December 4 (Day 3)
Versailles today. Versailles is about a 30-40 minutes RER ride away from our apartment, and we had no trouble getting there. The train station is a few minutes walk from the Chateau and on the way it started lightly snowing. The ground outside the Paris city limits is definitely more snow-covered, but now it was actually snowing as well.
We hurried into the Versailles palace to start our audio tour. We decided the snow was much better viewed from inside. Even the inside was cool enough to keep our coats on, but that made viewing nicer as we didn’t have to carry around the coats.
Versailles has a very large estate all built for King Louie, XIV. After the palace, we could have done a 40-minute walk in the Gardens and then gone to see the Trianon Palaces. Honestly, I don’t even know if those were open. Once the snow started falling heavily, we were happy with viewing the Gardens from inside. A few people ventured out, but they looked pretty cold.
The palace is of course filled with art and seemed to be a good addition to our art tours in Italy. We found some familiar names and saw many familiar styles. One main point of interest was the Hall of Mirrors. Apparently everyone wrote home about this hall once they came to one of the King’s parties. The long hall was lined with mirrors, still rare in those days, to reflect the view of the gardens seen through the long windows on the opposite wall. In addition to sculptures and art, countless chandeliers dangled from the ceiling on long wires in an almost Hogwarts-like fashion. Another point of interest were the crown jewels. The crowns were very tiny.
The oddest part about the whole experience was that there was some sort of special exhibition going on of modern Japanese art. Instead of dedicating a room to this bright, colorful Japanese art, the curators spread out the sculptures into many of the Palace’s rooms. There was a very stark contrast from the Greek statues to the smiling Japanese cartoon characters! At the end of our tour, there was one room that showed anime on a tv screen and had one room length sculpture of smiling, happy flowers. The floor was completely covered in smiling, happy flower carpet, too. The one classical painting in the room stood out like a sore thumb.
At this point, our only choice was to exit the Palace to the outdoors with it’s wind and snow. Brrr. One of our neighboring tourists put it best as he turned to take a peak at the gardens in the distance and said, sarcastically, “The garden is great. Let’s go now.” We’ve been laughing at that one for days now. =) Perhaps we will come back during the warmer months and see what all the people are raving about.
The ground was now snowy and we tried our best to keep our tennis shoes dry. We high-tailed it to the village and picked the first place we saw for lunch. It turned out to be a creperie and we each had yummy, savory crepes. With the hot chocolate, there wasn’t any room for a sweet crepe as well. But, as you’ll read, we got to that later.
In the summer, most people spend the whole day at Versailles, but we were back in downtown Paris with plenty of time to go see the Lourve. The Lourve is a Paris must-see with it’s glass pyramid entrance, the Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo. Here, I definitely had the feeling of picking up where our Vatican Tour left off. The Rick Steves audio tour covered the must-see wing of the Lourve very well. We stayed until closing, covering the main wing, plus some extra exhibits. The Mona Lisa especially was an excellent place to people watch. The Lourve was more packed than I would have imagined for the winter, but since it was a Saturday it made sense.
At several points we were able to look out into the courtyard and see the area covered in snow. I’m glad I took pictures from inside, because, by the time we exited the glass pyramid in the dark, most of the snow had already melted away or had turned into slush from all the people walking on it. I was able to find several places to place my camera and take some night photos.
The weather didn’t seem to be as biting cold as it had been earlier today or even last night, so we took a stroll from the Lourve to the Champs-Elysees. The park between the Lourve and the Concorde was dark and icy, so we slipped our way through very carefully. Then we arrived at the Concorde and the giant ferris wheel hording the space. We couldn’t figure out why people would want to ride a ferris wheel in the winter, but then we saw that the “cars” were all enclosed. Ah, a good idea.
The area was like a fair and there were vendors selling all kinds of goodies. We stopped and had some chocolate-banana crepes. As we continued to walk up the Champs-Elysees, we bumped into the Christmas Markets lining both sides of the street! Perfect. Of course all the melting snow turned the whole area into one giant mud puddle, but no one cared. The place was packed as we strided from booth to booth marveling at all the sausages, cheeses, scarves, hats, gloves, crepes, more crepes, chocolate, and other foods. There were a few booths with more hand-made crafts, but by far most of the booths either sold fair-type food or gloves/hats/scarves.
The absolute BEST part of the evening, however, occurred when we were halfway up the street and heard Christmas music for the first time. We looked up and, there, hanging from a zipline was Santa and his reindeer! He flew back and forth on the wire and told us all kinds of stuff in French. Actually, french santa kinda sounds like yogi bear. =) He gave us a French Ho Ho Ho, and turned off his lights to stay up there for the next show. Totally awesome!
We made it up one side of the street by the time we were done. We’ll have to save the other side for another night. We ate tartiflette (a ham and cheese scalloped potatoes) and Mark had some hot wine. With the crepe, we pretty much snacked our way through dinner.
Paris does gear up for Christmas, but as the guide books say, with only about 10% of the holiday cheer the US usually shows. I expected to be bombarded with more music and lights and santa hats. We will hit up the other side of the street another time. I think there might be an ice skating rink over there as well.
Well, I’m tired and I haven’t even uploaded any photos yet. You will just have to wait for photos.