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Ride Through Versailles

Benoît Peverelli The author, Joan Juliet Buck, biking past Versaille's Grand Canal.

Photo: Benoît Peverelli

At the end of the Allée de Bally is virgin countryside: fields of wildflowers as far as the eye can see. Pearl dives into the flowers and jumps through the high grass like a flying fish, appearing and vanishing in a feathery arc of gray fur. The dog has caught my bliss.

We head down through a field that ends in 17th- century farm buildings. Just beyond a tall wall is the Ferme de Gally, where children can pet goats and learn all about aubergines, and one summer I spent so long in a high corn maze that at 6 p.m., I found the door in the wall locked and was condemned to pedal along the side of a highway on the Peruvian's worst bike.

Incongruous little biplanes from the 1920's sputter through the sky, rising from a nameless airfield. As we ride across the far edge of the Grand Canal, the long palace of Versailles shimmering large in the distance, we come across two beautiful houses and another farm.

"I want a billionaire so I can have all this!" Elizabeth shouts from her bike.

"I am grateful to the Revolution because all this is already mine!!" I shout back.

Pedaling furiously along the last, southern edge of the Grand Canal, we arrive at the gates that separate Le Nôtre's gardens from the larger park, ride through them and around the Bassin d'Apollon, and come to rest at the shack where I always buy my third bottle of mineral water. "Gift shop?" asks Elizabeth hopefully. Miniature reproductions of Versailles clocks and tiny ornate slippers rendered in painted resin have indeed joined the postcards and the ice cream. A last desperate effort of thigh muscles returns us to the Peruvian, who hands back my driver's license and takes $34 for four hours for two. Pearl drags her tail behind us to the Trianon Palace hotel, which sits just outside the Grille de la Reine. We stagger into the bar, fall onto a sofa, and order an Eloise feast of smoked salmon and rare beef with horseradish and, s'il vous plaît, de l'eau pour le chien.

Joan Juliet Buck is the TV critic for Vogue.


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