Today was a looong but fascinating day. After breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we were picked up by our guide for the day, Christine, and Alex, a driver. Our goals for the day were to see some areas and attractions we will be using for our group in May.
We started off with a quick stop at one of the two bistros we will be using for a big group lunch in May. Unfortunately, they had just had a fire a day or two ago and were going to be closed for a few weeks. They had just finished a big renovation and re-opened in November and the restaurant manager was standing outside looking like he was about to cry. He and Christine knew each other and spoke briefly.
We then drove to Versailles, about a 40 minute drive. Alex dropped us off and we walked behind the palace to see the formal gardens from the terrace.
They were really beautiful – each different from the other – and we were able to see down through all the gardens to the end of the grand basin, about 2 miles away. The gardens and outside grounds are all open to the public, and we saw families with kids walking and playing in the area. It feels very much like a really amazing public park.
We then went through the palace itself, which was incredibly crowded, making it a little difficult to hear our guide telling us about each room. The palace is really something to see, and although Rick Steves recommends 2 hours for the palace alone, we were through in about 40 minutes which was just right for me. They have a temporary exhibition right now, featuring large, modern sculptures from a modern artist. It was stunning to see these dramatic, colorful pieces in the middle of the old, traditional decor, and it was one of our favorite parts of the experience.
After the palace, we walked through the groves behind the mansion to the bottom of the grand basin, about a half mile away, where we were picked up to head to our next destination. We were both wowed by Versailles – not just by the palace itself but by the size of the public gardens and how beautiful and manicured everything is. We both especially liked the garden style, which we learned is typical French – with large walkways and symmetrical design.
For lunch we met with someone from a DMC at the other bistro we will be using for the group. They recommended some dishes and we felt like it was our first real French meal. A bistro is so different from a cafe and we were finally able to try some wonderful but simple French food: melted Camembert cheese with bread, hot breaded goat cheese with bread, onion soup and even escargot. I was determined to try just one escargot because, well – when in Paris, right? I was surprised that I actually enjoyed it and even had another. I would definitely order escargot again! (I know… am I really saying that? Snails!?)
For lunch Rachel and I shared a cheese ravioli with cheese sauce and mushrooms (rich and delicious) and chicken breast with mushroom sauce and fresh tagliatelle. The mushroom sauce tasted like a super-rich version of a Campbell’s mushroom soup and it was the best part of the meal. For dessert we tried a few desserts – profiterole (cream puffs with ice cream and chocolate sauce), peach melba (peach with ice cream and whipped cream), creme brulee and rum raisin bread, which came with a bottle of rum to add more as desired. The creme brulee might be the best I’ve ever had.
After lunch we headed to a function space that we will be using with our group. It’s a fascinating space but I shouldn’t reveal any details about it here since it may be a surprise for our attendees.
We then drove about 20 minutes to Montmartre, where we were happy to drive up all the hills instead of having to walk.
We walked around the Sacre Coeur church and into the main square of Montmartre, filled with cafes and artists selling their work and drawing portraits. We found this to be the most touristy, gift-shop-filled part of Paris so far, and we were ready to go after a short walk. I did make one quick stop to buy a crepe from the window where I think I bought a crepe in 1999 when I was last in Paris. It wasn’t as good as I remembered. 🙂
When we got back to the hotel, it was 6 PM and we could barely move. It had been a long day of walking, driving, eating and lots of talking. Rachel said she hasn’t heard me talk so much since she knows me. We rested for a while and while Rachel napped, I made a map of all the local bistros and restaurants that had been recommended to me for our attendees, and went out for a couple hours to see them all, look at the menus, take photos, etc. I picked up some Thai food on the way back to the hotel and woke Rachel for a late night dinner.
Tomorrow we are up super early for a quick breakfast and a train ride to Amsterdam. If the wifi on the train is faster than here in the hotel, I will upload some photos.