Versatile Versailles: A Week in Paris

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Greenland from the plane.

On the plane ride to Paris, I drink a glass of wine and ponder wistfully the things we’ll do and places we’ll see while gazing down at the iridescent white reflection of Greenland. We’re on our way to Moscow for a layover, then we’ll be in Paris tonight. We get into the city late, and we’re exhausted from the flight. We make it over to our B&B where an extremely friendly French couple is waiting to greet us and show us our home for the next few days. We’re excited, but it’s late and we think it’s better to rest up tonight and have a fresh start in the morning.

We get up early and have a French breakfast of croissants, yogurt, fruit, and coffee. While we eat, we talk with the wife of the couple who is eager to give us advice about what to do for our short week in Paris. First and foremost, my girlfriend Thyme being an art historian and artist, we head to the Louvre Museum.

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Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre.

We decide early to allow the sights only to sneak up on us, and within minutes of walking to the museum were walking by the Notre-Dame de Paris and under the Arc de Triomphe.

At the Louvre, we wait in the ridiculously long line and enter the vast museum readily and eagerly. It is an art historian’s wet dream. Thyme goes through the exhibits quickly, making sure she got enough in because the museum is huge and we will not be able to cover it all in a single afternoon. Around nearly every corner, she has an exciting and useful anecdote about the work. When we make it to the more famous pieces like the Mona Lisa, we simply lift our eyes over the hungry crowd, and get a glimpse of each painting or watercolor before moving on. The collection is incredible, and we live the museum for lunch as jazzed as can be.

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Oil painting at the Louvre.

We walk around a bit to find a nearby cafe. In Paris, there is a paradox. The cafes that treat the customers well are filled with tourists and have terrible food, and those who wish to just barely engage, scoff at the use of English, and have generally more authentic food. We go for a compromise of friendly broken English and decent cooking. I have duck and potatoes cooked in duck fat, which is absolutely sublime. And Thyme, who is normally a vegetarian, decides to take a sojourn from her ethical diet and eat some meat in Europe. Little did we know that this hamburger she has at the cafe in Paris would be her only meat on the trip.

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Duck and potatoes in duck fat. 

After lunch, we grab a coffee and walk through the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. We watch the Parisian youths find a place on the grass to drink beer or wine, we walk under the Tower, and merely take a stroll admiring the romance of the city. We spend only a moment near Paris’ most famous sight, and that is all we need.

Before we know it, we’re ready for some drinks and food. We find another cafe to sit on the patio, gaze at the Seine, watch Parisians walk by and have conversations over their four course meal, we have a few drinks, and eventually eat some more food when the haze has taken us over. We eat pasta with butter sauce and some seafood with lemon. We ponder taking a ride on the Seine, but prefer to head back to our guesthouse for some relaxation after a day full of walking.

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Under the Eiffel Tower.

A new day arises and we decide to go to Versailles. We take the train out of the city and into the antiquated seat of power from 1682 until 1789 when the royal family of Louis XIV was forced from their palace at the beginning of the French Revolution. At first, we think the entrance is full, but when we realize only the tours are booked and the entrance is still open, we are very excited. Disappointment avoided. We walk through the vast gardens and talk of Louis XIV, his extravagance, his cruelty, his short-man complex, and the depiction of his personality in Barry Lyndon–Stanley Kubrick’s composite character of French and British aristocracy in the film of his namesake. Inside, the palace is decadent. The Hall of Mirrors does not disappoint one bit in its dazzling reflecting beauty, and each room is uniquely adorned and styled. You can find a room or a hallway to imagine yourself in, each room uniquely fitted to a person or for guests. For a moment we imagine we are French royalty, and converse about the time when pursuing boredom was the end-all-be-all of life itself.  Were floored by how elegant and over the top the Palace truly is.

Following a day wandering around the royalty of Versailles, we are meeting up with our friends Zoe and Bronwyn, who are here from home but are staying in Bordeaux for the summer. They’ve come to Paris for a weekend, and spend  much of their time hanging out with us. First we get lunch, not before wandering the streets of Paris for hours complacently looking for a place to eat, aimlessly taking in the sights and sounds. We walk through the famous Champs-Elysees and end up at a cafe for some cheese, omelettes, and other tasty brunch items.

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Inside the foyer of Versailles. 

After lunch, we grab two bottles of red wine from a wine shop, buy some eclairs from a gorgeous bakery with rectangle glass cases, and sit by the Seine watching the world go by or sit still. We talk about all and sundry while drinking wine, eating the delicious pastries, and acquiescing to the river’s slow movements. We are so excited to be with friends and in this beautiful city that we simply forget about sightseeing altogether in favor of the authentic experience of normality in the city. Although I really want to go to the Catacombs de Paris, I enjoy acting as if I’m a local. Finally, we get fancy beers from a liquor store and head to the hotel we transferred to after two days of staying at the lovely French couple’s home. We get drunk, we help Zoe with her parents failing divorce, and I miss an opportunity to sleep in a bed with three lovely ladies because I am sick from all together too much booze,which they still jokingly remind me of. Nevertheless, it is lovely, and though I am hungover for our flight home, I wouldn’t change it for a thing.

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Wine & eclairs next to the Seine River.

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