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1997 Journal Series 4: Palace Versailles, Luxembourg Concert, and Seine Cruise

I’m chronicling my first European Band Tour in 1997. This tour was instrumental in formulating my group travel philosophy and standards. Ultimately, it gave me knowledge, confidence, and practical experience that I needed to begin touring on my own.

Continuing my journal entry and retrospective comments…

“June 8, 1997

For the second morning in a row, my sleep was interrupted by the annoying alarm. It was 6:20,  and operating on four hours of sleep is just not a good way to begin a new day.

At breakfast, I learned that Jason was sick and had been throwing up for several hours. Everyone else seems fine, but I hope it is not some “bug” going around. Not wanting to leave Jason alone, the chaperones devised a rotation so that an adult was at the hotel, with Jason, for the day. This plan, although not simple, was the smart and proper thing for us to do. I did not want to leave a sick kid alone at the hotel all day. Mike, having visited Versailles in the past, volunteered for the first shift.

During breakfast, I encountered more sleepy-eyed group members going through the motions of eating. I switched up on my breakfast choice this morning, deciding to forgo the ubiquitous croissant for a bowl of cereal. However, I was disappointed to find that the milk was tepid and thick! I’m just not accustomed to 100% whole milk served at the temperature from which it exits the cow!

Once again, we gathered on the sidewalk, waiting for our bus to arrive. Thankfully, no one stepped in dog poop today! Alberto showed up with the bus, and soon we were off to visit Versailles and the palace of Louis XIV and others.

It is Sunday morning, so there is very little traffic on the streets. After twenty minutes, Sally, in a fit of panic, discovered she did not have her Paris Museum Pass with her. She concluded it was in her hotel room, so we turned around and went back to get it.  Even with the delay, we still made it to Versailles by 9:00 a.m. It was a bit of a hike over a rough, cobbled courtyard to the entrance area. As soon as we got into the queue to enter, Sarah H. told me she had left her passport, moneybelt, and entrance ticket on the bus. Ughhh, how many times do I have to say it? “Wear your moneybelt all the time.” 

Vincent helped Sarah locate the bus in the huge parking lot. Luckily, Alberto, the driver, was at the bus. She got her moneybelt and ticket and was able to actually go in and visit the “Hall of Mirrors,” which she had been talking about for the entire trip out here.

The adults, who had Museum Passes, walked right in without any wait. Lisa, our guide, took the students and got them through the queue in short order as well.

Versailles is a magnificent place, but it reminds me of the other palaces I’ve visited around Europe. Just like the Doges Palace, the Pitti Palace, and Schönbrunn Palace, Versailles is filled with opulence and over indulgences of the rich and royals. If you’ve seen one rich ruler’s palace, you can pretty much imagine what to expect in all the others.

Regular admission is 35F,  and we paid 70F for our Paris Museum Pass, so we’ve got to visit at least one other sight back in Paris to make it worth the cost.

After completing our self-guided tour of the palace, we all gathered out in the gardens for photos. As mentioned, it was Sunday, so the gardens were technically closed until later in the day when the famous fountains were activated. We did not have time to wait for that, so we loaded up the bus and returned to Paris.

We returned to Paris by about 11:30 a.m. Our concert was scheduled later that afternoon, and since it was early, we decided to take advantage of our free time in the Luxembourg Gardens area. After getting off the bus, the group divided and went their separate ways. I accompanied Charlotte and Mom to the Métro station, from which they would return to the hotel to keep an eye on the sickly Jason. Mike is going to return here to see the concert.

On the way back to Luxembourg Gardens, I purchased a grilled chicken sandwich, a Coke Lite, and brownie for 35F at a place called “LA CROISSANTERIE,” a chain-type place on rue St. Michel. So, I am sitting on a park bench eating and enjoying the pleasant sights, scenes, and sounds of the Luxembourg Gardens. This is a nice shady park with plenty of benches and pathways. There are all sorts of people out enjoying the day, although most seem to be locals, not tourists.

We are due to assemble for our concert in about 15 minutes. It will be tough if Jason does not show, because he plays the baritone saxophone, an essential element to our band “sound.” However, whatever happens, the concert must go on.

The concert was a success. The band played well and really got into the music. More importantly, the 300 or so people in the audience were enthusiastic and really helped us get into our musical performance. As I mentioned, most were local Parisians who seemed to have actually arranged their afternoon plans to include this band concert. I have never experienced anything like this before!

Musically speaking, it was an excellent concert. The kids played with enthusiasm and energy. The benefit of having Devon, Keith, and Carey as leads really helped our sound and energy. Even Jessie, who had learned to play the tuba exclusively for this trip, did a great job. So, Jason being sick did not hurt us too much at all.

The audience consisted of mostly retired people, kids, and young families. They had come to the bandstand with listening and enjoying a band concert in mind, so different from what we are accustomed to back home, when typically an outdoor concert serves only as background music.

Little kids were dancing to the “Big Band” stuff, while older couples did the jitterbug! It was the most enjoyable concert that I have ever experienced. I just wished we had prepared more literature! Our band played three encores including “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” WOW!

After the concert, we packed up and had about three hours of free time to visit Paris on our own. Some went to the Orsay Museum and others to the Cluny. I went to St. Chappelle with Charlotte and Aunt Hilda.

After the concert, we had to make another switch of adults keeping watch with Jason. Charlotte had stayed with Jason, while Mike and Mom returned to Luxembourg Gardens for the concert. Mom left the concert and went to relieve Charlotte back at the hotel. It seems that on Charlotte’s return trip, she was approached by a guy who harassed her during the entire Métro trip. Even when she changed trains, he followed her! So, needless to say, when I met her at the St. Michel station, she was very upset. My lesson here is to never again let anyone ride public transportation alone!

St. Chapelle is a magnificent church located just around the corner from Notre Dame. It is famous for its beautiful stained-glass windows and richly painted stonework. Unlike most other churches, dating from the middle ages, St. Chapelle still has richly painted interior arches and ornate stonework, just as it was 900 years ago. Visiting here is well worth the time and a “Museum Pass” made it easy and thrifty too.

After the St. Chapelle experience, we had planned to visit the Orsay museum, but there just was not enough time. Instead, we found a café and ordered bread, cheese, wine, and Orangina. This was very relaxing and a good way to spend the hour before dinner.

We met for dinner at SALLAMBO’S, a place specializing in Northern African cuisine. Here we had couscous (a type of ground meal), chicken, vegetables, and tomato soup. It was okay, but not something I would PAY for to eat again. None of us had ever eaten couscous, the chicken was quartered and served on the bone, and in some cases it was undercooked. Most of the kids did not even touch their meals.

Our “Cruise” by day

After dinner, we met our bus and headed to the “Bateaux Mouches” Seine River Cruise boat. We spent an hour and a half on the boat, joined by about 300 Japanese people who were all intent on posing for photographs.

We noticed the Japanese group was shooting photos of almost anything that “looked important.” So, I decided to play a little joke. A few of us started pointing and saying, “Look!” and holding our cameras up as if we were taking a photograph. Invariably, the entire group of Japanese tourists would leave their side of the boat, hustle over to our side, to take a photo of our “sight.” I know it was mean, but it was fun!

After the cruise, we boarded our bus and drove back to our hotel. It was 10:15 p.m.  and Jason was feeling better. After the long day, Charlotte and I had no trouble, once again, falling asleep.”

2011 Reflections

JASON, THE SICK KID – I have been a teacher for 29 years, so you would think I’d have heard all the  lies, stories, and excuses a kid can dream up. However, in this case, I was fooled. I learned, years later, Jason was not sick, but actually got his hands on some alcohol and drank too much of it (which was totally against my tour rules). Consequently, he was suffering from the effects of it the next day. What I can’t believe  is that no one told me! Had I known, I would have roused him out of bed and marched him around the city all day. Even today, I do not know where he got the booze.

Because of Jason’s “sickness,” we had to redesign our entire day of touring. Several adults made big sacrifices shuttling back and forth on the Métro, missing perhaps their only opportunity ever to experience Paris. Charlotte suffered that “harassment” on the Métro. The band had to perform without a key player.

VERSAILLES – Very little has changed on the interior of Versailles. It is still very crowded, it is hot and stinky in the summer, there is very little in the way of information, and the tourist route is unbelievably small. However, the “Hall of Mirrors” received a complete restoration in 2007-2008, so now it is in pristine condition.

THE CONCERT – As I mentioned, it was (and still  is) the best concert experience I’ve ever been a part of. Even now, I think back to the wonderful afternoon filled with singing, dancing, and decent band music. The older crowd particularly enjoyed the swing music and many got up and danced to it. As a whole, it was the audience interaction, which made the concert memorable. We did not perform particularly well, but that did not matter. The local audience had made it their plan to attend the concert this Sunday afternoon.

Since then, I’ve made a point to go by Luxembourg Gardens on Sunday afternoons. That bandstand is still there, and onstage is usually a band or orchestra playing their hearts out. The audience is mostly the same as it was in 1997. Young and old alike enjoy the afternoon music, dancing a jig, and experiencing life.

NORTH AFRICAN DINNER – Seriously, here we are in Paris, and we get chicken and couscous? In 1997, I’d never had couscous and after tasting it, didn’t care if I ever tried it again. I recall that Brian’s chicken was practically raw, and we tried to send it back for more cooking, but the piece never made it back to our table. However, it really did not matter because hardly anyone ate the dinner.

BATEAUX  MOUCHES BOAT – Like Versailles, this boat tour on the Seine River has not changed. Even today, my tours always include a scenic trip on the Seine, at night, with all the monuments and bridges illuminated. It is a great way to experience Paris and get an overview of its grandeur.

MY UNDER 21 ALCOHOL POLICY – Back in 1997, I was not experienced with this European liberty. So, I adopted the policy given to me by the tour company. Essentially, if a parent signed a release stating their child could drink alcohol “in moderation,” then that was ok. In retrospect, that was not a good decision. The trouble is, kids from the USA go to Europe thinking they have free-reign with alcohol consumption, because they are not “under-age” there. This is not an easy issue, and I am still working through it, even after all these years. I will continue this line of thought in a later post.

Episode 5 coming soon:  Trucker’s Strike, Chartres, and Alsace

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About the Author

David McGuffin established David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.

  1. Leslie Reply

    I have fond memories of this concert! I will never forget the enthusiasm of the crowd that afternoon. It was so nice to see people thoroughly enjoying our performance!

  2. Kara Reply

    From my journal on the trip to Versailles: “Today was one crazy day. We started off by going to the Palace of Versailles. It was about a 45 minute drive from our hotel. The guide wouldn’t stop talking, so eventually we fell asleep from the sound of her voice. When ever she starts talking, Craig goes, ‘100.1 – all talk, all the time.'” Also, according to my journal, we did a Congo line out of the gardens to our bus.

    For lunch, most of the kids went to McDonald’s that day (in my journal I say I was too hungry to try something new) and recorded some incident where some French women made fun of Jamie when she was ordering and Sabrina and I “gave them dirty looks and they stopped laughing.”

    I also talked about how great the concert was and how members of the audience got pictures with you and got your contact information too. I too recorded the incident on the boat where we tricked the Japanese tourists into taking pictures of the “sights.” I remember many of us were entertained by the Japanese tourists because, from what we observed, the people posing in the pictures almsot never smiled and the photographer would get into these crazy positions to try and get the best shot, practically hanging upside-down. [Again, these are just my recollections from my 14-year-old memory…hopefully I don’t sound as offensive as I’m worried that I do!]

  3. Jessie Reply

    I completely forgot about playing the tuba. I am going to have to harrass my mom about getting out the old pictures. Kara, I totally remember tricking the Japanese tourists. 🙂

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