Our last day in France took us from the busy and varied districts of Paris and out to the Palace of Versailles. Back in the day, King Louis XIV had a hunting lodge there and, spawned from a desire to rule France from outside the confines of Paris, turned it into a full-fledged Royal Palace. It grew and changed a bit with his successors, and it is a grand and extravagant window into the times.
We met up with Uncles Jimmy and Jim after the forty minute train ride and took the cold walk to the Palace grounds. It’s been bitingly cold here, and coupled with a brutal wind. From a distance, the palace doesn’t look like all that. You enter a smallish gate, walk down a large cobbled pathway, and right when you realize that you’re looking at a SINGLE expansive building instead of a collection of buildings you are awed by a large, gilded gate. I’ve never had much taste for gold, but there was a certain style to it. After a bit of observation, I noticed that the roof was gold in places as well. And, no, it wasn’t paint. This was just the beginning.
After getting our tickets sorted (thank you again, Jims!) we had some time to kill before our guided tour. Since the guided tour took us through the King’s private quarters and areas not viewable to the general public, we decided to take in everything else first. We walked through many art gallery rooms, with paintings, sculptures, and various furnitures. The statues on the second level of the first wing were all in amazing shape since they’d been indoors all this time. After those rooms, we started getting into a more extravagant realm. Some rooms were seemingly made entirely out of marble, with huge fireplaces and unbelievable paintings on the ceiling. It’s no wonder the peasants revolted at the excesses.
The Hall of Mirrors, in particular, was stunning. Chandeliers, statues, gilded doors, and of course, mirrors. The Treaty of Versailles, the ending of WWI, was signed here. It was also a place sometime used by the King of France to greet dignitaries and ‘show off’. The King’s “public” bedroom is just off to the side. This is where the King’s rising and retiring ceremonies took place. Not far from here is the Queen’s quarters as well, including the doorway Marie Antoinette used to escape the rioting populace. After a tour of more rooms of breathtaking French art (some paintings as big as entire walls) and a wonderful lunch (what exactly is ‘fresh farm poultry’ anyway? Chicken? Way to get fancy!) it was time for our guided tour.
We toured the private areas of Versailles with a wonderful Frenchman named Sylvan. We took the King’s private staircase from the guard station to the study, and were filled in on even the most minute of details. We saw the King’s actual bedroom (where King Louis XV died of smallpox, too) his actual study, a gameroom, and even a room where the King made his own coffee. Coincidentally, this room is next to the first flush commode in France. Imported from Britain. We also saw an astronomical clock that took 12 years to make and works just fine to this day. It even has the date, and theoretically goes until the year 9999. That’s foresight for you.
Once we finished with the King’s apartment area, we visited the last two stops on our guided tour. The first is the immaculate Chapel. It was dedicated to St. Louis (go Cardinals?) and was completed in 1710. It is a grand two-story chamber with an ornate altar and imposing organ. The stained glass is magnificent and reminded us both of Indi’s grandfather, Harry. Wish you were here! After this, Uncle Jim asked about the Opera House, as it had been closed for renovations. Luck was with us, as Sylvan said it has just reopened and we detoured to it. We had it all to ourselves.
It felt like walking into a movie. The Opera is ENORMOUS and boasts a dozen or so chandeliers and a massive stage (still used!). The multi-tiered seating area seemed to stretch forever, and like all other grand rooms in Versailles, had paintings on the ceiling. It was unreal. This room concluded our tour, and it wasn’t long before the four of us hopped back on the train to Paris. We were sad to part with the Uncles, but were happy we were able to spend time with them. We had such an amazing time together! That night was a familiar one for us, as we planned our plane trip the next morning and packed our bags for our next destination: Prague!
We are in the Czech Republic now, and will eagerly write about it soon. It’s been snowing lightly every day and the temperature has been about 20 F at mid-day. Cold, yes. Exciting? You bet!