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Versailles 17 June 2016


1367 : 920

An intense, complicated, long travel day ... but a good outcome. More about that later.

We started out just before 8am from our comfortable (but sterile) digs in l'Herbaudière, left the island (the signs said "to the continent") and then wound our way through a couple of narrow little cities before coming to the autoroute, up and over the bridge over the Loire at Nantes, and off across France on a northwesterly course, headed for our car drop-off in Le Mans.


1368 : 917

The autoroute itself is lovely, so long as you're going the right direction; much less stressful in terms of finding your way than the randomly numbered, ill-signed secondary and tertiary roads. But the autoroutes are peage – toll roads – and today, that added to the adventure. First gare (pay station) the machine wouldn't accept any of our cards (even though they worked perfectly on the autoroutes in the South.) Next (and, happily, last) gare, our ticket was improperly printed and the machine couldn't tell where we came from, so it just spit it out. Both times, to escape the booth, we had to enlist the aide of the toll trolls (who were lovely.)

Months later, we got a letter in the mail: a speeding ticket for trying to make up time lost to the peage kerfuffle. We paid.

1369 : 913

Finding the Europcar location in Le Mans was a challenge, especially in that we had a deadline: 12 noon, they go to lunch. Got there with 16 minutes to spare!

Lunchtime. Europcar is right in the railroad station, so we tried the railroad station café, which turned out to be lovely. Two salads, a mediteranean and a césar with chicken -- we're out of duck country. The buffalo mozarella on Rochelle's salad was so fresh it squeaked, and the presentation of both salads was picture perfect. Even at the railroad station, the French take pride in the way they put out the food – no hash-slinging here!

We dragged lunch out, expecting to finish and catch our 13:36 train to Versailles...

 

1370 : 906

Surprise! We came out of the restaurant and looked at the departures monitor and ... no 13:36 train on the board. I went into the SNCF (French train system) Information office. "Bonjour, parlez-vous Anglais?" "Un petit peu," says the girl behind the desk. Bon, je parle un petit peu de Francais aussi," I volunteered. Her colleague laughed out loud; she looked very miffed. From there on she spoke fractured English and I did my best in French, the classic cross-cultural miscommunication strategy.

Due to the labor unrest, our 13:36 train had been cancelled. Using the pretense of not quite having the words to explain, she wouldn't quite admit that, but that's what happened. A lot of people were as surprised as we were, and by the time the next Paris-bound train rolled in, the station had become quite crowded.


1371 : 886

Luckily, we found a pair of quiet seats and had plenty of time to log on to the free SNCF wifi (weefee) and let our hostess know we were arriving in Versailles two hours later than expected ... and to appreciate the artwork on the walls ... and to people watch.

The SNCF wallahs had a whole passle of trains coming and going around 15:35, and delayed posting the track for the train that a lot of people were waiting for until the last minute ...whereupon there was a stampede to the platform, complicated by the fact that an incoming train had just debouched a tour group who were standing around as if they were waiting for their mommy. Mommy showed up and hustled the tour group off. Our train rolled in. We found and settled into our seats, and the train started rolling at the tick of 15:36 ...

 

1372 : 882

...and we began breathing easily for the first time today.

Except for some serious mountains on the south, east, and a bit in the middle, France is one great big agricultural monster. Wheat, grapes, crops I don't know, corn, tomatoes in immense greenhouses. The train slid past back yards, train yards, junk yards, steel yards, lumber yards, towns, churches ... a rich panoply, but completely centered, along this transect at least, on agriculture.

Here in the north, the enormous wheat fields  are in a sorry state: meant to be winter wheat drying for harvest in the June sun, the crops are bashed into ground that looks much too muddy to work, thanks to the unseasonable rains.

1373 : 880

1374 : 878

The towns began to come more frequently. Across a broad muddy terrain of wheat field stretching to the horizon, an enormous erection arises. Minutes later we roll to a stop in Chartres. Oh, right, Chartres. We're usually not much for cathedrals, and so this was close enough. 

Past Chartres, the heavens open, and it's over for train photography.

 

 

<p>Chartres</p>

Chartres

1375 : 874

Half an hour latter we roll into Versailles, the country home of Louies 14 through 16. We almost got trapped again; without any signage or indication whatsoever, we train travelers (as distinct from commuters) weren't supposed to get off and walk out the nearest exit; we were supposed to drag our luggage around to the proper exit. Luckily a train guy took pity on us and let us out through a special gate. We lucked into a taxi, shared with a lady with a flat-faced cat in a carrier, fetched our keys, and were taken right to our digs, barely a 15 minute walk through a beautiful, stately old city to the Golden Gates of the Palace ... but that's tomorrow's story.

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