Monday, July 8, 2013

vacation 12: Versailles

We arrived in Versailles late on purpose to get the after 4 price. I think the two of us got in for 12 Euros. A man who was leaving as we came in liked our family shirts and gave us a priority pass--it skipped us to the head of the long line, for which we were grateful. You can't appreciate the sheer monumental scale of this palace unless you've been inside. Napoleon had nothing on Louis for overcompensating. Wow. Everything had to be colossal. The hall of mirrors is 41 feet tall and 239 feet long. "Normal" rooms might be half that height. It was thoroughly impractical and designed to awe.
Having said this, the glitz on every surface and masterpieces on every ceiling wore thin fast. My wife and daughter loved photographing the fancy beds. Everybody seemed photograph everything--no one would believe it existed unless it was on the memory card. Frequently, we would offer to take a couple's photo posing together, and they would reciprocate by taking a shot of our whole family. One gentleman, however, held out his iphone, struck a Benetton model pose, and snapped his own picture in front of the chapel. Thanks to technology, we could all do that now. We don't need anyone else for this form of gratification.

The crowds were truly insane. The 40 foot wide room was roped off so that the tourists could only stand in the first 13 feet. When a tour group leader strode by with umbrella raised high, it was like a flash flood. You couldn't move. When three groups hit at once, I had to shove my way over to little Emily lest she be carried away. A few times, her arm got stretched or I had to pick her up.

We didn't get to see Marie's cute peasant village. At 20 till 6, the guards blocking the garden told us we wouldn't make it there in time and to please leave. No problem, we'll get to the hotel early and relax. We could spend our 19th wedding anniversary having a meal in romantic Paris.

Hah! Never drive in Paris. I'm not kidding. This is a photo of the 5 layer traffic circle around Arch du Triumph in rush hour (courtesy of our TomTom GPS). Following that is a photo of my wife and the sweet rental car it took us 4 harrowing hours to return: one hour to get to the north train station, one hour to fill up with gas...We had to ask for instructions to a gas station from the locals because the GPS was wrong and they hide them. There isn't necessarily a station, just a pump at the curb that you pull into that spot to use. God bless the honesty and English of the Indian community in Paris, because I left my wallet on the counter at Elan gas while getting instructions to Hertz. Then we spent over an hour trying unsuccessfully to find the right secret parking garage under the Japanese restaurant--the one under the Louvre only has key drop off and Hertz is the only car company not in the other two. When I check my wallet to pay for the unwanted garage I find in terror that my wallet is missing. We race back to the gas station, which is now closed. Worried, we drive back to the train station, and a female Hertz clerk FORCED me to spend fifteen minutes waiting in line for them to give us a map while Tammy is parking illegally in in the taxi lane. Every other car agency offered me (incorrect) maps of their locations with no wait. When I arrive at the taxi stand with the nice clerk from Hertz, I have to wait another thirty minutes for my wife to make it back to the hotel to find me after the taxis/hotel gave her an incorrect map and demanded she move. Then we wait another half hour for paperwork. The punchline--the poor owner of the gas station has been to Hertz twice to return my wallet, but had to go home because it was so late. I think we ate leftover peanut butter sandwiches at 10:30 or so for supper.

The next day was stress free by comparison--no car. I walked to the gas station before 8 to get my wallet, and they were already open and hard at work. They wouldn't take money as thanks, so I gave Cecile the copy of "Foundation for the Lost" from my suitcase.

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