Paris Part 5 – The Château
Thursday meant more work for me, so I again slept on the couch to avoid waking everybody in the morning. The meeting was at a French company and I was the only one who didn’t speak French. So I was sort of useless here (I prefer to think of myself as eye candy). I did have this moment where I was like, “Whoa, I’m here in a country where I don’t really speak the language on business. I’m an international businessman!” but it passed quickly.
My meeting was close by the Château (castle) of Versailles, where the Sun King, Louis XIV, built an enormous palace and moved the French court. So Sara took the kids on the train and we met there for a picnic lunch (the sandwiches sat in my backpack at my fancy schmancy international business meeting). We spent the rest of the day there, which meant I was stuck in my suit. I shed the jacket and tie, but my shoes weren’t exactly the greatest shoes for tromping around in.
Part 5A, Versailles
The château itself was pretty cool, but I’ve seen palaces before, and this wasn’t a lot different. But the grounds, on the other hand, are flat out amazing! This Louis XIV was immensely rich and powerful, and he kept a huge staff to keep his grounds constantly beautiful. The palace is situated on about 200 acres of land which includes fountains, flowerbeds, decorative hedges, statues, and even an area with a forest of orange trees in containers so that they could wheel them inside during cold weather. Even now it must take a huge staff of people to care for all of this, but imagine what it would have taken before modern conveniences! I imagine there was a grumble or two about hauling gallons of water up to water those stupid orange trees. I guess it’s no wonder the French revolution came just a few generations after.
Evie and I used the “free” bathroom, and I gave her some coins to give to the bathroom attendant. In Europe it is pretty common to pay to use the bathroom (it seemed common in France, but not as common as it was in Italy). Often there is a bathroom attendant who does nothing all day except clean the bathrooms, and your money is sort of a tip to him (it might even be his wage, I don’t know). I saw the bathroom attendant working his butt off all day, and I saw the coins left by others, so I figured we’d toss some on as well.
After she gave him the money, he asked me (in French) if Evie was from Spain. When I answered that we were from the United States, he gave a big booming laugh and clapped me heartily on the back. I don’t know if it was because I answered him in French, which is probably not very typical of Americans, or if it was because we actually paid for the bathroom, which is also probably not very typical of Americans (or maybe just because Evie was dressed so stylishly), but he seemed to find us quite amusing.
Evie and I mostly spent the time pretending we were kings and princesses, respectively. Like, “Oh, I think I will use this room for dancing. What do you think, Princess?” “Oh yes, will you invite me to the dancing, King?” Evie’s favorite parts were the bedrooms. I guess there’s something particularly exciting about seeing where a King/Queen/Princess actually slept. Maybe it’s because the tour covers a lot of rooms that don’t mean much to a kid (dancing rooms, sitting rooms, drawing rooms, meeting rooms, war rooms, etc.), so a bedroom was sort of the only tangible thing she could understand.
Speaking of things that were confusing, when we were walking through the château, we kept encountering very, very strange pieces of art that didn’t belong. Next to some beautiful old ornamental candle holder, you would see a giant fiberglass man-eating plant, or *ahem* a generously proportioned anime babe (whose clothing was not generously proportioned). As it turns out, Versailles had apparently teamed up with famous anime-style artist Takashi Murakami to put some of his art on display. It definitely added a weird, surreal aspect to the tour.
We also took the little train out to the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, and it was surprisingly cool! The story goes that Marie-Antoinette wanted to “live as the peasants did” so she built this little estate on the grounds of Versailles. I thought, okay, who needs to see a farm? However, that’s not what it was at all. Marie-Antoinette was so rich and protected that she was completely disconnected from reality (this is the “let them eat cake lady, after all), and her “peasant farm” was sort of how you would imagine such a thing if you had only had it described to you through fairy tales (and if you had an army of loyal servants to do the upkeep an make it seem nice). It was actually a really cool place, and definitely worth checking out (at least it is if you have the museum pass and don’t need to pay anything extra to go see it!)
We really liked Versailles. Sara and I both agreed that it was our favorite part of Paris. If you’re considering going out there (it is a day trip from Paris), I would say you should definitely do it. It was well worth the trip.
Part 5B, A long day
After a stressful train-ticket-buying experience, we managed to get back on the train to Paris. It was packed and we had lots and lots of bags. We were getting a lot of dirty looks from people for taking up so much space, but I don’t know what we could have done about it. We had to sit in two different seats with a kid on each of our laps and our bags, stroller, etc. pooled all around us. When it was time to get off the train we had to gather all of that up, manage the kids, and push past everybody to get off of the train before the doors closed. We barely made it on time. This, of course, was followed up by a long walk home loaded down like a pack mule. We were exhausted.
We weren’t the only ones who were suffering. Oliver had developed a bad rash over his entire body, especially his chest, back and face, and he was just sort of not in a great mood. As I said he wasn’t really digging the ergo anymore, and didn’t really want to be carried around all day.
This was the first day we started bribing Evie with a coin for her “collection” if she made it through the entire day without causing any trouble. There’s nothing Evie likes more than money (including, as it happens, foreign money), so this was a pretty effective motivator.
For my part, I spent a lot of the day silently congratulating myself on how excellent my French was. It’s been more than 10 years since I took French, but I found myself able to read most of the signs and understand most of what was said to me. Sara, however, was not impressed. This was mostly due to the fact that 1) I wasn’t great with answering her specific questions about menu items, which are full of idiomatic expressions (for example, you might be able to understand English perfectly well, but still not understand what “over easy, scrambled, or sunny side up” means in terms of eggs), and a lot of times I would freeze up when I actually needed to speak. There were numerous occasions where I understood the person perfectly well, but still couldn’t respond. Then, after the situation was over, I could think of all sorts of French I could have said. Oh well.