View from Montparnasse Tower (2013)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Day 10

We got up at 6 this morning in order to meet our La Cuisine Paris tour group in front of the fountain at Place St. Michel by 9:00.  We rode the bus over -- admittedly a short trip, but I like to save my energy for when I get to my destination -- and met the group with no problems.  There were just nine of us plus the tour guide and another who took some pictures and helped us stay together.  Our destination was Versailles, more specifically Le Potager du Roi (The King's Garden).  We each received a tote bag with a book and map of Versailles, a bottle of water, and tickets for the palace and the return trip to Paris.  Using the tickets, the guide gave us, we all got on the RER C train, which took about a half hour to reach Versailles.

In Paris, the train runs along the Seine when it is above ground, and it doesn't take long for it to get out to the suburbs where we saw single family detached houses with gardens as well as modern high rise apartment blocks.  Since modern high rise buildings are banned in central Paris, there are a lot of them in the suburbs.
We arrived in Versailles, which is the end of the line, and while most everyone on the train left the station and turned right towards the palace, we turned to the left and walked quite a distance before reaching Le Potager du Roi, which is actually on the south flank of the palace grounds.

The garden was started by Louis XIV (the Sun King who developed Versailles and moved the royal court there from Paris) in the 1600s to grow fruits and vegetables for his court.  In France at that time, most people just ate meat (game) and bread, there was little interest in vegetables.  However, Louis was interested in new and modern concepts, so hired a fellow to design his garden.  It was built in a swamp, and the "french drain" was developed to drain the water from the land.  The land was excavated about 10 feet below grade, creating a micro climate where all sorts of fruits and vegetables can be grown all year around.  The garden is 23 acres and is still cultivated.  About 50 tons of fruits and vegetables are harvested each year and sold through the gift shop.  This is also the National School of Horticulture where they admit 12 students each year for a 4-year program.  There are 12 full time gardeners (30 back in Louis' day).

We wandered around the garden and Amber, our very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, explained what was growing.  Most of the fruit trees are espaliered in various shapes to allow better sun exposure for the fruit.  None of the trees from Louis XIV time are still there; the oldest trees are quince about 150 years old.  This is an experimental garden and the variety of plants spans the ages, both heritage and modern varieties.  There is a "Royal Gate" that Louis would use to visit the garden.  It is the only original gate on the palace grounds that survived the revolution - the other gates were melted down to make musket balls.

Leaving the garden, we walked to the other side of the palace to the Versailles market, which is four covered market buildings that open each day except Mondays.  Three days a week there is an open market in the quad formed by the four buildings.  Amber bought the ingredients for the cheese plate for our lunch, then we walked over to the restaurant where we had a four-course lunch with wine.  The starter was a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad.  For the main course, we had a choice of either fish (cod, I think) or beef (rumsteak). The fish was served with two different purees and the beef was served with potatoes somewhat like hash browns only better.  We had five different cheeses, all tasty, and a small tart of nuts for dessert.  It was a very good lunch and we enjoyed visiting with the other people on the tour.

Most people who go to Versailles probably think the palace is all that is there  - I know that is what I thought - but Versailles is actually a good size city, very pretty and clean with lots of interesting buildings and shops.  Despite getting very tired from the all the walking, I really did enjoy seeing some of the town.

The tour ended after lunch, but included a "Passport" ticket to the palace as well as a return train ticket back to Paris. We learned that the ticket for the palace is good for 2-years and the train ticket wasn't dated, so Kathy and I opted to not go there today.  We could see that there were hoards of people up near the palace and being tired, it just didn't make sense, so we went back to Paris on the train - for free.  For some reason, we were told we didn't need to use our train ticket.  Must be because of the holiday weekend.  We think we may try to go back to Versailles on Wednesday. We got back to the apartment about 4:30 and Kathy (the self-proclaimed Laundry Queen) did a few loads of laundry (bless her heart).  We had Picard again for dinner.

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