We had only two excursions today, along with a big lunch out.
Our first excursion was to Versailles. We pushed the button on the big directions map in the Metro for Versailles and it told us to take the 12 to Crowds approaching Versailles Madeleine, then the 8 to L'Invalides, then the RER C to Versailles. At the RER station we were guided to the RER C "VERO." Other trains were named "VIC" and "ERIC" and "CRIS". We never quite got the hang of the three- or four-letter alpha codes for the RER trains. We decided it was the invention of some civil servant. But we do know that if you take a train with the wrong letter code, you may not get to where you want to go!
Versailles was, unfortunately, a disappointment for us. Even though we came first thing in the morning, the crowds were large and pushy, and the rooms of the palace in very poor repair, with floors that hadn't been cleaned or properly varnished, windows that hadn't been cleaned or painted, and broken and peeling plaster. Clearly the palace hadn't had any decent maintenance for decades.One big shock was the realization that the "marble" doorframes and trims (at least in some of the rooms) were really painted wood. The rooms filled with paintings of royalty and their relatives were uninteresting. What few captions there were simply identified who was in the portrait and who painted it and when. There was no attempt to tell a story Hall of Mirrors or explain what we were seeing, and most of the visitors seemed more intent on pushing through than on learning anything of use. So we suppose that, like them, we can say we've visited Versailles. What a zoo!
Perhaps our expectations were too high. After all, we have seen similar conditions in all of the other chateaux we have visited. After the Revolution, a lot of the trappings of the aristocracy were destroyed along with the aristocrats who enjoyed them. But a lot remained, like the Palace of Versailles, and it must be counted as a failure of the French government(s) over the ensuing 215 years that they have found nothing more useful to do with the building than usher thousands of mindless tourists through, cameras popping. What if it were the headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture? Would those employees we saw in the street chanting "A Paris" be happier to be filling out their forms in the halls of Versailles? We'll never know.
Part of the difficulty is that Republican France (quite unlike monarchical England) does not appreciate its royal history. There was a King of France before the year 1000, although the country was only gradually united into its present size. But this royal tradition is by far the greater part of France's long, long history as a nation, yet the modern French government seems to disdain its pre-revolutionary past. Across the Channel, Britain's royal Acres of Gardens palaces have remained royal, and are exciting to visit. But Versailles is merely a big house, now mostly empty, a reminder of a forgotten and never-to-be-recovered era. No part of the republican French soul seems to live here. Quel dommage!
The gardens of Versailles were quite beautiful. Not 100% beautiful because (a) the fountains are only turned on on the weekends due to budgetary shortfalls and (b) two great storms in the last twenty years wrecked havoc with the ancient trees of Versailles, which have had to be replanted from scratch. Nevertheless, there were places of peace and beauty to be found in the large formal woods, and we note from the sign that entry to the gardens is free outside of the high summer season.
In the town we found a restaurant featuring regional specialties. We tried escargots bourgignonnes (just like in the US), tripes (a little greasy), saucisson sec, soupe de poissons, charcouterie avec jarret (sauerkraut with ham hock, also a little greasy), magret de canard. Good but not great.
We rode the RER back to Paris, then the Metro and the Funiculaire de Montmartre to visit L'Eglise de Sacre Coeur. Oddly, the construction of this nineteenth-century Parisian landmark was paid for by the French government, and it is a lovely crown on top of the colline de Montmartre, with a view overlooking the city. This time, we encouraged Dan to make a solo climb to the top of the tower, while we waited, people-watching, at street level. He had a remarkable adventure, as he mistakenly returned down the "Up" staircase and had to wriggle some to get past the one-way door at the bottom. Magnificent Sacre Coeur
Returning to the apartment we encountered a group of very young-looking French punk-rock kids waiting to go to a concert (or so we assumed) of the group Mozaik (we think.) Some of the hair-dos were so elaborately spiked that they must have cost hundreds of euros. There is no question that their appearance does attract attention. Bob thought it was a terrible waste of money and a sign of great insecurity, Dan and Elsa more tolerant.
Speaking of the prices of things, after being flabbergasted by the cost of a baby carriage in Newcastle (500 pounds) we inquired in a Paris store about the somewhat less elegant baby carriage on display. The French model was for sale at 1000 euros so we guessed the one we had seen in Newcastle was a real bargain! Still we'd rather have a riding lawn mower. On returning to the U.S. to visit our newest grandchild, we learned that her plastic combination stroller / car seat was much, much less expensive, yet kept her elevated just as high as these elaborate and expensive prams, and had quite a charming spring suspension. It also was so lightweight it could easily be carried over a rocky brook, which the European prams could not. So the Common Market does not seem to have lowered the cost of European living to the American and Canadian level.