Oct 7, 2015
|Tuesday, October 6th.
Several times we prepared to head into Paris and it started to rain. Eventually we gave up and spent the day reading, journaling and resting.
Wednesday, October 7th.
It was sunny when we headed out and we layered dressed hoping for the best weather.
That trek up the hill then onward to the train station doesn’t get any easier.
There were a few tense moments with train transfers to the metro but once solved we were on the right line to Versailles.
It was a good 20 minute walk to the gates of Versailles and yes it was on a slight grade up. Rows and rows of Tour Buses filled a huge parking lot close to the entrance.
Versailles was laid out along an eight–mile axis that included the grounds, the palace and the town itself; One of the first instances of urban planning since Roman times and a model for future capitals, such as Washington D.C. and Brasilia.
What an entrance to the Palace it was. Gilt topped gates and fences surrounded the Palace’s Courtyard. The original golden Royal Gate in the center of the courtyard nearly 260’ long and decorated with 1000,000 gold leaves is a recent replica of the original. These people lived in a different dimension, being totally unaware of the world around them.
Started by Louis XIV in 1668, the palace grew from a modest hunting lodge built for his father Louis XIII to become the largest palace in Europe, housing 20,000 people.
We picked up our audio guides (with no instructions) at the top of a staircase and followed the crowd. The 2 tiered Royal Chapel was a sight to behold. On this floor there were many lavishly decorated State Apartments. Our audio guides kicked in here with the numbered rooms.
First we passed through the King’s Wing; his billiard room, a royal make-out room, the Swiss bodyguard room, Louis’ official bedroom (where at 77 he died naming his Grandson aptly named Louis XV his heir), his grand throne room (the Apollo Room with a 10’ tall canopied throne), and his war rooms.
Joining the King and Queen’s Wings running along the back of the palace is the 250’ Hall of Mirrors.
It is exquisite. There are 17 arched mirrors matching the 17 windows looking out upon royal garden views. The mirrors – a luxury at the time-reflect an age when beautiful people loved to look at themselves.
This is not an empty room by any means being lavishly adorned with chandeliers, and sculptures of all shapes and sizes. In another age altogether, this was the room in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending WWI.
Next we pass into the Queen’s Wing where we saw her elegantly decorated bedchamber, the toilet and bathing rooms, and dining rooms.
We exited the palace and headed to the gardens.
The Gardens offered a world of royal amusement. The warmth from the Sun King was so great apparently that he could even grow orange trees in chilly France. Louis XIV had a thousand of these to amaze his visitors. In winter they were kept in the greenhouses that surround the courtyard. On sunny days, they were wheeled out in their silver planters and scattered around the grounds.
A promenade leads from the Palace to the Grand Canal, where France’s royalty floated up and down in imported Venetian gondolas with drivers included of course.
The weather was threatening and we both knew we couldn’t possibly walk the whole garden with the time we had left so we took a golf cart and down the wide promenade we drove.
The whole of the gardens were a maze of bridle paths, some as wide as a present day highway usually culminating in a water feature of some sort. All the paths were lined with trees and hedges. We came across the Main Canal (named after Venice’s) where The King threw lavish parties on boats floating down the man made “canal”.
Eventually through a tangle of pathways we came upon The Trianon Palaces. Versailles began as an escape from the pressures of kingship.
But in a short time the Chateau had become as busy as Paris ever was. Louis XIV needed an escape from his escape and built a smaller palace out in the boonies. The beautifully restored Grand Trianon Palace is as sumptuous as the main palace but on a much smaller scale. Louis built this for Madame de Mainteron his mistress.
The nearby Petit Trianon was built nearby, looking more like a mansion than a palace by Louis XV for his mistress Madame du Pompadour. Later it became a favourite retreat for Marie Antoinette (Franz Joseph of Austria’s sister and Sisi’s sister-in-law) Like Sisi, she also retreated from the busy social life demanded by the Royal family. Marie though re-created the home life she remembered from her childhood at the Petit Trianon and lived in idle bliss of events happening around her.
Having absorb as much as we possibly could of the gardens and fountains we turned in our golf cart and headed for the metro and train ride home.
We were both mentally and physically exhausted as we fell asleep.