“Let them eat cake!” Exploring at Versailles
by Heidi Obermeyer
Phew, the first week of the new semester is finally over! And with it comes my second belated post about Paris, which really means some time dedicated entirely to the epic, fantastical masterpiece that is the Palace of Versailles. (Also, can we just talk really quickly about how I’ve been listening to this song non-stop for the last few weeks? I cannot get it out of my head! It just came on now. Anyway…) I had never been to Versailles before, and the four of us decided it would be a delightful adventure, particularly since almost every palace, castle or other type of royal residence you visit in Europe that was built around the same time includes the phrase “modeled after the Château at Versailles” somewhere in the tour, book, or audio guide that goes with it.
Versailles was extraordinary. There’s no real way to describe it, except that it is massive in a way that makes it almost impossible to comprehend the fact that it was built to honor and house ONE PERSON. Given, kings tend to have an extensive entourage, but walking up to and entering Versailles is surreal. Check out this picture below- we were walking towards the palace from the point where we first saw it for at least 10 minutes until we got close enough for this picture. And look closely- this is just the pre-entrance entrance! In the background you can see another golden gate up closer to the building, which is where you actually go in. Also, please note the HOARDS of tourists coming to visit this thing. We were there in March, and again, I cannot stress enough how little desire I have to try and visit these places in the peak of the season. There were people everywhere!
Once you’ve entered through the double gates, you finally get a look at the front of the palace. Thoughts that were running through my head: Eh, it’s not that big really. I’ve seen bigger buildings. Mental self-reminder: THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A HOUSE.
We were all psyched to get our nerd on and got audio guides, although the interior of the palace wasn’t at all as interesting as I thought it was going to be. The audio guide was really vague and didn’t give you any cool insider information, and the massive number of people crammed into every room made getting through the tour a disappointing chore. I’m glad I did it, but I didn’t take very many pictures because most of each frame probably would have been filled up with the back of someone’s head anyway. Another contributing factor was what I like to call the “over-palaced effect”, in which all the palaces you’ve seen start to blend together (they aren’t lying when they say “modelled after Versailles”) and your brain just can’t hold any more royal residences. I will say, however, that it was really neat to see where Marie Antoinette escaped the revolutionary Frenchies through a door in her bedroom and to imagine what it must have been like to have these grandiose spaces (like the Hall of Mirrors, pictured below) filled with people dressed to the nines. My trip down history lane was supplemented somewhat inaccurately by having seen the American movie Marie Antoinette (click to watch the preview), which isn’t very historically accurate but was filmed in the palace. Plus 2 historical accuracy points for location.
After we toured the palace, we set off for Marie Antoinette’s little getaway in a corner of the estate. It was a 40 minute walk through some serious French gardens, which still weren’t quite blooming and green. They were interesting anyway and we were relieved to find that the crowds dissipated once you got about .5 km away from the palace. Yay for lazy people!
On the way we stopped to see the Grand and Petit Palais, which were a few other small(er) palaces used for entertaining, and, you know, royal things. That sort of stuff. The Grand Palais was very pleasant and my favorite palace that we walked through. It was well-lit and didn’t feel nearly as dreary and stuffy as the interior of Versailles did. Here’s an outdoor walkway that leads you between 2 parts of the Grand Palais.
Naturally, the Grand Palais had its own intricate gardens going on.
After about 2 hours, lunch, and an unplanned Grand Palais visit, we finally arrived at Marie Antoinette’s
crib estate. It was CRAZY. A mini town, in a way, with its own (again!) beautiful and feminine gardens. Here’s the temple of love out back:
Marie apparently did this thing where she decided she wanted to be able to live a “quaint” lifestyle if she wanted, so she had this entire little mini village built where she kept farm animals, pretended like she was poor, and probably spent a lot of time feeling self-satisfied for being one of the people. Let them eat cake indeed!
Marie Antoinette’s estate was definitely worth the trek and was beautiful, but the thing about walking a long way in one direction is that eventually you usually have to… well… walk back. So about a half hour into our trek back up to the main palace we stopped to sit next to the enormous lake out back. For some perspective, keep in mine that we’re about halfway along the lake and that the building in the far off distance is indeed Versailles. And yes, those are rowboats. Available to rent. Too cool!
And here’s another shot about twenty minutes walk away from where we were sitting, facing away from the palace:
Overall, I’d say the experience at Versailles was excellent. The palace interior is absolutely breathtaking, but not necessarily with thousands of other people all also having their breath taken away. The gardens were my favorite part and I would love to go back and spend a day just exploring just the grounds- maybe even with a pleasant bike ride.
Anyway, that’s that for the France trip- hooray for Versailles! I still have pictures from Budapest to post and then it’s back to the same old same old here in Munich. Bis dann! 🙂