Monday, 16 July 2012

France: Final Day, Versailles

13 May

From the journal:

After breakfast we strolled through the Tuileries and across to the Left Bank. Walked along by the river to the Pont Neuf, and then crossed back again, enjoying the wonderful views from the bridge. We stopped for coffee at La Corona, just one last time.

We noticed that we were now right next to the shop where my man had bought his much-loved brown hat, the one which was last seen slowly floating along the surface of the Canal Lateral a la Loire behind our vessel. Happily, the store had another one just the same, and so it was just a lovely happenstance that we went back there this morning and he was able to purchase another hat, identical to the first. To underscore how fortunate we were, it was the very last one in the store. Just meant to be.

We then wandered around the shops, picking up a few more souvenirs and keepsakes to take home – so much to pack – before dropping those bits and pieces off at the hotel, picking up a baguette au jambon et fromage and finding a lovely shady spot in the park – our park – to munch our favourite French lunch while people watching.

At about 1.30 we boarded the coach for the trip to Versailles. Yes, we could have simply caught a train, but this was actually a pretty good deal. We bought tickets for the coach without the guided tour option, which meant we got a bit of commentary in the coach on the way, bypassed the huge queues, picked up our headsets, and spent the afternoon wandering around at our leisure, knowing that at a certain time we could simply make our way back to the coach for the trip back to Paris.

Versailles - nothing prepares you for this place.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, prepares you for the opulence and the extravagance of Versailles. No wonder the peasants revolted! This place is fabulous beyond all belief. Initially we had the camera out, wanting to snap lots of photos, but within a very few minutes your eyes protest – they don’t want any barrier between them and what they are looking at. You just have to put the camera away and absorb it all as much as you can. You can buy a book with all the wonderful professional photographs, because this is for experiencing, not for recording. And so, after a handful of shots, the camera is relegated to the bottom of the bag.

Beauty everywhere
The self-guided tour with the headsets is just the best way to visit the place as you can spend as long or as little in any area as you wish, and you can replay the relevant parts of the recording to go over something which you missed or which is particularly interesting.

And people everywhere

Even though you understand why the people revolted, when you stand in the chamber where Marie Antoinette was defended at the last, you can almost feel the fear which she must have felt. Despite yourself, there are places such as these which provoke a real emotional response, which takes you a bit by surprise.


You also laugh over the concept that people would pay to watch the King sitting on the throne, and I don’t mean the big throne, I mean, of course, the loo. Apparently watching him eat and watching him get rid of what he had eaten were desirable things to do. Thank God the world has changed.


When you visit the theatre you are totally blown away. What looks like beautiful carved marble is actually all timber, just painted and cut in such a way that nobody would know that it’s not gleaming, veined marble. It really is quite awe-inspiring.

Nothing is just for function.
At each bend of a stair you come across more and more and more marvellous artwork, or windows placed so as to give a view that just takes your breath away totally. I think I’d hang around the windows for hours, just going from one to another.

Stunning statues
(with classical music wafting from the greenery)

The hall of mirrors is – no, can’t describe it. It is one of the loveliest things you could see in your whole life. You can imagine it with beautifully dressed and wigged women, with their fans and lace handkerchiefs, and bewigged and powdered men bowing low before the women before leading them in a dance, perhaps a minuette, who knows, and wonderful baroque music echoing off the walls. It’s more than the stuff of fairy-stories.


One thing which really did amaze us was the water reservoir on top of the building.  At first glimpse you think somebody had added a rooftop swimming pool, but, no, it was part of the original construction. It is really huge, and is there to serve two purposes: (a) because there is so much wood in the building, should a fire break out it is a ready source of water, and (b) in times when rainfall is low, it provides water for irrigating the extensive gardens. What marvellous foresight.

Lots of beautiful fountains
Now, the gardens are just gorgeous. I really wanted to shout “Fire, fire” or some such thing to make everybody flee so that we could wander freely through the stunning grounds, admiring the beautiful statuary and the lovely classical music which flowed from hidden speakers in topiaries and hedges. The place, sadly, was packed, though, and even taking photographs was difficult – they all looked as though we were photographing people we had never met because it was just about impossible to get a shot of anything without some smiling tourist popping into view.

Now, there are souvenir shops and there are souvenir shops. This souvenir shop was lovely, and some of the merchandise they sold was absolutely gorgeous – could have spent a fortunate. We did pick up a few really nice bits and pieces, and so more stuff for the suitcase.

And did I mention people?

Was there a downside? Yes. The only bummer, apart from the huge cobbles/settes of the ground which make looking anywhere but at your feet while you walk dangerous, was the solid phalanx of souvenir sellers that you have to squeeze through or past just to get through the gates. When I say solid, I mean they are shoulder to shoulder, all with their huge arrays of leather handbags, shiny Eiffel Towers, Notre Dame snowdomes, etc. That really is, frankly, awful. We walked along the line to the end and got around that way, but we could see that there were some older people who were quite intimidated, and for them to have to go way off to the side to get past this veritable human barrier is really unacceptable. One young American guy tried to engage one of the handbag sellers in conversation, with “Hi there. I just want to talk to you. Can I please just talk to you?” He had no success: he wasn’t buying, and conversation was not of interest. You can look at it as another travel experience, or you can look it at as a really bad aspect of a wonderful tourism site. I think it’s pretty bad, actually.


In the evening we wandered down rue Saint-Honoré and dined at a restaurant we hadn’t tried before. The food was quite ordinary, and we really wished that we had gone back to one of our favourites. Ah well, such is life.

Village of Versailles over the treetops
Before heading back to the hotel we strolled once more, for one final night-time view, over to the Louvre, hoping to keep an image of her and the Eiffel permanently imbedded in our brain. So incredibly lovely.

What an amazing place -  but it is
no wonder the people revolted.

And so back to the hotel for our last sleep in Paris before heading back home.”

Catch you tomorrow.


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