Today I had to make Paris by 1400PM to meet my Mum who had taken the Eurostar to met me there. This meant, if I wanted to visit the Palace of Versailles on the way into Paris, I needed to start early. At 0630 I was out the door, cycling the dark country roads of northern France with nothing more than a dim front light to illuminate the numerous potholes that I inevitably hit. A magnificent sky was my view or several hours; reminding me how great it is to be up early and out the door.
After about 85km of pretty much non-stop riding with an occasional headwind and steep hill, I finally made it to Versailles. The queue went all the way out to the gates, and folded back on itself three times. Fortunately because I’m under 26 and from the EU I got in for free – but I still had to wait a good hour to get in!
Waiting in the queue, a Chinese family ahead of me wouldn’t stop taking photos; pictures of the queue, of each other, of the palace, of the floor. You name it, they had a photo of it from several angles. They all spoke Mandarin, but after about 50 minutes of waiting in the queue silently, one of them turned to me and said “where did you get the map from?”. Turns out the whole family live down the road from me in Islington, London. They used to live opposite my flat in Camden. What a small world!
Finally we entered the magnificent building where we were given free audio tours. They were free for a reason and said nothing interesting. Eventually, after several strange rooms of busts of people that I had never heard of, I found the War Room: the Hall of Mirrors. This magnificent room was where the treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 after World War 1. Many large chandeliers hung from the distant ceiling; accompanied with large floor length mirrors. Like every room in the Palace, the ceilings were decorated with incredible art-work. You could feel the importance of the room by standing in it. I stood there for a while, reflecting. Perhaps the treaty signed in that room caused the second world war. I felt shivers thinking about this.
I bumped into my Chinese friends again (both of the men were named “Gary”); I mentioned that I had cycled 650km from London over 6 days and I was continuing to Poland to complete a liberation path tour of Europe from the Second World War. all in all cycling 2000 km (1300 miles) within a month. Normally the response is “Wow!” or at least “I wish you good luck!”, “Bon courage!” as the French have told me. This time I only received an “OK” back. Nothing more; just an acknowledgement that they understood. Perhaps the challenge isn’t that unusual to the Chinese? Or they aren’t impressed easily!
The road at the end of the Palace led directly to the centre of Paris without any turns. After about 40 minutes of cycling I was at bottom of the Eiffel Tower. A policeman yelled at me not to roll through the red light whilst I gazed up at the landmark. Both of us couldn’t be bothered to do anything about this though, so I slowly moved past as he sat in his car.
Finally I reached the Trocadero for a showoff photo lifting the bike with one hand (without pannier bags); I was relieved to have a rest day tomorrow but proud to have made it this far in good shape. I have travelled a fair distance so far; but I also have a long way to go. Keeping in mind that the liberation of France was no where near the end of the war. The allies still needed to make it into the far reaches of Poland; approximately 1000 miles away.
This evening I walked around town with my Mum for a while; I spotted a small plaque on a wall which commemorated 700 children of the 18th District of Paris that were killed during the Nazi occupation.
Tomorrow I am going to visit the Musée de l’Armée to discover more about La Resistance in Paris. But first I plan to lie in and rest my lactic acid filled legs.