We’ll always have Paris

Now we are waiting for our train to Barcelona in the Gare de Lyon. A good time to reflect on the last two days in Paris, when we finally were on Parisian time, and we able to get in some real tourism.

Generally, we avoided planning as much as we could while in Paris. It was an attempt to force us to relax as much as possible and stay “off schedule.”  We did manage to get in some real tourism. We managed a full day trip out to Versailles. I hadn’t actually thought about this, but it was top on Yulia’s list. It was a great idea, so I bought tickets online so we could skip the big line when we got there. Or at least that was the plan.

We weren’t in a rush to get there. We stopped for breakfast near the metro, took our time, and finally got on the train around 10:00. It was about a 40 minute train ride from our local station to the town of Versailles, and the Palace was just a short walk. For perspective, the town is dwarfed by the palace and gardens. And really, the Palace is an afterthought of the gardens themselves. The place is *huge*. We entered the main gates, through a small security check, and tried to find the correct line. Even with pre-purchased tickets, we got stuck in the entrance line, which snaked around the entry courtyard, but was moving pretty fast. It only took us about two hours of waiting and we were in. Our feet hurt already from standing on the cobblestones. They were obviously a defensive measure in case the palace was invaded by tourists in aluminum walkers or uncomfortable shoes. Impenetrable.

We first headed upstairs to get some food. There was a sandwich counter, and a sit down restaurant. We thought it would be worth it to sit down and eat nicer food. We were in the Palace of Versailles after all. Unfortunately, the place was crap. The waiter was the first actually rude French waiter we encountered. He was amazing. Sasha ordered French onion soup, and they were out. He told us:

“We are out of the famous soup. But you may find it at many of the other restaurants during your visit.”

Seriously? It’s fucking soup. We’ve had it at every café here. Spare me the goddamn horseshit. Everything else was obviously pre-made and warmed up. We should have gone to the sandwich bar.

The palace itself was beautiful. There were some sections that were still under renovation, but the rooms were amazing. Several areas showed the development of the palace over the years, how different rooms were repurposed. They had just finished work on the king’s chambers and it was stunning. The main chambers were just off the mirrored hall, overlooking the gardens. With the mirrors facing the windows if fills the room with light and the colors of the gardens. It’s a very different look than so many palaces, where they are dark even in the day. I can see why Versailles was so impressive and imposing in it’s day.

From the chambers we left and went out to the gardens. Apparently, on most days the gardens are open to the public. We found this out from the older French guy yelling at the security detail as he wanted to get in and refused to buy a ticket. We scanned out phones and were let right in. From the Palace, we looked across the gardens an it was full, lush, and stretched out forever. Up close, it was far, far larger than it appeared. The scale of the fountains were masked by the total size of the park. The “North Pond” offered rowboats to play around in, just to illustrate the scale. But with a park that size, you could see the fraying at the edges. There was a lot of gravel between gardens, and it went on a bit long. Litter was scattered under bushes in some of the remote areas (and a lot of areas were remote.) You just can’t maintain the King’s garden at the same quality on a park service budget.

We continued across the grounds to Marie Antoinette’s palace. This was actually a very small building, still impressive, but at a comfortable scale. It had just a few rooms, spaces for entertaining and living, and was far away from the main palace. Apparently she had little interest in the grand scale of living in the palace, and preferred this ‘smaller” estate. Still met the guillotine, so better luck next time  I guess.

The following day we headed to the Eiffel Tower again. It was a shitshow when we walked through a few days ago. I chalked that up to the rain, late night crowds, etc. We were trying to get there earlier, hoping to find a better situation. We were pleased to find this the case. We strolled through security quick, and the ticket line at the North Pier was moderately short as well.  Sadly, the lift to the top was closed, but we got tickets to level 2, and went up. I was excited to go to the tower, not just for the view and tourist cred, but because the tower has it’s own post office. This is where we sent ourselves a letter 10 years ago. You get a cool little postmark and everything.

The views of Paris are still fantastic, and we did the traditional pictures around the edge. After that, we went inside, grabbed some espresso, and looked for the post office. I was excited about this as I wanted to send my Grandfather a letter with the cool Eiffel Tower postmark. As it turned out, the post office wasn’t in the tower anymore. We checked the tour guide, and now it showed the office at the ground level on the south pier. Bugger.

We enjoyed the rest of our time on the tower, and did the traditional walk down to the bottom. Once down, we walked over to the south and looked for the Post Office. Nothing. I asked a security guard, and apparently with all the updated security measures it is now gone. He was kind enough to point us in the direction of the closest normal post office, so I thanked him, and we got some postage for regular post cards on our way.

I also suspect that things like an actual Post Office no longer are on the priority list today. Honestly, when was the last time you mailed a letter? A package, maybe. But if someone asked you the mailing address of most of your family, would you know them all? I only know because I have them saved on my phone from asking around in sending graduation notices for Sasha. and collecting those took me two weeks for less than 10 people.  (we suck) What we use simply gets deprioritized. not matter how traditional. Eventually, we sent my grandfather regular postcards with a Parisian stamp. Frankly, he’s 97, and appreciates pretty much everything. That’s not a bad lesson to learn in itself. He still loves France, but the last time he was here it was a free trip in a landing craft. Strange world we live in.

In the evening, I walked back to Shakespeare and Company to get some small books as gifts. The only gift more French than literature would be a pack of harsh cigarettes and an hour talk about the absurdity of life. I don’t have time for that shit so you get a book.

Back here in the train, the tracks are on fire ahead of us, we are an hour delayed, the bar car is running out of wine, and some British asshole has passed out in the toilet. We’ll see how things improve in Catalonia.