Friday, October 3, 2014

Lemurs, Lemmings, Dorothy Lamour - Our March on Versailles

It was Tuesday morning.  The air was damp and cool, it had rained briefly the night before.  The weather was forecast to be cooler with a chance of rain.  I'll tell you what, this little excursion was one of the gosh darn hardest to pack for since our Everest ascent.

Just kidding.  Packing for Everest was easy.

We thought we did our due diligence.  I scoured the internet, checked with Rick Steve's, consulted with Al Roker, chatted with Paula Deen, all that.  Everybody and everything pretty much said the average temperature was in the high 70's-low 80's.  But then one source said it could be a wide swing, from the high 60's to mid 90's.  Apparently during the summer months rain could happen at almost any time.  It all seemed as unpredictable as, say, the weather.

So we sort of planned accordingly.  But as I think I previously mentioned in a previous Paris post I ended up wearing one pair of shorts, my snappy cargo shorts, five of seven days on the street.  And as it so happened, I decided to wear them this day, the day of our march on Versailles.  Good thing too, one always needs an extra pocket or two when going on a march.  You know, extra room for a fife and a fiddle.  I also wore a T-shirt under my regular good enough to be seen in public shirt, just so I had another layer.

As any good travel troop should, we did a fairly decent route recon for our journey into the luxurious lap of French royalty.  Versailles, as you may or may not know, was the residence of French monarchs and the cultural heartbeat of Europe for about 100 years, until the revolution of 1789 changed all that.  You know, "Let them eat cake and maybe I'll lose my head."  That sort of thing.  It is a MUST SEE apparently if ever one gets within its vicinity.

The town of Versailles is about a half hour train ride from Paris, depending on where in the city you pick up the train.  The RER train is available at 6 different metro stops and runs on 3 different lines.  But by this time we were subterranean pros and took the metro to one of the appropriate stops, paid the E6.60 each for the round trip train ticket and then my lovely wife and I hopped on the appropriate train in a rush of people, leaving our favorite traveling companions standing on the platform in a crowd of foreigners. 

I was a little irked because we had been herded on in a mass of humanity by some lady who had on a hat and badge and looked official.  Now, as I looked around, I discovered there weren't even two seats for my lovely wife and I to sit upon.  Had we been ushered on to a slow train to hell?

Fortunately, not everybody on the train was on the 30 minute ride to Versailles.  At the first stop two seats became available on the lower deck.  Two stops later almost the entire upper deck became available as about 56 college aged females departed for either a rugby match or science contest.

We moseyed upstairs and then enjoyed a picturesque ride the rest of the way to Versailles.  The train goes way too fast to enjoy the scenery if you're sitting on the lower level.  Greenery just whooshes by.  But on the upper level you get a pretty decent view of just about everywhere.

Once we arrived in Versailles we waited at the station for the next train.  It soon arrived and there were our companions.  And there, at the station, we also quickly discovered the multitudes had risen.  Orderly hordes and a mass confusion of humanity were everywhere.  There weren't just thousands of people, there were TENS of thousands of people.  Everywhere.  Nobody even remotely famous was around.  The Pope wasn't even there.  Everyone was on a pilgrimage to see old fashioned glitter.

The palace is about a quarter to  half mile from the train station, with an endless ant trail of folks going back and forth.  Across the street a wild horde had gathered around some sort of travel agency.  Some nice lady with a name tag and hat told one of our companions that we needed to get in that line.  It was like, a couple hundred strong at that point.  Why would we want to stand in that line?  Because some lady with a name tag said we should?  What was up with official looking ladies in hats telling us what to do, anyway?

So we got in the ant trail and followed the horde up the street and around the corner.  And then, wait for it, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."  (An angelic hosts sings.)

Our eyes were almost blinded  by an incredible array of light from all the gold gilding upon the front gate.  Rays of light were shining up through the cloud dotted sky and into the heavens.  You could almost hear the departed Monarch spirits singing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Or Lynyrd Skynyrd

That was about the only thing we saw.  Other than people.  I have never seen that many people in any one place at any one time.  Except for maybe Bo Belinski's debut in the Bay Area in 1966.

According to Rick Steve's, the absolute worst day of the week to visit Versailles is a Tuesday.  He said it was really crowded on Tuesdays.  He didn't say why, but he said it.  I took this into consideration when I drafted the ESS, originally planning to assault Versailles on Saturday.  Rick Steve's, the Tuesday thing, he is right.  Boy is he right.  I don't know what Versailles is like on any other day of the week, but I can most certainly say that just about everyone in Europe and Japan was at Versailles on the day we visited.  Which was a Tuesday by the way.

By this time I really, really, really had to pee.  I still had morning coffee trying to make a break, and it was getting extremely uncomfortable.  There are no restrooms at metro stations, I didn't see one at the train station either.  And then we'd been wandering aimlessly among the hordes for almost an hour, trying to figure out which way was up.  And I really, really, really had to pee.

Even our magical museum pass would not get us through the security line to get in.  That was the main cause of the immense line.  They want to make sure no one is carrying any C4 that might blow up, you know, beautiful, priceless, culturally beneficial objects of glitter and art.

We looked at the line again, it was still immense.  Like a line from California to Kansas would be, only wound up like a serpent so they could all fit within a football field or two.  A big, sweaty football field.  I knew I would never make it another ten minutes let alone the four days it was going to take us to get in via that line.

While we were consternating our next move, my next move was to the parking lot.  On one side of the lot were about 100 tour buses, I'm not exaggerating.  Probably tens of thousands more.  Now I'm exaggerating.  But that was out since most of the bus drivers were sitting in their seats reading newspapers.  I'm sure they wouldn't have liked it if some dude went out and started marking their wheels.

In another area was a regular parking lot with cars, vans and scooters.  I waltzed out there, not really.  It was pretty painful by this point.  I staggered out there like a short Frankenstein who'd just been hit with a thousand volts of hot buttered elasticity.  Or just recently hit in the private region with a really big toaster.  That probably makes more sense.  Once safely ensconced within the garden of vehicles, I became one with the cars and vans and managed to relieve myself without getting intercepted by a single witness.  That I know of.  Hopefully a video won't surface any time soon.

Instead of standing in line FOREVER, we opted for a look see at the gardens, which was recommended by Rick Steve's (in case the palace line was massive.)  These grounds aren't just like a patch of vegetables on the corner block, these are miles and acres of gardens.  Apparently royalty back then rather enjoyed endless artistically manicured wilderness.

We basically strolled on down to the Grand Trianon, the royals home away from home, which lies near the end of that lake in the center of the above photo.  That's about a mile or so away.  Near the Grand Trianon, we also visited the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's party place when she wanted to be away from the ball.

The gardens were endlessly immense, exquisitely manicured, and fun fun fun if you were in a golf cart, which we weren't.  We did stroll down to the lake, but then picked up a shuttle bus that took us to all the remaining pertinent locations, even bringing us back up to the garden entrance by the palace.

We thought our three hour detour would have made a dent in the line, it hadn't.  Even a male tour guide with a hat and a name tag said the huge square would be half empty by 3PM.  It wasn't.  It was still full and sweaty.  We were getting absolutely no satisfaction this day from anybody that looked official.  Apparently.

The sisters decided they had to hit the gift shop at the very least.  After burning up fifteen minutes there, we all decided to walk back to the town of Versailles to grab a late lunch.  The town of course sprang up around the palace just to house and provide services to the hundreds of folks who provided services at the palace.

Once again we found a lovely outdoor brassiere, sat down for more awesome cuisine and burned up an hour.  It was now 4:00 PM.  The palace closed at 5:30.  There was still a pretty long line, like from California to Colorado.  You'd think some people would have gone home by now, but apparently some had just moved to the gardens while half the orderly horde yet remained.  

A little more than dismayed, the sisters decided to hit the gift shop one more time.  I sat outside and watched the line.  It was moving and was actually shortening.  About 5 minutes later the good Doc joined me and we decided to get in line, just because why not.  We were hanging out anyway.  There were still about a hundred folks in front of us, but the line was moving fairly quickly.  The lovely sisters soon joined us, and before we knew it we were in.

It was, how can I say this, incredibly, extremely crowded.  There's only one direction to go, and once you're in you pretty much have to go that direction.  It's a human tide.  If you tried to turn back it would be like a salmon swimming upstream.  It'd be like Richard Pryor with his hair on fire trying to run through a parade of circus clowns and elephants.  Uh-oh, flashback again.

The four of we intrepid explorers were together for a while, but then somehow it was just me and my lovely wife.  And four thousand other people in one room.  We did see the largest chandelier ever known to man though.  It was the size of the Empire State Building, or at least as big as a really large watermelon.  It would take half a day to dust that puppy if it took a minute.

Somewhere along the way my lovely wife and I got separated.  It wasn't difficult.  There were hundreds of people politely jostling along.  One misstep and you could be separated for life.  I am talking the shoulder to shoulder shuffle, your own personal space limited to about 2 inches.  Everywhere.  You are shuffling along in an endless parade of people.  There was no going back.

Somewhere along the line there was a little off shoot heading into maybe a parlor, or bedroom, or some other incredibly lavish situation.  I was simply swept in that direction and my lovely wife was shuffled forward.  I have no idea.  My life was not my own at that point.

I was enveloped by a huge throng of foreign speaking tourists.  They all wanted a look see at the luxury.  I no longer cared.  I just wanted out.  I was almost there before I was whooshed away and ushered in another direction, but now it was imperative.  I had to get out.  Minutes shuffled by.  Hundreds of people all crushing about.  It was hot, it was stifling.  I was in a slow shuffling crowd of about 400 tourists, probably.  I was shoulder to shoulder with a cacophony of people, no way out in front, back or sides.  

This was, then, surely hell.  Where else could it be?  I was alone and in hell with hundreds, nay thousands of other people.  And then my lovely sister-in-law grabbed me from behind.  Ah!  Thank God.  I knew she'd end up here too.  Through the onerous din, I indicated I needed to get out.  She, too, thought it insane.  We slowly moved with the crowd, through the off-shoot parlor detour and then merging back with the main crowd.  The shuffle was now slowed to about six inches per second, maybe ten feet per minute.  Maybe not.

Yep, I had surely died and gone to hell, because, well.   I was in hell with all it's crowded multitudes, wishing they had guild in their bathrooms while they were living.  I thought the devil was chiding me.

I muttered, "There's got to be a fu*king way out of here."

And then I heard a deep voice above my head say, "There is no way out."

The voice had a Scottish brogue.

Apparently the devil was from Scotland and was a very tall fellow.

The voice continued, "All these people you see, they have been here since six this morning trying to find their way out.  It's hopeless.  There is no way out.  Got a bagel?"

And then I looked up and discovered a rather tall chap in a baseball cap with a kid by his side.  He was smiling.  He had heard me mutter there was no way out.  At least my lovely sister in law and I had an allay.  And one who could see where we were all shuffling.  It was another ten to fifteen minutes though before we found our way to an exit.  Once outside we exulted like butterflies on a soft summer breeze.

There was certainly endless, unbelievable opulence to be seen, maybe that's why it's such a big draw.   I think it's a much better draw than say, Disneyland Paris.  And I can definitely say, with utmost authority, if you have read this passage and ever visit Versailles on a Tuesday then you would be a bona fide fool.  Unless, of course, you really want to see more people in one place than you've ever seen before in your life.

That evening, in preparation for their departure, the good Doc and I did some research regarding airport transfers.  We ended up finding a place that was about $15 less expensive than  We both ended up booking our return transfers from them, which was great.  But I do want to say it was rather important (for us) to be in the presiding country of travel to book that transfer.  I am still a HUGE fan as far as initial airport to location transfer.  I think it's just too iffy to try and initially book internationally.  Before you take off for any foreign country, I would definitely put down as one of your first research sites.

That night, our last night all together, we ate, drank and sang more sailing songs.  Off key and off kilter, of course.

The next morn our companions departed.  There were sister tears, there always are.  The good Doc and I are accustomed to this.  It happens every time.  Once the tears had subsided, my lovely wife and I were off for our final day of Paris exploration.

In doing a little more on site research, I noticed a neighborhood fairly close that we had not yet visited.  We strolled on down to le Grands, about ten blocks away and discovered an incredible array of fashion icons and edible wonders, among other things.  There was, of course Chanel.
And then there was Fauchon, founded in 1886, a bastion of over the top edibles like tea, caviar and foie gras.  There's Hediard, another gourmet shop founded in 1854.  Caviar, candy, truffles.  And while you're eating all that luxury you can be wearing the fashion you've also purchased at shops like Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Hugo Boss.  All of which places have security at the front and side doors.

We picked up a few gourmet goodies for gifts and then meandered back to the Eiffel Tower, where we took several selfies-

That last evening my lovely wife and dined at yet another wonderful brasserie.  My lovely wife, always the adventurous diner, decided to go for a little steak tartare.  When she ordered it the waiter looked straight at her and asked in marginal English, "You know what it is?"   To which she nodded her ascent.

Steak Tartare seems like a pretty big deal in France.  It's not really what you see here in America, you know, a raw beef patty with raw egg on top.  Mmmmm, yum?

No, not at all.  In France the meat is actually very finely cut up steak.  Nice cuts too.  Not a gram of fat.  Many brasseries had very special recipes for their Tartare, adding herbs and spices to make it their own.

The waiter was very pleased my lovely wife almost finished her steak.  I, too, had a bite.  I'll try anything once.  I was a little more food adventurous when I drank alcohol.  Hmmh.  Probably gonna be tough to get me to eat bugs or lizard gizzard anymore.

We thoroughly enjoyed our last dining experience together in Paris, the food and street ambiance were supreme.  Here is my lovely wife feeling a satisfied, happy melancholy.

That last day while shopping we also went in to a store to buy my lovely wife a lovely pair of lovely, renowned Parisian underwear.  If you know what I mean.  I think every woman who goes to Paris surely must buy at least one pair.  It should be a law.

Me?  I do not need a macho pair of renowned Paris underwear.  I got a pair of butt enhancing briefs to remember the trip.


Travel, for the most part, is fun.  Except for the travel part.  Most all exotic destinations are generally fantabulous, but getting there and back, unless you're traveling by burro, can be quite boring.  And scary.  Flying scares the hell out of me.  How does that dang couple ton hunk of metal get in the air and stay there anyway?  Same thing with a fax.  How did that letter go through that wire?  I just don't get it.  But I digress.

So we're on our way home, the flight via Air Canada from Paris to Montreal was just peachy.  Then upon our three hour layover in Montreal-which was a good thing since Montreal is an entrance point for the US-I came down with a little tickle in my nose.

But let me retreat.  Customs is quite exacting in Montreal.  Holy cow.  First they usher you into a smallish room, all the passengers on the Air Canada flight who were going into the US, about 50 of us.  So we're all just sitting in this room, waiting, and video surveillance was EVERYWHERE.  I could feel ten pairs of eyes watching my every move.

"Don't pick your nose now Homeboy," I said to myself.  It could make Canadian news.

Then we finally get up to the guy, and he looks at our ticket, punches in some numbers on the computer and then pulls up a picture of our luggage on the video screen in front of him.  WTF?  Could they also see my lovely wife's new underwear from Paris?

We verify it's ours, and then go into ANOTHER waiting room with video surveillance cameras everywhere.  Dang, I still couldn't pick my nose.  We waited there another thirty minutes or so before finally standing in front of a customs agent in a booth.  It was kind of like confession.  Only different.

He asked if we were bringing back regular type tourist stuff, to which we replied yes, which was true.  Mustard, wine, candies, scarfs and other knick knacks like that.  An Eiffel Tower replica.  Tourist stuff.  Hell, they'd probably already looked at everything anyway.  It was a quick stamp of the passport and we were off and free to roam the Montreal airport. 

It was there, after my dinner which included Canadian French Fries, I felt this little tickle in my nose.  It felt like an allergy thing.  I usually carry some antihistamine in my magic back pack, but I had switched packs for Europe and the little yellow pills that stop Niagara Falls were left behind.  Dang.

So I ran the gauntlet past the two or three book store mini marts seeking antihistamine, and I could not find a thing.  I said OK, I can handle this.  I have a hanky.

It must've been the Canadian fries.  By the time we were in flight for an hour I had a soggy hanky.  At one point water was dripping out my right eye while it was also running out my nose, doubling my liquid pleasure.

Upon landing in SF, after the mandatory wait while all the rude travel bubs get their too many sad sacks of crap out of the overhead bins, I raced to a magazine stand.  There I found 2 Claritan's for almost $6, a helluva deal.  I'd have paid $20.

We had a real quick layover in SF, and after a real quick fifty minute flight we were back at our local quasi international airport.   Our son and fabulous girlfriend were there for the airport to house transfer, and we were home around 1:00 AM (PST), or 10:00 AM (Paris time).  Hell, it was just about time to get out on the street for the day's adventures.  

It will hopefully be a birthday my lovely wife will remember and cherish for the rest of her life.

Double Epilogue

The only reason Dorothy Lamour is in the title of this post is because I think her last name sounds so good with the first couple words of the title.  I like words - it's a problem, I know.