Saturday, April 7, 2012

Versailles and Paris goodbye

Mark and I had digestive tract distress overnight. Mark, more so than I. He also had fever, chills, and body ache. I felt okay in the morning. Was it something we ate? Mark also thought he had a bit of a sore throat. He had been achy yesterday, but he thought it was a product of all the walking we did. In light of how he was feeling, we thought it would be best to leave him at the hotel while we visited Versailles. Off, the kids and I went. We needed to take the metro to an RER train station. We had some problems. First of all, my metro passes didn't seem to want to work. Often I had to trade them in. Perhaps it was because I stores them in pockets that were close to my phone or other magnetized devices. Once we got past that hurdle, we needed to find a place to buy train tickets to Versailles. Finding ticket offices is not always intuitive, but I finally found one. I bought the kids an all day pass for €7 which they could use on RER or metro.
We were plenty early for Versailles which was intentional. We could peruse the Notre Dame Market. Being a Saturday, only the indoor stands were open; nobody was set up on the outside. The market has buildings that surround an open air square. Entrance to the buildings are on the faces rather than the corners of the square, so each of the four buildings are L-shaped. We had been to many markets this trip. My awe in these places matches the awe I have in cathedrals. I should have taken pictures, but we were the only ones in the market, and I was feeling shy to ask to take pictures, especially since we weren't really there to buy. In retrospect, I should have done it. The markets held seafood, meats, flowers, produce, cheeses, fresh pastas, and wine. Since we were looking for breakfast items, the kids were disappointed. I, however, couldn't get over the selection. Imagine walking home from work and stopping at the market to buy ingredients for dinner. There were types of fish I'd never seen before and the cheeses---how does one choose? The town of Versailles didn't seem so large to have such assortment. I am going to be a little sad next time I go to an American supermarket-- in spite of all the variety of boxed, bottled, and jarred items that are available to us. Maybe I need to make Green Dragon a habit. If only it was as neatly contained as the Versailles market.
Around the perimeter of the market were other shops, and we easily located a patisserie. Pain au Chocolate and a few other treats. Then we headed to Versailles. Th tour buses were already arriving even though the Chateau wasn't open yet. We waited in the courtyard and took pictures. Eventually we made it inside to the sumptuousness that awaited. Such grandeur is almost unimaginable. And to think they were redecorating these rooms constantly. The fabrics, the statues, the painted ceilings, the chandeliers, the guilded and carved moldings: it was all too much for the modern eye. I began to think about our hotel room which has a delicious spareness to it. In our modern world, we are constantly barraged with images on our screens and magazines that our brains need a break. But in the days of Louis, Louis, Louis, human brains didn't have digital and print stimulation. What enjoyment they must have received staring into the storied murals. They also served as propaganda: Greek gods and goddesses underscoring the fact that being royalty was ordained by the heavens. I thought about all the artists used to make such a place into a reality. Most of those artists were anonymous carvers, painters, etc. In the 21st centuries our artists are busy with different kinds of propaganda through all the media we devour. I understand better my desire for a minimalist cottage.
After touring the royal apartments, we went to Angelina's tea room (in the chateau) for hot chocolate and their signature dessert, Monte Blanc. I had been promising Maren this gourmet Chocolat Chaud since before we left. Each cup was about €8, but I couldn't back out. The drinks came in pitchers accompanied by a little bowl of whipped cream. We poured them into our cups and drank. The first sips were magical, but it quickly became too much--even for Maren. Then came the Monte Blanc. I can't actually describe this dessert other than that it was overly sweet. We each ate two bites, enjoying none, but feeling as though we had to make a dent in it. In the end, Maren did not finish her hot chocolate and said that she was swearing off the drink. Hard to believe.
We did not have tickets to the gardens, fountain show, and Marie Antoinette's little manor. We could have bought them, but we wanted to get back to Mark. We could see some of the gardens from the windows of the royal apartments and took a few pictures from ground level. With that, we made our way back to central Paris. We were hoping to see a crepe stand on our way back to the train, but no such luck. With all the sweet ickiness, we consumed, we needed the salt and protein of a ham and cheese crepe to balance it out. My digestive system was not happy.
At 12:00, When we were about 100 feet from our hotel we saw Mark who was coming out to get a croissant to hopefully settle his empty stomach. I was exhausted and was dashing for a bathroom. Mark took the kids to the McDonalds which was two blocks away from our hotel. They were in search of salty fries. I don't like McDonald's in our country, so it was pretty sacrilegious for me to turn away while they went for their fries, but I was not in any shape to be battling for my ideals.
I went straight to the room to nap. When the rest came back to the room, we all napped and/or read for about 2 1/2 hours. It was a much needed rest and break from our heavy sightseeing schedule.
After our rest, we had a free afternoon. We encouraged the kids to go off by themselves as long as they were together. Jonah patiently took Maren shopping. Mark and I climbed the 270 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. With a sense of accomplishment, we looked out over the city at the end of our journey and noted all the places where we walked. My guess is that we hit 15 of the 20 arrondissements. We descended our perch and found a cute little wine bar on a side street. I had some onion soup for my salt fix/ late lunch. It was a nice relaxed way to spend our last afternoon, watching the people pass on the street and sharing our collected insights on our journey.
After about two hours out and about, we reconvened in our room, all arriving within five minutes of one another. Maren found a ruffled black sundress she loved, and spent the last of her money. I journaled while the kids read. Mark took yet another nap to try to shake whatever it was that he had. I was really excited about the last night dinner reservations I had made for Chez Gabrielle. The place was around the corner from our hotel, and Mark and I had scoped out the menu on the way back to the room. So, imagine my disappointment when we got there at 8:30, and they didn't have the reservation that I had made through It was a tiny place and there was no way they could accommodate us. We went back to the hotel. I talked to the concierge who found us a similar place to eat nearby. It wasn't the same, but we would make do. P'tit Bouchon had a red/gold interior, a circus theme, and it seemed to be occupied by locals. Mark and the kids were skeptical at the French menu, which I interpreted somewhat for them. I was still disappointed that we weren't at the other restaurant and then alternately disappointed that I wasn't on this trip with fellow foodies. I sat there not wanting to say anything. The kids ordered cheeseburgers with foie gras and frites. Mark ordered filet of beef and mashed potatoes. I ordered foie gras appetizer and sole meunière. The foie gras was good but very rich. I could only eat about half my serving, and nobody else wanted to try it. Luckily it came with a light salad to cut the richness. Our plats (main dishes) came. (Entree is the word for appetizer in French). The kids ate the burgers, not complaining about the foie gras on them, but Jonah did complain about the vegetables on his. Mark ate slowly. The beef was rare-- which he liked, but he ordered it Medium. French like their meats rarer than we do. Mark still wasn't feeling 100%, so this dinner, at this time of night, was an effort for him. My sole arrived whole and with unfamiliar silverware. Our waitress asked if I wanted her to plate it for me. I should have taken a video of the way she fileted it with the provided utensils, one of which looked like a flat spoon. It was delicious, but there were still fine bones, around which I had to negotiate. I also received a bowl of assorted steamed vegetables: something in the broccoli family, string beans, fennel, pea pods, and carrots. Still, I just wanted to finish and get back to the room--especially since my dining companions were really dragging. We talked about wanting to see our pug again and being glad that he was the kind of dog that would be happy to see us after a long trip. We had reached reached our vacation saturation point-- happy to have had the trip and ready now for home.
Our last gifts from the hotel fairies was a magnetic bookmark which said, "I read in Paris." We all agreed that it belonged to Jonah. As late as it was, we packed and got ready for our early morning departure. We had had a memorable adventure but it was now time to take our memories with us into everyday life.

No comments: