Our game plan had been decided, mostly, by consulting the weather and Instagram. Despite strolling through Place de la République the evening before and seeing the statue of Marianne (the personification of the French Republic) thoroughly defaced by protestors (she was only just cleaned up in 2013), we did not really register that outrage at recent labour law changes would affect our touristy endeavours.
After absorbing the advice of my ‘Living Planet’ app, Jack and I agreed that our first full day, Tuesday, would be the best day to visit Versailles. It was due to be clear and sunny all day. I have had plenty of chances to photograph landmarks in Paris, so we allocated Versailles the best of our time. Additionally, the Chateau and gardens were the only things Jack had really wanted to see.
My nose was grazing the ceiling when the alarm went off at 6am. I was the delicious filling in a very thin sandwich between the loft bed and the roof. Clambering down required some skill in horizontal shimmying, like coming out of a pizza over. From that day on, we pulled the mattress down onto the studio apartment floor at nights – just to avoid feeling like flatbread.
Sufficiently extracted from the loft and thrown into clothing, we left Rue de Marseilles just before 7am and legged it back down to Place de la République to ride the metro, then an overland train, 1 hour to the suburb of Versailles. Jack did most of the navigating as I seemed to get turned around at every, single station on this journey. He procured our tickets for EUR7.10 each and found us our way on to the yellow, RER C line which terminates at Versailles Chantiers.
All the advice we had read online indicated that we absolutely needed to be at the entrance before it opened. Combined with the inability to buy tickets off the website the night before, we found ourselves rocking up the broad walk of the Chateau just after 8am. We were met with locked gates and a yellow sign reading ‘Due to Strike Action, opening of the Palace will be delayed’ which was surrounded by a small number of confused looking tourists. This sign, I might add, was not just printed off Microsoft Word that morning. It was a substantial, professionally provided number that indicated it is a sign regularly called for.
I had been on Versaille’s website the night before, trying in vain to purchase tickets, and there had been nothing at all about a strike there. To find out more, we began chatting to some other tourists: particularly two couples from the US. I pulled out my trusty iDevice and delved into the dubious world of EU roaming. Armed with Twitter, I became a valuable asset to our little team of investigators as we learned that strikes happen fairly regularly (as we had guessed from that substantial sign) and that we would know more at about 10am (one hour after the normal opening time of 9am).
A strike notice had now miraculously appeared on the Versailles website and a rather pompous tweet reply to another concerned visitor stated that the strike had been ‘broadly advertised’ – we laughed. In fact, Twitter became quite the resource! As a queue began to form I decided to tweet others on line.
It wasn’t looking good. Word began to spread that Versailles would not be opening at 10am as we were hoping and the next update would be at 11am. One of the US couples couldn’t wait (they had to drop their hire car back). Fortunately, they had been able to visit the gardens on Monday, so they didn’t leave completely empty-handed. They were not the first. Coach groups were arriving and leaving by the bus load; unable to stray from their tight schedules. We waved them goodbye and good luck. Jack and I, along with a couple from Fort Lauderdale, were going to wait it out. As they were leaving, the first couple turned back to us:
Them: “Do you have tickets?”
Us: “No, we weren’t able to get on the website.”
Them: “Here, take our tickets for the Palace. Someone might as well use them.”
And they left.
Twenty minutes later, yellow-clad staff began to descend from the Chateau. Jack and I clasped hands and the gates were swung open and the line – which had grown to consume the entire broad walk and was looping around the corner – surged forward. It’s the first time we’ve held hands since we were about 5 and 10 years old.
We paced meaningfully towards the Palace entrance and were almost at the front of what became another queue. That American couple saved us from having to buy tickets and potential wait for further hours. We owe them big and will be paying it forward at the first opportunity!
When the Palace was opened just in time for 11am, we were skipping passed the Japanese tourists, up marble stairs and in.
The real kicker was that if we had waited until the mid-afternoon, we’d have had the Palace to ourselves!