Friday and Saturday, we did Versailles.
The first day, we took the train out. Not as easy as it should have been. However, we arrived and immediately sought a cup of coffee.
(Aside - the smelliest person, bar NONE, we have encountered in France, was a 30-something dude, wearing a "World of Warcraft" shirt. Boy stank to high heaven, and paid for his coffee with a traveler's check, fer cryin 'out loud!)
Versailles' gardens defy imagination. As you stand on the terrace, looking out toward the Grand Canal, the gardens stretch to the horizon!
While waiting for Miles, I watched a team of gardeners, with a truckload of electric equipment, trimming the hedges. One guy made a pass with the hedge trimmer, a second guy tidied up with hand clippers, and another fella was raking up the clippings. That was just one small section of short hedge in the North Parterre. I can't imagine how they trim the hedges that are 30 feet high. Or the trees, which are even taller and squared off like a hedge.
Next we took the tram out to the Petit Trianon, where the queen could get away when life at the Chateau got to be too much. A cute little shack - with mechanic mirrors that slide up to cover the windows. And a warming room; the kitchen was at le Grand Trianon. Food was brought over and re-warmed before being send to the dining room. At least the house was on a human scale. It was grand, but intimate.
Next up was the Chateau. We saw the State Apartments of the King and Queen. These rooms were meant to impress the viewer with the wealth and might of France. (Good job, Louis!) The Hall of Mirrors was most impressive. Apparently, no one had ever seen anything like this when it was first constructed. Each of the huge mirrors is facing a huge window. And the chandeliers - it seems like a jungle canopy of crystal and light. I tried to imagine I was at a soirée back in the day, complete with wide rustling skirts, a powdered wig and a glass of champagne.
We were tired after all that grandeur, so we hopped the train back to Paris. We went to our cafe, had some wine and cheese, then called it a night.
Saturday, we again went out to Versailles, this time to see Le Potager du Roi - the King's Vegetable Garden. I have read quite a bit about this garden and was very excited to see it. (Does that make me weird? No? Good...) This walled garden encloses 22 acres. Some gardens are sunken to create a warmer micro-climate. The genius behind this marvel of place was Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie. He started out as a lawyer, then got interested in gardening by reading classical Roman horticultural treatises. Next thing you know, Louis XIV appoints him "director of all Royal fruit and vegetable gardens" in 1670.
It took five years (1678 to 1683) for La Quintinie to take a swamp and make it into an immensely productive and innovative potager. The king had a lech for figs; La Quintinie was able to supply Louis XIV with figs six months of the year. His Majesty could have strawberries in January, peas in April, and asparagus starting in December. By all accounts, Louis XIV thought very highly of his gardener, ennobling him in 1687. La Quintinie died in 1688, and the king told his widow they had suffered a loss that could not be repaired.
Just to give you an idea of the size of the place, there are over 5000 fruit trees, mostly apples and pears. Most are espaliered along the walls or on trellises. This garden contains 60 different species of fruit and veggies, with more than 300 varieties of vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers. There are also flowers, for beauty and to keep the pollinators happy; roses, peonies, columbine and iris. Many of these are used as borders. We saw pots hanging from the trellised trees. They seemed to be filled with straw. We asked to lady at the boutique. "They are for the ladybugs. We put eggs in the pots and the bugs, they work for us for free."
It was too early in the season to see the true bounty of the place. It looked about a month behind where we are at home. I'd love to see it in, say, September. But you could see the promise; the fruit trees with loaded with fruit (I wonder if they thin them out?) There is a national school of horticulture attached to the potager. Some of the plots are reserved for the students.
We had a glass of wine in town, then took the train back to Paris. Again, we had dinner at la Comete. The waiter now greets us with smiles and handshakes, gives us French menus, and fusses over us. My wine glass never gets more than half empty before he bustles over to fill it. We even got chocolates as we paid the bill. Miles had the daily special, sausage, with an onion gravy and a potato puree that was off the charts delicious. Man, that stuff was like crack! I dipped my frites in it.
We took a stroll down by the Seine after dinner. All the bridges are beautifully lit. Then it was time to take Jen home and put her to bed. I'm getting righteous sleep; on average, 10 to 11 hours a night. Miles, on the other hand, is having troubles with insomnia. I keep finding him on the couch in the middle of the night.
Don't forget that pictures are being posted at picasaweb.google.com/clarkmm/Europe2009#!