Continuing my Spring Break in France series of posts…
There’s something to be said for being a French monarch. Sure you’re the last one holding the debt your head gets chopped off, but on the bright side you get to live here!
I came out to Versailles on the train from Paris that swiftly takes you out of the city and deposits you a five minute walk away from the palace, which is just enough space for touts to warn you that you should sign up for their tours to avoid the lines. They do this all over Europe at the main sites (such as the Vatican Museum) but I knew from my prior European romps to not pay attention in March- I’m sure it’s terrible in summertime, but how many people do you see around me in this picture? That’s right, enough to sort out tickets and the audio guides in five minutes!
The thing about Versailles is it has played such a huge role in the history of the world that it’s hard to say something incredibly unique. After all, it’s big. It’s ostentatious. It’s a place filled with so many details both in decor and history that you get overwhelmed trying to take it all in.
Take this room, the famous Hall of Mirrors, which was originally a ballroom but then took on a scattering of functions such as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Not only are we talking about a room literally fit for kings, we’re talking about the one where World War II and the fate of the world was set in motion!
The view from the second floor of the king’s private chapel, which only he and his family would use. If you were lucky and a favored courtier you might be permitted to hide up here on a second floor side balcony.
What I really liked about this chapel was a picture of a photo exhibit currently going on at Versailles which was showing important moments since the palace has been a museum. (Which, it’s curious to think, it has been much longer than it was ever a palace.) This picture took place towards the end of World War II and showed American G.I. soldiers who had liberated the palace. What I loved about it so much was the expressions on their faces that was a mixture of amazement and awe, as the bunch of boys off the farm clearly hadn’t even considered that there might be places in the world such as this. But there are, and the amazement of the modern age is we are all allowed to see them. As long as you have about 20 Euro that is.
Now I may get carried away by history sometimes, but forgive me as it’s kind of hard. For example, can you imagine the absolute horror of Marie-Antoinette if someone had told her that in the future thousands of commoners would be filing into her royal bedchamber and it would be exposed for all the world to see? And about half of them would have nothing more interesting to say then “hey Annette, look at that fancy wallpaper! Doesn’t it look like that stuff your great and Gertrude wanted to hang in her second bathroom?” The horror!
Plus really now, the wallpaper isn’t the most interesting thing in this room anyway. You know what is? It’s that little door in the lower left of the jewel cabinet that looks completely hidden when closed: Marie-Antoinette escaped from the Parisian mob calling for her blood through the secret passageway it connects to during the French Revolution of 1789.
It took a few hours to get through everything in the palace, but I headed out afterwards into the garden to explore a little. The grounds of Versailles are huge- it would take more than one hour to walk from one side to the other easily- and they’re also free so the locals make good use of what is essentially a giant park as well. Makes me wish I had the former grounds of a palace to go biking and jogging in!
Also, it should be noted that the trivia fact of the day is the reason aristocracy trimmed their bushes so precisely like in the picture above is because it was supposed to symbolize their triumph over nature. Something to think about next time you trim the hedgerow! No word on how that triumph over nature thing worked out when it came to the physics of sharp slicing blades though.
There’s a fair bit of the grounds itself to see- I ended up doing a bit of geocaching as it was a perfect for it- but the best thing about the grounds of Versailles this time of year were the snowdrops. Thousands upon thousands of snowdrops blanketing the ground and covering everything in sight. I was in love, and can’t imagine the forests are half as pretty in summertime!
After that, footsore but happy about how the day was turning out, I headed back to the station for the ride back to Paris. Feeling plenty hungry too, and sat down for a dinner which I’ll detail later!