Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Paris Saga: Day III

Day three was our bike tour of Versailles. In short, it was really fun, but really cold, and we only had a few near-fatalities.

We woke up at 6:30, ate breakfast at 7:15, and took the subway to "Fat Tire Bike Tours". This subway line actually goes above ground, and we saw the entire Eiffel Tower for the first time as we crossed a bridge over the river. We were walled in by buildings, and then all of a sudden we were over water and there it was. Such a surprise, because honestly, I didn't even realize which direction we were going, and it hadn't occured to me that we'd be passing over the Seine.

Anyway, we'd given ourselves plenty of time to get to the tour on time, since we had no idea how long it would take, and we ended up getting there about a half-hour too early (the bike shop wasn't even open yet), so we walked around this little neighborhood. It was so cute - I don't even know the name of it, but the subway stop was called "Dupleix" so maybe that's it? Anyway, the streets were cobblestone, and all of the old, tall buildings faced this adorable little park at the center. And there was a huge church on one side. I'm mad at myself for not taking any pictures of it! Anyway, it was freezing, so we went inside the church and read the bulletin boards for a while before heading back to the shop. We were only inside the church for about 15 minutes, but just during that time, the entire neighborhood had woken up, and the little streets were full of mothers walking their kids to school. There's something so cute about little kids speaking French. Like, when we were in the subway, I overhead a little boy screaming, "arrete! arrete!!" at his younger sister, and in English, I would have considered him a brat, but in French, it was the cutest thing ever.

The shop was open when we got there, but we were still early and only the second and third people to arrive. A crazy Eastern-Canadian lady named Mary was raring to go in her bright yellow coat. Remember this face, because you'll need to recall it later for a story or two.

I paid a euro for ten minutes of internet, and by the time I was finished, the entire group had gathered, we were introduced to our tour guide "Graham" (I thought it was "Grant" for the first few hours...he was this 25 year old student from Dallas that wouldn't put a French inflection on a word to save his life. For example, he kept calling the Seine, the "Sane", Marie-Antoinette "Mary-Antoinette", etc) ... and we were off. My hands were frozen solid within the first five minutes. And they were a HARROWING five minutes, because we had to ride our bikes through the busy streets of Paris to a train station. It took at least two years off my life. And then, once we were at the train station, we had to carry our bikes downstairs to the platform. (I use "we" collectively here, because Graham saw the look on my face and carried mine for me.)

(Ignore me. It was severely cold. Also, you can see the Eiffel Tower in the background.)

When the train got there, we each had to lift our bikes in and bungee them to a pole for the 15 minute ride out to Versailles. Then, once we got there, we had to take our bikes up an ESCALATOR. This is where the near-fatalities I mentioned before come in, and it's also where you have to recall that photo of Mary-the-Eastern-Canadian if you want an accurate picture of what happened next. Jon and me and an Australian family of six were the last people to board the escalator, but before we could, there was a huge commotion about halfway up. Mary's bike's tire had turned and caught the wall (the only part of the machine that stays in place). Next thing we knew, she's falling over backward, being run over by her rogue bicycle, and causing a chain reaction of bikes and people to come cascading downwards. I don't know how, but some super-hero of a guy single-handedly caught the entire mess and held it from going any further, but poor Mary was on her back, upsidedown by this point, as the escalator went higher and higher. This guy yells up to Graham, "We've got a problem here!" and I've got to admit, I was imagining a bloody mess at the top as bodies got sucked under the grate...but it turns out that doesn't really happen....and though we couldn't see what happened once they got up there, we didn't hear much more commotion, so, still slightly horrified, we all shuffled our feet for a few moments before the Australian mom swallowed hard and said "Okay" out loud, picked up her bike, and took her turn. I was terrified, but I made it up safe and sound to find Mary loudly recanting her tale for all to hear. Now - I appreciate someone that can laugh something off, because she was obviously embarrassed, and in some pain even though nothing was broken...but can you give it a rest?? She brought it up EVERY moment she could! Biking along the streets of Versailles she would declare, "Maybe I should be at the back..I don't want to cause a pile-up!" Stopped for a break, she would say, "Careful if you're sitting next to me...I might fall into you!" It just became so uncomfortable, I just wanted to tell her STOP TALKING ABOUT IT, you're only making it worse. Anyway, I can't knock her too hard, because she DID ask me if I was okay when I had to stop and push on my eyeball.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. So, when we first got to Versailles, we biked to this fun market. Each day there's an indoor market, but the day we were there also happened to have an outdoor food market as well. We had a half an hour to buy stuff for the picnic we'd be having later (Graham announced that as a tour guide in France, he is, by law, required to carry a corkscrew and cups at all times, which earned hearty laughter from the lamer people in our group and an exuberant "oh ho ho! I don't need to be any more impaired, thank you very much!" from Mary). Jon and I got sandwiches and pastries from a pretty boulangerie around the corner.

Then, we rode to the chateau grounds, but we took the back entrance so that the castle was the LAST thing that we saw, not the first. I was glad we did it that way...since we were on bikes, we covered a lot more ground than we ever would have been able to had we been walking, and everything that we saw got exponentially grander, instead of seeing the best thing first, and then the smaller things afterwards. So we took off down a dirt road alongside a sheep pasture...

(Such pretty countryside, huh? I'm a little bothered by the tree growing out of my head, though..)

Here's a snapshot of Marie-Antoinette's hamlet.

And one of the smaller of the two chateaus.

This canal out back is shaped like a cross, and what you see in this picture is actually the shorter ends.

(It was so cold.)

We rode around each of the "arms" of the cross, and while we were completely opposite of the chateau, we stopped for lunch, laid down ponchos for blankets, and gorged ourselves while watching swans out on the water. And listening to the loser next to us try and impress Graham. He was seriously the biggest goober ever. He was the middle-aged equivalent of that one guy that I always hated in school, that always raced to be finished with the math problem first, and always self-importantly corrected the teacher when they'd made a mistake on the whiteboard. There was a person like that in every class, it seemed. This guy on our tour hung around Graham like a dog, always pushing to be near the front of the group, and racing to be the first to each destination. He followed the guide so closely that we saw on several occasions what appeared to be Graham attempting to scrape this guy off on pilars and walls and stuff. I would have. He was so lame. Anyway, here's a view of the chateau from the back, where we had our lunch.

I ate my first-ever mille-feuille for dessert, and it was wonderful. The wind started to pick up, so I took a cue from the Australian dad and put the plastic poncho on. Any little bit helped. You wouldn't believe how freezing cold it was. We cleaned up and took off for the entrance. We were on our own inside of the building. Our tour included a free audio guide, which was useless, so we just kind of wandered around, overwhelmed by all the stinky people.

Everyone kept talking about the "hall of mirrors this" and the "hall of mirrors that", so we were most excited about seeing that. But we went through the entire tour, got spat back out into the cold, and we hadn't even seen it!! How could we have missed it?? So we asked people that worked there to point us in the right direction, and we started all over again, confused as heck. Oh. Turns out, mirrors from hundreds of years ago don't really look like mirrors. That huge hall that we had walked down with brassy stuff on the walls? THAT was the Hall of Mirrors. So we saw it twice. Oh, and did I mention I was still wearing the poncho? were pointing and laughing, but they were just punk kids, and I was still cold.

(I had no idea how huge this place would be until we got up to it. By today's standards, it was worth 300 billion dollars before it got wrecked and gutted during and after the revolution. We learned that the working class of Paris was being taxed up to EIGHTY PERCENT of everything they made, and that TWENTY-FIVE percent of all of France's revenue went straight into building this palace, so the kings could live there. Gross, huh??)

(The Hall of Mirrors)

(Another view of the Hall of Mirrors. Whoever finds the girl in the clear plastic poncho first, wins.)

On our way out to meet the group, I waited in line for 15 minutes for my right to use a toilet with NO SEAT (as if my legs weren't already tired from biking) and NO TOILET PAPER...(none in the entire bathroom, and don't even ask me about it).

We took a different train and a different route back to the shop, bought a couple of T-shirts, and picked up some free magnets before heading back to the hotel, where we made reservations for the next night to see the show at the Moulin Rouge, changed our clothes, and went to eat at a really nice restaurant up the street called Chez Clement.

Jon ordered duck confit, and I got some random assortment of pastry-encrusted goat cheese with honey (mmmm..), smoked salmon with cucumber, cute little seafood raviolis, and a lentil salad. The lentils came in a jar and it was kind of weird, but really good.

Then, back at the hotel, we discovered how wind-burned our faces were, and how swollen our hands were....and I was asleep in about 2 seconds.



  1. Bless Mary's heart for taking one for the team and showing us how not to use an escalator with a california beach cruiser in tow. Mary may have been battered and bruised and incessant but I must admit we were just as redundant about how bloody cold it was. It was probably 3 celcius and a staggering 37 farenheit, which should be tolerable to folks raised in cold climates, but Arizona has been unseasonably warm and we froze our nether regions off.

  2. One thing I must admit, I would have built it bigger and better. In the words of my lovely wife "Is that bad?". Who wouldn't want to be the king? That place was too gargantuan to describe, but I would live there with the right security team holding off the revolution.

  3. You had to push on your eyeball? But why not just bear down as if you were taking a huge dump? Then maybe Mary wouldn't have noticed.

  4. I guess that's why they give you two case you're on a bike ride in Versailles and you don't want the questions. Though if "bearing down" went awry, I can imagine that would definitely lead to even MORE awkward questions...