Friday, 11 March 2016

A walk in the park

According to Google it’s -1° out there. Brrr.

A slight contrast to yesterday though - as was pointed out to me - not only were we in t’North we are also quite high, roughly 1000’ ASL. No, not Age, Sex, Location. On the bright side it is just that, very, very bright, the rain has clearly scrubbed the air clean in this heart of ancient Gaul.

I showered so I wouldn’t look out of place.

Breakfast was yet another variation on the continental theme, as we ate it was decided a quick scoot around town was in order making sure we could get to Versailles in daylight and have a look around there too. Proper tapas tourism. Needless to say my French is starting to come back just as I’m about to leave the country again, irritating but expected, I’ll have to come back soon… On the bright side it did make checking out somewhat easier.

I sensibly moved the Contrary Clio when leaving as it had been slightly abandoned owing to the car park being quite full when we arrived last night, on doing so I noticed rings set in to the wall where presumably in years gone by horses would have been tied up. That or they got up to some kinky sexual practices here in the long winter nights.

The route back to town was the same as the night before but this time we could see something of the old architecture and crucially could see the blackish volcanic stone used to build many of the older buildings. It was also clear that a section of the town around the railway station had presumably been cleared during the war by external developers. Sadly when the new buildings were put in the stark concrete look became the thing which rather clashes with the classic French feel.

On the way we passed the restaurant from the night before and on the opposite corner I noticed a tattoo parlour with a design on the wall that looked incredibly familiar. I put it down to being maybe part of a chain. If they have that sort of thing. We headed up the cathedral and entered a square that again looked amazingly familiar, in fact it looked exactly like another I’d seen on the road trip. What a coincidence! The statues, the cathedral, even coincidentally it was the same name in the same name square.

Or not.

I then checked in on Hive - what was Foursquare - and saw I’d become mayor. Of a place I thought I’d not been before. Oh.

I really am an airhead. So it was familiar because after Clare got married in an auberge we visited Clermont-Ferrand on the way *to* Croatia, this was on the long leg that ended in Montpellier, whilst I’d managed to write about it at the time it had obviously not stuck in my memory. I truly am an airhead.

Still it was lovely to sit in the cathedral again and after lighting a candle and some quiet contemplation it was time to move once more and head further north to Versailles. Obviously with me now able to point out various things in the town as it all came flooding back to me. Ditz.

The roads were much better to day, a distinct lack of torrential rain and I even managed to not get lost in the service station when we stopped for fuel and coffee. Admittedly it was a touch and go thing as the layout was a little confused, but no renovations to confuse me even more.

Between the second and third stops, just south of Orléans the plucky little Clio passed it’s 3000th mile of Contrary Roadtrip, an exciting moment. This was followed 14.1 miles later by the miles on the overall trip meter being exactly ten times the Contrary Miles. An irrelevant moment that matters to those that like order in the world. And an excuse for another carefully timed photo.

Once again we shot past where my family are from, we couldn’t stop as the aim was to get to Versailles with plenty of light to make like tourists and, more importantly, earlier enough to avoid the joy that is rush hour around Paris and Versailles… Something that I was grateful we achieved.

For once I had been organised and I’d checked out the hotel we were staying in on Google maps, more specifically where the entrance to the courtyard is for the car park, I know the streets around the centre are a PITA and wanted to get there first time. Which we did.

And found the gates closed. Oh.

But all was well, we pulled in to the entrance to the courtyard with the intention to scurry in and check-in and get them to open the gates when we noticed an entry-phone hidden away. All became clear and with a press of the button the gates scissored to one side we rolled in. Phew.

Once safely in the room for the night it was time to quickly freshen before heading out to make like tourists for a while before I could tidy myself ready to meet up with an old colleague that I’ve not seen in ten years, the soul reason that I was in Versailles at all!

*tourist face*
It transpired that we were about two minutes from the marketplace at the heart of the Notre Dame district so we were greeted by a cacophony of colour and sights as the market was in full swing, we  passed through with no intention to stop and browse and continued are march towards the big house. Which really is huge. It makes Buck House look tiny but that’s nothing compared with the gardens. You may recall that last summer I was at Lizzies place for a garden party to commemorate 100 years of the Women’s Institute and I took the opportunity to have a good look around what felt - as it was central London - like extensive grounds. Compared to the Château de Versailles it was like a patch of grass behind a two-up, two-down. 800 hectares compared with the 17 hectares of Buckingham Palace. Crikey.

We walked around, looked at the shiny railings, were swamped by French school kids en masse and then wandered in to the gardens themselves. A coffee and snack stop presented itself where I saw the best outside loos ever, constructed with raw timber in the neo-classical style with columns reminiscent of those at the temple of Athena in Athens. Bonkers.

After the break it was a walk through the parkland by lake but as after what seemed like a very long time we had only made it to the first cross of the lake it seemed like walking around it wasn’t going to be possible. At least not before it got dark. Walking back we tried to guess the length by measuring the tree gap - about 5m - and then the number of tree gaps - about 75. So quite long then and it seemed like there may be a few missing. Still it was an impressive avenue, one of many and I did wonder at the sanity of the poor worker that spent their days pruning a bush to keep the topiary perfect.

Bear. Woods.
Along the way back I pondered the statues that were either covered up for protection or were the most pretentious modern art ever seen. More to the point I pondered the purpose of the lights now illuminating the statues. Hmm, maybe they really are supposed to look like that. Or not.

As we left the gardens it was clear something was being set up as sound equipment was being unloaded from a van in t’backyard, meanwhile out front there were a number of horses and riders in full colour, finally being joined by infantry again in full colours. No idea why and would have asked if not for the fact that the proper tourists were massing and it didn’t look safe.

As we passed the statue to show off himself Louis XIV the full horror of Versailles rush hour traffic was building. As ever a static image couldn’t do justice but I was reminded why not driving at that time was such a good idea…
Back in the hotel it was time to do a little writing. Final arrangements had been made with my friend and we were to meet in the Notre Dame market square at 8pm before heading off in search of a nice place to eat, drink and compress ten years in to a few hours. Fortunately I talk a lot. This was a perfect plan until…

…I got a message asking if I’d seen the whatsapp that he’d sent! Of course not as my phone was charging on the other side of the room by the sole pair of power points whilst I was writing. So instead of choosing something to wear, brushing my hair and making myself look vaguely presentable I shrieked, pulled on my pashmina, coat, hat, shoes, grabbed my bag and shot out leaving Clarissa to fend for herself.

So glad I was only about two minutes away!

We met, we talked and well, that was pretty much it for the next few hours. We did though manage to eat in the first place we went to which was rather fabulously called Le Cheese Club. Was this okay he asked, seriously, cheese, what’s not to like?! So we sat at the window and the waiter arrived several times and each time was sent away as no we hadn’t looked at the menu yet. Couldn’t the man see we were talking.

Years. Catch-up. Simple.

I can’t remember what I ordered *exactly, but what it was both looked amazing and tasted divine. What more can you ask for in a place? The company of course was exceptional and - unsurprisingly - the conversation never stopped. As the place emptied and we were the last left the waiter brought the bill in a bid to drop a hint. I opened the pot containing it…
Oooh, sweeties!

The ones that taste like pear drops, I really like those. And of course said. It turns out that being flirty with waiters pays benefits as he gave me more sweeties. Who knew. Of course one should never accept sweeties from strangers but I felt we were old friends as we’d discussed at length dessert wines. As you do.
We walked up to the bus stop as Ash now lives on the far side of Versailles the conversation showing no sign of abating any time soon but as his bus drew up it was time to finally call it a night with promises of a longer visit soon to have a proper catch-up.

On the way back I watched a police car which had been parked in a very odd place be connected to the back of a tow truck and dragged away, aww.

Back in the hotel it was time to sleep, I would like to have written but it was now late and I had set a 6am alarm so that there would be time for one final breakfast before we got in the Contrary Clio and drove to Le Havre.

And home.

* update...
Entree: œuf cocotte a la vache qui rit, pain grille. 
Plat: Escalope de veau panee au parmesan. 
Dessert: Petit pot au chocolat au carre frais

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