My fourth day in Paris was my first day completely alone. Each of my friends had other plans for the day. I had booked a tour at Chateau Versailles recommended by my friend Annie. She warned me that the lines at many places were horrendously long, and the tours would bypass the lines. She was absolutely right.
I arrived at 10 a.m. in Versailles, which is also the name of the town in which the palace is located. I was a little early for my 10:30 meet up with the tour group, so I stopped for a croissant and a cup of hot tea at the McDonalds next door. This is the only day I darkened the door of a non-French establishment my entire trip, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was very different than the American version. It was also my first experience with public bathrooms in France, as in the kind that aren’t separated by gender. Awkward is all I have to say.
After my quick snack, I walked next door to the tour group office. You can walk in and book a tour, but the line for reservations was much shorter. I was put in a group with an English-speaking, but French native, tour guide. She was wonderful. The other people in my group were Americans or British. One couple was from Dallas, so we shared some home-state stories. They have traveled extensively in Europe and gave me several tips should I ever get the opportunity to go back. We walked a short distance, which in France means 10-15 minutes, to the palace. The line for non-tour groups was already a mile long, and I don’t think that is much of an exaggeration. We waited maybe 20 minutes to enter the palace with our group, and it was much more orderly.
As we waited to enter the palace, our guide told us the history of the palace and the kings who lived here. It was originally a “quaint” hunting lodge which Louis XIV enjoyed as a child. He had the extended palace (700 rooms) built around the lodge. In my pictures, you’ll see a smaller courtyard with a checkerboard pattern that is in the midst of the lodge. The king and queen had separate apartments with bedrooms, living areas, and public areas to receive visitors, etc. I didn’t count, but I’d say the tour went through 20-30 rooms, including the Hall of Mirrors which is a long room flanked by windows on one side and mirrors on the other. It was designed for the mirrors to reflect the setting sun in the evening. During parties, this light show was intended to wow the guests, and I’m sure it did. From there, you could tour another 10-20 rooms independently. So, in all, we probably didn’t see more than a tenth of the entire palace. These rooms were huge, many the size of my entire house or larger. Two wings of the palace housed nobility, and during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, an estimated 3,000 people lived in the palace. How would you like to cook meals for that many people every day? No thanks.
As I understand it, some of the palace furnishings were destroyed during the French Revolution due to a huge backlash to the outlandishly lavish lifestyle of the monarchy. So, many, but not all, of the furnishings are reproductions. Still, you get a good feel for the grandeur it once portrayed. Every last square inch is painted, decorated, marbled, gilded, or otherwise ornamented. The European monarchies of the time had a great deal of pressure to outdo each other. Can’t imagine why the French peasants didn’t understand the cost it took to keep up with the aristocratic version of the Jones’.
As big as the palace is, it’s only a small portion of the entire estate. The gardens are a separate entry fee, and they are massive and meticulously manicured. They piped classical music throughout the gardens, and every few hours they turned on the fountains. There are probably a dozen or more fountains, and they don’t all run all the time. It’s probably pretty expensive. In the middle of the gardens, facing the back of the palace is a long canal that one of the Louis built. The king of Italy, I think, gifted him with gondolas and gondoliers to remind him of Venice, I guess. They rent boats now in case you want to try your hand at rowing, which seems a lot less grandiose than a gondola.
Then, there are two smaller estates that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette used as private escapes. I didn’t tour these. It’s a good 30 minute walk from the palace to one of these estates. You can rent a golf cart or take a tram, but I decided to concentrate on the gardens. You cannot possibly do all of it in a day. My knee continued to bother me this day, and it was quite cool outside. By late-afternoon, I was pretty tired and decided to go back to Paris. While I enoyed seeing a lot of things on my own, I think this one, in particular, is best enjoyed with a companion.
The train back to Paris was standing room only. I rested at my apartment for a few hours then went to dinner by myself. Everything in Paris is closed on Sunday. All the bakeries, stores, etc. The only thing I found was a nicer restaurant a few blocks from my apartment. The service there was great. Even though I can order in French, I mean how hard is it to point, they graciously spoke English to me without my asking. It was a refreshing meal, not large or rich. I had salmon with green beans and a mustard sauce. Just right for a quiet evening.