9.4.12 - 9.6.12 75 °F
September 4th: Versailles
Another breakfast of pastries and we were on our way to Versailles. The town surrounding the Chateau is lovely, but the Chateau itself is incredibly large and imposing as you approach it from the end of a vast parking lot. Past the golden gates and a long ticket line, we entered with hundr
eds of other tourists and learned how it had grown bigger and bigger over the years. We walked through rooms and halls of gilded and frescoed ceilings, with ornate furniture, and fireplaces and walls of colored marble. There were also famous paintings and sculptures and a lot of history about the kings and conquerors who had lived there like Louis XIV and Napoleon. The amount of people in the Chateau and in the surrounding gardens was at times very distracting though. We were glad to exit and take a walk through the less crowded area in the North portion of the estate, where Marie Antoinette had builly an idealic French village for her enjoyment. Tired of the hot sun and the amount of walking, we made our way to a well-recommended craperie for dinner. We bided our time before it opened by poking our heads into a few boutiques. For dinner we had various galettes stuffed with cheeses, sausage, mushroom, salad, and sauces, accompanied by unsweetened cider. For dessert we ate crepes stuffed with fruits, caramel, whipped cream, and ice cream. At the end of the day we slipped into bed early to catch up on sleep and to battle our persistent colds.
September 5th: Paris and Beaune
Daniel, Matt, Audrey, and I awoke early to try to be first in line at the catacombs, to ensure we were able to tour them before our 1:40 train to Beaune. We lucked out and managed to get into the first group allowed in and proceeded down the long spiral staircase that led to the first passageway, 20 meters underground. The four of us moved down the dark tunnels cut directly into the rock or shored up by masonry. Many were too short for Matt to stand upright and along the way plaques marked the date of restoration. Originally, the large network of tunnels had been formed by quarrying efforts to supply the city with limestone that was used in the construction of monuments like Notre Dame during the 12th century. In the 18th century, after the city had grown in size over the top of the once distant quarries, portions of the city began to cave into the tunnels and panicked Parisians forced the king to survey the immense tunnel system and to shore them up. Then in the 19th century the major cemmetary in the city began to overflow and pose a health risk to the surrounding areas, so it was ordered that bodies be placed in the old tunnels to form catacombs. It was these bones, stacked in dense, orderly walls that we passed on our tour, stretching for miles next to us and extending into the dark, barred portions we could not enter. It is estimated that 6 million Parisians were buried there. It was difficult to comprehend that the thousands of bones we saw had once belonged to living people. There were just SO many! Dim lights and quiet dripping lent the place a sombre, slightly creepy atmosphere that I found slightly thrilling. The whole walk took about an hour and only covered a fraction of the number of tunnels lacing beneath the city.
Above ground again, we made our way to the Bercy train station and boarded our train to Beaune. We passed the four hour ride watching lovely little villages and farms fly by the window and caught up on some reading. In Beaune we found that our hotel was a small, charming structure run mainly by a wife and husband. After mailing some post cards we wandered the streets in the central part of the village. Beautiful old, white-washed buildings were squeezed together between restaurants, bakeries, and boutiques along narrow cobblestone roads. Flowerpots dotted all the store fronts and several fountains and a carousel were found in the squares. Wineries were almost as numerous as the people sitting in chairs outside the restaurants, enjoying wine and escargot. We stopped into such a restaurant and had an incredible dinner of wine, beef burgundy, andouette, onion soup, cheeses, escargot, and lasagna. Dessert was a whole meal in itself, made up of ice cream sundae, poached pear in wine, creme brulee, pistachio macaroons, raspberry mousse, black current ice cream in wine syrup, cream puffs, and espresso. To say we were happily stuffed would be a gross underexagerration. We returned to the hotel, still sick, but very satisfied and slipped into our soft down comforters for sleep.
September 6th: Beaune
After a late start to the day, we walked the old ramparts surrounding the city and enjoyed the peacefulness of such a small place. At 2 we entered the Marche Aux Vins winery for a wine tasting tour. In a large, underground cellar that had once been a 15th century church, we tasted 4 chardonnays and 8 pinot noirs from local towns in the Burgundy region. Next, we had lunch in a street side cafe and followed it with a multitude of macaroons and cheese and bread from two shops on a nearby street. Completely overfull, we stopped back at the hotel to eat our cheese and to take a short rest before our gourmet dinner reservation at a well-recommended restaurant. We ate olives, escargot, duck, veal kidney, pig cheeks, wine, ice cream in various flavors, and chocolate black current cake. We meandered home, again overstuffed, and slept in our comfortable beds.