However, yesterday we rode through Versailles on rented bikes, creating our own version of the Tour and, inadvertently, a highlight of the trip.
I'd planned which day we'd visit Versailles from the moment we chose our dates for the trip. It's a short Metro/bus hop to Les Invalides, then a train switch to an RER train, then about a half-hour to Versailles, then a 10-minute walk to the palace, then long lines, long waits, and several places where you need to buy tickets to enter/pass through various areas (the gardens, Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon estate, etc.). Needless to say, by the time we arrived at a spot where we could sit in the garden and eat lunch (bread-and-butter sandwiches, sliced meat, cheese, fruit and Oreos), the kids were wiped out and we hadn't even gone into the Chateau yet. The only thing they wanted to do was get ice cream and ride bikes. And so we found the bike rentals and took off.
I had hoped to see the palace and grounds in the same pink-hued softly punk-rock light as I'd admired in the Sofia Coppola movie Marie Antoinette. Now, I've lived in Los Angeles long enough to know that what you see in movies is not necessarily the truth and, in that respect, I wasn't disappointed by the lack of magic in and around Versailles. It's almost like I wanted to go home and watch the movie instead, preserving the sumptuousness of the era in my imagination rather than shuffling along with other rabid tourists toting cameras and speaking loudly in many foreign tongues. When I made our family lock up the bikes and go into Petit Trianon, it was like a hot maze of people wandering through empty rooms with blank walls... not at all the grand experience I'd hoped for. My imagination was at a loss to fill in the blanks, save for what I could remember from Sofia Coppola's movie. Very quickly, I realized that the "magic" would be in the experience, not in the place or the stuff.
And so we bought an orange juice (there are kiosks all around the grounds where they'll cut and squeeze fresh juice for you, memorializing the Sun King Louis the 14th, who built Versaille and even had an Orangerie where he had exotic orange trees grow even through the harshly cold French winters) and took off on our bikes. It was exhilarating to ride around the grounds unencumbered by people or signs or cars... We saw sheep and horses and goats. We got a firsthand feeling for how large the estate is, and we barely biked around the Grand Canal. For kids (and parents) who have been cooped up while traveling, it was a welcome burst of energy and fresh air.After we returned the bikes, Raf took Emme and Nina to the cafe while Marlowe and I quickly roamed through a few rooms of the main palace of Versailles, just because we were there and I knew I'd want to see it. But the magic was in the day itself, in the people I went with, and the Versailles that I'd already created as a figment of my own imagination.