Holy crepe! An endless garden and the Hell of Paris.

July 29, 2018

Sacre Coer in Paris
Sacre Coer in Paris

By leaving Mont-Saint-Michel, it is official: We are on our way back to Paris. Roundtrips do have a habit of making you feel like you're going home in the middle of your trip. But you do save the expensive one-way tax for rental cars. And we absolutely wanted to experience two great things: Standing in the 50-mile-queue at the Palace of Versailles and driving through completely mad traffic in the middle of Paris. Of course at 95 F in the shade with a small Fiat, where the roof hatch cannot be closed against the sunlight. A film of sweat and sunscreen sticks on my skin as we rumble across the extra thick gravels on the parking lot at the Chateau in Versailles. A parking attendant waves wildly and points to a place that is just becoming available. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite understand that the other car has to be gone before we can get in. We just drive too German. If we were more French, we would have simply boxed away the vehicle in the parking space with three targeted blows and scratches. Here comes a winkingly final report, spiced with the black pepper of honesty.

Huge crowds of people are flooding Versailles Castle

Beautiful statues at the Palace of Versailles
Beautiful statues at the Palace of Versailles

The huge Palace of Versailles shines golden in the burning sun. A crowd has gathered outside the gate as if Tom Cruise had just arrived for Mission:Impossible Part 10. In fact, it seems impossible to get into the courtyard for a moment because of the crowds. At the security checkpoint a bored guy is looking at my camera bag, in which I could have brought a hunting rifle without being seen. Then we stand on the cobblestone pavement, which heats us up strongly from below, while not a single breath of air blows. A queue runs in curves over the entire course. I pull up my upper lip and reconsider the plan to look at the halls from the inside today. We'll probably be here until dawn, if we haven't evaporated by then. We fight our way up to the high, majestic gate to at least take a brief look at the inner buildings. After that we decide that even great pomp and splendour are not worth any third-degree burn and set off for the free castle gardens behind the outrageously huge building.

Castle Gardens and Labyrinth Feeling

Palace of Versailles
Take a view through the massive gates at the Palace of Versailles

Chateau de Versailles is one of the largest castles in Europe and was for a long time the headquarter of the French kings, because they had no desire for Paris. The building is baroque and at its widest point it measures 1,650 feet. No one here has set one's sights lower. Altought it's hard to have any sight at all.

By the way, the court had occasionally comprised several thousand (!) persons.
Accordingly, the gardens are much more than a flower meadow with fountains. Feet-high hedges, stairs, cascades and a small lake on which boats can be hired do extend to the horizon. Of course, all the fountains are not running today. Otherwise you could have seen something (or cooled your little finger in it)! We walk down into a maze of well-kept and pruned green spaces. It's a bit like The Labyrinth (do you know the board game?), where a new statue, a golden fish or a small monument lurks around every corner. The high bushes cast wonderful shadows, while small papamobiles with tourists board through the dirt on the paths and cause a black lung.

The free gardens of the Palace of Versailles
The gardens at Versailles are endless and beautiful
At some point we drag ourselves back up to the castle. In the museum shop I ask for a flyer, because I am still so nineties that I collect such things on my trips. The lady at the checkout first gives me a map, which I don't need, because I have already crawled through the area on all fours, and then a guide for children. I rather thought that I had aged rapidly over the past few hours. We have to get out of here.
So a little tip: Visit the Palace of Versailles off-season, book your tickets in advance (even then, however, there are long waiting times because this idea has got around) or limit yourself to the - considered objectively - really beautiful and free gardens. Maybe the countless, artistic fountains will splash in front of you again.


Paris by car - or what else you should absolutely not do

Traffic and driving in Paris, rental car
The traffic in Paris ist just MAD

Shortly afterwards we drive off to Paris, where we have to drop off our rental car at the Gare du Nord. My boyfriend Alex is driving because my head is pulsing and my stomach is on a rampage and I am just not willing to drive into a big city.

But it won't be that bad, I think, because I've already driven in cities like Marseille, Dublin, Chicago and Los Angeles and every time it was much more harmless than expected.
But this time I was so wrong! I had no idea about the city traffic in Paris. Even in the idyllic periphery between prefabricated buildings and overflowing waste containers, absolute madness breaks out. Motorcycles and mopeds thunder past us left and right at the speed of light. The side mirrors tremble while we look like blowfishs. Somehow the French have run out of paint, because on the wide streets the road markings are completely missing. Shortly afterwards I realize that this is irrelevant - because nobody would be interested in them anyway.

Who cares about varnish?!

Love in Paris
Romance and chaos in Paris

By getting into a big traffic jam, I start sweating blood. Three lanes with up and down ramps, flashing tow trucks and tunnels. Between roaring engines of bikers beating their machines through the standing cars as if the Last Judgement were after them. A driver tears his moped around in front of our bonnet and pushes past the vehicle in front of us, tearing off half the paint at the rear. No one cares and the moped was gone before I could breathe again. I take my camera on my lap so that in an emergency case I can at least take a picture of the license plate of the accident perpetrator. I'm looking forward to our carefully guarded rental car showing up at Europcar completely bruised and dented over the last few miles. Our only explanation would be: We were driving through Paris.


A nerve-wracking three quarters of an hour later we arrive at the station. The car is still alive, even though I don't know why. We circle around the area four times before we find the mysterious entrance to the underground car park of the car rental companies. When we hand in the keys and I am allowed to say "no damage", I laugh inside quietly.

Not even my drive through Chicago Downtown with construction sites, one-way streets, fire sirens and pouring rain was nearly as crazy as the whole traffic of Paris. This was definitely the worst city I've ever been in in a car. Whoever has a spark on his car should avoid the whole area completely. Or wrap his car in a huge bubble wrap, equip himself with dashcams and memorize the Our Father.

A last, beautiful day in Paris

View over Paris from the Eiffel Tower at nightView
View over Paris from the Eiffel Tower at night

After this ride we still have one last relaxing day in Paris, which we celebrate with traveling by metro and our feet. (That's why I lied when I said "relaxing"). The sun still shines relentlessly and in the afternoon I dip my legs into the fountains of Louvre. Which, by the way, is running... For the evening we have planned to visit the Eiffel Tower. With fantastic, reserved tickets. Hallelujah! That's why we are able to skip the (long) queue. Party hard!

The view is very beautiful. We can spot the Arc de Triomphe as well as Sacre Coer and some other cathedrals. When it gets dark, the whole tower begins to glow. Bright dots are dancing over the steel frame on full hour. Our road trip through Normandy ends here. It was two weeks full of contrasts. Full of colourful villages and crazy urban chaos, rugged chalk cliffs and picturesque flower gardens, thundering waves and magnificent castles. A landscape between history, rural idyll and raging modernity, which is above all one thing: worth a damn cool journey!

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