Our European Trip - 2005 travel blog

Entering Versailles

Chateau from the gardens

Formal Gardens from the Terrace

Christine at the Fountain

Marie Antoinette

Galley Slave

Horses at Versailles

Gardens

Gardens & Auditorium

Hotel

Louvre from the Boat

One of the Many Bridges

The Old Lady All Lit Up


We had breakfast in the hotel and went to an SNCF office to book our train to Geneva, then took the RER - suburban train system - to Versailles. It was another hot day and we walked over to the palace kicking up dust from the hard packed sand that seems to be the hallmark of public monuments here. It was not too busy, though there were line ups for tickets. We had bought a museum pass at the Arc de Triomphe yesterday so were able to walk right in. We visited the gardens first and enjoyed the vastness of them. There are flowerbeds and rows of sculpted hedges everywhere, almost mazelike from which you suddenly burst on another flower garden. Marie Antoinette was so disgusted that I had not arranged a golf cart to take her round that she ordered her galley slave to row her round the pond. I was surprised that my rowing skills were still up to it as it is twenty or more years since I last rowed a boat. It was a very relaxing way to see the area and admire the cultivated areas and the people passing on foot, bicycle and horseback.

If there was a disappointment it rested on the fact that the fountains only operate on Saturdays and Sundays - and this was Tuesday.

We returned the boat and had a picnic lunch in a shady spot before returning to the Chateau and taking an audio tour of the state rooms. The artwork is awe-inspiring and the history intriguing. If this is "old Europe" we could do with more of it!

Having admired this part of the interior we retired to the village and had an ice cream before returning to Paris and the hotel.

We went to the river to join a boat for dinner. We departed from near the Eiffel Tower and sailed past the Louvre, Notre Dame to the Biblioteque - the National Library - and returned past the Eiffel Tower to the Statue of Liberty and back to the Eiffel Tower - the captain timing it right so that the tower "sparkled" just as we docked. If you are like me, you probably did not know that there was a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Paris. Apparently it was a gift to the City by the US consulate on the centenary of the revolution in 1889. It stands by the pier of one of the bridges.

Cruising down the Seine you realize how many bridges Paris has. We were told the number the other day, but it escapes me. Forty-six seems to ring a bell and seeing the ones tonight, I do not think that is an exaggeration. What amazed me more than the sheer number was the fact that most of these bridges were built several hundred years ago to carry, presumably, horses, carriages and pedestrians. Today, not only do they carry bicycles, motor bikes, cars and buses, but some have been adapted by building a second bridge on top to carry rail and metro cars. Some engineering! Oh that our present architects and engineers could be as prescient! Or perhaps we could blame it all on democracy. Perhaps we need some regal fiats proclaiming the ideas and force their implementation without regard to cost or the effect on the electorate. However, we were reminded today of the consequences of that path in 1789!

Apart from the experience of seeing the bridges and the buildings from a different angle, it was enlightening to see the crowds on the bridges and on the banks of the river, some dancing, some picnicking, some merely sitting or standing watching the passing traffic.

Another part of the outing was, of course, dining. We had a beautifully prepared and presented meal of four courses which more than satisfied the travellers, tired and hungry from another long day of sightseeing. We were greeted with a champagne cocktail and provided with a litre of white wine. As the main course was being served we were presented with a bottle (a mere 750cc) of red wine. We declined since we were not driving and had to walk home. If truth be told, much of the white wine was untouched also!

One feels immensely safe in Paris. Even returning after 11:00pm tonight through back streets in old Paris one came across sidewalks cafes with people eating and drinking in a highly civilized manner and with no sign of fear for their, or our, safety. We really felt at home. The language is no barrier; my limited French and everyone's willingness to assist make communication easy. The tales of boorish waiters and rude Parisiennes have not been substantiated by these tourists.

If our whole trip is an extravagance, tonight's cruise and dinner crowned it all, but it was an experience of a lifetime to glide past the old buildings into the gathering darkness and be greeted with an explosion of light at the Eiffel Tower while enjoying gastronomic treats.

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