Unbelievable Sainte-Chapelle

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PARIS, France – This was an incredible feast for the eyes and ears: Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ inside Sainte-Chapelle, the “holy chapel,” in all its stained-glass glory. That would be 1,113 stained glass windows to be exact, depicting the same number of scenes from the Old and New Testaments. This beauty was built in only seven years – impressive for the 13th Century – and it’s said to have been home to Christ’s crown of thorns.

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Versailles: The picnic and the palace

IMG_1725VERSAILLES, France – On our second day in Paris, we traveled south of the city to meet Versailles and oh how she seduced us. We first picked up a pair of bikes and rode to the famous city market to pick up the following supplies:

  • 1 dozen oily French olives
  • 3 types of stinky cheeses (one in the shape of a heart because why not?)
  • 1 roll of water crackers
  • 16 shiny red cherries
  • 1 extra large flaky croissant
  • 4 brightly colored macaroons
  • 20 juicy blackberries
  • 1 container of cold pasta salad
  • 1 bottle chilled rosé

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This was the picnic of a lifetime, I tell you. Mr. Wonderful rode beside me with these French treasures in a saddle basket as we cruised through the chateau’s enormous grounds, riding along the vast network of trails and tree-lined paths.

First, we got a good look at Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, along with the petit and grand trianons. And once we arrived at the end of the Grand Canal, we settled in on the banks of the lake for our French feast. The memory of this meal on this day with my beloved is wildly beautiful and a good reminder to be still and take it all in.

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Later, we walked through hordes of tourists to get a look at the incredibly opulent Hall of Mirrors, the central gallery inside the Palace of Versailles and also where King Louis XIV greeted guests. This is where (centuries later) the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I.hall of mirrorsJust outside this extravagant palace full of ornate sculptures and paintings is a meticulously manicured garden and a set of gilded gates. See that line? Hundreds of people waited in uncharacteristically high temps for a peek inside. Thankfully, we were allowed to bypass the line since we were with a guide. And we won’t soon forget the crowded walk through many of the 350 sprawling apartments inside this lavish royal chateau.chateau linechateau gardenschateau gilded gate

 

Le tour de Paris

notre damePARIS, France – For our first evening in Paris, we planned on a leisurely bike tour around the city with our guide. We’d booked a highly regarded tour after all. Come along for an unforgettable evening, they said. Unforgettable is a good word for weaving in and out of terrifying Parisian traffic in an attempt to avoid becoming roadkill. But this is all dangerously charming, right? Because … Paris.

For four hours, Mr. Wonderful and I biked warily through the City of Light. We rode through the Latin Quarter and on to the Île de la Cité, stopping to marvel at Notre Dame and on past Sainte Chapelle.

We stopped for salted caramel ice cream at Berthillon – the apparent grande dame of glaces.  We cycled around the Louvre at sunset past the pyramid, past the carousel, past the Tuileries Garden. And then we locked our bikes together and marveled at Paris aboard a boat cruise on the Seine as we floated right past the grandest monuments of Paris, lit proudly in blue, white and red.

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The Bastille Day attack survivor

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TOULOUSE, France – We met this Japanese woman at our hotel bar in Toulouse last night. She was in Nice during the Bastille Day terror attack, and her eyes filled with tears when she told us how she and her host family were watching the fireworks when they saw the refrigerator truck coming down the promenade. She struggled to describe the frantic scene of people scattering in all directions. The screaming. The chaos. She told us how they ran to a local restaurant, banged on the doors and begged to be let inside, but the restaurant was already full of others who’d fled and they were denied. She said no one really knew what they were running from, but they just kept going until they made it back to her host family’s home. Eventually, texts started pouring in from Tokyo. Family and friends had seen the news. It was then that she realized how lucky she’d been.

Floating the Garonne

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TOULOUSE, France – We cruised the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi (recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO) on an old barge for a 75-minute tour of Toulouse, aka, The Ville Rose, from the water. The tour guide handed us an English booklet to follow along on our own because the tour was in French. Oy. Aside from that – and the fact that we were seated next to a little girl with chicken pox – the float suited us just fine.

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Dining on word soup

winter garden toulouseTOULOUSE, France – On our first night in Toulouse, we dined al fresco in the center of the city at Winter Garden (pictured) on Rue des Gestes. Terrible name. Wonderful food. Oddly enough, we were seated next to TWO OTHER PEOPLE FROM AUSTIN. Life is weird sometimes.

The problem with visiting France right after Spain is that my brain is still defaulting to Spanish, so I’m living in a mixed up world of starting a sentence in Spanish, switching to English as I realize this is France and then ending with extra emphasis on a terribly enunciated “s’il vous plait” in an attempt to make up for the this hysteria.

The good news is that when speaking real shitty French at a restaurant, the waiters seem to feel sorry for us, so they switch to English. This is working well for us since the mister and I know a collective 12 French words.

The plan so far: Stand across the street from a place we need to enter and practice a couple sentences via translation app or phrase book. Then attempt to replicate what we just heard/read to get to the next step. Sometimes people just stare at us in disbelief, in which case we move on to Plan B: Charades.