It is our second-to-last evening in this city. Only one full day left here and we are already halfway through our trip… how time flies!
We spent the day a little outside of the core of the city yesterday, wandering the opulent rooms and extensive gardens of Versailles.
We started the morning by picking up pastries and freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast and purchasing a picnic-feast on our way to the train station, then boarded a regional train that took us to the suburb where Versailles is located.
Today, the lavish palace where multiple generations of France’s royal family once hosted court stands as a stunning reminder of just how extravagant the monarchy was.
We picked up little handheld speakers and took an audio tour around the king’s chambers, through countless rooms named after Roman gods, every inch of every surface embellished with gold highlights and crown moulding and silk embroidery, every ceiling a masterpiece painting.
We strolled through the famous Hall of Mirrors, with its wall of glass reflecting the rows of chandeliers and windows overlooking the gardens, and peered under the brocade canopy suspended over the king’s bed, where he would perform ceremonies every morning and night in front of an intimate audience of courtiers.
Across the way, we visited a remodelled area of the palace adorned with paintings of revolutionary leaders and a grand hall flanked by murals of French military victories. We paused in front of the painting of Jeanne d’Arc and then ducked downstairs to tour the “mesdames” rooms which once housed the unmarried daughters and sisters of the king.
After soaking in the history and taking a moment to imagine each room at the height of its indulgent glory, we went outside and into the gardens.
We strolled the central promenade, past gilt fountains and up to the “grand canal,” where Sunday picnickers were happily rowing themselves around in rented boats. Then we made a space for ourselves on a bench near the Apollo fountain and unpacked our backpack-full of delicacies: baguettes, cheese, tomatoes, salami, pickled artichoke hearts and a small jar of fish roe, two half-bottles of wine and a side of chips, just for good measure.
By this time the sun had emerged and we soaked in the daylight with a hunger only possible after having spent a painful winter in eastern Canada.
At 3:30 p.m. the fountains turned on and we watched Apollo spout water out of his conch shell, then we went for a little stroll through one of the hedge mazes off to the side of the fountains. We weaved through the bushes, stumbling upon dancing music coming from hidden speakers, pale statues, and trees boasting newly-blossomed spring flowers.
After a few hours in the garden it was time to call it a day and we made our way back to the train. I was hit with instant exhaustion when I sat down (a feeling I realize now was probably the result of stupidly drinking half a bottle of wine while still on painkillers for my sore throat). I passed out for the entire journey back into the centre of the city, and fell into to bed as soon as we got back to the apartment.
Four hours later, I woke in a bit of a haze to a worried Dario hovering over me, checking to make sure I was okay.
I sat up and sipped some water and determined that I was, indeed, okay. And hating to waste another minute inside when we could be out there, we pulled on our jackets and set off into the evening.
We wandered through the 5th arrondissement up to a little student hangout we noticed a couple nights ago called Au P’tit Grec. A line stretched down the cobblestone street outside the open-air eatery, and satisfied customers stumbled away from the stand with gigantic wraps as big as my head clutched in their hands.
After a short wait we placed our own orders for two galettes, stuffed with country ham, gooey cheese, potato, lettuce, and tomato. Dario declared it “one of the best things” he’d ever eaten, and he happily polished off my leftovers when I admitted defeat three quarters of the way through the meal.
By the time we polished our dinner off with a Nutella and banana crepe, it was nearly midnight and we made our way back to the apartment by moonlight.
We slept in this morning. Now that we’re through with our four-day museum pass there’s some more flexibility for wandering and dozing and less need to rush from one tourist hotspot to the next.
By the time we set out for a coffee and croissant and a visit to the doctors’ (I’m still sick) it was almost 11 a.m., but we’d no sooner validated our metro tickets than we realized I was sans ID. So, both feeling a little grumpy, we turned around and walked back to the apartment and up the seven flights of stairs to grab my health card and try again.
It was past noon by the time we finally found the doctors’ office and got in line to see the receptionist and I was feeling anxious at the idea of wasting an entire day inside a clinic. But we were both pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the French healthcare system.
Within 45 minutes we were in and out, a prescription in hand. The doctor took one quick glance at my throat before decisively saying “Ah, oui, oui, oui” and diagnosing me with what Dario translated to “a white infection.” And it only cost me 23 Euros (back when I only had B.C. healthcare, I used to get charged $70 to visit an Ontario clinic)!
We were finished the whole doctors’ business by 1:30 p.m. and feeling both accomplished and hungry, so we found a little bakery and wolfed down some mediocre ham and cheese sandwiches.
Then we set out to walk to Montmartre to see the café where they filmed Amélie and the Sacré-Coeur. The walk was only supposed to be about two kilometres, but as we wandered further and further away from charming cafés and into a neighbourhood of newer, dirtier apartments, laundromats and cheaply-made clothing stores, we began to have our misgivings.
Eventually we decided to check a map in a metro station, and found that we’d far overshot our destination. So we hopped on a smelly train and transited our way to Pigalle.
Once there, we hurried past the rows of sex shops and strip joints, turned up a side street, and thanks to Dario’s navigation, found ourselves outside le Café des Deux Moulins, or as we called it “The Amélie café!”
We stopped in for café crèmes and cardamom-spiced crème brulée (me) and chocolate mousse cake (Dario). The server seated us at a table in the very spot where, in the movie, Amélie hovers over the shoulder of her lover, too terrified to reveal her identity.
After our afternoon dessert we wandered the delightful streets of Montmartre and then up the steps to the beautiful Sacré-Coeur, where we enjoyed the view and circled the church before descending and hopping on a metro back to our neighbourhood.
Now we are relaxing in our little apartment before heading out to meet my friend Madi at what says is a famous café once frequented by Hemingway. We are full from a big dinner of pasta and bread and wine and cheese and feeling relaxed and content in that deep-in-your-bones-happiness way.
I am a little sad that we have only one day left here, but Dario just asked me what I’d like to do with our spare day in Reykjavik and floated a list of equally-thrilling sounding ideas and it made me excited for the adventures still to come.
Lots of love,