more and less than expected? we left early, catching the train for the 30 minute trip to versailles at 8 a.m. we arrived just as the palace opened (there’s no other way to describe the place) opulent, extravagant, self indulgent, hedonistic… pick your adjective, they all work.
i guess not having visited before and reading all the reviews, watching videos and travelogues had set me up to think we’d be blown away. in a way we were, you can’t underestimate the incredible detail of baubles, decoration and scale, it is overwhelming. but it did not knock our socks off. perhaps it was the weather, a cold, drizzly day with dark clouds threatening overhead. it took some of the shine away (as it were). we spent about 2 hours going through the various rooms jostling with bus loads of other tourists, all seemingly more aggressive than us in getting their pictures; however, as we discovered, patience is a virtue, and soon the crowd moves on.
almost all of the rooms had modern art installations by an american artist, jeff koons. initially i found it to be fun and always a contrast with the classic opulence. but as we moved on it became a nuisance, often interfering in getting a visual picture of what a room or the lives lived there would have been like.
i think the most impressive experience was seeing the original painting and sculpture. i had no idea of their scale. paintings that are easily two stories high and as fine as they come. living well has its rewards! i took most pictures in RAW format so don’t have interior shots to share (big sigh). as with many of the buildings we are seeing, versailles too was covered with a large amount of scaffolding. regardless it was a magnificent place.
following the palace tour we moved outside to see the gardens before heading off to the other buildings throughout the compound. if you check out my pictures you’ll see that there is an abundance of statues and fountains, all of them glorious and classical in style. too bad the fountains don’t operate in the fall, still (silver lining) you get to see the actual statues in the fountains! we wandered down side paths similar to a maze with tall trimmed hedges and a multitude of choices at each intersection. believe me we did not come close to seeing it all. i loved the classical statues and vases (i held back on taking a picture of every one – which was a good thing as my camera was getting buggy and i was lucky to take the pictures i got.)
after hiking down to the grand canal with several side trips to other paths and gardens and a bite to eat we arrived at the mile long canal. this is a man made lake shaped like a cross where the royals used to bring in gondolas etc to entertain themselves. our destination was the grand trianon the first of three retreats they built to escape from the bureaucracy and royal life. this was a much more human structure with a scale you could relate to and less opulent than the palace but still very elegant, covered with marble and many windows throughout, all looking out on incredible gardens and man made views. from here we headed off to the petite trianon, yet another step away from the reality and politics of court life. for any of you that have visited, i’m sure you’ll agree that the scale is not too dissimilar from a large home today, rooms are rich, but subdued and give a sense of a personal life far different from the palace. life here was very romanticized to the point of reconstructing small roman temples and an orangerie, a kind of greenhouse for those with money.
i didn’t mention that we rented bike when we got down to the end of the gardens before going to the grand trianon. they were bikes we see people using in paris (picture sitting upright and no crossbar), comfortable and enough gears to take you up the gentle hills.
our last stop was marie antionette’s farm. a working farm with gardens, vineyards and farm animals of all kinds. this was the last of the “escapes” as far away from the reality of court life and the turbulence as one could imagine. a storybook setting with thatched cottages and outbuildings so perfect they seemed straight out of a disney fairy tale. it was easy to see the sense of freedom it must have provided. it brought on a kind of melancholy sympathy for the lives they must have lived and the way it all ended for them.
the bikes were great fun and allowed us to cover a lot of the park we would have been reluctant to tackle on foot. what is left of the original 8000 hectares is slightly smaller than stanley park around 800 hectares. everything in it is symmetrical and perfectly groomed, yet it is peaceful and quiet and provides as much solitude as you’d have in the middle of stanley park or any other isolated space. a really great day (sun would have helped, though, as we were chilled for a lot of the time).
home on the train. a light supper and an early night.