France / Versailles

Fat Tire Versailles

Sunday it hurt to get up.  We’ve been going a number of days in a row, and this morning none of us wanted to get up and out in the time we needed to.  But we did!  (With the promise that Monday there is nothing planned and everyone can sleep in!)

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Our guide Nathan. From Chicago and his wife got a job in Paris as a research scientist.

Our first adventure was that we had to get a cab.  That’s all well and good, we went to the taxi stand, there were taxis waiting, and we got one right away.  Our driver however, spoke no English.  We speak no French.  And she spent an uncomfortable amount time time staring at the address we gave her, then checking it again, and again, before pulling out.  Scott and I had checked google maps, and the Fat Tire office was a bit south of the Eiffel Tower, so when she shot past that, and kept going, with no sign of turning, I nudged Scott (in the front seat) and passed him my phone with the Google map on it.  It took him a few minutes to figure out what was going on, and then to get navigation going on the phone – and then he basically was navigator with hand signals and grunts until we got where we were going.

Our driver was very apologetic and nice about it.  I think.  Come to think of it she could have been cursing us and putting a hex on us, but she was smiling.  She also only wanted to charge us 2 euro, but we paid more.  It was an adventure.

So we got to Fat Tire Bike Tours Paris version!!  We were introduced to our guide, Nathan, and then we set off as a group to the RER train, which is sort of a step beyond metro, but not quite the big trains that leave the area.  Nathan herded all 19 of us onto the RER, where the last stop is Versailles, then off where we were greeted out of the train station by a Starbucks and McDonalds.  It just seems so wrong.

IMG_0053Once on the tour with bikes, our first stop was an open air market in the town of Versailles, not far from the Palace.  This was SO MUCH FUN and I wish I could have explored there longer.  We were given time to go through the market and buy lunch, which for us consisted of a baguette, cheese, 2 kinds of sausage, a few chicken wings, cherries, a chocolat croissant, and a small bottle of wine for Scott and I.  Then we were off, and into Versailles on our bikes.

The Fat Tire bike tour took us throughout the extended gardens, with stops along the way.  One of the really interesting things was Marie Antoinette’s village.  It’s a little idyllic peasant village on the grounds of Versailles.  Sort of Disney does Peasant Village 1800s version.  It’s beautiful, and picturesque, and… odd.  Why??

Nathan did a great job of telling the story of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.  Marie was sent from her home Austria to marry Louis when she was 14 (Katie’s age!), and he was 15.  She was met at the border of France by the French nobles, and everything Austrian was taken from her.  Everything.  She was literally, publicly stripped, and even her servants, who she probably knew her whole life, were sent home.  She was given new french servants, new french clothes, everything.  Then brought to Louis.

IMG_0125Now, she was prepped on how to greet him, so she entered, was introduced, and did the cheek-kiss thing – and Louis turned beet red.  He had likely never been around, or possibly ever seen a single woman.  He didn’t have servants, he had other nobles who waited on him.  A few hours later, they were married.  Then, after what we’re sure was one hum-dinger of a dinner party, the wedding couple was escorted to bed, undressed, covered, and all the guests, filed past the bed and offered congratulations and luck on consummating the marriage.  Then the curtains on the bed were pulled… and the nobles stayed in the room to listen.  I… Just… Have… No… Words.

IMG_0116And nothing happened that night.  All of France started to whisper.  As the months and years passed, and she didn’t conceive a child, France started to hate Marie Antoinette.  Because her one job was to conceive a son.  Their marriage was part of a much desired peace treaty between France and Austria, and the true consummation of the Treaty came when she had a son.  And she wasn’t doing her job.  So she was hated.

IMG_0124She built this odd, sad, creepy little village as her escape.  She would go there with the servants and play at being a peasant.  But a weird peasant who liked to comb the goats, put perfume on them, and milk them into large gold bowls.  Some think she might have become a bit unstable with the pressure of the hatred of an entire country on her.

Especially when in retrospect, scholars now think that Louis XVI may have had either autism or asperger’s, and it wasn’t for lack of her trying to entice him, but he was honestly more interested in his lock-disassembling hobby.  Oh, and one more thing.  Marie’s brother came to visit at one point, the soon to be king of Austria (or maybe he already was king, I can’t remember).  He and Louis apparently took a walk and discussed the problem of no male child.  Whereupon it was realized that Louis had become king at age 5, so when he was getting older, no one had thought to explain the birds and the bees to him.  So two of the most powerful men in Europe took a little stroll, and it was all explained.  Marie soon had their first child, followed by 3 more.

IMG_0095What a wacky story.  It makes you almost feel bad for them.  They were literally never without an entourage.  When Louis woke up in the morning, his nobles would be there to greet him, and applaud his waking.  When Louis and Marie had breakfast, they would sit at a table for just them (and the kids when they came along), and the nobles would sit around the room in seats and watch them eat.  It’s quite bizarre.  To say they were insulated and out of touch is an understatement.  Louis didn’t even know about the storming of the Bastille for three months, because no one told him.

IMG_0105As for our tour, we went all through the gardens on our bikes stopping in different places to get pieces of the above story, or other history on Versailles (Did you know Charles de Gaulle had offices there?).  It was a beautiful and really pretty easy ride.  There were different tree-lined lanes, Marie’s hamlet, the water/fountain thing, open fields.  It was really a great time.  We sat at the far end of the “pool” (do you call it that when it’s a mile long?) behind Versailles for our picnic lunch.  Then everyone rode our bikes through the rest of the gardens, and turned them in.  It probably would have been better had we just stopped there.

IMG_0144But we then returned to Versailles to do the through-the-palace tour.  It was crowded.  It was CRAZY crowded.  Even with the short run through we did, it was unpleasant, and there were times people were packed body to body to get through a specific room.  So as soon as we could duck out of that mess, we did.  If you’ve seen one over-the-top muralled and gilded palace, you’ve seen them all.  Right?  It really did get to the point where I just couldn’t take any more extravagance in.

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So we were out of there, grabbed cold drinks and sat on the curb and rested.  Then made our way to the train, where the girls were nearly falling asleep, and were so very happy to be back to our apartment where I sit typing this.

It’s 9:35pm, and it’s still light out.  Maybe we should go get some dinner.

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