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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


We woke up to a heat wave and set off for a day trip to Versailles, about 30 minutes outside of Paris by train. After we left the hotel, we faced the quandary of breakfast. The hotels serve an expensive continental breakfast and you can usually do better outside the hotel. We could find a number of patisseries around the hotel with decently-priced wares, but they didn't serve coffee.
If we wanted to sit down to have a small coffee and croissant at a cafe, it would have cost us a total of $20-24. Trying to beat the crowds at Versailles, we had granola bars from my stash for breakfast. Not a good way to start the morning!

Versailles was an overwhelming experience; it took us all day to get through the main palace and a decent portion of the estate. You can see how large the main chateau is by how far back I had to be to get the entire building in the picture frame.

The original building and garden were built by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge. It was Louis XIV who turned the property into a sumptuous estate, the center of the court, and the symbol of absolute monarchy until 1789.

With its three palaces, gardens, park, stables, lodgings, and other buildings, Versailles is an immense estate. Despite losing the hunting grounds, the property is still almost 1977 acres (800 hectares) with about 27 acres (11 hectares) of roofing, 2153 windows, 700 rooms, 67 staircases, about 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) of roads, and 200,000 trees.

What follows is a very abbreviated and individual tour of the site. The whole package is so overwhelming (and large) that even with a guide book, I have trouble remembering what we saw where.

The front gate.

The Marble Courtyard.

The Royal Chapel.

The Hercules Drawing-Room, with its abundance of marble.

Close up of some of the marble wall.

The Hall of Mirrors. You have seen better photos of this famous room, but I included this shot so you can get an idea of how crowded it was touring Versailles.

One of the mirrors
in the hall.

A shot out one of the windows showing part of the gardens.

A globe commissioned in 1781 by Louis XIV for the education of his son.

The Queen's bedchamber, where the queen gave birth in public to the heirs to the throne. The wall and bed coverings are all embroidered.

A close up shot of the embroidery on a pillow.

The King's Bedchamber.

The Dauphine's Private Cabinet (yes, the children had their own apartments). The chandelier was one of my favorites.

A close up of the panelling.

We left the main chateau and headed into the gardens looking for lunch. Did I mention that we were starving? I wanted to take some photos of the gardens and large fountain as we passed but was just too hungry to take the time.
The lunch service is what you would expect from a restaurant that has a captive clientele at a major tourist spot. After waiting too long at a table for sit-down service, we got up to try a location further away from the main palace. We passed the take out service window but had no idea where we might be allowed to eat.
We ended up at a sister restaurant past the Chateaux de Trianon (more about that later) that was less crowded. Don had salty onion soup and I had a Croque Madam (fried ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top) and a slightly wilted salad. Heck, in that heat, we were all wilted! I did discover citron presse at lunch, which has become one of my favorite drinks. It is essentially fizzy lemonade. Here is my approximation of what I had at lunch:
Citron Presse
1 scant Tablespoon of lemon juice
1.5 Tablespoons of simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water cooked until the sugar dissolves)
1 cup of mineral water or club soda.
In a glass, mix lemon juice and simple syrup. Add mineral water or club soda.
Fortified with lunch, we went on to the Grand Trianon, a small palace that Louis XIV started in 1687 as a private residence away from the main building. In 1761, Gabriel built the Petit Trianon, which was essentially a gift to Marie-Antoinette from Louis XVI on his accession to the throne.

The loggia between the Grand and Petite Trianon.

A view out to one of the gardens.

One of the rooms in one of the Trianons (see I told you it was hard to keep things straight). We were struck with this room because of the unlikely color combination of yellow and gray that somehow works.

A grotto. This was actually a restful break.

THE QUEEN'S HAMLET: This was Marie-Antoinette's village where she played peasant. Ten houses are still standing, including the Queen's Cottage, the Billiard Room. the Mill, the Boudoir, and the Pigeon Loft. This village was actually a working farm. We didn't stay long because Don got stung by a bee while we were viewing one of the cottages. Poor Don was just standing there when a bee flew up and stung him in the elbow. He got the stinger out pretty quickly so the injury was not as bad as it could have been.

The Queen's Cottage, actually two buildings connected by a wooden gallery.

A view of one of the backside and garden of one of the cottages.

We wandered through the gardens a bit more but just ran out of time before the 6:00PM closing of the grounds.
Since we had not found time to try crepes on our last visit to Paris, Don noticed that one of the recommended restaurants in the town of Versailles was a traditional creperie named A la Cote Bretonne. We finally found the restaurant down a little street but were too early for dinner because they didn't open until 7:00 PM. We wandered around and had a raspberry ice while we were waiting for dinner.
Don's back was bothering him so we also found a pharmacy where Don could buy some aspirin-- $9 for a box of 50 aspirin! Yes, each pill was 500 mg instead of our 325 mg and each pill was nicely enclosed in its own plastic tab, but really!

Luckily, dinner turned out to be a nice end to the day. We sat at a table outside--heck everyone sat at a table outside because it was too hot to eat inside. Did I mention there was no air-conditioning? We both ordered different crepe combinations, one savory and one sweet. Don had a beef crepe for dinner and I had a sausage and cheese crepe. He had a berry crepe for dessert and I had a crepe with vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. They were lovely.
On the way back to the train station, we stumbled across a department store with a food section, so we stopped and
bought cold drinks (did I mention that it was hot?), a packaged fruit snack that turned out to be like applesauce, and some small bottles of peach ice tea.
We headed back to the hotel with our purchases.

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