Oh, the Places We Box!

Thursday, April 28, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Versailles, France to Paris, France.
While we still had our rental car, we spent a few nights in a hotel in Versailles, using it as a base to drive to some places around the Paris area that we wanted to visit.  Having been to the magnificent Palace of Versailles on a previous trip to Paris, we skipped that on this visit, but we did find some letterboxes in the gardens surrounding the palace.  And, indeed, letterboxing guided our agenda for the other places we went to, steering us to some fascinating locations.  Although we can't dispute the value of good travel guidebooks, it's hard to beat the inspired locations that we have been led to by letterboxers.

About 20 miles north of the center of Paris lies the town of Auvers-sur-Oise (oh-vehr-sur-wahz).  During the late 19th century, a number of Impressionist artist were drawn to the town to practice their craft.  The artist most closely associated with the town is Vincent Van Gogh, who lived in Auvers at the end of his life.  In the 70 days he resided in the town, before committing suicide there, he created some 70 oil paintings.
In fields and around the village, you can see copies of Van Gogh's paintings in the exact locations where he created them.   A unique museum of Impressionism in the local Château d'Auvers-sur-Oise employs a multimedia exhibit to demonstrate the inspirations of the Impressionist artists.  Through the projection of 500 paintings, an audio commentary, video and music, the museum brings to life the Paris of the period between 1870 and 1890.
Château d'Auvers-sur-Oise (photo from town web site)
At age 37, Van Gogh walked into a field in Auvers and shot himself in the chest with a revolver.  Surviving the impact, he managed to struggle back to the inn where he had been staying and where he died two days later.  He is buried in the Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery, along with his brother Theo, who died six months later.
For the record, the letterbox we searched for in Auvers was missing.  But when you've been taken to such an appealing location, the box is secondary.
Just 10 miles west of Paris, bordering on Versailles, is the town of Marly-le-Roi, home of the lost Château de Marly.  Back in the late 1600s, Louis XIV decided he needed a country home to escape the stress of his palace at Versailles with its thousands of courtiers and extreme formality and protocol.  So he had a small family retreat built in the village of Marly.
Château de Marly painted by Pierre-Denis Martin in 1724
Though it was a simple country castle to Louis, Château de Marly was a grand estate with elaborate gardens and waterways.  Today all that remains of the castle is its foundation.  After the French revolution, it was sold to an industrialist who turned it into a factory.  When the business failed in 1806, the chateau was demolished and the remains sold as building material.
Eventually, the property was repurchased by the national government and its grounds and gardens cleaned up and cared for, if not restored to their former glory.  Today the grounds are part of a city park.
Parc du Marly
We did find the letterbox planted near the site of this lost castle, as well as an delicious lunch at Cocooning, an excellent Marly restaurant.

At the edge of the Forest of Rambouillet, 30 miles southwest of the center of Paris, lies the city of Rambouillet (rahn-boo-yah), best known for its medieval castle, Château de Rambouillet.  Built as a fortified manor house dating back to the 1300s, the castle was acquired by Louis XVI and later became the property of the national government after the French revolution.
Château de Rambouillet
Originally pentagonal in shape, one of the sides of the castle was amputated during the reign of Napoleon.  Since 1896, the chateau has served as the official summer residence of the President of France.  The meticulously manicured grounds are used as a park by the people of the city and visitors.
Unfortunately we encountered a group of unwanted guests when we visited the park.  Though we were confident we had left these pesky creatures far behind in North America, a gaggle of Canada geese has taken up residence in the gardens around the lake.
Non-native invasives on the lawn
As they do in so many urban places they invade, the geese have created a minefield of fecal droppings on the grounds.  Though we thought we had spied a couple in the Netherlands, we were dismayed to see this unfortunate Canadian import has also reached France.

Even these pests couldn't mar our interest in this beautiful setting, the site of the first G6 conference in 1975.  The letterbox we found in Rambouillet was near the chateau.

Would we have made it to these interesting places had we not been searching for letterboxes?  Perhaps, but we love the combination of pursuing our captivating treasure hunts while visiting intriguing locations. And we appreciate the letterboxers who take us there.
Garden Rambouillet
On Thursday, we dropped off our rental car at the Versailles rail station and took a train into Paris, where we'll remain for six nights, ending our 3.5-week stay in France before we move on to the United Kingdom for the last leg of our journey.