Well, I thought we were going to rise, well rested and ready to go. Instead I think we all agreed that we felt wiped still and so the morning was slow going. The exception being Sophia, who apparently awoke before any of us, moved the small table near the window and carefully placed all her toys on the table and was busy organizing. Which is what I had to jump awake to do because not only were we going to visit the palace of Versailles, but we also need to be packed completely to check out and yet organized for our 3 hour road trip to our Loire Valley (Central France wine country) farmhouse ("gite"-vacation rental home) that we would call home for the four days. Once I was done buzzing around and we were all finally ready to face the new French day it was sadly later than I wanted, 10:00am. But the day was ours to enjoy.
First on our agenda was Breakfast. And the "breadfast" of champions in France is a nice croissant/pastry (yummerific for me) and very nice and small cup of coffee (each time I saw the European smallness of the French "large" I heard Lorelai Gilmore in my head saying "Barbie dream cup"). For kids there was the traditional French bowl of hot chocolate, but the girls wanted none of it (what?!) so we had to hunt at a couple of spots to complete our bread/breakfast. So we turned into our first Patisserie, whose staff was friendly and ready for us. We got a full selection of basic pastries: Croissant, Pain Au Chocolate (Ah, delish), Chausson aux pomme (tasty tasty buttery apple pastry), and a French favorite, buttery carmely raisiny pastry we ended up liking but I can't for the life of me remember the name of. Each French morning this was our usual selection with the occasional impulse choice and I know it served me well but I have to say that my breakfast loving family was sorely missing plain ol' cereal and especially eggs, bacon, and biscuits at about our fifth pastry morning into the trip. And I have actually read where Europeans largely think little of American food but American breakfasts are a hit across the board.
Once we found our pastry, and bought some canned juices for the girls, we sat ourselves at a typical sidewalk cafe and gave the attentive waiter our coffee order of cafe au lait. I have to add that this way to breakfast was what Rick Steves and other guide books recommended for the budgeting traveler but David and I felt odd. It was a little strange for us to take food from one place and sit at another only ordering a couple of drinks. We knew we were eating at a later hour than even the French usually have breakfast, but as I looked about the oh, so, picturesque French cafe scene I noted a couple of other late breakfast eaters. And I even noticed a pastry wrapper from a place different from the cafe. Yes, this set me at ease. As the waiter brought our scrumptious coffee (I actually never had a bad cup of coffee in France, small-always, bad-never), we chuckled at our American desire for a Grande. The girls enjoyed all the pastries, and Sophia turned up her nose to any of the bready goodness, yet she clamored for coffee and after a couple of baby sips we had to stop her. I knew I wouldn't make it through the day with a caffeine fueled empty belly toddler. As we sat with our last morsels of breakfast before us, I took my second mental picture (because I didn't take an actual picture) of the 70 some degrees, cool breezy morning.....the five of us huddled close to our cafe-small table, the French cobblestone street near us mostly busy with pedestrian traffic... and the French conversations wafting around us. Ahhh. Then Sara said, "I'm done, where are we going next?" Versailles Palace.
Now Versailles the town is unpretentious, bigcity/smalltown feel with all the French arts and architecture, but it is decidedly overwhelmed by the grand figure of one of the most world renowned palaces....Versailles. The palace and the grounds' sprawl is seemingly larger than the town itself. We parked near the palatial entrance and approached the gates in much the same way elegant society did back in the day. I looked down and commented to the girls that we were walking on cobblestone that Marie Antoinette must have traveled over. Blank stares. So began my little (mis?)education of the the girls in regards to French royalty, the revolution and Versailles. Then we stopped in our tracks and took in the massive size of the 700 room Chateau, and the massive line weaving its way around, and filling the entrance.
I have visited Versailles before, way way before this day. My first visit was in 1993, and it was awesome but the line then was also long and so all we had time for was the castle and a quick picnic on the beautiful grounds then we left. I still had an aching desire to tour the gardens, Marie Antoinette's famous royal peasant abode and enjoy another picnic. So I left my family in the ever increasing line to the chateau and checked out the garden's entrance. Before I saw the gardens , I heard them. And this let me tell you was amazing. On this Saturday, Versailles, was showcasing it's gardens and fountains in a musical spectacle. Luxurious classical music was pumped through hidden speakers throughout the gardens and around the fountains in such a atmospheric way as to make you feel that at any moment the royal party of King Louis the whatever number was going to stroll by. It was the perfect soundtrack to the delightful gardens, beautiful weather and day. Also, no lines!
So I ran to David and the girls and we all decided the grounds before the chateau. Something else the music helped with is that as crowded as the castle and gardens were you did not hear the constant hum of people but the moving lilt of the music. Sophia had the opportunity to roam about and we spent the next five hours taking in most of the gardens. Yes, the grounds are so intimate and inviting yet large you can get lost in the exploration of them. Sara declared that she loved castles and Anna enjoyed touring the Queen's Hamlet. We actually did not have time for the castle (small regret for my crew, but not for me) but the girls did get the sample experience of the extravagance of the palace by touring the smaller palace on the grounds (yes, the royalty found it necessary to take a break from palace life with smaller place about a mile from the big house).
We picnicked, we took pictures galore, and we realized we had to leave to make it with daylight to our farmhouse in the Loire, about 3 1/2 hours away. We blessedly found another small grocery store in Versailles, stocked up, and after longer than we hoped made our way out of Versailles to the French highway. Ah, the French highway with its very clean countryside, just as clean and environmentally friendly roadside stops and toll booths aplenty. We were moving along smoothly until we were about supposedly 1 hour or so away from the gite. At that point the threatening clouds broke into a constant hard rain and the Loire river we drove over was raging against it's edges. Now, at this time I should share that God most definitely went ahead of us because we had a GPS screen that became invaluable at this point and I had not requested one in our rental when I had booked. All the small country roads that our Michelin French road map did not cover was on our trusty GPS screen. But as we sleepily approached the main road to our little French village: Preuilly-sur-Claise (around 10:30pm), horror, our little quaint country road was terribly flooded. A small line of small French cars and trucks were parked just before the flooded road and I realized no matter how much I wanted to ask a "hey, what's up and how do we Americans find a back road to our little gite?" uh, well I had complete French language block about what to ask or say. So David took charge, and put all his attention on the GPS as the girls as I split some bread and a few cold cuts to make our dinner.
Finally, at 12:30am we pulled into our little country gite, after a couple of scares encountering gutted shacks and dilapidated farmhouses and hoping against hope that our gite wasn't in similar shape. We breathed a sigh of relief and walked in our 18th century farmhouse that was completely ready for us, unpacked, snacked on some yummy French chocolate cookies, showered, and fell into our beds. I thanked the Lord for our safe adventure and knew that Sunday AM was going to be time for sleeping in.