Cities / Towns Visited: 2
Countries Visited: 2
Steps Taken Today: 27,388
Steps Taken Around the World: 280,212
As we awoke to another dreary, and rain soaked Parisian morning, we readied ourselves excitedly to leave on our adventure to our most eagerly awaited destination around the city; the Palace of Versailles. With the palace being on the same train line as our accommodation we were already in good stead to get there early in the hope of beating the crowds. It was raining, we were there bang on opening, and guess what, the line was still atrociously long. God can stop no one from their deep desire to look at elaborate and ornate old French palaces, or so it would seem. Even from the shelter of our little umbrella, and trying to mentally block out the throng of people ahead of us, the facades of the building is incredible, and everywhere you turned there was gilding; the statues, the gates, even the roof, for heaven’s sake (who needs a golden roof?). It took me the whole of about two seconds before turning to my other half and confidently announcing that if I had been a starving French peasant in the late 1700’s and I knew there were people living such grand and cushy lifestyles, I would have started a revolution too.
Once we passed through the obligatory bag check and body scan, then grabbed our audio guides, we moved through into the staterooms. Now, as if somehow the amount of gilding and generally over the top brandishing of wealth was not enough on the outside, the inside had to go and one up it. Room after room of royal red velvet, vaulted ceilings, ornate furniture, and gilded chandeliers. More than anything though, just countless paintings, on every wall, in giant frames that defied imagination as to how they even came to enter the room in the first place. And the ceilings, oh the ceilings, every one filled with frescos, scene after scene of the roman gods, each room dedicated to a different one. Lucky for us, most of the amazing features were above head height, because trust me, if they hadn’t been we wouldn’t have seen anything. As much as there was wall to wall extravagance, there was wall to wall people. It was a crush, and as someone who quite enjoys my personal space, and generally not being touched, it was a challenge, to say the least. Whole tour groups seemed to stand unrelentingly at the front of each barrier protecting the precious artifacts from the gawping tourists, talking about the rooms loudly while inhabiting the prime photo taking space and generally holding up proceedings (despite signs specifically telling them not to loiter, in order to allow everyone to enjoy the displays). The décor grew more and more impressive as we went along, until it finally came to a crescendo as we entered the Hall of Mirrors. It was jaw-dropping; as if the entire room has been dipped in gold, and mirrors inserted to multiply it tenfold. I swear, if I was eccentrically rich, just give me a room like that, filled with the soothing sounds of strings playing ‘Con Te Partirò’, and I would die happy.
Eventually we managed to peel ourselves away, if only to escape the crowds, and stepped out into the somewhat soggy beauty of the gardens. Now I’m sure in summer, with the musical fountains going, the garden is mesmerising, but there was something hauntingly and poetically beautiful at seeing it in its fallen glory, just as its last king and queen had fallen from grace. The rain, once again, kept many people from exploring, but not us. The grounds are huge, acre after acre of manicured lawns, topiary, fountains, and statues, laid out in stunning patterns, and cut right through the middle by a massive channel of water. Is your gardens lake too big if you can hire a boat to travel around in? Is your garden too large if golf carts are an option? You could wander around there for days and still not see everything. After about an hour of wandering in the rain, we decided to have lunch at a restaurant we stumbled across hidden amongst the trees. Now, I must say, I have quite the distaste for chefs who slop out low quality food, at exorbitant prices, simply because the tourists visiting the attraction have no choice but to purchase it (doubly so at an attraction that does not allow you to bring in anything larger than a handbag, or small tote bag), and this was no exception. The only upside to the meal was that eating it kept us out of the rain for long enough for it to stop. After unhappily parting with more money than the food was worth, we left to soothe our woes by continuing on to visit the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, two smaller palaces on the grounds, that famously housed Marie Antoinette, in her day. And despite the opinion of the American woman who dined beside us, we were not put off by the 20 minutes it would take to walk there; seriously who comes all the way to Versailles just to see the main palace and not explore the grounds at all because heaven forbid you’d have to do an iota of exercise?
When we reached the Grand Trianon we realised that the word grand was apt, it was huge (not palace of Versailles huge, but bigger than any secondary residence needs to be). The inside was, once again filled with art and plush furnishings. The Petit Trianon, surely that would be small, we thought. I mean, yes, comparatively speaking it was smaller but, my god, it was still at least four times bigger than an average house. I’d just like to reiterate here that I am in no way surprised that the people of France called bullshit on their lifestyle.
Just as around every corner inside, there was more to see, so to in the garden; every path you follow leads you to another seemingly unnecessary addition to the royal collection, mainly from the whims and wants of Marie Antionette: the Queen’s Hamlet, a reconstruction of a living and breathing small village in the English style, that had everything from a farm, to a functioning dairy, to a fisherman’s cottage, and a guards house, you know, just because she liked the idea and wanted one; the grotto, where the queen could go and read (I mean I want one but come on); and the Belvedere Pavillion, next to a tiny lake in a secluded area on the gardens, so that the Queen could have a music room, because seemingly using one of the thousands of rooms in any of the 3 palaces as a music room was impractical. To be honest, as beautiful and exciting as it was to explore, it really just shows how self absorbed she, and the whole monarchy, was at the time. Seriously everyone, do not spoil your children, lest they end up like this.
After a solid seven hours of wandering the estate, and with closing time nigh, we reluctantly left. Heading home to have another home cooked meal of pan seared duck breast, with duck fat potatoes and vegetables. As I cooked our meal, in order to save money, and in turn allow my dream to last that little bit longer, I did stop and ponder. Would my life be any better were I to have been born into grandeur and wealth? I like to believe I am a good person because of where I came from. I have been humbled by not having the money to have everything I’ve ever wanted, and I appreciate all that I have earned, or that has been given to me, no matter how small the gift; and most importantly I know the value of things, more so than the price. In the end, you can’t take it with you, and those who mean the most to you will remember you for who you were, not what you had. My lack of wealth has allowed me to keep a level head, which is a lot more than can be said for a king and queen who would let their people starve, before giving up one inch of comfort.