Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Back on the Chateau Circuit

As much as we love Paris and our urban life here, the truth is that Mr. Oil and I are not really city people.  (Seriously, honey, we're really not, even though you like to pretend that you are).  This past Sunday we escaped from the city for a visit to Fontainebleau and Barbizon, which made for a fantastic day. 

Though the weather last week had been cold, dreary, and oddly winter-like, the weekend weather was fall perfection.  Clear blue skies, crisp air - perfect Parisian scarf weather.  Or day trip weather, depending on your priorities. 

Fontainebleau is about 35 miles southeast of Paris.  The chateau was used by French kings dating back to the 12th century, though most of today's buildings were constructed under the rule of Francis I in the early 16th century.  I had wondered if after our first few months here we were chateau-ed out, but in fact we were quite happy to be back on the chateau circuit.
"Yes, folks, on today's tour I'll be guiding you through the 800 year old palace of Fontainebleau!"

Napoleon, having eschewed Versailles for being too reminiscent of pre-Revolution royal extravagances, brought Fontainebleau back to life in the first years of the 19th century.  And yes, I'm being ironic about Napoleon since having now visited, I can confidently say that Fontainebleau is equally as lavish and luxurious as its brother palace on the southwestern side of Paris.
Good call, Napoleon.  This is way more low-key than Versailles.

One important lesson for me was that no matter how beautiful the chateau, your enjoyment can be curtailed if your 21-month-old decides he only wants to be carried through the chateau - and only carried by you, the 5-months-plus-pregnant mommy.  Surprisingly - or not - he recovered when it came time to eat pommes frites for lunch.  Pommes frites totally sounds healthier and more legit than French fries.  Plus, of course, nobody in France considers them French fries.  Which reminds me of my ongoing question about French doors - you know, the elongated window doors that we call "French doors"?  What do the French call them?  It turns out a British friend of mine once mentioned something about their French doors to her French husband, who responded, "French doors?  If we were in England, would they be English doors?"  So apparently, like pommes frites, they are just called windows (or is it doors?). 
The backyard of the chateau.  We had family naptime in the sunny section on the right.
After lunch, we strolled through the chateau grounds and even took a relaxing rest on the banks of the canal while Baby Oil napped in the stroller.  Recharged, we headed a few kilometers away to Barbizon, which is now firmly on my list of favorite French villages.  Barbizon is most well-known for the "Barbizon school" of artists in the mid-19th century (though I'll be honest and tell you that I'm not terribly familiar with most of the Barbizon gang - Jean-Francois Millet, Jean-Baptiste Corot, Theodore Rousseau, and others).   In any event, today the main street of the village is filled with art galleries showcasing contemporary artists and small museums dedicated to the lives and works of the Barbizon school. Oh, and some of the best ice cream we've had in France!  Mr. Oil had tarte citron meringue - as in lemon tart with meringue topping - in an ice cream.  When he asked the woman if he could sample it before ordering she simply shrugged and said, "Yes, but you will want it."  Which he did, and even Baby Oil couldn't get enough (in part because I, already eating ice cream for two, didn't actually want to share....don't judge.)

Even the disgustingly terrible traffic we hit upon re-entering Paris could not sway us from our total enjoyment of this delightful day.  If anything, the day has us seriously considering purchasing a car so that we can better escape the city and explore what the greater Paris region has to offer.