Thursday, July 19, 2018

Orly ordeal

Our day had two goals. The first was to see some of Versailles. As you've seen, we did. The second goal was to get Sue to Charles de Gaulle airport. She had a flight out to California the next day, and had made reservations for the night at an airport hotel. That worked out, too, but it was much less fun.

The gardener's house in Marie Antoinette's hamlet at Versailles.

The problem was that the SNCF (the French national railway) was on strike. That meant that trains were not running normally. We decided to go to Versailles as part of driving Sue up to the Paris region because the regular direct trains from where we live to the airport were not running. Sue would have had to cross town to change trains in Paris with her luggage, not a good option. There was also a suburban train near Versailles that normally has a direct train through the city to the airport, but that wasn't running either, requiring another change in the city to get an airport train. And because the trains were on strike, driving around Paris from Versailles to the airport (and back for me) promised to be a traffic nightmare.

The mill, with it's non-working water wheel.

Ken had found another option on the internet. There is a bus that runs directly between Orly airport, south of Paris, to Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris. The bus company advertised that their drivers handle luggage for passengers, so Sue would not have to schlep her bags onto a bus. Orly airport is about a half-hour drive from Versailles in normal traffic. My plan was to leave Versailles before rush hour, get Sue's ticket and see her off on the bus, then get out of the Paris region as quickly as I could. The best laid plans...

What I didn't know was that Orly is in the middle of a giant renovation. They're building two new train lines into the airport to connect it directly to central Paris. The main parking garage in front of the terminal was closed. Car traffic through the airport crawled. I asked a guy that was helping direct traffic what to do. He said to just park in the passenger drop-off area and leave the car briefly. It took a good fifteen minutes to crawl about a hundred yards to the drop-off area. I found a spot for the car and we went into the terminal. First we had to go downstairs to the arrivals level, where the bus stops are. Once we found the elevators (remember, we had luggage), they were out of order. An uniformed airport employee standing (and smiling) in front of the bank of three non-working elevators politely directed us to a second bank of elevators at the other end of the terminal. Once we found them, they too were out of order. All three of them. A clone of the first airport employee was standing in front of them as well. Smiling.

So, we found a stair and, with a rush of adrenaline, I carried Sue's big bag down the stairs. I'm glad I didn't have to carry it up. We made our way toward where the bus stop was and along the way Sue spied the ticket machine. She bought her ticket without any problem and we went outside to the stop which was pretty much where it was supposed to be. According to the sign, the next bus to CDG airport would come by about a half-hour later. I got nervous about the car being parked in the passenger drop-off for so long, so I decided to move it while Sue waited for the bus. I told her: if I'm delayed, and the bus comes while I'm gone, get on it! We said our good-byes, but I assured her I'd be back, if only to make sure she wasn't still waiting or stranded.

Well, getting around the airport took forever. Every parking area I found was either full or closed. I pulled into one open parking garage only to see, once I was at the entrance barrier, that it was for monthly subscribers only and, since I had no ticket, I had to back the car out. What fun! Traffic moved at a snail's pace. The time for Sue's bus to leave came and went (I actually saw the buses go by me on their way to terminal in the restricted bus-only lanes). When I made it back to the original passenger drop-off area, I parked the car again and went into the terminal, back to the stairs to change levels (no elevators, remember?) and hurried to the bus stop. No Sue. I assumed the bus came and she got on it as planned. The only thing to do now was to go home. I got out of the airport and on my way south on the autoroute. Traffic was heavy, but not too bad, and about two and a half hours later I was home.

I decided to call Sue at her hotel to make sure she had made it. The hotel phone went unanswered for about a half-hour. I'd get voice mail, then after a minute or two of waiting, the line disconnected itself. Finally, I got a person on the line who told me that there was no Ms. N. at the hotel, and there was no reservation under her name. WTF? I verified my information and called back. When I finally got through again, the same woman scolded me, saying that she had already told me there was no Ms. N. at the hotel nor was there any reservation. I insisted that there was a reservation. She asked for the reservation number. I fumbled around but couldn't find it, so I hung up. Then, of course, I immediately found the reservation number. I called back once again and read the number to the lady at the desk and, presto! I heard Sue's voice say, "Hello?"

She told me the bus arrived on time, the driver helped her with her bag, and they drove up to CDG without any hassles. She checked into the hotel and was settled in. Boy, was I relieved! All's well that ends well, eh?

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Sue and I didn't have time to spend at either of the Trianons. We made a bee-line to the hameau (hamlet) at the far end of the park. First, we took a walkway that led to the farm. The animals were all in their pens: cows, goats, sheep, and chickens. I read that the farm was restored to its original state between 1992 and 2006. Still, some of the buildings had sections of their roofs missing and some were protected by tarps. I wonder if they were damaged in the recent spring storms?

The farm seen from across the cow pasture. There's a vineyard parcel just visible on the right.

Next to the farm is the actual hamlet where Marie Antionette enjoyed time away from the château and her responsibilities as queen. The buildings in the hamlet have just undergone a very thorough renovation. Ken and I saw a television program about the Petit Trianon and the hamlet just a few weeks ago that showed a little of the renovation, inside and outside of the buildings. I saw on the news the other day that the main house in the hamlet, called the queen's house, is getting its finishing touches, but the interior will only be open to guided tours.

The hamlet itself from across the artificial lake, the queen's house is the building on the right.

We spent some time walking around the impeccably maintained vegetable and flower gardens that surround the hamlet buildings. We saw the observation tower, the gardener's house, the dairy, the mill (with its fake water wheel), the queen's house, and others, all only from the outside. We could have spent a lot more time, but we were on a mission. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


It's hard for me to remember, exactly, my experience of Versailles in the early '80s. I didn't really have a grasp of the history of the place, apart from it starting out as the hunting lodge of Louis XIII and being transformed into the seat of French government by Louis XIV. Bits and pieces of my first visit come back to me, but probably what made the most impression was the size and scale of the domain.

The entrance courtyard at the Grand Trianon. We didn't go in, just looked from outside.

I was surprised last month to learn the château and the Trianon complex have their own entrance fees as if they're separate attractions. So, when Sue and I decided to go see Marie Antoinette's hamlet, we had to get an additional ticket to enter. We also had to wait a while because the Trianons didn't open until noon. We walked from the entrance to the Petit Trianon over to the entrance to the Grand Trianon while we waited. We also decided to grab a bite before going in. There is a small restaurant at the entrance that offers pre-made sandwiches and salads. We enjoyed that!

With the Grand Trianon at my back, this is the road that leads past the Petit Trianon and the hamlet.

I also did not know what the word "Trianon" means. Apparently, there was once a village in the area called Trianon. That village was annexed into the domain of Versailles by Louis XIV and destroyed so the park could be expanded. All that remains is the name.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Views and perspectives are what it's all about in the park at Versailles. Grand tree-lined allées stretch in every direction, almost as far as the eye can see. Tall, immaculately trimmed hedges define pathways to and from the château. It would be interesting to see what it all looked like while it was being created, before the trees and hedges were mature.

A glimpse of the château's north wing from out in the park.

My friend Sue had a memory of seeing Marie Antoinette's hamlet, the queen's little fantasy escape from the exigencies of life in the royal court, and she wanted to see it again. We made our way through the allées toward the Trianon complex on the northern end of the park. The Grand Trianon was the retreat of the king. Nearby is the Petit Trianon, a refuge for the queen. There, Marie Antoinette (wife of King Louis XVI at the time of the French Revolution) remade this section of Versailles as her own personal space, a place where she could leave the rigors of court life behind and relax with her small circle of closest and most trusted friends.

A tree-lined allée. We had to turn around at the end because the path from here to the Trianon complex was closed off.

She had the royal greenhouses destroyed and built an English style garden in their place. She built a small theater where she could play-act on stage. She also had a small farm constructed, complete with livestock and vegetable gardens. Next to the farm she built her hameau (hamlet), a fairy tale village where she could pretend to a peaceful peasant life, albeit a very luxurious one. More about that in the next post.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Apollo XIV

King Louis XIV identified himself as the Roi Soleil (the Sun King) and likened himself to the legend of the Greek god Apollo as the Sun God. References to Apollo appear in many of the paintings and statuary at Versailles. Inside the château, the king's throne room was called the Salon d'Apollon (the Apollo Room).

The Apollo Fountain, looking east toward the château in the distance. At the other end of the green lawn is the fountain of Leto, Apollo's mother, from yesterday's post.

The Bassin d'Apollon (The Apollo Fountain), depicts Apollo as the Sun God, rising up out of the water on his chariot, like the sun rising each day over the earth. And, by extension, as King Louis XIV rose each day to provide life and leadership to his kingdom. And beyond!

The almost-drained basin, pipes exposed, and the gilded statue of Apollo, his chariot, and horses, in the center.

The day we visited, the fountain had been drained for maintenance. We could see some of the lead piping that supplies water to the fountain's jets and a crew working on one side of the basin as water was being pumped back in. We also saw a few mother ducks feeding their ducklings in the basin's deeper section.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Mamma mia

The Fountain of Leto (le bassin de Latone) lies on the grand east-west axis of Versailles, at the base of a wide stair that leads down from the parterres outside the château's western façade. Latone (French via Latin), or Leto, was the mother of Apollo and Artemis in Greek mythology.

Gilded lizards, turtles, and frogs spew water (when the fountain is on) around the statue of Latone which stands atop a pyramid of marble.

From the fountain, the axis stretches westward toward the Grand Canal and the setting sun. A carpet of green grass down the middle (le Tapis Vert) separates two collections of about a dozen elaborate groves (les Bosquets) within which are nestled their own fountains, topiary, and statues. At the western end of the Tapis Vert, just before the Grand Canal, is the Fountain of Apollo. But that's for another post.

Friday, July 13, 2018

You're in my shot!

I didn't take a photo of the entire western façade of the Château de Versailles, apparently. But I got most of it in this image of one of the statues just outside. The statue depicts the Rhône River as an old man, reclined on the spring that becomes the river. There are eight bronze statues, four on each of the two grand basins below the galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), commemorating the major rivers of France.

The château's North Wing on the left, the Central Wing and the galerie des Glaces in the middle, and the South Wing on the right.

As I stood there preparing to take the picture, another visitor was taking a photo in the opposite direction. Without looking around her, she kept backing up and moving right between me and the statue. I shifted a couple of times, but she kept moving into my shot, even after she noticed that I was trying to take a picture. So I deliberately crossed her path just as she snapped a photo. Not very civilized of me, I know, but it felt good and nobody got hurt.