Today marks the first day of my holiday and the first day in France. It’s started out with a bit of a wake-up call for me. I recently got back from Madrid for work (just a week ago) and was lucky enough to fly business class. When I got back to Melbourne I felt reasonably refreshed after a nice long sleep and some good food and wine. Arriving in France after 23.5 hours of flying in cattle class has left me with a somewhat distinctively different feel. The fully reclining seat is gone, as is the ability to breathe without getting someone else’s hair in your nostrils.
The A380 we flew in was pretty quiet overall, so I did manage to get some sleep, and when we touched down in Paris with a very, very smooth landing, I did feel awake and ready to tackle the day. The bags took what seemed like an eternity to get to the luggage carousel, and I got my first rude shock of the holiday. Hertz had neglected to detail in their quote that there was no insurance included in the rental, which doubles the cost. I tried to check my travel insurance (subsequently found that it only covers the excess), and realised I was going to be further out of pocket than I'd budgeted for.
All up, I’ve gone from 940euros to 2040 euros, to cover collision and theft. At least they had an automatic for me, a nice spacious Peugeot. It’s a whole lot bigger than the Volkswagen Golf I’d booked, and it’s diesel. So, what I've lost in insurance, hopefully I’ll recover in some of the ongoing fuel costs.
After 45 nerve wracking minutes, I got to Versailles and without too much trouble checked into the Mercure hotel. The room wasn’t ready so I headed down to a Patisserie to get some food for lunch and have a quick look around. I'm staying very central to the city of Versailles, and only a 10min walk away from the Palace.
After a quick refresher break and dropping the bags into the room, it was time for my first walk. I took a bit of a scenic route to the palace, and went via a boulevard in the main part of town. On the footpath there was a little market, with about 6 stalls selling plants in pots and flowers. A bit further along I found a fleet of coaches which could only indicate the start of Versailles.
I’d organised internet tickets to go to Versailles so I didn’t have to wait in the huge queue to get tickets, although I did need to go through the queue to get into the palace. They do a cursory check through a metal detector, and then you can pick up a map of the palace grounds and get the audio guide. I grabbed both, then headed into the exhibit, walking first pass the ground floor of the chapel inside the palace, which is very luxurious for a church.
The first few rooms of the tour were paintings of Versailles itself as well as several monarchs, and were part of the area called “Dauphin’s Apartments” (the heir to the throne) and “Mesdames’ Apartments” (which belonged to Louis’ daughters). I didn’t spend too much time here, as the rooms were packed more tightly than the flight over. After a short walk through the rooms, taking in as much as I could, I walked upstairs into Louis XIV Rooms.
The rooms were opulent and covered in paintings on the walls and frescoes on the ceilings. Each of the rooms had a theme. The first was a huge room called the Hercules room. This had an exquisite fireplace and one of the largest paintings I’ve ever seen in it. The painting was a gift from the Venetian empire to Louis XIV. It was probably about 15m long and 10m high. The next rooms continued the themes of gods and legends. Venus was the focus of the next room, and Mars the one after. Each of the paintings and frescoes in the room aligned to the theme.
I continued through to the state apartments, where I discovered several rooms, including a banquet room and what I’d say is the highlight of the palace – the Hall of Mirrors. To me, the Hall of Mirrors was Louis' way of saying; "this is exactly how good I am. I’m going to create the most opulent, salacious room I can, and only use it to connect from one side of the palace to the other". The hall connects the Grand Apartment of the King to the Grand Apartment of the Queen. There are 17 arches from one side of the hall to the other, and in each arch there are 21 mirrors. Each of the arches is meant to reflect the window on the opposite side of the hall, which overlook the magnificent gardens below. Oh yeah, and there was just the tiniest little bit of marble holding it all together. Approximately 30 chandeliers and I couldn’t tell you how many candelabras.
I walked through some of the other start Apartments, and then – racing 4 tour groups which had converged in the same rooms at the same times, moved into the Gallery of Battles. This is a massive long hall, which has one huge painting after another, showing famous battles through French history from Charlemagne to the 1800s. They were quite magnificent.
I went outside the Palace at this point and started a look through the gardens and at the fountains in the front of the Palace. There was a huge canal in the distance, and in it there were many people rowing boats. The gardens are so large, that you can hire golf buggies, Segways, bikes, or ride a little train around the complex. I walked down to the Grand Trianon after a stop on some marble benches.
The Grand Trianon looked at first, like a palace in need of repair. But as I got closer, what looked like an old building with a bad paint job, turned out to be a magnificent palace made of a reddish marble. From the front it looked classical in style (think Greek or Roman), big red marble columns linking one side of the palace to the other.
Inside was a series of paintings of the Dames of Versailles. These were OK to look at, and whilst the Trianon was beautiful, it was only the summer residence, so it wasn’t as over the top as the main palace.
The gardens around it however were another thing. Everywhere you looked there were flowers in bloom, and water features. I am likely to come back in September when I get back to Paris, to see the fountain and light show. I’m not sure if tickets are still available, but walking through these gardens when the fountains are in operation would be another thing altogether.
I spent an hour or two walking through the gardens and fountains, before heading to the Petit Trianon, which is a small “Mansion” which belonged to Mary Antoinette. There wasn’t much of significance to see here, smaller rooms and nice furniture. I did get a look into the water closet, where she sat her royal touché, and some uniforms.
When I got out of the Petit Trianon, it had decided to rain reasonably persistently. It took us about 15 minutes I would say to walk uphill to the main palace, then another 15 minutes from there back to the hotel. Of course, the rain stopped about 5 minutes before I got to the hotel, which was nice, so I didn't feel completely like a drowned rat. Exhausted after such a long day of walking, I'm having an early night, as there’s another big day tomorrow.