atelier Du Marché.

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Here, we were having a lovely evening when in came a pack of screeching American women.  Approximately six of them came  in sounding like twice as many. The table behind us, with two men and a woman (all French) turned annoyed eyes on the group and one issued a few sharp, “shhh, shhhh, shhhhh” reprimand.  Surprise!  They didn’t hear – or care.  We went from being able to talk quietly to each other over a relaxed meal to discussing how best to shut them up without bloodshed. We felt it necessary to apologize to the owner and our server on behalf of all Americans. They kindly accepted and assured us most guests were NOT like the ones that were currently spoiling everyone’s evening.

As we exited, Robert stopped at their table and stood staring at them all, shaking his head. I’m sure they missed the subtle hint that they were rude hyenas.

Most rude hyenas do.

Day 3 to come!

 

 

 

ADVENTURES IN FRANCE AGAIN. FINALLY.

I’m going to try to blog each day of the trip to Paris and Versailles for my own sake as much as hopefully someone’s reading pleasure or at the very least, travel-tip assist. Let’s see if I can remember each day over the next week or two it will take me to think back and record. Ha! This should be interesting.

After planning for months and months (and years) by my husband Robert, we set out for our second trip to Paris and Versailles. The first leg was a flight from DFW to Chicago; the second, Chicago to Paris. Unlike our first trip four years ago, I found I had no time on the plane for blogging or reading. I have no idea what I did to take up all that time – unless it was eating. And drinking. And that five hour nap. Next thing I knew I was awakened by an announcement that we were less than 90 minutes away from landing. I quickly assessed my priorities and decided watching Pride & Prejudice and Zombies was numero uno.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t made it through more than maybe 45 minutes before I had to shut down and start actually trying to refresh myself in the horrible airplane bathroom. Side note: On the way home I’ve decided I’ll use bottled water to put my contacts in and will brush my teeth at my seat rather than enter that domain again. Seriously. Can a flight attendant put on a plastic glove and maybe just shove all the paper towels that are pouring out of the swinging trash door down into the trash for us all? Take a stick to it, I don’t care. I just know I’m not touching any of it. But I’m not being paid to ensure people’s comfort and well-being like a flight attendant might be. With regard to the lavatories, they’re more bystander than attendant.

Anywho…

From Charles de Gualle Airport we cabbed it to the Renaissance Arc de Triomphe Hotel. Our home for the next 5 nights. The lobby was too trendy for words, with uncomfortable looking chairs made from grocery carts. Or made to look like grocery carts. Because (Heads up!) grocery carts are totally hip. You heard it here first.

The equally trendy and attractive staff was friendly and polite, speaking enough English and us enough French to get by nicely. That means they were fluent and we were capable of saying yes, no and thank you, all with equal enthusiasm. We also seemed to acquire French accents when speaking English. “A” for effort, I suppose. By the end of the trip we were holding conversations with wait staff and salespeople in which we slipped in and out of saying “oui” and “yes” as though we were so bi-lingual we just never knew what language we might speak in. When all else failed, the poorly performed French accent, like Inspector Clouseau, served just as well. (We’re delusional.)
When the room was ready we put a few things up and walked down the Champs Elysees to Tuileries Garden. By the time we got there I had a blister on the back of each heel. So much for the walking boots. We made the decision I needed enough wine Now I know why I’ve worn the brown boots, not the black boots around Cardiff, London, Paris and Versailles over the past 5 years. Madden Girl boots. They were my best travel purchase ever.

We decided to try to numb my heel, or my self pity with wine and cheese so we sat in the garden and ate charcuterie at Cafe des Marronniers until we were delirious. Here began my ongoing relationship with a yellow jacket that stalked me the rest of our time in Paris and on to Versailles. But that’s another story.

As my heel was feeling a tad better and the yellow jacket was becoming more aggressive, we shuffled on to Musee de l’Orangerie because – Monet. The moment I walked into the first cycle of Water Lilies, I welled up. Like four years ago, I tried to get as close as my father would to examine every stroke. Which is why I was reprimanded by the guard. I responded with an enthusiastic, “Merci!”

 

After cabbing it back to the hotel, Robert went to Nicolas (the nearby wine store) while I put my feet up. We had dinner on the balcony looking at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc. (We’re on a first name basis now, the Arc de Triomphe and I.)

Robert can book an amazing hotel room. It’s his super power.

We toasted the first day of our vacation and then…

We slept. Soundly. After all, tomorrow’s itinerary was waiting.  The Eiffel Tower and Le Jules Verne for lunch…

FRANCE FINIS

We made it through Versailles on the morning of Day 9. The crowds were little better. This time we did find a much shorter audio guide line, so grabbed the little phone-type device and headed into the clump of people in the history of Versailles rooms. We quickly figured out that if you waited until the audio device recording for each room stopped and you let the crowd move on en masse, you could time your viewings of each room between the group ahead and the group behind, thus minimizing the “herd” sensation. This time I took only a couple of photos and concentrated on the history.

Somehow, almost as we were exiting, we came upon another area of rooms we had not viewed before. They seemed to be a bit off the main path and not clearly marked, so they were much less crowded. We still are unable to get past the size of the palace, and can’t keep from wondering what people DID there all day. Roam around the hundreds of rooms? Stroll the gardens? Write letters? Eat? I would have put on roller skates and gone sailing down the vast corridors, around and around until I was hopelessly lost.

With a final goodbye to the palace, we tripped down the hill and back to the hotel to collect our luggage and check out. At this point, we were headed back to Paris, to Charles Gaulles Airport where we were booked at a hotel for the evening, in hopes of boarding our 8:00 a.m. flight to Frankfurt, then home. We were a little concerned because Lufthansa had already held two days of strikes, and was planning a third for Friday. Our departure was set for Thursday, and Robert prepared me for a potential “surprise” strike day that might mean we were trapped in Paris or Frankfurt. Plus, we were using “miles” for our business class seating which meant we could be bumped to make room for someone else if they decided to evacuate before the planned strike occurred the following day.

Luck was with us, and our flight crew had a good laugh at us when Robert greeted them with a relieved, “Boy, are we glad to see you.”

“You were expecting someone else?” the male flight attendant asked.

We explained our concern and they were all too happy to assure us we would make it home today. They were going from Frankfurt on to Latvia and had plans to spend the next 24 hours there. 

Without incident, we made our way through “customs” at Frankfurt and on to our D/FW flight. Lufthansa flight attendants are the absolute best. They were friendly, helpful, friendly… they seemed to enjoy their work and took pains to make us comfortable. At one point I was feeling a bit blue, as you tend to at the end of a vacation when returning to the real world. On one hand you miss home and your family and friends, but on the other, you have had a wonderful experience and are sad to have it end.

Plus, the white wines I had been offered with my in flight “lunch” were AWFUL. I was sinking into  a pit of despair, knowing I was at the tail end of my French adventure and was now trapped for my 10 final hours with mediocre to poor wine (as far as my taste buds ran) when the flight attendant told me he happened to have a bottle of something different. (They were transitioning and often change the white wines out after a few flights, I suppose.) He poured me a glass of Chateau de Rully Premier Cru, 2007. As he passed it by Robert, my nose began a happy dance. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. Creamy, smooth, vanilla and toast… Heaven.  I must have looked absolutely transported, because when next the flight attendant passed, Robert’s overhead bag was open on the seat and my new best friend slipped a bottle into it and winked at us.

As Robert drifted in and out of sleep and I watched Hysteria, Big Bang Theory, Sex and the City,  some terrible show called Enlightened, and The Avengers, we would chat a bit about the trip. Some thoughts on France:

1. We both agreed, when sitting in the crowded brasseries or restaurants, you are in such close proximity to your table-neighbors that you can hear every word of their conversations. Sitting between two such tables of people rattling on in French gives you the feeling you’ve just been dropped into the middle of a foreign film. I kept looking for subtitles to go along with the drama or laughter I heard on either side. Whether they left first, or we did, it felt as though we were walking out in the middle of a movie, or it was walking out on us – and we would never know how it turned out.   

2. France (Paris and Versailles, at least, in my experience) is no place to be physically challenged. We stumbled up and down cobblestone hills, dusty streets with steep curbs, construction zones, narrow walkways wide enough for only single file, metro stations with stairs that I swear were put there for no reason whatsoever. We climbed monuments and up and down steps at museums. Some of these places had elevators – most of which were out-of-order. At one point I turned to Robert and said, I’m glad we did this now, because I don’t see me surviving all this if we’d waited another 10 – 15 years. If I did make it through the trip at that point, once home, I’d be bed ridden for two weeks.

3. No offense, but the wayfinding signage in France is a disaster. I don’t know how to explain it, except to say there is no reason why two adults who are somewhat intelligent cannot find their way to an airport gate or out of a metro station. An arrow pointing diagonally upward and to the right should mean you veer to the right or that you go upstairs and to the right. Such is not the case. An arrow pointing to the right at a 45 degree angle should mean turn right, not “go upstairs here.”  I felt like a mouse in a maze.

4. The euro is pretty money.

5. We debated for about five days whether we loved the European license plates or thought they were silly. We settled on silly. (We were fooled briefly because they were European, which made us assume they were cool.)  

6. I don’t understand how they can wedge their tiny cars into tinier parking spots (and I heard more than a few crunches as people’s bumpers met with others’) and yet have no dents in their vehicles. I swear there is no way you could get a car out of a space without hitting the cars both in front and in back of you. All I could picture was the scene from the  Austin Powers movie when he’s trying to turn the golf cart around.  Yet, when standing at the traffic circles, I never saw a single dented car. I see them everywhere here. Maybe there’s a government program in France that fixes dents?

I think that’s about it for the France diaries. We got home safely to a very happy dog, did laundry for three days and have since satisfied our cravings for hamburgers, Mexican food and Chinese food.  I miss my morning croissant and cheese, and have returned to being a coffee drinker, rather than enjoying a less aggressive English Breakfast tea.

Au revoir, Paris and Versailles! We’ll always have these memories. And photos.

THE KING’S DIARY (VERSAILLES, DAY EIGHT)

Robert was kind enough to write up his experiences for this day.

 

Journal entry for King Louis XVI
Palace of Versailles
4 September, 1788

On this day, I awoke from sleep in The King’s Chamber quite early.  09:30 or 10:00 I believe it was.

Although hungry, I made the decision to forgo our morning meal and to be dressed and have the Queen and my court accompany me into the nearby town of Versailles. There, I walked through the streets with the Queen, observing what the subjects’ daily activities consist of.  There are markets and shops and taverns. Many of my subjects milled about and conducted business.

 I found this most interesting but also quite fatiguing. So, the Queen and I decided to rest a while and sample some of the food and wine of the peasants. We found a keeper who offered us an unusual substance of fromage and jamon placed on common bread, then heated from above in order to soften and melt the cheese. Delightful! In addition, the cook had thinly cut white potatoes and placed them in duck renderings which had been heated to a boil to cook. Of course, wine was provided as well.  The Queen and I enjoyed two or three glasses each. Such a simple and quaint people are my subjects. The Queen and I then returned to Versailles and strolled through the Palace observing and appreciating each room in all of its magnificence.

The day was warm but not too much so. There was a constant cool breeze. The Palace groundskeepers have been doing an exceptional job of keeping the gardens in perfect order. The fountains erupted in true magnificent splendor. I thought to myself, “How do those stay flowing so consistently?”

After walking through my entire beloved Versailles, I felt the desire for a King’s bath and retreated to one of the bathing chambers on the third level of Trianon. As the bath was filling, I opened the wide doors overlooking one of the many pastures on the palace grounds.

Lying in the bath, I observed the goats which provide delicious milk for cheeses; the sheep, which I contemplated enjoying for dinner later; and the magnificent horses which so graciously transport the Queen and me in our carriages to and from Paris. The bath was warm, the breeze remained cool. The Queen poured me wine and brought it into my bathing chamber! The Queen! (I scolded her for not leaving such duties for those responsible.)

Later that evening, the Queen and I experienced culinary creations from a chef from England who has also made several journeys to The Colonies!  Monsieur Ramsey instructed his staff to construct offerings including obscure and delicious new ingredients -some of which we had never before sampled together. Some of them were quite tasty indeed! But alas, some of the plates were quite undercooked, rendering one of them inedible! This made me sad. I must have one of my staff deal with that immediately. 

Even with the evening meal, all in all it was a GOOD day to be King.

Now I must determine how to pay the f’ing Visa bill.

AU CHAT AND THE CHATEAU (VERSAILLES, DAY EIGHT)

Today was the much-anticipated visit to the Château de Versailles. We had been forewarned by Rick Steves that Versailles is a zoo on Sundays and Tuesdays, but somehow ignored him and planned for Tuesday. Rick Steves was not kidding around. I am not a big fan of the crowded tourist destination. In fact, it made me long for the abandoned castles of Wales, where photos don’t contain strange people who make me want to punch them in the face.

The hall of mirrors was elbow to elbow.

We did not take the audio tour at this point, because the line to GET an audio device was about a mile long. You’d think they were free or something.  Oh, that’s right. Audio tours ARE free.

The lack of audio led to the challenge of fighting our way through the hordes of humanity to get to the sign in each room that identifies exactly what you are looking at and why. Hopefully. Meanwhile, you are hearing the multiple languages spewing from audio devices all around you. You are also getting really annoyed and trying to determine which country has the most obnoxious tourists. I think I’ve narrowed it down to Japan and Germany. I’ll throw the U.S. in just for the sake of argument. Robert actually had to body-block one guy who was trying to cut in front of us for yet a third time. I started taking pictures with my arms extended over my head – so now I have shots of the tops of people’s heads or strange photos showing a part of a room.

As we exited the Chateau we noticed the crowd had thinned considerably in line and realized perhaps afternoon was a better time to visit the palace. We decided to give it another try tomorrow and went on to lunch. This was probably wise, as my patience was at an end. I was grumbling at people and riding an emotional roller coaster between “Oh. My. Lord. I can’t believe how beautiful this is – what is it?! When was it?! Who was here?! Wow wow wow!!! Hey! Get out of my way! I wasn’t finished! Stop shoving me or I will punch you in the face! You cannot possibly be as interested in this as I am. Who invited you anyway? Off with your head. Grrrr.”

At times like that, it’s really best to just take me somewhere and feed me and hand me a glass of wine. Or two. Which is what Robert did. Smart man. We found a brasserie right by the market called Au Chat Qui Prise where we ordered ham and cheese with cheese topping and a side of fries. This was possibly the best meal we had in France. (Okay, Jules Verne was good too.) But it was CHEESE. Robert added an egg to the top of his ham and cheese with cheese.

Feeling much more the thing, we returned to the hotel where I sat on the terrace reading Marie-Antoinette and communing with the sheep while Robert soaked in the giant tub and looked out over his kingdom. (He has composed a blog post himself about this day, which I will be including following this.)

Our dinner was scheduled at Gordon Ramsay, which was conveniently located in our hotel, so we didn’t have far to go. This was another of those restaurants Robert was looking forward to like a kid at Christmas. We were seated by the large terrace doors which were cracked open, letting in a cool breeze. The table overlooked the King’s garden, so our friends the sheep and goats were there, and from this level I was able to see horses in the pasture just beyond. We had another of those moments where we looked at each other and giggled like kids over how perfect the setting was.

We ordered aperitifs and were presented with an amuse bouche. The first round of these was divine. Some sort of cones made from squid ink (what?!) and tuna. Even the “plates” were intimidating. A second round of “amuse” arrived. Even after the waiter explained to Robert what his was (mine was a soft-boiled egg in a container that looked like a medieval mace) we still didn’t know how he was supposed to eat it. That’s what we get for just nodding at the waiter as he speaks to us in thickly accented French. It had a side shot of liquid, was in a soup bowl, and had a covering made of something edible that looked like wax paper.

The appetizer Robert ordered was undercooked. It was lobster, and he couldn’t even cut it with the steak knife he’d been given. The waiter was kind enough to delete it from the bill. I know the steak temperatures are different in France than the U.S. Perhaps that was the state in which they wanted the lobster to be?  Thus, the steak knife? Not sure, but it just didn’t seem right and was certainly not what we are used to. (Like we eat lobster on a regular basis. Ha.)

The main course was very good, but still not as mind-blowing as we expected – especially for the price. The service was impeccable though, and the view divine, so we sat back and enjoyed.

I think we broke the waiter’s heart when we turned down dessert. It was probably a slap in the face, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat another bite.

Our plan for the following day (our last in Versailles) was to return to the Chateau at a time that might allow us to avoid the crowds, then head back to Paris where we would stay at a hotel by the airport in order to decamp by 8:00 a.m. We’ll see how that goes.

VERSAILLES VIA GOLF CART (VERSAILLES, DAY SEVEN)

Monday’s lunch was at Sister’s Cafe – with a good old-fashioned American cheeseburger and side order of hash browns. Since the bacon was floppy (just the way I like it), Robert donated his to me. A soda here ran 6 euros, while Heineken was 2,9. Heineken won. Meanwhile, the lower right hand corner of the menu announced a new drink! Mimosa! “What is it?” the menu asked. “Why, it’s champagne and orange juice, just like in Miami!” Miami? Miami appears to be acceptable to the French.

Afterward, we strolled uphill to the Chateau de Versailles. The Chateau is closed on Mondays, but the grounds surrounding it, the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon were wide open, so we did what any sane person would do. We rented a golf cart. Our feet thanked us. “Merci beaucoup!” they cried.

A cart runs 30 euro per hour. They give you a map with the path clearly marked with giant red dashes that takes you to the Petit and the Grand Trianon, then back to Versailles’ gardens. As you drive, the cart’s audio system plays orchestral music and a narrator describes your surroundings. Apparently, the correct narrative is triggered as you pass certain points along the path. A short link follows. No judging. It’s hard to video while bouncing along cobblestones in a cart.

Grand Trianon

FYI, the nice narrator also tells you when your cart has left the prescribed path and shuts the cart’s forward motion down. This way, everyone within a two-mile radius is sure to be notified of your transgression as you put the cart into reverse, which results in incessant and very loud beeping.

It also results in a husband who glares at you and asks, “Really? Your sense of direction is so bad you can’t even follow the GIANT RED DASHES on the map that tell us where to go?”

I defended myself valiantly until the third time the cart shut down, at which point I could only shrug and say, “C’est la vie!” This is best done while flashing a winning smile at the perturbed husband.

Despite the hour-long time frame, we still made it back a few minutes late (probably due to the navigational challenges), but they took pity on us and didn’t charge for an additional 15 minutes, as we had been warned they might.

We walked from the cart return through town to the grocery store to purchase breakfast and lunch items for the next two days. Breakfast at the hotel was going to run 34 euros a day. I cannot possibly eat 34 euros worth of breakfast. The supermarket was two levels, the lower being maintained at meat locker temperature. We purchased bread, cheeses, luncheon meat and some fruit, then took the rear stairs back up to the second (street) level for wine, a knife for the cheese, and to check out.

Here is where yet another incident proves I am not mentally on the ball. Having realized I needed croissants for breakfast, I set two bottles of wine down next to Robert and went back below-grade to the bread aisle. Mission accomplished, we checked out and grabbed our bags to head back to the hotel. Luckily, we hadn’t gotten but a few steps from the store when I realized the bags felt light.

“Where’s the wine? Do you have it?” I turned to Mr. Know-it-all.

“No.”

They were sitting right where I left them – on a box in the aisle where Robert had waited for me as I sought croissants.

Hey. at least we didn’t get back to the hotel before I realized the error.

I’m hoping the brain has had a lovely vacation and is now ready to return to work, where it will be lively and sharp. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

Back at the Hotel Trianon, we sipped whiskey on the terrace, watched the Trianon sheep graze in the King’s garden and listened to screaming French children on the walkways below. MaMA, MaMA, MaMA!!

Robert made me take this picture. Really.

THE TRIANON TALES (DAY SIX, VERSAILLES)

I’m beginning to see a trend as I transcribe the travel diaries. I now understand why our days passed so quickly while away. I don’t think we ever really got moving until 11:00-ish. When I think back on the trip to Wales last year and jolting awake at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. to the Tower Bells setting on my phone so we could catch an 8:00 train to our day’s destination, I shudder. I’m grateful, but I shudder.

So basically, Lady and Sir Lounge-about slothily got dressed and headed out the door of the hotel at a dead crawl. Hotel Trianon was situated just outside the Neptune Gates and near the Queen’s Gate. You could pass through either of these and be on the palace grounds. Being the first Sunday of the month, the gates and palaces were open to the public at no charge.

Knowing this, we decided we’d better be the first in line at Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s estate, which opened at noon.

A brief history refresher: Louis XIV moved his main residence to Versailles from Paris. There, upon her marriage to a young Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette (beginning at age 15) resided during her first years in France. Louis XV had commissioned the building of Petit Trianon as a love nest for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Unfortunately, Madame de P. passed away before the completion of the project. However, Madame Du Barry was only too happy to take her place, and was the first occupant of the beautiful little residence. After Louis XV passed, Madame D. basically had to clear out in a hurry, as she was universally despised.

Instead of following in his father’s footsteps, the new King Louis XVI decided to break with tradition and give the Petit Trianon to his WIFE (of all crazy things). Marie- Antoinette spent the years 1777-1789 playing house there – barely spending any time at Versailles. She also spent close to 2 million livres on the house, property, furnishings and the little Hamlet she had constructed so she could enjoy a walk into her tiny town and visit the “fake” (hired) townsfolk without getting her hands dirty.

I can see why she loved this house so much. It is feminine, not flashy or overdone, and the grounds are beautiful. Compared to the Grand Trianon and the Chateau at Versailles, this is Goldilocks’ “just right.”

Dining Room fireplace

Music and Game Room

Music and Game Room

Gardens

Leaving the Petit behind, we wandered through the grounds to the Queen’s Hamlet. It boggled the mind. A picturesque mini-village.

Yes, Robert had a swan eating out of his hand. And if you look closely, underneath those ducks, are about a million catfish. Someone needs to get a fishing pole and get cracking. Those ponds at the Hamlet are a bit crowded.

The Hamlet includes crops and vineyards.

If I ever disappear, I’ve gone to live in this little cottage.

Passing through the Hamlet, we moved on to the Grand Trianon, which was built by Louis XIV as a retreat – where he could get away from all the formality of court. And what says informal more than a pink marble palace with a backyard full of thousands of plants in pots that are to be changed out daily?

Napoleon organized its restoration and stayed often with his wife, the Empress Marie-Louise. (Who just happened to be the grand-niece of Marie-Antoinette.)

Next stop? We decided to rest our feet and return to the hotel to check out the indoor pool. The thought of being relatively weightless was too appealing to deny. This was one of those moments when you wish you had listened more carefully to the hotel staff when they attempted to introduce you to the hotel amenities. I recalled something about a route to the pool – I thought – but couldn’t pin it down in my tired head. Thus, Robert and I took the elevator we normally take – wearing our swimsuits (him in a t-shirt and me in a cover up) and our complimentary hotel slippers. Imagine our surprise when the elevator did not have a button for the -1 floor, on which we knew the pool to be located.

Instead, the door opened on the Lobby level and out we went, already embarrassed. The concierge was quite surprised to see us thusly attired, as were the dozen or so individuals we passed as we took the walk of shame past Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant and the hotel bar. Oh, and the individuals having afternoon tea. Our concierge COULD have instructed us to return to the 3rd floor and walk down the empty hall to the elevator that goes to -1, but he didn’t. The fink.

We also discovered that wearing the complimentary hotel robe would have made us a little less conspicuous. Not through the lobby, but just in general.

The pool was lovely. I did not take a camera for what should be obvious reasons. You’ll just have to trust me on this. Lots of geometric tiles, a glass roof and soothing (if cool) water. By the time we had floated around for 30 minutes or so, we felt worlds better and headed into the dry sauna to complete our recuperation. Heaven. For the first time in days my feet and legs didn’t ache.

Feeling rejuvenated, we made our way toward the “back” elevator which had a sign on it that said “Out of Order.” We would need to climb two flights of stairs to get to the next elevator option and to our room. Our relaxed muscles lasted approximately 5 minutes.

We traipsed into the town square to have dinner at Le Boeuf à La Mode. For some reason, Robert ordered the marrowbone appetizer. I ordered (don’t hurt me) slices of semi-cooked foie gras. I think Robert expected something like you see Anthony Bourdain enjoy. Like this:

Instead he got what look like 3 femur halves that would have made Hannibal Lecter salivate. About 6 inches long, with gelatinous ickiness inside. Robert gave it a valiant effort, but I think finished only one before reality set in (and a certain pallor).

As for my foie gras, it resembled what it actually was, which caused me no undue amount of distress. Sitting at the table that evening, in the soft Versailles night air, I looked at the contents of our plates and very nearly became a vegetarian.

Thank goodness no animals were harmed in the making of the vin blanc.

A BIRTHDAY FIT FOR A KING (VERSAILLES, DAY FIVE)

Day five in Paris was Robert’s birthday, so we decided to do everything possible in one day. Not sure how this came about, but it did. We were to move on to Versailles for a late check-in, so the pressure was on to wrap up what we could.

Day five can also be referred to as crime day.

We began at the Arc de Triomphe, which we had been eyeing for days. It was right by our metro station. We passed under the street to get there and found quite the underworld. Somewhere, a man was playing “The Anniversary Song.” Ahead of us, a man was sitting on the floor, obviously handicapped, with a cup in front of him for donations. At just the right moment he would move the cup out into someone’s path and SMASH, a tourist trips, the cup goes spinning, sending change all over the ground. The embarrassed tourist begins to scramble around to pick up the change and I assume, henchmen move in to pick the poor guy’s pockets (or backpack) as he is distracted and embarrassed. Police also moved in.  

Now, I could have SWORN Robert had declared an end to stairs, but somehow he got away from me and before I knew it he had launched himself into the stairwell to climb to the top of the Arc. I stupidly followed. About six steps up, I think he realized what he had done, but there was no turning back. 286 (or 280 to be exact) steps later, after passing a few little nooks where you could step aside to catch your breath and let others pass (which all happened to be occupied) we reached the top. I panted awhile, felt every muscle in my legs seize up, then took some photos.

Let me just say, going DOWN 286 spiral steps is not an easy feat either. Dizziness sets in. Big time.

Back through the underground: cue The Anniversary Song and SMASH another cup goes sailing and I watch as a shame-faced Japanese tourist begins digging out his wallet to try to make amends for spilling the poor guys cup o’ change. No police in sight. I will never  hear that song again without listening for SMASH and the sound of change scattering.

The next stop is a bit fuzzy. I think it was the Grand Palais, which is now a museum. Inside we found to our amazement a portrait of Krysten Ritter, Chloe from the TV sitcom “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.”

I think ABC is getting a little shameless promotion-wise.

As we hit the street to head for the Musee de l’Orangerie, we were approached by a criminal! Yea! Our second criminal in Paris in one day! He strolled up beside Robert as we walked and suddenly we heard a metallic sound and he swooped to pick up a shiny gold ring from the concrete. (One that he had just dropped in front of us inconspicuously, or so he thought.) He tried to get us to stop walking and examine it with him, but Robert and I continued moving. From the corner of my eye I saw his accomplice approaching. Crook #1 tried again to stop us, but Robert waved him off and turned to me laughing, “Please! I’ve seen that one on the Andy Griffith Show! You’ll have to do better than that!”

We zipped through line at the next musem with our trusty passes and entered l’Orangerie. Not sure how to describe this except you begin in a blank white-walled room, then move through a doorway into a giant oval room containing Monet’s Water Lilies. I have never been brought to tears before in a museum, but it was really, really close here. One, they are simply beautiful, and two, my father was obsessed with Monet’s work and recreated Water Lilies on canvases and on cubes that I have displayed at home. I moved as close as possible to the paintings and examined every brush stroke, then moved to the doorway where I could align my eye with the canvas and see the texture of the paint. Dad would have LOVED it.

Practically speechless from over-consumption of artwork, we returned to the hotel, packed and headed for Versailles. Somehow, through the genius of birthday boy, we wound up with a three room suite at the Waldorf Astoria for the entirety of our stay.

Our view of the King’s Garden, complete with sheep, goats and horses.

The salon. Yes, the lower right hand picture is crooked. It is stuck that way. We tried to fix it.

The boudoir.

The bath.

After the shock of the room had receded and I could stop jumping up and down, I started unpacking, only to realize I had left several pair of pants and ALL my “unmentionables” in a drawer at the hotel in Paris. Near tears, I called the hotel and FINALLY managed to get them to be a little concerned for my mental health. Arrangements were made and my clothes were sent via taxi to our concierge at the hotel. (We were leaving for dinner and the Versailles Night Fountains Spectacle.) Yes. My clothes enjoyed a taxi ride from Paris to Versailles. I’m not proud of it, but it happened. This is what comes of too much walking and not enough sitting and drinking… I mean thinking.

We had dinner on the way to the Château de Versailles, then climbed the hill to the grounds where we searched for the right spot to watch the show. We were way off base on this, as the fountain and light show takes place all over the grounds during a two-hour time span. Once we sorted that out, we began strolling and came to a swift conclusion: The sound of dozens of fountains makes a person have to pee.

Unable to locate any sort of conveniences in the darkness, Robert opted to do what I suppose many men would: dive into the carefully sculpted bushes. Yes. He did.

While he was busy potentially breaking some law or another, I busied myself videotaping. Here is a brief clip of one portion of the fountain show. I apologize in advance for shaky cam. It was getting cold.  Versailles Fountains 

Then we came across the laser light display. Laser Lights at Versailles

At the end of the two hours they summon everyone to the Grand View where we watch the finale firework show. The biggest disappointment of the evening was discovering we could have brought champagne in to toast Robert’s birthday, but it was pretty spectacular without the champagne. In fact, champagne might have been gilding the lily.

If you want to see a better video of the fountains and lights – and fire, here’s a professional link. Versailles Spectacle

ARTS AND CRAFTINESS (PARIS, DAY FOUR)

Day four was on the itinerary as Museum Day. However, due to a little over-imbibing, we cut ourselves a break and did not set the alarm for quite as early as we’d originally intended. Sore from walking on cobblestones and up and down spiral staircases, tired and hungry, we grabbed a croissant each from the “courtesy lounge” and slowly made our way to the metro so we could be rejected by the turnstile once again.

I am making an effort today to SPEAK UP, as I have been informed that I have been whispering since we arrived in Paris. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t want to be instantly recognized as a tourist, because I feel as though I’m in a museum even though I’m outside walking around city streets, or because the rhythm of the voices around me is so beautiful I feel as though I’d instantly ruin everything. Like a banjo suddenly taking part in a symphony.

First stop for today, the Louvre.

We stood in the plaza admiring the fountains and the glass pyramid; the building itself was enough to make me giddy. I had somehow forgotten that the Louvre was originally the palace until Louis XIV moved the royal residence to Versailles.

Amazingly, thanks in part to the museum passes, entrance was a breeze. So much so that we found ourselves in the Richelieu section (the French collections) without so much as a map. Retracing our steps, a map was acquired and we began again. 

I had very definite plans for the works I wanted to see. The Richelieu wing was not a priority. However, every time we turned a corner there was something else I couldn’t resist examining. I suddenly understood why people can spend DAYS here. Robert was in heaven.

I was on a mission to see the Denon and Sully wings containing Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities. We found Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa. Winged Victory was particularly poignant because (don’t laugh) I LOVE the scene in Funny Face when Audrey Hepburn is modeling a gown and comes floating down the steps with the statue in the background. As I stood at the bottom of the steps looking upward at Winged Victory, all I could hear was Audrey saying, “Take the picture! Take the picture!”

It was even more interesting to me because I had recently learned the statue had been missing part of one wing and ALL of the other. They made a cast of the existing wing and added it. You could see this clearly from the back of the statue, which I studied in detail, partially because it’s interesting, and partially to mess with people trying to photograph the statue by being the one weird person standing BEHIND it. A lot of people went home that day with me behind Winged Victory. Score. However, I was too distracted by my mischievous intentions to actually photograph the “patch job.” Sorry!

After four hours of wandering about – and getting somehow trapped in the medieval portion of the Louvre in the basement, we made our way to the Musee d’Orsay.

The d’Orsay is housed in a former railway station, the Gare d’Orsay. I LOVED this building. Who wouldn’t love being surrounded by some of the greatest examples of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings? It was virtually every work I had studied in Art History, only much more interesting without the constant droning of the professor as he clicked through each slide. DaVinci? Check. Lautrec? Check. Monet? Manet? Renoir? Check, check and check. 

Basically what I call a successful outing. Afterwards, we crossed the Seine hoping to locate the ever elusive, yet highly desirable metro station that simply HAD to exist somewhere at the Plaza de la Concorde. Crossing the bridge, we noted padlocks all up and down the railings. A couple sat huddled together on a bench, writing something on a newly purchased lock. Apparently, couples are encouraged (not by the Parisians, who are highly annoyed by this practice, but by the padlock vendors who line the bridge) to write their initials on the padlock, attach it to the bridge, then throw the key into the Seine to “lock up their love forever.”  How romantic. What says “I love you” more than a padlock without a key?

Anyway, we found the super secret entry to the metro at Concorde, returned to the hotel, took a hot bath and went out for pizza. Yes, pizza. I can’t really exist without it for more than a week. What I don’t understand is how someone can consider egg an appropriate topping.