Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Splendor That is Versailles.

Z and I at Versailles.  Our only photo together.  Glad we remembered to take *group* photo!

W

  e ended our Paris trip on a high note today.  We went to visit Versailles.  I had booked onto a conducted tour before leaving on this trip.  I found a tour that would not only skip the line but it also took place on Sunday which is the one day in the week that the fountains are operating.

Z and I made our way to the Invalides Metro stop and followed the directions we were given to meet up with the rest of the group.


Of course, travel with me and you'll always arrive to your destination early.  But there were already a few even more die hard tourists than me.  We didn't have long to wait but while we did, I enjoyed views around me.

While we waited, our guides also handed us our headsets.  These are ever so helpful when you are in a big group and or in a super crowded place.  They also gave us our tickets for the train as well as colored tickets which we had to affix to our shirts/jackets.

That was us yesterday!

Where there is grass, there will be Parisians sitting on it.  In front of Invalides.  Not a bad spot to hang out and relax.

Z waiting for the tour to start.  By the end, I would estimate we had about 40 people in the group.



When it was time to get going, our guides rounded everyone up and led us back down the steps to the Invalides Metro.  Instead of heading to the subway platform, we made our way to the platform for the train.  There, they divided us into two groups based on the color of our stickers.   Each group boarded separate trains.


On the train.  No longer interested in posing for photos :-(

Versailles is located on the outskirts of Paris and the train that we took ends at Versailles.  It was not an express train though so it did make a few stops as we whizzed through the suburbs of Paris.  French suburbs look like suburbs in any other part of Europe - nondescript bedroom communities.  I'm sure the train we were riding is a commuter trainer for many a Parisian worker bee who lives outside the city limits.


It was about a 35 minute train ride from Invalides to Versailles.

From there, it was a short walk to the famed palace.  Our guide held up his flag so we could keep track of him.  Very helpful.




We stopped at the foot of the statue of Louis XIV.  There, we waited for our Versailles local guide and to get further instructions from the guides that led us here on the train.  We were being handed off :-)


With our headsets on, the volume turned up and our new guide leading the way, we finally made our way towards the palace.  Although I have been here before and I know it's a massive palace, there really is nothing to prepare you for the sight of the sprawling buildings.  Even the square in front of the palace buildings is massive!


Before we made our way inside, the guide wisely offered up the opportunity to use the facilities.  I was good to go so I just took in the view.  There was already a really, really, really long line of people waiting to get in. I presume those were the folks who decided to come here on their own. I had no idea how long they would have to wait.  The plaza is so big that even with all the people standing in it, it didn't look crowded but I was certain that was not the case inside.

On the left, the Gabriel Wing, the Royal Chapel of the Palace of Versailles in the center and the Minister's Wing on the right.

Formally known as The Château de Versailles, the palace is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful palaces that has ever existed.  I can most certainly attest to the fact that many other palaces I've been to around the world, including the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, claim inspiration from Versailles.

The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings (Louis XIV, XV and XVI) who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.

Our guide started our tour with a brief run down of the map.  Somehow the place looks small but I know it's not!


Fronting the palace and the square are two adjunct buildings that are mirror images of each other, appearance wise.  According to our guide, they were the stables as well as accommodations for palace staff.


The entrance is near the chapel.  Lucky us, we got to bypass all the people waiting in line.  Yes, we are the skip the line group!

Decoration on the facade of the chapel.

Cross atop the Chapel.

Once inside the palace, we were submerged into absolute ocean sized crowd of people.  It was so crowded that basically, we had to inch our way along.  I was standing so close behind Z that my face was virtually embedded in his backpack!  This place was ridiculously crowded.

Thankfully, we had our headsets on but even with that, one ornately decorated room began to blur with another.  It's not hard to be overwhelmed by the over the top grandeur of this place in a matter of minutes!  I will admit that the guide did tell us what each room was about but I have absolutely no recollection of what he said.  It was too much information to digest.

The first room we went into recalls the 1789 Opening of the Etats Généraux (States General. Faced with a catastrophic political and financial situation, King Louis XVI was obliged to summon the States General, an assembly of the three orders or classes – Nobility, Clergy and Third Estate (commoners) – that alone could decide to levy new taxes and undertake the reform of the country.  The frieze and wall murals depict the meeting of the assembly.






Making our way towards the Chapel.  The bald headed guy on the right is our guide.

The chapel.

Inside another of the many drawing rooms in the palace.






And yet another elaborately decorated room - the Abundance Salon.  So abundant, it's dizzying!






There were so many groups and individuals making their way through the palace, I had a really hard time taking photos of the rooms as I was too short to photography above most peoples' heads.  Hence, all the ceiling photos in this album :-(


This room, with its framed paintings on the ceiling is the Mars Salon, named after the Roman god.






A Royal Chamber.  I don't know who slept here.  This room was over the top packed with tourists.  I could barely make my way up to see the bed and after less than a few seconds to just take a photo, I felt a tap on my shoulder as someone else was eager to take my spot. Sheesh....

I was surprised at how small the bed was.  If I was royalty, living at Versailles, I would have a bed that was at least twice the size of a modern king sized bed.  Hey, might as well be comfortable!






Portrait of Louis XVI.

Portrait of Louis XIV.  I wonder if he was inspiration for how supermodels pose? :-)

Relief medallion in the War Room.

From the War Room, we patiently inched our way the palace's most famous room - The Hall of Mirrors.


The Grande Galerie (La Grande Galerie in French), as it was called in the 17th century, served daily as a passageway and a waiting and meeting place, frequented by courtiers and the visiting public.  What an amazing room!




Mirrored windows line the interior wall, reflecting the scene viewed from the glass windows on the opposite wall.  The entire effect creates a very airy feel to the room despite the heaviness of the ornate decorations.



From here, it was off to the apartments and bed chamber of Louis XIV.


You couldn't really see his bed as it was obscured behind the heavy drapes.



There was a railing around the entire bed as well as seats.  I think the King not only slept here but he would also conduct meetings here as well.


One of the many rooms in the King's apartments.

From the King's Apartments, we went to the Peace Room, the counterpoint to the War Room that we passed through earlier.



From there, we once again inched our way to another set of rooms - the Queen's Apartments.  I am a sardine in Versailles.


The Queen aka Marie Antoinette, slept here.  Definitely a much more feminine looking room.



Bust of Marie Antoinette.  She was a very attractive looking woman.


Next, we went to the The Coronation Room (Salle du Sacre).


The room is named after this painting - The Coronation Of Napoleon by David which depicts the coronation of Napoleon I on December 2, 1804.  The first version of this painting is in the Louvre, the painting for Versailles was completed in 1822.

That's Marie Antoinette waiting to be crowned by Napolean I.
After the Coronation Salon, we were done visiting the interior of the palace.  I was so happy to be back outside where the crowds were much thinner and the air....oh I could finally get some fresh air into my lungs!
 

There was an exhibition of modern art on the palace grounds. Everyone was entertained by this mirror which reversed the image.


It was a picture perfect fall day today - wonderful for enjoying a walk through the gardens.

Okay, Versailles is a huge building and so you need a huge garden to match.  The one here does not disappoint!  And as I had hoped would be true, the fountains are operating!  It's such a pretty view looking down the garden.  Supposedly, at the very end, there is a canal but that seems like such a long distance away as I can't see a canal no matter how hard I strain my eyes to spot one.


More of that modern art display. Truthfully, I didn't find it to be very interesting or inspiring art.  Wished it hadn't been here!
Behind Versailles is a monumental pool, Parterre d'Eau, decorated with sculptures by Le Brun that symbolize the rivers of France.   The one shown in the photo below is named Le Rhône.


From the upper terrace, we walked down a path leading to the lower garden.


The Orangerie.
We strolled through one of the many groves in the garden.  Lovely walk.


The first fountain that our guide led us to was in grove known as the Bosquet de la Salle de Bal. Laid out by André Le Nôtre between 1680 and 1683, the grove is also known as the Cascade Ballroom or Bosquet des Rocailles - the latter because of the millstones and the sea shells brought back from the coasts of Africa and Madagascar over which the water pours down in a semi-circular cascade.  It was known as the Ballroom because it was here that the royals danced and listened to music.  The musicians played above the cascade and, facing them, an amphitheatre with grassy rows of seats enabled the spectators to sit down.


Classical music was playing over the speakers, against the sound of the fountains.  It was a really pretty spot.


Hard to make out the statues but this is the Bacchus Fountain, also called the Autumn Fountain.  Bacchus symbolises the harvest and his sculpture is surrounded by small satyrs, half child and half goat.

Path leading to the Orangerie.

Another fountain where the sculpture is hard to make out but this is the the Saturn Fountain. 
Sculpted by François Girardon, it symbolizes winter. Saturn is seated on a throne,
surrounded by small cupids, on an island studded with shellfish.
Then, we arrived at a spot where there was a large rectangular  pool.  A fountain show was underway.  Our guide told us that the display cycles every few minutes so we sat on the grass and enjoyed the show.  It was nice to finally be able to sit as we had been on our feet for the past couple of hours.





From here, we headed back towards the main part of the lower garden, passing by yet another of those odd modern art pieces along the way.  I don't get it.

Standing here, one can appreciate the size of the garden.  The palace sits so far in the distance, it doesn't look impressive at all yet we know how massive it is!


It was quite a walk back to the Palace!


We stopped to admire one of the grandest of the fountains at Versailles - the Latona Fountain.  Unfortunately, it was under renovation and not operating during our visit.

Inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Latona fountain illustrates the legend of Latona,  the mother of Apollo and Diana, protecting her children against the insults of the peasants of Lycia by calling on Jupiter to avenge them. In response, Jupiter transformed the peasants into frogs and lizards.




A Lycean peasant transforming into a frog.

We made our way back up to the upper garden.   This was a view I really enjoyed taking in.

From here, our guide took us to the flower gardens which he said were built under the windows of the King's Apartments as only he was allowed to gaze out to the beautiful blooms.



We walked over to look at the garden by the Orangerie.  So beautifully manicured!



At this point our tour was done and we were left to roam the gardens as we pleased.  Several members of the group followed the guide back to the train station but a few of us opted to return to the city on our own.



Z and I pretty much had had enough of the palace and we decided to leave and head into the town of Versailles.  We were both hungry and I thought it would be nice to find a place to eat here rather than having dinner in Paris.

We had no idea where to go so we just wandered about a bit.  Versailles on a Sunday afternoon is a dead town - not a soul around.  It was getting chilly and I was quickly getting tired.  That was adding up to a very frustrating time for me.  I just kept hoping there would be a bistro on the next block!







Eventually, we found a small row of restaurants and I just picked one, called Le Ducis, that offered a two course meal.  It was really cold and blustery and I wasn't all that keen on sitting outside but it was bearable. 


The meal was fine.  I had an avocado salad for my starter and Z had the pate.  I had the beef stew for my main course which was okay; the meat was a bit dry but the flavor was good.




After our dinner, we headed back to the train station and made our way back to Paris and our apartment.  Tonight, I have to repack my suitcase and get ready for our flight back to the US tomorrow.

It's hard to believe that our two weeks in Belgium and Paris have come to an end!  I don't know about Z but I've enjoyed myself.  I don't know about returning to Belgium but I will definitely be back to Paris and France one day!

Good night from Paris!