A trip to Versailles and my first bike ride in a year

The day started early today. We were up at 6:30AM and started walking to Don and Debbie’s hotel by the Jardin des Tuileries. The plan was to spend the day in Versailles. We had reserved a bike tour of the grounds plus a visit to the palace. I was more excited about riding a beach cruiser than the palace. If you have been following this blog, you know that I haven’t been on a bicycle in more than a year.

After a brief overview of the day, we took the RER train to Versailles. The beach bikes were not in the best of shape but I didn’t care. I knew that I would bike hardly 5 miles at a very leisurely pace, but I was biking and I was in Versailles, France!

Riding a leisurely beach cruiser is nothing like riding a road or tri bike. I was in jeans; I had no helmet on; I had no water bottle; there was a picnic basket attached to the bike carrier with wine, bread and a bunch of other food! But it was good to feel the wind in my hair and pedal a real bike. I even tried to get down below the wind and draft a random tourist. I guess not being able to bike is definitely a #firstworldproblem.

Our first stop was at the Versailles open-market with fresh cheese, bread, fruits and vegetables. Most folks rave about this market. Most tourists were gawking at the food and wine with oohs and aahs. I found the vendors a bit stand-offish and rude; but that made for a perfect French experience! I’ve seen more chaotic, larger and fresher markets in India. They are unhygienic and more aromatic. My highlight at the Versailles market was eating a salted caramel and banana crepe from a street vendor. We picked up bread, cheese, wine, fruits and condiments for a picnic on the grounds of Versailles.

The grounds at Versailles are superb. Not many people get to explore them. Most simply visit the palace and call it a day. A few hardy souls run the grounds (which is the perfect way to see the grounds).

We rode around the grounds, heard Marie Antoinette’s tragic story and visited her private residence. It was still pristine and well preserved with swans swimming in the pond with carp (fish), a tapestry of white and yellow flowers in the meadows and a small farm with pigs, peacocks, rabbits, geese, guinea fowls and goats lazing in the sunshine.

Soon, we settled in for a leisurely picnic on a perfectly sunny day. We ate to our heart’s content in the grass by the canal as mallards and crows and terns flitted about around us. A few groups of tourists were gathered in small groups randomly on the grounds.

We entered the palace along with a massive inflow of tourists. The palace is gilded in gold in typically gaudy French decor. As nice as the gardens are and as grand as the palace is, the decor is definitely not tasteful. The visit to the palace (museum) itself is organized to run through the main church followed by a host of rooms with historical paintings, the king’s quarters, the hall of mirrors and finally the queen’s quarters.

Candidly, the palace visit was a big downer. It was super-crowded with tourists pushing everyone around and taking random pictures of umpteen ceilings. Selfies were the norm of the day (especially for Asian tourists). Some were posing in very strange poses and some were simply smiling superficially in front of random portraits. Ugh!

I had brought my running gear and was excited to go for a run, but that ended up not happening. The rest of my group were tired and wanted to get back to the hotel and rest. Double Ugh!

We took the train back after walking to two different stations (the first had some sort of French issue and the train was not going to be there). The ride back was uneventful.

We leave for home early tomorrow morning. The bags are packed and our trip is done!

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