I heard a bird this weekend. It made me stop and turn my head: what was that?
Saturday morning Alex and I head to the train station, next stop Versailles. And there it stands rising in golden glory, growing out of the centre of a fairly modern and rather dirty city. There are mixed emotions as I walk up to the magnificent entrance. Representing opulence, but also preserving history, the palace is beyond anything one could every imagine.
It’s easier to breath outside in the gardens, there isn’t the same weight of centuries that hangs from the crystal chandeliers inside. The park stretches forever; it is impeccably manicured with covered statues and hibernating fountains. It’s in a quiet corner of the “King’s Garden” that I hear a bird call, and it makes me realize just how quiet it is compared to how constantly noisy Paris is.
I release my breath and stand for a minute, oh it’s good to be out of the city.
In another corner of the garden stands the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, and Marie Antoinette’s estate. Full of character, these smaller more personal dwellings feel as if the inhabitants are laughing just behind a corner instead of dead for centuries. The farm village that used to produce the flour, dairy products, vegetables, and livestock for Versailles still has pens with sheep and backyard gardens full of herbs.
It is easy to see why royalty came to this secluded corner to escape from the splendour, ceremony, and responsibilities of court. Even Napoleon wanted to breathe a little more freely away from so many watching eyes.
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Sunday morning I pull on my warmest clothes. It’s back on the train, but this time to a very different destination from Versailles. After twenty minutes on the train and thirty minutes of walking I stand in the middle of the forest at Fontainebleu. Giant boulders surround me and everyone dumps crashpads, backpacks, and climbing shoes on the ground. We swing our arms, jump up and down, and blow on already chilled fingers.
I’m about to experience climbing outdoors for the first time. I learn how to slide my fingers over ridges searching for nooks and crannies that will let me hang on. I trust that my shoes will not slip – they are made for this. I push my palm against flat surfaces and, through what feels like sheer will power, I pull myself up to find the next foothold.
And it’s always there: the next foothold that is. Whether it’s a solid ledge under your toes, a visit to the past, or a new life in another country it’s all part of climbing upwards. When I arrived in Paris I felt like she had a secret for me, something I was going to discover about myself. And the secret is turning out to be not such a secret after all – the secret is that I can do this. The secret is that I can do anything I want to do. I can learn a new language, be dazzled by spectacular sites, and live on my own. I can make new friends, still find time to laugh, and be overcome by the desire to dance around the kitchen while I cook dinner. I read books, take walks, and stop to ogle the meat at the butcher’s counter. I am, after all, the same person I have always been, even on the other side of the Atlantic.