Tourism / Travel

Throwback Thursday: Versailles

First and foremost: GO TEAM USA!

Ahem. Sorry folks, had to get that out of my system as the USA faces off with Germany today for the chance to continue on in the World Cup. You can bet I’ll be sporting red white and blue and glued to the television come noon!

In any case…today’s Throwback Thursday is actually still from France, which I am considering “current” on this blog, but somehow, SOMEHOW I inexplicably never wrote about this trip before even though it happened in NOVEMBER when my friend Sean was visiting.

I mean, really? How do you do that? How do you just skip VERSAILLES, one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire country?!

I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’m going to attempt to make up for it now, ladies and gentlemen. BEHOLD THE UNRESTRAINED OPULENCE:

...And that's just the front door.

…And that’s just the front door.

As I said, my friend Sean was in town, and he was determined to hit all the big spots in Paris (or just outside, as it happens) during his few days with me. So we rounded up a few of my other friends and made the journey out to Versailles. A few technical notes for anyone planning a trip there before I continue:

1) The train you want is the RER C, going to Versailles Rive-Gauche. When you’re waiting on the platform, READ THE TV SCREENS and make sure you’re getting on the right train. It should be the last stop, and you will KNOW you’re on the right train because the inside will be decorated with replications of some of the halls and rooms in Versailles.

2) Buying tickets ahead of time if you’re going to be there in a busy season would be incredibly wise. There wasn’t really a line when we were there, but we went in November. I popped back in right before leaving and the line was massive and sprawling and snaking all through the courtyard–not fun.

3) There are several different types of tickets with access to different parts of the palace, details can be found on the official website. During the winter, the gardens are free and open to the public. During tourist season, they are not.

That being said, we opted for the general tour of the palace, and as I mentioned above, the garden entrance was free.

Best. Statue. Ever.

Best. Statue. Ever. (Located in the first set of historical documentation rooms.)

It seems a bit pointless to say that Versailles is large and in charge with detail and opulence around every corner, high ceilinged and tiled floor rooms with tall windows everywhere you look and enough chandeliers to light up a small town. So I’ll just jump into the orientation. The first few rooms you go through in the palace are actually redone with modern, plain walls–these rooms house paintings and sculptures that depict and tell the history of Versailles from construction to destructive storms to the royals who inhabited those marbled halls.

Go ahead and judge me, but for all that I’m actually a big history nerd I found this portion to be slightly less exciting. Can you really blame me though? Who wants to read about a big storm that happened when where are GOLD PAINTED LIGHT SCONCES EVERYWHERE AND PAINTINGS THE SIZE OF MY HOUSE?

…Ahem. Nobody comment on that momentary blip of materialism.

Moving on, after we had gotten our fill of history we began to explore the long hallways and adjoining rooms. There was a beautiful chapel I just loved for its height and grandeur, several exquisite bedrooms, and we took more than one opportunity to imitate the poses of statues lining the halls for photos. (Essentially, we might have trolled Versailles. Just a little bit. I’m not sorry.)

The chapel--several stories tall and, as with the rest of the palace, appropriately luxurious for a royal family.

The chapel–several stories tall and, as with the rest of the palace, appropriately luxurious for a royal family.

And then, of course, there was the famous Hall of Mirrors. It took us quite a while to make our way into the hall given the fact that the entry kept being blocked by swarming tourist groups, but we finally found a gap. (Partially created by me being obnoxious and insisting all my friends stood in front of the entrance for our OWN picture and stopping the flow of traffic.) You’re going to judge me yet again, friends, but I have to say…I was a hair underwhelmed. Not by the glitz and glamour so much as the size–numerous textbooks detailing the great events that have passed in that room led to some rather grandiose mental images for me. To be honest, however, looking back through my pictures I’m not sure WHAT I was thinking, that hall is extensive and plenty large!

The Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors.

Despite its fame, however, the Hall of Mirrors was not my favorite room inside Versailles–I actually much preferred a slightly modernized corridor that was airy and bright, home to dozens of absolutely MASSIVE paintings (found in many rooms there, I admit) in a gallery I could have walked up and down every day.

The art gallery. High ceilings, skylights, and light floors make this room seem immense and peaceful.

The art gallery. High ceilings, skylights, and light floors make this room seem immense and peaceful.

In my personal opinion, one of the coolest parts about Versailles was seeing so many famous paintings I have been seeing in printed textbooks or on the internet since I was in grade school. I wouldn’t say I could have named every single one of them or their painters, but to be able to recognize a work you’ve never seen in person before and know that it was significant enough to be worth remembering and teaching about several hundred years later is quite a unique feeling–one I experienced on more than one occasion in France, and in Europe in general to be frank.

A closeup of the very very massive painting, 'Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine' by Jacques-Louis David. This one might have been a copy, there's another hanging in the Louvre which I assume to be the original.

A closeup of the very very massive painting, ‘Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine’ by Jacques-Louis David. This one might have been a copy, there’s another hanging in the Louvre which I assume to be the original.

As a chilly and cloudy November evening closed in on us, we ventured out at last into the vast geometric Versailles gardens, and I think they might have been my favorite part of the entire palace. Sparse though things were given the season, it was the first time in France that I experienced a sense of a wide-open space.  It’s something Paris is (obviously) lacking, but the massive gardens of Versailles have it in spades. We ambled down the long promenade towards the ponds, pausing for many silly photos jumping off of stairs and imitating more statues, and strolled through endless rows of tall hedges–were it not for the mathematical layout, one could have gotten quite lost there. To my regret, we didn’t have time to visit the chalet of Marie Antoinette, and I never had the time to come back in the end and give it another go.

Looking down the main stretch of the gardens.

Looking down the main stretch of the gardens.

Et voilà! Yours truly in front of a rather spectacular pond sculpture.

Et voilà! Yours truly in front of a rather spectacular pond sculpture.

So there you have it, at long last a bit of commemoration for the splendor of Versailles. Personally I was more overwhelmed by The Royal Opera House, but that may be because I simply wasn’t expecting it there. But the gardens are lovely, the paintings impressive, and the experience an absolute must-do when in Paris.

A bientôt mes amis,

-B

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