After a family discussion and a warning from some people we met from Ohio in the line at the Catacombs, we decided to go visit Fountainebleu instead of Versailles on Wednesday. We got out of the apartment on time (9:30a) and took the Metro to the new area on the west of Paris called La Defense. The area contains a lot of government buildings as well as planned housing with built in shopping and services. The main tourist sight here is the Arch de la Defense. It is best viewed at a distance, but from this photo you can get the idea.
Finding the Hertz agency was easier than we expected, and they had the car and it was ready so off we went with some terrible directions. The gist of it went like this: Turn right (and cross two lanes of traffic) to make a U Turn at the end of the block. Now go straight ahead. You will go through a tunnel (thank God for that info because we had to make a choice of "which" straight we needed to take at that point). Through the tunnel and then straight ahead, straight ahead, straight ahead until you see the peripherique (Paris' ring road.) Well not much further past the tunnel we arrive again with the choice of straight ahead to the left or straight ahead to the right. Of course, I chose the wrong one and we wound up in some narrow little streets where they seem to be allowed to park delivery trucks in the traffic lane and you have to be able to see through the truck to determine if it is clear and safe to pass. There are a heck of a lot of signs, but not all of them are useful.
We finally stopped and talked with a gentlemen out walking his dog and he gave us directions back to the Seine and then right, always right. At this point it's getting on 11:30, I figure that going east to Fountainebleu will put us there at least by 12:30 - 1p. By the time we arrive, we would have less than an hour, hour and a half to see the chateau and then we would have to be on the road to Normandy to arrive at our final destination by 7:30 at the latest. Call me cheap, but it wasn't worth the entrance fee or the additional hassle of getting across Paris with no autoroute since the ring road looks like a two way surface street with traffic lights. I called out that we would try Versailles since there was a sign showing "this way to Versailles". Crowds and Ohioans be damned.
We arrived at Versailles with few adventures, parked the car and waltzed up the head of the long line thinking that our museum passes would give us exclusive entry. The nice young lady in the dark blue security outfit took one look at the pass and set us on our way to the end of the long line. No, the pass would not let us in like Rick Steves says. While standing in line, I read the pass and apparently each site has the ability to decide whether you may cut to the head or not. The line went fairly quickly and we were inside. Everything is self guided with the audioguides, unless you are with a tour bus. That means there are a lot of people shuffling along with the audioguides standing gape-jawed in the middle of the road looking at the art on the wall. I say art on the wall because it seems to me that there is less furniture in the rooms than there has been in the past. The bedrooms of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and their children had beds, some tables and chairs, but there seemed to be pieces missing that I remember from before. It is possible that they have opened more rooms (to allow for more concurrent body count) and that they have had to move the pieces around to furnish more rooms.
We cut one of the indoor tours shortly after seeing the Hall of Mirrors, bolted for the exit and spent the remainder of our time in the gardens. It was a nice sunny day and the gardens were not crowded. We ate lunch, walked to the edge of the Grand Canal and then began heading back to the car. Halfway back, Justin and Hayley found a rock which they then began to kick along with us as we proceeded. It soon devolved into a soccer match with a group of French tourists wonderingly staring at the antics. It reminded me of Christmas day with small kids. The gift is opened, the toy left to the side and the box becomes the toy. Bob and I walked along laughing.
A group of students working in water color.
One of the many fountains in the gardens. The gardens are laid out in such a way that there are many little miniature gardens and only on the main alley do you get any type of long view. The fountains actually run and classical music is played on the weekends only (when it is also more crowded). Bob and I were at Versailles on a weekend back in 2000. The sky grew more and more ominous until the heavens opened in a torrential downpour that drowned out the music and made us wonder if there was more water falling into the fountain than being sprayed.
One of the alleys along the back that borders the Petit Trianon where Marie Antoinette liked to escape the public by playing as a milkmaid.
One of the flower borders in the garden with a photographer (named Hayley) at the end of the row.
Large temporary modern art exhibit that seemed way out of place but was fun to photograph.
The next bit 'o fun was getting the car out of the parking lot. First I forgot to prepay the ticket. We get out of line and Bob goes up to pay with our brand new chip and pin credit card that we bought for an exorbitant amount before leaving the States. It takes the pin but declines the card and eats the ticket. So the attendant gives us a new ticket and we put a 20 Euro bill in the machine for a 10 Euro charge. This time the ticket came back but the 10 Euro change didn't. That slowed us down a bit, but we finally got on the road with what should have been enough time to make it to our destination. Not too far into the drive, we got stuck in a long line of traffic that appeared to be going nowhere, so we cut off the main road and head into the little enclave of houses. Bob isn't thrilled with the decision and the kids have fallen mute in the back seat. Using dead reckoning and sheer willpower, I found a viable detour via sharp hairpin turns on one lane roads up the little ridge behind the village and then through the fields and back on the main road past all the congestion.
Oh there's more story here, but it includes some colorful language so I'll distill it. The map for the area does no good to anyone at the bottom of the suitcase.
We arrived at Le Pigonnier at about 8p. We were lucky that our hosts provided us with local cheeses, a baguette, some milk and butter and a bottle of white wine. Needless to say, we made our dinner on that since we'd had no time to seek out or stop at a market. No blogging that night as we couldn't find the Internet cable.
Not so many steps today: 11,591