In Versailles, there is a palace; it is gold and beautiful, every room a monument to the lavish lifestyles of aristocrats long-dead. A never-ending line of visitors shuffle along the halls, crowding elegant dining halls and leaning over a rope barrier to snap a picture of someone’s bed.
These visitors are a meandering river, never stopping too long before they are swept up again. That’s no way to appreciate history. Take your pictures and hold your friends’ hand so you don’t get separated. When you leave the palace, remember that tourist attractions are only pit stops on your adventure.
Because in Versailles, somewhere between Rue Colbert and Rue Baillet Reviron, there is also a bakery. It is tiny and crowded, and every day they make the best croissants I’ve ever eaten. Fluffy butter croissants that melt in your mouth without leaving half the flakes on your lap.
I bought three of them for the ride back to the hotel and they didn’t even make it to the bus. With five minutes until departure, I’d never run so fast in my life, to buy three more. I almost missed my bus and there were only two croissants in the bag.
Eight years later, I still think of those croissants every time I tear into what now can only be called a poor imitation. I didn’t wrote down the name of the bakery and I regret it, because when two weeks of historical sites and museums blurred into one, I never forgot those pastries. As I dust the flakes of pastry off my lap, I imagine what it would be like to return to France, to find that bakery again.
I would exit the Chateau de Versailles, turn left on Rue de Marly and wander aimlessly. I would admire the architecture of every doorway, remember that when the palace was built, this fancy suburb was just a small village. So much has changed in those centuries; so much can change in a decade. Eventually, just as I’m giving up hope and accepting that too much time has passed, I’ll find it.
In Versailles, there is a bakery with a small display window and a smaller interior. Dozens of parties will catch my eye, but I will zero in on the butter croissants, still warm from the oven.