The Palace of Versailles. Last Friday.
This was one of the best days so far - one of my favorite bits of the trip happened here: sitting under cover in the garden, drinking hot cocoa while it rained. And one of the worst - because large tourist attractions have a way of bringing out the worst in people (not to mention the fact that lots of folks lose what tenuous grip on common sense they have when they're on holiday).
Versailles is a massive place. Gardens, mulitiple palaces, canals ... not to mention the hamlet and farm created for Marie Antoinette to play peasant in. Huge. And we walked about 85% of it.
The gardens, which are many and maze-like, are gorgeous in the fall - so much color. I'd been to the gardens once before, in summer, but they didn't seem as vivid then. (Of course, to be fair, the summer visit had been at night for a special event and it was, as night is, dark.)
Having the place to ourselves for a few morning hours certainly didn't hurt the ambience.
It had rained overnight which made for gorgeous light and colors that seemed deeper, richer. It rained off and on the rest of the day too. And people screamed. I kid you not. They screamed and ran like they were being chased by an ax-wielding psychopath. Because of rain. And since mob mentaility seemed to reign, lots of people were screaming and running. It was surreal. I closed my eyes and pretended they were royalty running from revolutionaries.
The inside of the palace is lovely too.
Unfortunately, going from being nearly alone to wave after wave of tour group was jarring. You would have thought they were on a race to go through the place as fast as they possible could. It would go something like this: race into room, jostle, knock into, and push people, take photo and do it as fast as possible. Even if you don't actually LOOK at anything. Common courtesy be damned, at least you have a photo to prove you were there. I know you think this is likely laced with some amount of exaggeration, but really, it isn't. It was mind-boggling.
As a result of tour-group-mayhem, I took a lot of deep breaths while we were inside. Reminding myself where I was and to soak it all in and appreciate what I was getting to see (maybe even more so given the hectic pace almost everyone else was going at).
And while overly ornate furniture and gilding isn't really my thing, I did enjoy putting a 3 dimensional "face" to history, and ... I liked the chandeliers. And if the number of photos I ended up taking of them are any indiction - I liked them a lot. *chuckle*
There are smaller palaces on the grounds too (in comparison to the main palace, but still fairly large): the Grand and Petit Trianons. Louis XIV used the Grand Trianon as his retreat from the main palace and to house some family members. While Louis XV had the Petit Trianon built for his mistress (who actually died before it was finished, so he simply moved the next one in). Louis XVI eventually took the throne and gave the Petit Trianon and it's surrounding parks to Marie-Antoinette.
There's are lots of bright colors in these "retreats." Bright yellows, blues, oranges ...
And lots and lots of pink.
Alternating between rain and sun, it was all blue skies when we made it into the "domain of Marie Anotoinette" around the Petit Trianon: her park, hamlet, and farm.
More pretty green stuff, wet and sparkly.
We'd done a lot of walking by this point and D began to question the sanity of trekking out to the farm. My feet were protesting too (though more the miles we'd have to walk back, uphill, to the palace and not the walk out to the farm). But the draw of places previously off-limits was too great - I really wanted to see Marie's village and the farm.
The village was idyllic. I'd probably call it fairytale-like if I hadn't seen villages just as unreal-ly pretty in the Alsatian countryside. Unfortunately for Marie, it didn't help the perception of excess when the revolution came to town.
The farm and village were ransacked during the revolution, but after it was over and after Napoleon, Louis Phillipe came along and his wife refurbished the village and farm to some extent. It had been closed to the public, but after year's of work (a pet project of Chirac, I believe), the area's open now and restored to how it was when Marie Antoinette left it.
At this point we were the furthest from the palace we could possibly be. We made it from the farm, through the village, and back to the Petit Trianon and there we spotted it ... a tiny train. A tiny train of happiness, ready to shuttle us back up the hill to the palace. Angels sang. Bright lights shone around it. We were happy campers. And looking back, I may still have been at Versailles, curled up into a ball refusing to walk, if not for that tiny train.