Versailles! (Day 3)

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We woke on Saturday, May 24th in Paris, but we spent most of the day in beautiful Versailles. We’d purchased the train tickets to Versailles the night before, so we only needed to catch the metro and the SNCF trains to get there. Our regular breakfast cafe was closed, so we went across the street to a similar cafe and had bleu fromage quiche and coffee.

After breakfast, we walked to the metro station, where we discovered that the usual metro line to Versailles was closed for some reason (explained clearly in French). We looked around for a person at a ticket counter to help us. Guess who was on strike again that day? I’ll give you a hint: not the Germans. Determined to find our way to Versailles, we looked at the train map to try and find an alternate route. At this point we met a couple from Minnesota and a French couple who were all also trying to get to Versailles, and between the six of us, we found another route.

With the other couples, we took a metro train to the SNCF station, and, after some confusion, we realized that the SNCF train we wanted for Versailles was leaving in just three minutes. The race was on! We played a game of follow-the-French-guy and literally ran through the train station, weaving in between other patrons, and managed to hop on the last car of the train moments before the doors shut and it took off. Whew!

Damian and I were both on board, luckily, before the doors closed. Had we been separated, that could have been dicey – I didn’t have a phone with me. We’d actually witnessed a similar situation earlier that morning. A single girl got separated from her group as the first few girls hopped on the metro and watched in horror as the doors closed on their friend. Panic attack, anyone? That girl wasn’t dumb enough to be running around France without a phone, though, so I’m sure they found her.

We were on our way to visit the Chateau de Versailles, home to King Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette! Since our original train was not available, we weren’t sure exactly how far away from the chateau we would land. Would we be able to walk? Would we need to find a bus? Our guide book said the walk was 25 minutes from the train station. It wasn’t. It was only 15 minutes, and it was a lovely walk through a part of Versailles that we would have otherwise missed. We arrived at the chateau, and it was breathtaking to view the enormity of the place as we approached.

The museum passes allowed us to bypass the long ticket lines again (woo hoo!), but we still had to wait in a long line to pass through security. The sheer volume of people visiting the chateau was crushing and fairly overwhelming, but we skipped the audio-tour line and opted to just walk through the palace on our own. On our first pass through, we familiarized ourselves with the rooms. We would later walk through again (after touring the palace gardens) – the second pass allowed us to stop and take in the details of the rooms we liked.

The size and opulence of the chateau were mesmerizing. Impossibly high ceilings, gold carvings, master paintings, marble fireplaces holding logs that were the size of half a tree, beds with canopies stretching to the ceilings, ornate furniture, precious rugs, a hall  of mirrors nearly the size of a football field, and, as if all of that intricacy wasn’t enough, most of the ceilings were completely painted in heavenly works of art. I could have spent a full day in each room and never been able to appreciate all the details.

The bedrooms were particularly fascinating and beautiful. On the first pass, King Louis XIV’s room was open to the sunlight streaming in from enormous windows. On the second pass, the floor-to-ceiling heavy red drapes had been closed to mimic nighttime, and chandeliers and candles were lit to give the room a soft glow. The queen, Marie Antoinette, had her own separate room, decorated in a much more floral and feminine manor than the king’s. We were amused by the room located directly off the king’s room, the purpose of which was to hold ladies who might join him in the boudoir. Apparently this chamber was designed to hold up to six ladies at one time. I guess King Louis XIV was a busy guy.

We strolled through the massive gardens next. Much like the chateau, the gardens were absolutely enormous. Greenery as far as the eye could see, topiary, ponds, and little theaters-in-the-round built specifically to allow painters to work in an outdoor setting. It was raining a bit, so we found a little snack shack hidden among some trees (probably done to avoid ruining the beauty/experience of the gardens) where we bought salads, a dark chocolate crepe, and coffees. We enjoyed this at a little outdoor table covered from the rain by a canopy of trees. It was a fun little adventure.

Afterward, we found our way back to Paris, changed clothes, and headed out for our next fancy dinner at a tiny gem of a place called Mariette. I wore black pants this time, but I wore my ballroom-dancing heels again, since they’d served me so well the night before.

We were the first to arrive, right on time for our reservation. Several other couples arrived later in the evening, exclaiming, “We’re very late – so sorry!” Punctuality in France is not necessarily a good thing. But! Since we arrived early, we were able to choose our table, and we chose the most private table, near the stairs. Restaurant Mariette is run by a husband/wife team. He is the chef and does all the cooking. She is the hostess and the only server. She takes the orders to her husband, and then he sends the food upstairs via dumbwaiter.

I liked her immediately. She was very welcoming and friendly, and she poured us full glasses of champagne to start our evening. In France, we learned that the coffee cups are small and never full, and the wine glasses are not filled more than a quarter of the way. So we were pleasantly surprised to receive a full glass of champagne. We toasted to our anniversary, ordered a bottle of Côtes du Rhône red for the meal, and perused the menu.

The pace of the meal was wonderfully slow and enjoyable, allowing us to savor every bite. We both started with fois gras wrapped in impossibly-thin slices of sweet potato in an orange sauce. The combination of sweetness and richness was perfection, and it was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. For the main course, Damian had prime rib, and I had a buttery turbo served over a bed of asparagus. For dessert, we savored apple crumble and strawberries & cream. Cognac to finish. The dinner took three hours, and it was fabulous.

We strolled out, content and ready to turn in for the evening, to find that darkness had fallen and the Eiffel Tower was lit! It’s only lit with the flashing lights for five minutes per hour, so we literally ran down the Paris streets to get a photo of it through the trees. Damian managed to snap the shot moments before the lights turned off. And I managed to run in my heels. I’m telling you – ballroom dance shoes. That’s where it’s at.

We crashed after a full and wonderful day. The next morning we would spend time slowing our pace and enjoying the Louvre gardens…

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