On Tuesday of our big Paris trip, we went to Versailles. We’d booked a tour with Blue Fox Travel on the recommendation of a friend, and I’ve written a review of our two Blue Fox tours over on KidsOutAndAbout.com.
We were scheduled to meet our group at Gare St.-Lazare, and lucky for us, that was a short walk away from our centrally-located apartment. We actually paused at the Madeleine farmers’ market that was on the way. I think I read somewhere that it’s the smallest of the open air markets that sprout up once or twice a week in various locations around Paris, and they weren’t kidding. There might have been two or three vendors there. I was tempted to buy stuff, anyway, but we had a train to catch.
We lucked out with a sort of eat-in boulangerie that was not the least bit touristy. We bought ourselves a cheese quiche, a mushroom quiche, an almond croissant, and something else that I can’t remember. It seemed that the proprietors were an old-ish husband and wife and they were very, very nice. Again, smiling and saying “bonjour” and trying to speak a little French goes a long way. They were so nice that they ended up giving us extra food, which was lovely of them but a bit unfortunate because we’d already realized that we’d ordered slightly too much, and then we didn’t want to seem unappreciative when they were being so generous and solicitous, so we ate it all and then staggered out of the place and on our way to the rendezvous.
We found our group easily, and it was a pretty friendly bunch. Our tour guide, Hava, is one of the owners of the company, and she is sweet and goofy and probably the president of a Marie Antoinette boosters club. Also in our group were a guide-in-training, Fanny, a couple of people who’d already taken tours with Blue Fox, and a couple who brought their daughter whose picky eating made us re-appreciate our rockin’ awesome daughters. We didn’t have to think too hard about anything like which tickets to buy or which train to catch, because Hava already had our tickets and she guided the whole flock of us where we needed to go. The c. 45-minute train ride went by quickly as we all chatted away.
We arrived in Versailles and walked just a little bit before we were at a big farmers’ market. It was awesome.
There were shops inside and tons and tons of folks set up outside as well.
Hava gave us a little orientation, pointing out a cheese shop that she likes and a couple of other places, like the location of the nearest restrooms. Then we had a bit of time to shop for our lunch. Oh, this was rough. There were many, many choices, and of course we would have been happy to just wander around for an hour, but we had a schedule to keep and provisions to buy. Everyone was very friendly, and particularly at one stall, they kept handing out samples as we protested that they were being too generous. J wanted strawberries and saucisson sec, and M was in dire need of some vegetables. We ended up getting two baguettes, some soft cheese, some other recommended cheese, olives, an artichoke paste, a sundried tomato paste, and strawberries and carrots. Then we took a short walk to where the bikes were stored. Some of the bikes had saddle bags for the extra supplies. Here’s Cute W with a couple of baguettes poking out.
Versailles is pretty, and the bike ride to the palace grounds was short and easy. And once we were there, the biking was even easier and lovelier.
Unfortunately, it also started getting rainier. The usual plan is to take a bike ride around the lake and then set up a picnic in the gardens with a glorious view of Versailles, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Instead we headed to the Grand Trianon to tour it before lunch.
Honestly, I can’t remember. I think this picture of M was from the Grand Trianon. The Grand Trianon was sort of the getaway palace for kings who wanted to get away from Versailles, which was the palace for a Paris getaway. Then we biked on to the Petit Trianon for our rainy day Plan B, which was to buy a drink at the little cafe, Angelina, to justify taking up space under their awning and break out all of the rest of our picnic lunch. Hava regaled us with historical anecdotes while we chowed down. We particularly loved our artichoke-whatever-it-was, and if the farmers’ market had still been open at the end of the day, I totally would have bought more to bring home with us. No such luck.
Then it was on to the Petit Trianon, which is super-cool because of Marie Antoinette’s fun little faux village. J was excited to find bunnies.
From there it was on to the main palace, where we had a 3 pm appointment to go insidee. First it was time to ditch our bikes, so we rode them back to the garage (you can see now we’re all wearing ponchos from the rain).
After wandering freely all around the complex, it was startling how insane it was at the entrance to the main palace.
There’s Hava in turquoise raising her arm to let the powers-that-be know that she was here with her group. I think everyone in our tour group was thinking, “Really? Good luck.” Except she actually got our group in quickly. The only thing was that we weren’t her group anymore. You have to jump through some serious hoops to be an official tour guide with the pre-arranged tours, so she actually handed us off to her colleague, a woman who had the advanced degrees required to score the special entrance. The new guide got us through the doors, but pretty quickly we were looking around on our own.
It was a mob scene inside. Like, way too many people.
Not only was it way too many people, but some of the tour groups were weirdly aggressive. I mean, it was like they were actually in an Amazing Race competition. These folks clearly weren’t enjoying the journey.
Still, the place is stunning, of course.
By the time we got through the main palace, everyone was pretty exhausted. It was a music-and-fountains day in the Versailles gardens, but we were too tired. When Hava had said goodbye to us all, she’d handed off train tickets and a list of restaurants if anyone wanted to stay for dinner. But by the time we were done touring around the palace, there was still about an hour before most of the restaurants opened, so we ended up heading for the train.
Riding the train back from Versailles is easy because basically every train terminates at Gare St.-Lazare. We were in various states of wakefulness the whole time. Then, when we got to the station, Cute W ran to find the bathroom and the girls and I sat down just outside the station. Cute W found us and started laughing, saying something about how we must be tired, since we’d planted ourselves in the middle of a bunch of not-particularly-savory characters smoking pot. Yeah, man, I’d just needed to sit down. We stopped off in a shop where I bought some cute, cheap earrings that have since broken already and M pondered purchasing a jacket that seemed almost identical to the one she was wearing.
At this point we were pretty hungry, and Cute W had found a crepe restaurant on Yelp, Crêperie Traditionnelle. The reviews had the girls and I a little nervous, though. While the crepes were called “sublime,” some reviewers claimed that the lady running the place was mean. We arrived just as the restaurant was opening, entering behind a couple. Almost immediately it became obvious that the couple was being sent away, told to to take their crepes à emporter (take-out) because they only wanted one crepe to split between them. So as we reviewed the menu, when Cute W suggested we could make do with splitting three crepes between us, we protested that we absolutely must order four crepes. The truth is I’m usually in favor of ordering more food when Cute W thinks less will do, but in this case, fear made staunch allies out of my daughters. We ordered four crepes: ham & Swiss cheese; Swiss cheese, chorizo, and tomatoes; and ham, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, and cream; and Raclette cheese, smoked ham, potatoes, and cornichons. It turns out that the lady was actually very nice. We weren’t even frightened anymore by the time we ordered up two more crepes for dessert: Nutella and salted caramel.
Cute W and M headed to a local bar to watch a soccer game for a bit while J and I headed home for the night.