It’s a rainy autumn morning at the Palace of Versailles. And we are waiting in line in the rain. Our original plan was to leave early and arrive by 8:45 before the crowds grew too large. The honorable travel pro Rick Steves said that’s how to do it. Everyone I know who has gone to Paris said that’s how to do it. And trust me, that’s how we wanted to do it, but we just didn’t. My girlfriend and I come from very different worlds in this way. If I left yesterday I’d still be an hour behind my desired schedule. If she left tomorrow she’d think “we’ll be fine.” Somehow over the last years we’ve learned to meet in the middle. A little bit… sometimes. I mean, she’s way better about being on time and I’m a good bit more chill about going with the flow. Okay maybe just a little bit not a good bit. But we move on and learn and figure things out as we go. Let’s cut back to the chase. It’s about 11:30 in the morning and we are waiting in line to buy tickets to access the Palace and Jardins which will then permit us to go wait in another line to actually get into the palace. While we are waiting in line, we begin to chat up a group of American ladies who are trying to find a way to beat the system. They are a family of self-admitted “Type A” gals who are traveling to Paris to celebrate a pair of twin sisters’ 80th birthday. There are 8 of them all told but only 6 present for the Palace visit. The line is about an hour and we get to know a good bit about them while in line. They are all from Wyoming. Political family. Niece graduate of Notre Dame. Nice chat, just beyond the safety zones of “small talk” but not too far. After we purchase our “billets” (aka tickets) and head back out into the rain they say, “Hey why don’t you piggyback onto our party and skip the next line?” They had half of their party in the “queue” for the next stage. Bingo! Win! Now I’m not normally in favor of cheating any system, but in this case I’m thinking no harm no foul. It’s not like I’m preventing others from getting in. I’m just getting in sooner. It’s 1:00 p.m. and our first thing in the morning trip to Versailles is juuuuust a bit behind schedule.
The next couple of hours we follow the Rick Steves’s walking tour of the Palace. Witty and sarcastic, just the way I like it, and way more interesting than the vanilla audio guide they provide for “free” with the 25 euro admission fee. I learn about the history of a bunch of guys named Louis and how they pretty much built and destroyed the French monarchy with one bloodline over four generations of excess and spending (hey wait, are there any other Bushs out there?). In all seriousness though, we saw firsthand the sight of lavish parties in the hall of mirrors, the room that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were dragged from kicking and screaming, the spot of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Absolutely unbelievable!
After our tour of the palace we are starved. There are two options: A take away cafe with high-top tables and no chairs and a sit down restaurant called “Angelina”. Based on the fact that we got such a late start, I’m thinking the take away, but also really want to sit down for a bit, so we opt for the more formal restaurant and its short line to be seated. As we are waiting we see our Wyoming friends surveying the line, which has grown substantially since we arrived. One good turn deserves another, right?
“Mademoiselle, huit personnes, s’il vous plaît.”
I figure from the start that this is going to be a pretty lengthy process, but what the heck, it might be fun to continue our chat with the ladies from Wyoming. We split up into two tables of 4. We wind up sitting with the two adult daughters of the two 80 year old twins. And we have a blast. Apparently Angelina is world famous and has been in operation since 1902. It’s most famous item is the “Chocolate Chaud” which is a divine, thick, warm cup of something that is cross between chocolate mousse and hot chocolate. Whatever it is, it’s 7 euros a cup (a price to make even a Starbucks envious) and worth twice that! I have a “light” lunch consisting of foie gras, eggs, artichokes, haricot verts (which are actually vert – not brun for a change) and mixed greens. Best damn $26 salad I’ve ever had! What was really special was the conversation though. We talked about families, karate, school, art, history and all sorts of things. No small talk about weather or “where are you staying?” We waited a long time to get our checks and you could tell that people were getting a bit antsy about moving on, but then I said something profound. Yep, me, the guy who’s always in a hurry paused and said, “You know it’s only appropriate, in this place of all places, that we took time out, drank wine, ate rich food and conversed with strangers about life and love.”
I guess even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, eh?
Here’s the funny thing. If we had gotten there at 8:45 we never would have met these awesome people or had this amazing lunch. CJ pulled the word “kismet” out of her hat. I agree, or maybe I’m just finally letting Paris happen to me. We then wandered the Jardins for about three hours and sort of “smelled the roses”.
In other news, we almost canceled our trip to Nice tomorrow because we are exhausted, can’t figure out how to get to the airport at 5 a.m. and thought maybe just another 5 days in Paris to “smell the roses” was the better plan. We talked it over, made a decision together, and in the end paid a few extra dollars to move our flight time back. Not gonna miss out on a villa stay in Cannes and not getting up at 4 a.m. We then both breathed a huge, collective sigh of relief and went out to buy crèpes from a street vendor instead of going out for a big meal.
Sometimes personal growth is unveiled in the details, sometimes in the sublime. Nonetheless I can’t help but think as I turn in tonight that Paris has taught me yet another lesson. Perhaps the most important one to date…