Feb 20 2008
There’s enough to keep you busy in Paris from now until the U.S. adopts the euro, but like most visitors to Paris, we reserved one day in our week for a daytrip to Versailles. I’ll admit I was bearish on the idea at first – I mean, what is there to DO in Versailles? Look at some gardens? Fortunately for me, I was outnumbered on this aspect of the itinerary, and we hopped the short train ride despite my misgivings.
I didn’t even realize what a minority I composed until we stepped off the train in Versailles. Before the palace complex even came into view, we saw this sign posted on the sidewalk:
YOUR WAIT TIME FROM HERE = 180 MINUTES
Since we showed up in February, the point was moot – we walked right up to the palace and through the entrance gate with no line whatsoever. But this does highlight two points. First, and contrary to all prior evidence, visiting an establishment that sees billions and billions served need not end in heartache. Or any other ache! Or… actually, let’s stop there. Second, traveling in the low season is still severely underrated. Wait 3 hours in the sweltering summer heat, or wait 0 minutes in the cool sunshine of a February afternoon? The choice is yours.
So back to my initial question: what is there to DO in Versailles? Curiously enough, you look at some gardens. Or some furniture if you prefer, but I think you have to pay for a ticket to see that. I’d tell you to just put your face up against the glass windows like I did, but it turns out that squinting through windows at rocking chairs is slightly less thrilling than it sounds. The gardens, on the other hand, are much cooler than you’d think. Unless you’re one of the niche enthusiasts with the inexplicable purchasing power to make “Gardening TV” a viable channel in my cable lineup. Then it’s probably about as cool as you’d think. For the rest of us though, I come bearing good news. Here, for the first time ever, I present to you…
The Top 5 Reasons Why Versailles isn’t Lame After All
1. Versailles is gorgeous, even in the winter. From the trees by the lakes to the flowers by the fountains, the grounds are meticulously groomed to preserve this perennial picnic paradise. That’s 4 P’s if you count “preserve.”
2. The scale of the property is epic. I don’t remember how many hectares it covers, but it’s of little consequence, since I still don’t know what a hectare is, and no one will ever tell me. Not even the ones who I’m pretty sure know good and well what it is no matter what they may say, which has been a frustrating theme of this trip.
3. You can rent bikes! The hourly rate is sort of expensive, but then again, the bike rental place is in a perfect position to extort you, since they know you need the bikes in order to compete with your companions to see who can receive the most reciprocal “bonjours” from pedestrians when bicycling by and greeting them in your best silly French voice.
4. Versailles is an aerobic athlete’s Eden. It’s free to get into the gardens, so runners (and bikers) take advantage of the many
hectares ACRES’ worth of scenic paths. Jamie was preparing for an upcoming track meet during our week in Paris, and he jumped on the chance to take our leave for an hour of running around Versailles.
5. Marie Antoinette’s Fairytale Village. I don’t know at exactly what age Marie Antoinette married into royalty because I haven’t yet seen Kirsten Dunst’s theatric portrayal, but I do know that Versailles is home to a mock village constructed entirely to be her personal play area. Lonely Planet advises that she came here to “play milkmaid,” which sounds like some sort of veiled entendre on the part of the author that I just don’t get. Anyway, I think we can all agree that the whole thing reeks of creepy. Or should I say, reekED of creepy. Today the little hamlet beckons you like something straight out of a fairytale, and we wandered through a little vineyard to watch a swan floating on the pond by Hansel and Gretel’s cottage.
But enough about Versailles. I think everyone would have lived there happily ever after if possible, but the hoboes have a lot more experience in turf wars than we do. Plus, the next day (Friday) was Brittany’s family’s last full day in Paris, so I should probably mention it.
Let’s see… the ladies spent the morning shopping for clothes, while Jamie and I spent it sleeping, and then going to Nike Paris. Everyone was pretty tuckered out from the day before, which didn’t bode well for our evening. We’d learned that something called the “Louvre” is free for anyone under 26 on Friday nights, so we waited until our last night together to finally go. I would describe our visit as a “Let’s just see the highlights because my feet are already killing me and we’re not even inside yet” type of tour. We managed to see the biggies, but I was really struck by the size of this “Louvre” – I think you could make several day-long visits without looking at the same things twice.
The highlight for this history nerd was seeing Hammurabi’s Code on the lower floor. What’s crazy is that this tablet is something like 4000 years old, and they’ve just got it standing in the middle of the floor, separated from the viewer only by a flimsy knee-high barrier. I expected something of its magnitude to be on serious lockdown, and here you could just reach across and tip it over? I instantly had visions of getting my own name (and picture, hopefully) right next to Hammurabi’s Code in the textbooks, but then I reflected that I wouldn’t want someone to tip ME over, so I restrained myself.
Well, I’m fresh out of corny history jokes, so I’ll wrap this up. Brittany’s family flew back home the next day, and BOY, WERE THEIR ARMS TIRED! Right? I swear, I’ll never understand why no one reads our blog.