Chapter 4: In the Midst of History, Past and Present

A view of the outside of the Palace of Versailles

Overturned cars, fires, broken storefront windows, strikers struggling with police. All of this erupted about 30 minutes after we left the Champs-Élysées. We had no knowledge of the demonstrations planned for that day by the yellow vest protestors, all we knew was our carefully calculated plan to head to the Concorde metro stop and transfer to the meeting point for our Versailles tour had been interrupted by metro closures. Frantically, we ran out of the metro, hailed an Uber, and rode to meet the tour, unaware of the wreckage about to occur.

We had stopped that morning at Au Petit Versailles du Marais, keeping with the day’s theme, to eat very good croissant and excellent pain au chocolat. Despite travel delays, we arrived on time for our tour provided by The Paris Guy and trained to Versailles.

A fresco inside the Palace of Versailles

Versailles gilt splendor certainly overwhelms the senses, but after seeing the Vatican the year prior, disgusting opulence seems to pale in comparison. Fabian kept the tour interesting with stories like the queen who gave birth to a black baby and blamed it on the hot chocolate she’d consumed during pregnancy, or the architect who committed suicide after finishing the Hercules room assuming he’d peaked. I’m glad I didn’t decide to do that after finishing my dissertation.

The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles
The Hall of Mirrors.
The dining table in the Palace of Versailles
The table where Louis XIV allowed others to watch him eat. Baller move.

The tour lasted a few hours and exhausted and thirsty we walked back to the train station, attempting to find lunch along the way. After a fruitless search, we rode back to the Marais and had an uninspired bistro lunch of watery French onion soup, omelet, and bland croque monsieur. As we ate, we saw a flank of yellow vest strikers walk by.

A picture of Yellow Vest strikers in Paris, France November, 2018
Our view of present day Parisian history.

Heading back to the hotel we stopped for more macaron at Pierre Hermé, making a critical misstep by ordering the caviar one. While Pierre Hermé has magicked many a flavor combo, he may have been bested combining cookie and fish.

Macaron from Pierre Herme in Paris, France
Sometimes, limits should not be tested.

We took an afternoon respite, showering and napping, before venturing back out for drinks and food. We attempted to sit at Le Barav, a popular Marais wine bar, but were ushered out because of a very long wait list and not realizing we had poached someone else’s table. We tried two other cafes, but warm Beaujolais and the absence of free food sold us on neither. Feeling a bit of malaise, we decided to continue on to our dinner at Bistrot Paul Bert.

Steak dinner at Bistrot Paul Bert in Paris, France

The famous bistro should have felt touristy, but the wide chasm of language barrier we encountered made the experience feel at least semi-authentic. The steak was very solid, as were the frites and the superb Bordeaux selected by the waitress. But nothing screamed out as truly unforgettable and we wondered how much had changed since Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern lauded it years ago.

A man making crepes at a stand in Paris, France
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even second dinner, there’s never a wrong time for crepes.

Continuing our evening crepe tradition, we took an Uber back to the Marais and finished our evening with a stroll and some dessert crepes.


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