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  • Shelley Dark

25. Versailles

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to Versailles before. Which may seem strange. But I really don’t enjoy crowds of people. I always think they they end up obscuring the very thing they have come to enjoy. So I avoid them. But I thought it was time. And I thought you might enjoy it too.

We have been using the métro, but today, taking an RER line was another challenge. Cally found a website which brought up a box ‘find your journey’. She makes a great PA. She entered ‘to’ and ‘from’, the date, and return and it will brought up the timetable possibilities. I assume it works for trains all over Europe.

We walked down the Boulevard St Michel (sounds like a song!) to the St Michel/Notre Dame métro station right next to the Seine River, bought our return tickets, intending to catch the 7.42am yellow C line to Versailles Rive Gauche, which is last station.

Simple! Except. When we arrived on the platform, there were marks on the ground, short trains. Probably long trains somewhere. We didn’t know where to stand. Till we found this gorgeous woman who works for the Métro who showed us the exact place between columns 5 and 6. Lucky we asked!

It was only a 35 minute ride from Paris to Versailles which is a small town south-west of Paris, and then a short walk. The sun was just touching the sky with pink as we walked along - it reminded me that I've not walked at dawn since we started travelling.

The first view of Versailles is quite a sight, with a long approach.

The gold everywhere is dazzling.

Look at the queue, just a short time later!

The Chateau of Versailles began as a hunting lodge for Louix XIII in 1624, and it was added to by Louis XIV, who shifted the whole seat of government here from Paris. He employed le Vau (construction), le Nôtre (gardens), and Le Brun (decoration) on the building and garden project. Louis XV, and finally Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette also made changes and additions, and lived in fine style there.

The revolution put a stop to all that. But we still reap the benefit.

Our visit began at 9.30am with a small private guided tour of the king’s apartment. You must book well ahead online at the Versailles website. The queen's apartments are closed.

This barometer was ahead of its time in many ways. It showed seconds, which was innovative, and only needed to be wound every 40 days.

This is the original carpet from the time of Louis XVI. I know! I said that too. Doesn't it look incredibly modern? It's not.

And the king's desk.

And gilt panelling everywhere. Delightful rococo overload.

The crowning glory is a commode which was purchased for the museum in the 1990's for 13 million euros. Yes. This commode. Many other pieces of furniture have been recovered from other museums, or given by benefactors. They are all valued at huge sums.

I loved the simplicity of the king's chapel, one of 5 chapels at Versailles.

And this more modern staircase.

Fabulous small theatre for opera and ballet, and it's still used today. It's said to have amazing accoustics. When we were planning we looked for a performance this week to coincide with our visit - so disappointed that there wasn't. That is the kings box in the middle. The chandeliers on the walls are half-chandeliers against mirror as a trompe l'oeil.

At this point the private tour ended. We hadn't seen any other tourists. Then into the mêlée. The main part of the château was unbearable. People jammed in so close that it was impossible to see anything but the ceiling. The hall of mirrors was a nightmare. The photo of it below is above all the heads. We left as quickly as we possibly could, which wasn't easy. We had to fight our way through.

I managed to avoid being trampled underfoot to take the queen's bed - not the one in her apartments which are closed. This is the conjugal bed.

There is an Anish Kapoor exhibition on at the moment, an interesting juxtaposition. We saw 3 of the 5 pieces. There were two fun convex mirrors which stretched both the mind and reflections. One at the front of the chateau:

I think this woman is saying to her child, 'Don't look at that modern sculpture rubbish. You'll turn to bronze.'

The other at the top of the stairs in front of the château:

Don't you love the axis down to the grand canal? Takes my breath away.

Except for the next Anish Kapoor. This one, I might enjoy somewhere else. I usually love his work, but not when it's interrupting the main axis of the Versailles garden. Look at the photo above again. I’m sure there was a message in it, but I missed it.

It was 1pm so we stopped at the first restaurant we saw, called La Girandole. Part of it an amazing Roman building in logs.

Take-away, or a covered marqee with heaters? Our feet said sit. The sirloin steak, frites and salad was delicious, with a glass of Sancerre. Cute placemat.

Versailles is enormous. We walked all day except for lunch and didn't see one quarter of it. Love the god Appollo rising out of the pond on a horse-drawn chariot. Isn't it sensational?

The central feature of the Bosquet de l'Encelade is a pond with treillage in a circle around it. The French are so clever at cutting lawn sharply to meet gravel. A charming space.

Isn't it surprising how the circles were made?

There are few gardens which demonstrate axial design better than Versailles. So many beautiful allées. The trees are just starting to turn yellow, and when a breeze blows, leaves drift down so gently.

The photo below is at the far gate near Marie Antoinette's hamlet. See Cally waiting for me? I think she was nearly walked her feet off today. Come on a trip with me and go home exhausted and skinny. :-)

We enjoyed Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon, with its lovely fireplace in the re-heating room (not the kitchen - the food was prepared elsewhere and reheated here).

At the gift shop I bought two books about her:

The hamlet was utterly charming and is visited by many children to see the animals. The piggy has been in a good paddock.

It was nearly 4pm by the time we decided to make very long walk back to the chateau. See it in the distance? Isn't the light beautiful in the late afternoon?

on that peaceful note, mes amis, I bid you bonsoir.

shelley dark, writer 

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