Day 19. Versailles and packing.
Today was our last day sightseeing. Tomorrow we head home after 19 days in 6 cities in 5 countries and points in between. I hope you've shared some of our excitement of the places we've been and the things we've seen. Tomorrow, I'll write about the stuff that worked and the stuff that didn't.
Both kids said they wanted to see the Palace of Versailles. They had seen it in travel books or on the Travel Channel. They knew it was a thing, even if they didn't exactly know why.
Our day began taking the same path we've taken all week. But first, we sat at the café on our corner for a coffee and a croissant. Because that's how your morning is supposed to start when you're in Paris. Both kids are now hopelessly addicted to European coffee, so it's a good thing we have a proper coffee machine at home.
Down the Metro to the Bir Hakeim stop to catch the RER C train southwest to Versailles. We took the same train two days before to get to the Orsay. Today, the train entrance was closed. We looked around for a different entrance, so I walked to the information booth. Every station has an information booth, staffed by the most dim-witted employees the civil service can muster. Five people stood in line before me. For each, he held up a piece of paper.
My turn. "How do I get to Versailles if the station is closed?" The paper read "Montparnasse Station, Train N".
I walked over to the family and said "Apparently we need to get back on the train to Montparnasse Station."
Jackie asked, "Is there another station we could take this train from". So I went back to the man at the window and asked. I got the piece of paper again.
"Is the entire line for train C down?" Again, the piece of paper. I'm guessing the civil service has a very low barrier to entry, just above valets and taxi drivers.
We took the Metro to Montparnasse and got on the exterior trains heading to Versailles and points beyond. The train was hot, like all trains in Paris. On the train trip out, I gave the kids a bit of the history of Louis XIV, the Sun King. I also explained about the treaty of Versailles and how its' uneven conditions allowed the rise of the extremist parties in Germany and the eventual start of World War II.
Thirty minutes later, we found ourselves at a station with a few people, but no obvious signs. I pulled out my phone and used the maps to guide us the 1.5 miles to the Palace.
You can see the queue to get in Versailles from half a mile (0.8km) away and you can see it's crowded. There are quite literally a hundred tour busses lined up in the parking lot and from the point where you get in the entry, it's a quarter mile (0.4km) to the doors you enter. And there's a queue, wrapped around twice. At that point, we were wondering if this was the right choice for our last day.
I looked to the side and saw a sign that said "vers Jardins" (to the gardens). "Let's go over here".
The Gardens of Versailles are the cool part of the place. Imagine 2500 acres (1000 ha) of nothing but shrubs, trees, landscaped gardens, canals, and sculptures. My advice, if the place is full, is to skip the building and just see the gardens. We stood in line for 30 minutes to get a golf cart and that was, in hindsight, a great decision. I felt bad to not be walking, but after 18 days of walking, I was happy to just take in the sights.
We drove around the gardens for about 2 hours, which cost €56 ($60). We stopped a couple times to get food, see a site, and take photos. I know we should've strolled the gardens, but we were all footsore after 3 weeks on the road and we just wanted to passively enjoy something beautiful. And it was beautiful.
Then there was the Palace. The Palace is probably beautiful when there aren't 20,000 other tourists on days where it isn't 95F (35C), but today is not one of those days. After walking through non-air-conditioned salons with hundreds of tourists, we decided to leave. Maybe in October or March it's a better time to be here.
We walked out the Palace into the town of Versailles. Elijah discovered he had lost his train ticket for the second time. I located the "C" train that we should've taken out to the palace and I bought a spare ticket for Elijah.
When I got over to the family, Jackie was engaged in conversation with an older gentleman. He didn't speak English very well and my French is still bad, but he conveyed the fact that we needed to be on the number 2 platform in the next 3 minutes if we didn't want to wait half an hour. I'd like to think he was doing exactly what I do with European visitors traveling Route 66--getting them down the road in the right direction so they can enjoy their trip.
Thank you, sir, well done. Merci, beaucoup.
The train was packed. And not air-conditioned. We had 9 stops to get where we were going and it seemed like they each lasted an eternity. There was no seating because we were the last ones on the train, so we stood the entire 30 minute trip. As we approached the last stop, Jackie said, "I'm going to want to sit as soon as we get out of the train station and if that means you want a beer, you should get a beer". So I did. Not only that, I decided to skip the last leg on the Metro and just call up an Uber car to take us the last 4 miles to our apartment. The trip cost €9 ($10) and we rode in an air-conditioned four door sedan in comfort. Ahhhhhhhh.
The beer and the fact that we're looking at the last mile gave me some strength. I wanted to get a bottle or two of Picon liqueur to take home. So while Jackie and the kids relaxed, I went back to the streets. I stopped at the corner café to ask the man I've seen every day who waves and smiles at us. He says they can't sell their bottles, but there is a liquor store right down the street. The liquor store man put up his nose and said "I don't sell that, go to a supermarket". So I searched for a supermarket on my phone. On the fourth try, I found a store that stocked it. Two bottles cost €22 ($25). One the way back to the apartment, my watch read 8:30 PM, so I stopped at the Pizza Hut on the corner to get a couple pies.
I don't know if I could find better pizza in France than Pizza Hut, but I can tell you that tonight, this Pizza Hut made the most amazing pie. Seriously, it's not like the crappy Pizza Hut pizza we get in the States. I was a hero as I walked back into the apartment. After three weeks together in hot apartments and bug-ridden hotels, I'll take that as a win.
I decided to slip out of the apartment after Jackie got all the kids' bags packed. Beau and I took my phone and the monopod to our corner and did a 360° panorama of the corner we came to every morning and every evening for the last week. It's a good corner. Full of happy memories.
Whatever else happens in our life, we'll always have Paris.