Thursday was our last full day in Paris. We hopped on a morning RER train to take in the sights of Versailles. Jeff's health was beginning to deteriorate a bit, but he was hanging in there with the help of his French cold medicine. I kept a bottle of water for him in my purse, along with some cough drops. The weather was nothing short of ideal, at least, and Jeff knew his way around Versailles. It was my first visit.
The train was about half-full but almost eerily quiet, and the ride was so smooth it seemed like the rails had been buttered or carpeted...whatever. We basically floated over to Versailles during this half-hour ride. Upon arrival we had a quick breakfast, sharing a muffin, coffee, and orange juice, and then it was a quick walk to the palace's golden entrance.
I hadn't realized that a city was connected to the palace of Versailles--for some reason I had assumed that it was in the middle of nowhere. We arrived just as it was opening for visitors.
The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.
(That paragraph was from Wikipedia. I'm not much of a Francophile beyond its art and food, and I'll also admit that writing 1,500 words per day about Paris is wearing me out!)
Inside the gates: a massive courtyard formed by the U-shaped palace that faces the sunrise (Louis XIV was known as the Sun King, and this theme was repeated throughout Versailles). Jeff and I guided ourselves through the palace's beyond-grand rooms while reading quietly from his Rick Steves iPhone guide.
I tend to start strong in palaces, but after a while their gold-encrusted splendor and--I'm going to call it colored marble abuse--gets to me. The spaces are often so busy and vulgar that I can't imagine living in them. Versailles was no different, although the craftsmanship and time that went into the palace was not lost on me, and the paintings decorating virtually every flat surface were outstanding.
Chandeliers were everywhere. Since I enjoy painting shiny glass things, I thought it would be a good idea to photograph them for use in a future painting. Most of them didn't quite work out, but I do like the one above. I'm not sure if I'd want to paint it, though. You can see the kind of decoration going on in the palace here, but this room seems low-key compared with some of the others.
Say hello to Marie Antoinette's bedroom, every young girl's dream!
I'm not sure if those floral motifs were painted or embroidered, but either way that's a whole lot of work for some poor soul.
The hall of mirrors, seen here in a photo not taken by us, seems like the length of a basketball court, with seventeen huge, arched, west-facing windows on one side and matching mirrors on the other. At the time of its construction, mirrors were very expensive, so this gallery was a showstopper. And it's a showstopper now.
Since Jeff and I were there in the morning, the lighting wasn't as dramatic. You can kind of see us in the center of the photo. And you can really see Jeff here.
Lookin' pretty good for a sick man!
Jeff's previous trip to Versailles was in the afternoon/early evening, and he took a lovely photo of the moon rising over the palace.
Seeing that photo makes me feel sad, as Jeff was nursing a broken heart at the time, but at the same time I'm so glad he's with me now.
West of the palace: the formal gardens, the canal, and the rest of the grounds that go on for as far as the eye can see. As stupendous as the palace was, I took the vast majority of my photos outdoors that day. Early spring--what an amazing time to be there.
Dewy daffodils and tulips were in bloom in the formal gardens near the palace, and I mined them for future painting gold.
So fresh and beautiful!
It was like they weren't even real.
The dewdrops were so perfect it seemed like Versailles had employed someone to walk around misting the flowers all day.
I couldn't get over how peaceful it was, far from the bustling city, with an infinite number of trees and singing birds. It reminded me of Illinois, just a little bit.
We walked (there was so much walking that day) to the palace's summertime getaway, and beyond that was Marie Antoinette's Hameau de la reine, a model village with a mill and twelve cottages, nine of which are still standing.
The buildings were small, quaint, and situated near a pond with ducks, geese, and a swan.
"Watch me Thomas Kinkade the hell out of this photo," I told Jeff before taking the following picture.
More gardens, more flowers:
Jeff waited patiently for me as I knelt down and snapped away.
He took some photos himself, including this amazing 300 year-old tree.
And I took this one.
During the week we were in Paris, we saw dozens of trees laden with fantastic pink blossoms that looked more like pompoms (see top photo). I couldn't get enough of them.
We strolled around Versailles for three or four hours before we left for lunch at L'Angelique, the fanciest restaurant of our trip, about a mile from the palace. Do click on that link; they have some great photos.
This was another situation where we guessed and pointed at the inscrutable French menu and put our trust in the chef. After we left, we noticed an English translation of the menu in the window and took a photo of it. I've marked the items we selected with J and K. (My dessert wasn't included on this menu, hence no K down there, but please don't panic. I totally had dessert.)
I love "Menu for everybody" at the bottom.
Let's see what they made for us! Please excuse any blurriness--this place was so nice and I was trying to be discreet.
This was Jeff's foie terrine with artichokes. Nice.
When I ordered this, the only word I recognized was "Iberico," and I thought "veloute" might mean something soft like velour. I was rewarded with a creamy watercress soup. In the middle were five or six small slices of what I declared "the best meat I have ever tasted." I thought it was beef and so did Jeff, but it was that famous Spanish ham, so tender I could cut it with a spoon, and so flavorful I couldn't quite believe it. Major.
Next Jeff had a perfectly cooked piece of fish with beans in a butter sauce (bonus foam). On the top was what we think was a fried zucchini flower.
Mine (below) was a charlotte of scallops, and the only reason I ordered a charlotte was because I have always liked that word.
It was so beautiful! The scallops were arranged into a cylindrical form on a bed of baby spinach. Inside the charlotte: artichokes in a tiny dice. It was topped with lime zest and surrounded by an ethereal lime-butter foam. Divine.
Jeff--surprise, Jeff!--had pears with sesame nougat and prune jam. Some kind of caramel component was happening. I can't get over that dried pear slice. Pretty as this was, I was the big winner this time around:
I mean, you can tell this is awesome just by looking at it, no? Ice cream of indeterminate flavor. Whiskey? I don't drink, but it was lovely. Cinnamon/caramel brushstrokes. Chocolate rolls, tightly coiled, that burst into many shards when tapped. The star: a soft caramel dome containing chocolate mousse, and hidden inside that? Hazelnut filling. Basically everything good in the world is in that dessert.
And there was much appreciative murmuring and affectionate cooing going on at our table. Writing about this meal makes today's leftover tomato soup seem very humdrum indeed. Humdrum recipe available here.
We returned to Paris on the train. Sitting across from us were two young women from Turkey who were puzzling over a map. Jeff helped them figure out which stop they wanted. He received big smiles in return and a couple of follow-up questions such as, "How do you pronounce the name of that river?" I love watching Jeff be a hero.
We got off at Notre Dame, walked along the Seine, which is pronounced sen, by the way, and shared a gelato from the famous Berthillon on Ile St Louis. What a gorgeous day that was. The bridge where this photo was taken had a fence covered with padlocks with the names of couples on them. (Painting idea?)
We peeked inside Shakespeare and Co. (hi Terry), which was too crowded to really enjoy...
...but I took a couple of quick pictures of the books because that's kind of my thing.
The Metro was having problems that afternoon, so we walked the rest of the way home, a couple of miles. We picked up a tiny rotisserie chicken and some clementines along the way and snacked on it later that night in the apartment.
It was our last night in Paris, and Jeff was coughing in earnest once we went to bed. He did what he could to medicate himself, and he managed to endure the insanity of Charles de Gaulle and the plane ride home the next day without seeming to suffer too much. (He's on antibiotics and a cough suppressant now and is well on the road to recovery.)
Jeff plans to write a guest blog here regarding the ins and outs of planning a trip to Paris and how he saved us money at virtually every turn. He truly was the brains of this operation, and I am so thankful for all the time he spent making sure we had a great vacation.
Thanks also to everyone who managed to wade through my ramblings. These trips seem more real to me once I've written about them, and I try to do that as soon as I can after we return. I don't want to forget anything!