Welcome to day four of my surprise trip to Paris. If you missed them, you can catch up on days one, two and three here.
Monday was bright, sunny and warm. A perfect day to head out of Paris and into the French countryside! Our destination was the town of Chantilly, to see the hunting palace and gardens of Prince de Condè.
Our guide book made it sound easy enough. "From Gare du Nord, ask at any information desk for the next departure to Chantilly-Gouvieux on the Creil line." Feeling confident, we hopped on the metro, made our way to Gare du Nord,...and had a small panic attack upon arrival. Gare du Nord is the busiest railway station in Europe, serving 190 million travelers a year. I'd never seen anything like it. Thousands of people, dozens of platforms, and surprisingly, very few employees who spoke English.
After using our limited French to ask at several information desks, getting lost, and asking again, we finally found the correct platform. Feeling very happy with ourselves, we boarded the next train that arrived and settled back for the 50 minute ride to Chantilly. Mistake one.
Ten minutes later, the train pulled into the first station, and everybody in our car got off except us and two others. I remember looking out the window and seeing a man gesturing at me, clearly wanting us to exit. But I figured he must be confused (ha), so I ignored him. Mistake two.
We pulled out and for twenty minutes moved verrrrryyyyy slowly down the tracks...right into a train yard. And stopped. And then nothing happened. There was no platform, or ticket office, or another soul in sight. The other two passengers looked just as confused as we were.
To make a long story short, we got on the wrong train. Clearly.
Luckily, a worker at the yard came along and was kind enough to help. He didn't speak English, and when we showed him our ticket for Chantilly, he just laughed. Oops. He walked us down a long road to the entrance gates and turned us over to the security guard, who told us in very loud, slow French, to wait here. A few minutes later a company van pulled up. The driver impatiently gestured at us to get in, and I'll admit we had a moment of hesitation. But really, what choice did we have? We had no idea where we were, or how to get back to Paris. And Google Translate was NOT helping, no matter how loudly the security guard talked.
Fifteen minutes later we arrived at a welcome sight. A train station. Thank you, kind French people!
This is a good time to mention that, contrary to popular opinion, the French are very nice, friendly people. As long as you make an attempt at their language, and don't act like an ugly American, they are quite lovely.
We bought a ticket back to Paris, found our platform at Gare de Nord, and patiently waited for the correct train this time. Three hours later than originally planned, we finally arrived in Chantilly.
The town was charming...
And the thirty minute walk to the chateau led us through a beautiful forest...
That ended here, at the Petit Chateau.
Around the corner was the Grand Chateau, set on a beautiful reflecting pond.
We toured the art gallery, and then made our way to the Hameau de Chantilly, a small village built on the grounds. The thatched roof homes were used by the prince when he wanted to "play peasant", and although they appear simple on the outside, apparently were quite lavishly decorated. Because you know, a prince pretending to rough it still needs his princely things.
There was a small cafè in the Hameau, and this is where we ate the most delicious food of our entire trip. Strawberries and Chantilly crème. Yep, it's in bold because it was that good. Seriously, I still have dreams about this dish, and have been on a hunt to find some in the States.
On our way back to the train station, we passed a little library box. Between the crème and the books, I was ready to move to Chantilly.
But we needed to get back to the city, because we had special dinner plans. Luckily, we got on the right train this time. Sheesh.
Our longtime friend and his daughter were on a three week graduation trip in Europe, and they happened to be in Paris on this night. It was fun, and a little strange, to meet up with people we knew, so far from home.
And thus ended the day. Stay tuned for day five, which includes two words: Louis Vuitton.