Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let 'em eat cake - Versailles July 12, 2009

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” - Paul Theroux

Versailles is just a half hour train ride from Paris, and for years was the center of French government, starting with the reign of Louis XIV. Started as a simple hunting lodge by Louis XIII, it has grown to be one of the most lavish and elegant European palaces, visited by thousands upon thousands of visitors each year, all of whom, I believe, showed up today.

As we approached the palace along a broad avenue, I could just imagine the mob of French peasants storming the gates, much like the multi-lingual crowd before me. After some inquiries, we realized that the big serpentine line that we had been avoiding was the ONLY way to purchase tickets for our group. I felt that I was at Disney World. It took us about 90 minutes to get inside to purchase the tickets at one of the TWO windows open for ticket sales (NOTE; DISNEY -- PLEASE OFFER TO CONSULT WITH VERSAILLES ABOUT HOW TO MOVE PEOPLE THROUGH QUICKLY). Finally, with a sigh, Dr. E handed us our tickets and we followed the sortie to find the gate of entry. We looked around and, to our profound astonishment, realized that we had yet another serpentine line to join to get through the gates for bag inspection and ticket-taking. All this time the rain is off and on ... as are our slickers and jackets. Another 30 minutes to get in.

Once inside, we all split up with permission to leave as we felt led and get ourselves back to Paris with the return ticket we had. Sheila and I decided to hit the gift shop first since there was no line there and it was beginning to rain. Inside, we planned our strategy -- see the Hall of MIrrors and the gardens. Sheila was brave enough to ask one of the guides how to get to the hall of mirrors, and he told her to find Entry "E". We looked all over but found no "E" so we walked into Entry H. [What I figured out later was that the guide was using the French pronunciation for "I" which was next to "H"]. We were going to get an audio tour, but there was another line and by this time, we were over the lines. So we began touring the rooms. I soon realized that we were going in the opposite direction of those who had audio tours, so we were like spawning salmon, going against the flow. We were allowed to take photos, but we (again) were not supposed to use flash, so (again) many pictures were blurry. The rooms were absolutely beautiful. Finally, we were "caught" almost going into the wrong room and were redirected towards the Queen's rooms. At this point, we just wanted to see the Hall of MIrrors ... we were told that seeing this room would make the whole trip worthwhile.

We went through room after room of opulence ... tapestries, paintings, gilded ceilings, paintings, frescoes, marble, gold ... oh my gosh! It was overwhelming. The closer we got to the Hall of MIrrors, the more crowded it became. After awhile, I began taking pictures of ceiling corners and overhead chandeliers just to be able to get shots without people's heads in them! However, I occasionally found a breathing spot and was able to take photos of some of the furniture and other objects of French Royalty.

Then finally ... the Hall of Mirrors! It was spectacular... and roomy. That particular room was large enough to keep the crowd comfortably apart from one another. There was a lovely view of the gardens (still raining) from the windows on my right, with the mirrors all along the wall to my left. I couldn't help it ... I took a picture of myself in the mirror. Part of the way through, there is a detour to the king's chambers in which I could hardly breathe because of the number of people milling around. However, it was worth seeing, and the path led us back into the Hall, so we finished that room and continued on our journey.

Finally, we spotted a "sortie" (exit) and walked down to the ground floor. We needed some air, so we walked out to the gardens but were disappointed to see it was another 8 euros to go onto the grounds and ... another line to buy the tickets. So we headed to the cafe where we stood in line for a few minutes, then decided we'd just go and hit a cafe on the way out of town. We ran into our friend Myra, and the three of us left this beautiful piece of history.

Ironically, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant near the train station for lunch. It was delicious! Then we caught the train back to Paris (joined by two other FSU students). When we got off the train, we were surprised to see our professor and her husband ahead of us.

I would love to go back and take my time. I guess Bastille Day weekend just isn't a good time to visit!

By the way, Dr. E, HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Hope you had some cake!

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