We planned to visit Versailles with Clerc Cooper and Ryan Swayze, who are on a two-week trip through France and Italy. Via e-mail, Lynn made arrangements to meet them at the entrance. This is sort of like saying let’s meet at Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Even during off-season in a light drizzle, the security lines snaked up and down the entry grounds for at least four lengths. Hard to imagine what they must look like in the peak summer season.
Miraculously, not ten minutes after we joined the queue, Lynn spotted Clerc’s red hair and scarf, as she and Ryan entered the grounds. The people behind us in line did not object to having our friends break in to join us.
Versailles is more than just a single spectacular palace. It is an extended village of palaces, parks, fountains and even a farm. Some of the parkland is open to the public, as we watched people old and young walking and cycling through the trails while we rode the mini-train from the main palace to the Trianon palaces and back.
If you visit, plan to spend a full day at Versailles. It will be your only destination other than a refreshing verre du vin at the neighborhood bistro following a long day of touring the buildings and grounds. Incredibly, the entry lines still stretched out long as we walked out of the grounds at 5 p.m.–at this time of the year, the palace closes at 5:30 p.m.
And it’s a good ride from the center of Paris out to the suburb of Versailles, about 20 km (14 miles) on the RER C train. We left our St. Michel station at the stroke of 9 a.m. and arrived at the Gare Versailles about 9:30. It was about 6:30 p.m. by the time we walked out of our neighborhood RER station at Notre Dame.
While walking up the hill back to the apartment, we decided to dine at Le P’ti Restaurant, a little place right down the street that we had passed many times but never really took note of. It’s not the typical bistro with small tables outside, but rather a conventional restaurant seating about 24 people. The menu looked inviting and most reasonable–14.90 for the after-8 p.m. dinner. (The pre-8 p.m. dinner is only 12.90 but does not include wine.)
Dinner at Le P’ti was ordinary. The starter of pretty tasty duck paté was surely delicious, and the pichet of house wine was enjoyable. My pig’s knuckle (ham shank) was too fatty, although the meat was quite flavorful, and there was nothing at all wrong about the side dishes of smothered vegetables in a tomato sauce and–as always–wonderful potatoes crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Lynn’s fish was too fishy by her estimation, despite the the “lemon cream” (sort of beurre blanc) sauce accompaniment. The French unfortunately do not have the diversity of fish that we enjoy in south Louisiana. And they seem to simply bake it for a few minutes, which develops no crust or crunch to the filet.
However, dessert was something else. Lynn’s ice cream was rich and gooey with even richer chocolate. On my part, this otherwise ordinary dinner in an ordinary restaurant in an ordinary university neighborhood convinced me that the worst creme bruleé in Paris (maybe all of France) is better than any creme bruleé you will have in the U.S. (with the possible exception of Commander’s Palace). Something about real eggs, real butter and the ability to scorch the top while leaving the center cool seems to be universal in French restaurants. I ate every morsel.