A summary of my trip to Versailles:
1. The Palais and Jardin are absolutely unforgettable.
2. French royalty had far too much money.
3. I am way too friendly, but that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.
I headed out to Versailles early in the morning and caught a direct train from near my homestay-aunt’s house to Versailles. I have to admit, I was very surprised when I reached my station, because there’s a whole town surrounding the palace. Don’t ask me why, but I expected Versailles was just this palace in the middle of nowhere.
When I arrived, I meandered confusedly through the streets of Versailles (which is a rather pretty little town, although I didn’t exactly see much of it) following the slightly dodgy signs to my destination. The enormous château truly appeared out of nowhere for me: I turned the corner and BAM. There it was.
I was absolutely thrumming with excitement and grinned like a loon right up until I reached the end of the queue. It was even enjoyable waiting for an hour because I had a conversation in French with a lady from Marseille and free wifi was supplied when we ran out of things to say. The golden gates of Versailles loomed closer with very step, like the trophy at the end of an incredibly slow face. That was a terrible analogy, by the way, but hey – I was excited!
When I finally reached the inner courtyard of the palace, I just stood and pivoted on my heel, slowly drinking in the rich history and sheer opulence of my surroundings. Versailles is a place I learned about many, many years ago, when I was taught the history of the French Revolution, and had been on my “French bucket list,” for the same period of time. As a consequence, I was a very special spot for me – more than, say, even the Louvre. Nothing screamed more “this is Paris,” to me, and it’s not even really in the big city.
I honestly had no idea where to begin my journey, as there were far too many doors and I had been swept up in a crowd of tourists. I ended up just following the groups of selfie-takers through to a random entrance and hoped that everything would be okay.
This whole post looks like it’s going nowhere very quickly, so let me just say that, it’s true, Rachel: some of the rooms in Versailles are rather small. However, these are just the ground floor rooms – which are hardly decorated and were probably just rooms for members of the court – and are now full of information and pictures explaining what life at Versailles was like, back in the day. It was great that I came through here first, because it gave me a fabulous overview of the story of the palace and gardens, and made me feel as though I was being led to something big. I knew there was more to come, due to the practice paintings of the spectacular ceilings on display, and the descriptions of the magnificent Hall of Mirrors, and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.
I learned some cool facts about Versailles during my explorations of the ground floor exhibitions. For example (warning, the following facts are likely to be incorrect because my memory is fairly awful):
1. King Louis XIV built most of the huge palace. The “sun king,” (who saw himself as a god-like figure, and was obsessed with anything sun-related) converted it from a royal hunting lodge.
Can you believe that this magnificent château was a mere hunting lodge?
2. The palace was almost constantly under renovation to make it bigger and more splendid than ever before, from when it was started by the sun king right up until about a week before the palace was stormed during the first Revolution.
3. There were people everywhere in the palace, at all times of the day. People would watch the royal family do anything: eat, get up, go to bed, etc. The King even had two special going to bed times: one grand one for many people to watch, and another just for his closer friends and advisors.
4. Marie Antoinette gave birth in front of a huge audience, like a bizarre, bloody performance. Apparently, this was to ensure that no one would swap the new royal member for a peasant baby.
This last piece of information ties in with point 3 of my previous summary (I am so bad at segues, my goodness) because I was taught it by two American guys who were moving about the ground floor rooms at the same pace as me. In classic Heather fashion, I wedged myself into the conversation – using the technique of slight eavesdropping and the fact that they couldn’t escape from me – and before long, we had decided to stick together as a little “Versailles trio.”
They were both very nice sociology students with an interest in history; it was honestly fascinating wandering the palace with them, because they were very entertaining and provided all these cool little insights about the site and its fascinating history. I was the helpful translator for the French placards found here and there, and made little comments about the works of art from a sort-of-artist-and-mythology-buff’s perspective. We were a good team.
The top floor is incredibly resplendent – truly, to the point of ridiculousness. Everywhere I looked, there was decadent gold or crystal lavishly used to decorate the room, or make some completely useless piece of furniture.
I couldn’t help but think of all the families that could have survived with the money used to create that chandelier, or that gold leaf. I ended up being awestruck by the beauty of the palace for half the time and truly disgusted by the waste for the remainder.
When we were finally done with the glory of the palace (although I’m sure there was more to see – it’s impossible to cover the whole thing in one day) the trio exhaustedly settled down in the courtyard. I didn’t bring anything along to my adventure except for a single, sad-looking banana (as per usual) so my two companions shared their snack of bread and cured sausage with me. It’s well-known that the quickest way to my heart is through my stomach, so we were immediately friends.
The three of us decided to wander down to the grand palaces at the bottom of the garden and skip the luxurious garden of Versailles altogether. This was partially due to the cost of entering the gardens, but also because we felt there was more to see in the two Trianons. Additionally, as I mentioned before, Versailles is so huge that I could go back in a number of years and quite feasibly see only new parts of the grand estate.
We decided to then separate for an hour, because my ticket didn’t allow me to get into the Trianons. (Always buy the passport ticket – it’s worth it.) When the two guys ducked off into the Petit Trianon, I strolled off in search of something to do and stumbled upon the Grand Trianon. Upon seeing the glorious building, I couldn’t help myself – I had to go in.
The smaller palace was a favourite place of Napoleon III. He had it renovated into a magnificent place of work and leisure, complete with a beautiful old office/library and a grand billiards room. In some ways, it seemed a little more opulent to me than the actual palace itself, but that may just have been because it was so very pointless. Why have a separate château when your palace is less than a kilometre away?
The small gardens were incredibly beautiful and easy-to-get-lost-in, but after freeing myself from the Grand Trianon’s clutches, I found the other two members of the Versailles Trio and left the estate. With exhausted legs and grumbling stomachs, we decided to find a restaurant and have dinner. It was the perfect way to end an unforgettable day.
Featured photo is of the enormous, man-made Grand Canal, which is big enough to sail boats on.