So our last full day in Paris wasn’t really in the city but instead we wanted to get to visit Versailles before heading south. So early that morning (well early for us which is probably not particularly early for most) we caught the train from Gare Austerlitz, along with about a billion other tourists, to the palace that sits only just outside of Paris. Also it was a double decker train (my first!) which is like a double decker bus but definitely cooler. We ate breakfast on the way which consisted of these delicious cheap chocolate biscuits which are like half shortbread and half amazing delicious milk chocolate. If I could I would leave all my clothes behind and just bring back a suitcase of these biscuits but i feel like that would arouse suspicions.
Despite getting there early and buying tickets online we still had to endure a pretty long wait to get through the beautiful golden gates of the palace. it is quite possible that the queues were worse as we chose to go on a day when the fountain concert was on. This meant that our tickets were a little more expensive (worth it though as I shall explain later) and also that we were waiting a little longer than I would have preferred. Luckily the wait is soon forgotten once you step in and get your first glimpse of a luxurious palace of a rather exuberant French King (Louis XIV – a fancy guy!).
Versailles is hard to put into words or photos as it is at its most magnificent when you can take in everything at once, the luxurious furnishings, the giant rooms and the incredible views over the huge estate and gardens. It is quite spectacular but in my mind I almost think I might have over hyped it a little bit. Definitely worth the wait to enter and even worth the annoying crowds who stand in the doorways and ruin all your photos. The Hall of Mirrors was probably the room I had expected so much from and to be honest it didn’t quite live up to my mind’s vision, probably due to the crowds and due to the fact that the mirrors were rather worn and not particularly reflective. I could imagine how incredible it would be with the right lighting and less people.
Versailles was also interesting in regards to it being a symbol of the monarchy in the Ancien Regime and after seeing so much about the revolution in Paris, this kind of gives some context to the whole situation. The painted ceilings, giant chandeliers and incredible gardens were an example of how self serving the monarchy had become. Its an amazing palace and their really is nothing to compare that one would find in New Zealand.
The gardens were a daunting but beautiful task after wandering through the palace (and finding a much needed but pretty crappy coffee in the process). Once in the gardens however, the crowds dispersed and we were able to explore in a lot more peace. The way these gardens are laid out, in regards to order and perspective are admirable and the sculptures that are literally around every corner give the whole garden a definite sense of expense. The gardens are huge and so we took quite a while to wander down to the large central canal/lake thing where people were hiring small boats to take out on to the water, obviously without any real boating experience. Which led to a lot of boats simply revolving in circles and occasionally bumping into one another. It was funny.
After a quick lunch beside the water we then watched a young french girl feed the giant carp in the water. It was the first time we had heard someone say “Oh la la” quite so enthusiastically which felt weirdly satisfying. With some more walking through the beautiful grounds we visited the Trianon, a smaller more private palace for when the King needed a break from his giant Chateau. It was less grand but still pretty amazing and built in a totally different style, Italianate with beautiful pink marble and more amazing gardens. There was also another little building nearby (The Queen’s appartments) which were built for Marie Antoinete (I think) but are rather beautiful in a slightly less lavish way.
The best part of the day, which was a little surprising considering my general lack of love for the french style of garden, were the geometric and sometimes maze like landscaped domain of gardens and foutains. Because we went on the day of the Musical Fountains there was classical music playing throughout the gardens, with different pieces to accompany different fountains. It was rather amazing to see the powerful fountains with scenes from mythology or decorated with shells the King had acquired from around the world, accompanied by wafting baroque music. It is supposed to give people the chance to see the gardens in the same way people would have experienced them in the time of Louis XIV. The best one for me was the fountain that had been set up to be in time with a piece of music as everyone sat around in the grass.
After what felt like a very long day, we trained home (along with 4 jovial security guards who seemed very prepared with tasers, guns and knives…) and did little else before falling asleep. All in all, Versailles was spectacular both in its gilded halls but also in its magnificent gardens and mythological fountains. I don’t think I will ever get lost somewhere quite as beautiful (yes I got lost. What else is new?)