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…

I LOVE A GOOD HISTORY

I was actually sick enough to stay home from work the other day. It takes a lot to make me do that, because there’s usually nothing worth watching. However, this time, the universe aligned and I found myself drawn into King Tut’s Mystery Tomb Opened on the Discovery Channel. It was the story of Tomb KV-63, which turned out to be the tomb of King Tut’s mother, Queen Kiya.

A 3000-year-old Pharaonic coffin lies in a newly discovered tomb at the valley of the Kings in Luxor

(She’s obviously seen better days.)

I was fascinated. What? When did this happen? Why didn’t someone alert me! I hit the info button to see what year the show was released.

July 2006. Go figure.

Perhaps I’m a little late to the party, but regardless, the show reminded me of my late-found love of all things historical. If I had known in my teens what I know now, I would be an archeologist, or anthropologist. Alas, instead, I read biographies and watch Discovery Channel, or Gone with the Wind.

Next, I watched Pompeii: Back from the Dead, which examined the discovery of skeletons in the basement of an excavated villa. The skeletal remains were making it possible for scientists to study the diets and diseases of both the elite and poor.

skeletons

I had somehow missed this important find as well, which apparently occurred in the 80s. Of course, I was kinda busy in the 80s with important stuff like Flashdance and parachute pants.

flashdance

A few days after my archeological catch up and sick day, a blogger friend in Scotland, Jo Woolf, of  Jo’s Journal and a beautiful online magazine titled, The Hazel Tree posted that she had found a website, historicalhoney.com, and had written something for them. The site was started by three talented and intelligent women who wanted to make history more accessible. Or, “History without the cobwebs.” Sweeeet. Why didn’t I think of that?

Luckily for me, they published my first effort on Friday.

I may not be an archeologist or anthropologist, but I AM Honey 027.

Please follow the link to The Real Housewives of Versailles, and explore the rest of historicalhoney.com while you’re there.

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

GONE FISHING

Due to the hotels in France being a little pickier than Wales about who gets free wifi access and who gets charged, I have been on a real vacation – with no blog diaries of our adventures. Probably works out for the best as I have no idea what I’m saying half the time here anyway.  My instinct says “translate english to french,” my brain responds, “What? Since when do we speak french. Have we met??”  My mouth opens and “Uuuhhhhhh…” comes out, followed by a spontaneous and somewhat frightening “Bon jour!” After that I’ve forgotten what I wanted to ask anyway.

I am currently waiting on delivery of a bucket of ice, as the hotel doesn’t let you fetch your own. Royalty. It’s a tough life. 

Anyway, I’m keeping notes on my apparently very expensive and data draining cell phone, and will hope to upload photos of the sites and a few traveler’s tales ASAP.

A few teasers:

1. I lose Robert on a boat that is probably 20 feet across and one deck.

2. A pickpocket approaches.

3. My clothing gets a cab ride.

4. Robert does on the grounds at Versailles what many have probably wanted to do.

FRANCE PLAN – IT’S IN THE BAGUETTE

Anyone who recalls the trip I took last year to Wales with Sandy will perhaps note that there was little hostility at any point during our travels. Except toward the tour guide who sent us wandering down a path along the ocean that ended up being closed, and thus resulted in an unexpected mountain climbing expedition. As traveling companions go, Sandy and I move at similar speed and enjoy the same amount of planning and activities per day. Just enough to keep us entertained, but not so much that we keep staring at our watches lest we slip 5 minutes off schedule.

I am beginning to have concerns about the trip to France Robert and I are planning. My first clue that this was going to be a bit more intense was when Robert started shoving a  Travel Guide into my hands every time I sit down. “Read this and make notes,” he says. I respond, “Vacations should not require homework.” I don’t want to be tired of France before I get there. I want to read about it while I’m soaking it all in – staring at the little note card describing “Winged Victory”- or listening to the audio tour as I wander about Versailles. Is there a test I have to take before I get into the country that I don’t know about? A pop quiz? Can’t I just be surprised?

I am not totally ignorant. After all, I’ve read “To The Scaffold,” the story of Marie Antoinette. I’ve watched a multitude of Anthony Bourdain shows in and around Paris, and I saw Les Miserables. Twice. I’ve also read “Sex with Kings” and “Sex with Queens,” which I believe will provide those “ah ha!” moments when I hear a courtesan’s name mentioned and can say to Robert, “Madame de Pompadour! That’s the woman Louis XV was fooling around with… her maiden name was Poisson, or ‘Fish.’ Courtiers hated her. Imagine the field day they had with that name!” Then I can add in confidence, “Madame du Barry was the successor to Madame Pompadour. She was an infamous Parisian prostitute many of the courtiers had already ‘enjoyed.’ Talk about awkward dinner conversation.”

Madame de Pompadour

Madame du Barry

THAT’s my idea of intriguing French history and research. Real Housewives of the French Court. 

Last week, Robert handed me an Excel sheet with each day laid out by the hour – and asked me to fill in the empty spaces in the schedule. The problem with that is I am a lazy traveler. I want to have a few things in mind, then “play it by ear.” Although Robert says he is willing to do some of the “play it by ear” thing, I believe the Excel sheet indicates something else ENTIRELY.

The truth is, it’s nice to have someone who is capable of planning and researching how we are going to get around so we’re not at the Metro freaking out.

On the other hand,  I wonder what his reaction will be when he looks at the Excel sheet and discovers my evil plotting. (As usual, I am not cooperating in the full sense of the word.) For one thing, I read enough to learn they have golf cart rentals at Versailles. The carts shut down if you try to take them off the prescribed paths. Therefore, my contributions to our schedule include:

13:00 Sunday: Versailles – Rent golf cart for the self guided tour.

13:10 Sunday: Rig golf cart to go anywhere we want.

8:00 Monday: Assure American Embassy we will behave ourselves from now on.

10:00 Monday: Purchase disguises so we can re-enter the grounds of Versailles and enjoy the gardens on foot.

13:00 Monday: Find nearest sidewalk cafe. Sit. Order vin blanc, baguette and fromage. Relax for next 2 – 4 hours.

13:00 – Tuesday: Find nearest sidewalk cafe. Sit. Order vin blanc, baguette and fromage. Relax for next 2 -4 hours.

Wednesday: You get the idea.