Friday, September 10, 2010

Paris - Day 6

Today is our last full day in Paris.  SOB!  And we are visiting that place famous in history for so many reasons - Versailles.  Testament to the power (and ego) of Louis XIV - the Sun King.  Did you know that he became king at the age of 4 and ruled France for 72 years?  Did you know that he outlived his son and his grandson and was followed on the throne by his great-grandson (who was only 5 at the time)?  Well, I didn't.  During his reign, France was indeed a most powerful country and his patronage of the arts brought him much glory.  French theater and literature flourished under his protection.  Painting, music, architecture all gained prominence.   And he converted the hunting lodge at Versailles into a magnificent palace that would become the royal court of France in 1682.  At one time, the palace alone housed 14,000 people.  That's a town!

We took a train trip to Versailles - about 30 minutes outside of Paris.  The day was like most of our days had been, lightly overcast in the morning with sun breaking out and covering us most of the time.  We stepped out on to the streets of Versailles and began to walk to the Palace.  It's a rather ordinary looking street with fast food places (including McDonald's), souvenir shops, and Starbucks. 
The we turned right and started up a rather long parkway.  As if just for our pleasure, at the moment the Chateau was in sight, the sun broke through the clouds and we were dazzled by this grand sight.  It must have been a similar experience for those who approached the court in Louis' day.

That's gold on the roof.  22 carat leaf.  It's been undergoing renovation for a few years now.  Paid for by corporate sponsorship.   Here's a little detail that shows it better.

 As we got closer, I could see these magnificent gates in the front.  These are recent to Versailles - again corporate sponsorship making this possible.  They are based on the original gates that Louis XIV had during his reign.  Only the royal family was allowed through these gates.  There were others for the court and the general public.  Even in Louis' day, Versailles was a tourist spot and you could rent the proper attire to enter for a day of rest in the gardens and the public rooms of the Chateau. 
We met up with our guide Vincent (I'd follow him anywhere) and got our history lesson.  The Chateau has separate entrances for groups and public, I recommend getting a group tour.  And they control how many groups are allowed in at a time.  So it's still crowded, but not as bad as the Louvre.  Beware of pickpockets here, especially in some of the smaller more popular rooms.

We had to wait a little because a group in front of us was a little late for their appointed time and delayed things for everyone.  This made Vincent very unhappy. :-(

But at last we got inside.  It's hard to explain what the Chateau is like.  I've never seen anything like it and I certainly can't imagine living here.  It's certainly a testament to the glory of France and of Louis.  We only saw a very few of the rooms, including the famous hall of mirrors which is where the Treaty of Versailles was signed after WWI.  Many of them are still undergoing restoration.  As corporate sponsorship comes forward, then restoration can occur.   The Chateau is priceless and a jewel in the crown of France.

After we went through the chateau, (and the gift shop of course) Bridgete and I decided to stay and see the gardens and the Petit Trianon, originally built as a home for Louis' XV mistresses, it was given to Marie Antoinette by her husband Louis' XVI for her enjoyment.  We walked along the reflecting pool, with would look familiar to any visitor to Washington DC, and continued to stroll along tree lined paths to the Queen's little escape. 

A charming little place, I think I could live here.  :-)

We returned to Paris and as we walked toward our hotel, a little rain began to fall.  Paris weeps for us!!  Our final dinner - a lovely salad of carrots and shrimp, beef with potatoes dauphinoise, a cote du rhone, and one more little apple tart.  It's been a lovely trip and it is over far too soon. 

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