Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Versailles




There are many tourist places to see in Paris. Unfortunately, Gino and I only had a couple of days to go sightseeing there and we had spent a good chunk of that in the Louvre Museum. But I was content to see major landmarks in the city and leave the rest for another trip. Besides, after two weeks of traveling, my body was starting to complain and my feet were screaming, When will this walking end?



le Château de Versailles (More photos from Versailles in the Sky website.)


On our last day in France together, which was a Monday and Gino's birthday, we went to Versailles (ver-sayh), a wealthy suburb about 17 kms southwest from the centre of Paris. In the 17th to 19th centuries, it became the unofficial capital of the kingdom of France three times, I think, during the reign of the King Louies. By 18th century standards, Versailles was considered a very modern city, and according to my readings, it was even used by the French-born American architect and urban planner, Pierre Charles L'Enfant as model for building Washington DC. There, just another piece of information for Jeopardy.

OK, have I lost you? If I haven't yet, here's another historical tidbit -- Versailles was also the cradle of the French Revolution. Liberté, égalité, fraternité!! Liberty, equality, fraternity. I think that's the only thing I could recall from my high school Social Studies lessons on the French Revolution.

It really makes a difference when you see actual places where important historical events transpired. I got to appreciate the facts and figures I only memorized for quizzes and periodical exams. Back then, it was all so ho-hum... Is the Revolution over yet?...When is recess??

So there we were at the grounds of the spectacular Versailles Palace, le Château de Versailles, symbol of absolute monarchy and the biggest palace in the world. It was humungous! We did not tour the inside. Instead, we went around the chateau's grounds which was as far as your eyes could see. No kidding! 800 hectares of parks and gardens, 42 kms of paths, 55 pools and fountains, 400 sculptures... Check out the website above if you want to see it yourself.


Gino. You can't see the end of the park behind him. That's the Grand Canal, with a surface area of 23 hectares and a circumference of 5.6 kms. We walked around maybe half of it.



A view of the Palace from near the Grand Canal.

A fellow plane passenger told me that the King's palace was very splendid inside. She also said that according to their tour guide, it was considered the highest honour to clean the king's, uhmm, waste matter. It reminded me of the palazzos in Florence. So for all its opulence and grandiosity, this royal palace also had no toilets? That seemed to be so, if my source got it right. If the most prestigious job I could ever aspire for is cleaning royal merde, I too would clamour for liberté, égalité...!! But first I should get my French right. (Gino: Mom, that's not egalyt.)

At lunchtime, we decided to eat at a restaurant in the park. This was the only time we had a really special restaurant meal complete with service de luxe. It was Gino's birthday. We were celebrating. He had a big steak while I had a quarter chicken. Yummm! The wine was the best I had ever tasted, and that's coming from a non-drinker. Enough euro-pinching--for now.

After lunch, we resumed our walk around the park. We walked and walked and walked, and talked and talked and talked. I dont' think we covered even half of it. There were golf carts for rent. I read it cost 7 euros per 15 minutes and it could take you an hour, or 28 euros, to tour the gardens without stopping, following a certain route. We did not even think about renting a golf cart. Gino always preferred to walk, while I always preferred to save on expenses.

We loved this place -- everything was so manicured and tranquil. Gino commented that walking around the parks and gardens was like a sacred experience. It was very calming to the soul, a good way to end our vacation. We soaked in the sights and sounds of silence--when we were not chattering.


Lovely wooded areas



Towards the end, I preferred to walk on the grass because it was gentler on my feet.


My only beef about this place is that the public toilets were very few and soooo far between. When I had the urge to go, we had to brisk-walk back more than 10 minutes to the restaurant. "Mom, just go in the bush," Gino said. Or behind one of the park's 200,000 trees? I admit, I entertained the thought, but my sense of decency prevailed. Calling the Parks Authority, I think you need to add more restrooms to your park.

I hope to go back to Versailles someday. Gino swears he will visit it again. It is an excellent place to meditate and withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here are a few more pictures that we took of the palace and the park. Click on any picture to enlarge.



Monday, March 10, 2008

Back in Paris

Finally, I'm on the last leg my travelogue. Gino tells me, what about this and that and this and that? OK, I will try to cover as much of this and that in this article. I can't believe it took me this long to write these stories... lerryblossoms, finish this already before you get on another plane to Tuscany!! Yes, I'm dreaming to go back to Tuscany--for free! In fact, I've started working on it. I joined an online olive oil contest, haha. Long shot, but there's no harm trying...

Back to my stories.

There's one other item I should've included under The Bad in my entry "Memories of Avignon, The Good, The Bad and the Ugh". It was the news of an impending train strike that was going to happen on the day of my flight back to Canada. "Mom, you won't be able to go to the airport on Tuesday. There will be a train strike," Gino scared me. I tell you, I had nightmares about this ever since I heard about it. What if the strike starts before I could leave Avignon? How am I going back to Paris? Oh Lord please don't let me get stranded here... I was relieved when we left for Paris as scheduled.

In Paris, we stayed at the Three Ducks hostel. Apparently, this was very popular with backpackers and young people. First, it was cheap. You could get a bed in a dorm-type room for 17 euros per person per night, including breakfast. Second, it had English speaking staff. Third, the front desk and receiving area turned into a bar at night where lots of people hang out. I was not very impressed with this hostel unlike the one we stayed at in Florence. I did not like the atmosphere there at night and especially the smell of cigarettes in the lobby and courtyard. That's what you get for 17 euros. Well, you can't have everything.

We shared a dorm-type room with 5 other people, male and female. Each room had 3 bunk beds. Gino's bed was above that of a Dutch female backpacker who coughed and coughed at night. I was on the bed nearest hers. I was terrified. She sounded like she had consumption aka TB. I was reminded of this American guy who traveled to Europe when he knew he had a drug resistant strain of TB. US health authorities tracked him down, all right, but not before he had come in contact with so many strangers along the way. I prayed and prayed, "Oh God, I hope we don't catch her germs..."

Trying to be friendly and compassionate, I tried to make conversation with the coughing lady when I woke up the next morning. She knew very little English and was hard of hearing so every time I spoke, she would bring her face very close to mine. Oh pleease don't cough, I thought to myself.

Three Ducks is very close to shops and to a Metro train station. Not very far for the Eiffel Tower too. It had a good location. But because we arrived on Armistice Day, a Sunday, most of the shops were closed. There was one open Chinese restaurant that Gino and I ate at--to our BIG regret. It cost us about 25 euros to eat something that was not even French nor as good as the Chinese food we've had in BC. Just a tip, check if the price tag on restaurant food says "per 100 grams". A serving is usually more than 100 grams and you might be surprised how little 100 grams is especially when you're hungry.

Still fretting over our expensive lunch, we went to the Louvre Museum. You can check out the pictures I've posted in a slide show. The Louvre is HUGE. I don't think you can see the whole museum in a day. With my very sore feet and legs, I just made sure I saw the most famous paintings and sculptures like Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. All the rest were a bonus.

When we went out of the Louvre, it started raining. We never had rain in Italy or Southern France. Just sunshine. This is like transitioning to BC weather, I thought. We were walking to Arc de Triomphe when the rain poured so hard and we had no umbrellas. Gino didn't even have a water-repellant jacket. We spent a long time in several shops along the ritzy Champs-Élysées, one of the most famous and prestigious streets in the world, drying ourselves.

Monday was Gino's birthday. We went to the Eiffel Tower and lingered a while underneath it. There was a very long line of people waiting to go up the Eiffel Tower. That was not in our plan nor budget, and I think it wasn't really a must-do in Paris. But the Eiffel Tower is a MUST-SEE.

From here we went to Versailles. This one is one of the highlights of our trip. I'll tell you about it in my next blog. I think it deserves an entry on its own so I'll leave my impressions of Versailles for another time. Then I'm done my travelogue. Back to my normal blog!!