Before our return to Paris, Matt and I had to do some strategic planning. Having spent 10 days in the city just last year, we had to decide which sights we would like to see again, and which sights we'd like to see that we didn't last time (of which there are many!). We have both been so excited to share the city with Michael and Sherri, and part of the fun would be to take them to some of the most impressive places to relive the excitement of our first visit.
Our first day in Paris was filled with doing just this. We walked to the Arc De Triomph, perished the opulence offered along the Champs Élysées, and finished the day off with a visit to the Rodin museum. I think Sherri was shell shocked by the beauty and scale of the city, but slightly overwhelmed by seeing so many iconic sights in one day. Over dinner, we made our plan for something different for the next day...Versailles.
After a typical breakfast of croissant, coffee, yoghurt, and freshly squeezed OJ at our favourite Parisian cafe, we got on a train for the 30 minute ride to Versailles. Versailles is the countryside location of the former grand palace and royal court of France. We had visited it last spring and found it busy, but coming in the middle of August was a different kind of busy. After about an hour in line, we squeezed ourselves through the packed rooms of the palace. For me, this was something I would have foregone....once you've seen one gold encrusted room do you really need to see 50 more? Sherri and Matt took everything in, while Michael and I tried to squeeze our way through each room to the prime window locations where we could wait out the crowds.
The whole draw of the return to Versailles for Matt and I was to revisit the gardens and grounds in summer, when they are at their best. Last time we roamed the grounds on foot, which made for a beautiful but exhausting day. This time, we rented bicycles and drank beer. A perfect day in the countryside. Unfortunately, due to the crowds and our late start, we only had an hour to explore with the bikes. The Thomas' kicked it in to high gear, forgoing the leisurely cycle through the property for a full tilt race to get to the best sights within our short time-frame. What rowdy Canadians we were! We made it to Marie Antoinette's Hamlet, a quaint little pretend village and farm she had constructed as a retreat for herself. This was our favourite sight when we visited last year.
Just as we finished touring the farm the announcements that the park was closing came on. We made our way back to the palace, now at a leisurely speed, trying to take in the last views of the countryside. The serenity of these moments was in stark contrast to the insanity that awaited us at the train station. You can imagine the thousands of people who had all descended on this town to visit the palace now all fighting to get on the train at the same time to get back to Paris for dinner. It was pure mayhem. Sherri and I stood in line to get train tickets for about 40minutes when the ticket machine we were waiting for broke down. There were only two other machines, with equally long lines. I was ready to throw in the towel when they announced 'the next train will be free for everyone'. Again, mayhem as all the tourists pushed, shoved, and trampled towards the train platform. We managed to call out to Matt and Michael over the crowds as were herded towards the train. Somehow Sherri, Michael and I all found ourselves on the same coach, but there was no Matthew. Meanwhile, people continued to squish and push us to get themselves on. I managed to poke my head out the door and looked down the platform to see Matt poking his head our of a coach about 6 cars down from us. Happy to know he was on, we settled in for what would be a very unpleasant journey. Heat, sweat, covered in other people's DNA, we suffered silently, all retreating to our 'happy places' to get through the unbearable crowds on the train. When we finally got off and caught up with Matthew, he had had an entirely different experience....leisurely reading and listening to music in an uncrowded car. Oh boy....that's what you get for travelling in August!