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O Fim duma Viagem

A Palace fit for a king

FRANCE | Thursday, 10 September 2015 | Views [276]

On Sunday, we met in Paris to catch the RER to Versailles. Besides the people in the program and the tour guide Guillaume, we were accompanied by Stephanie’s sister, Erin’s husband and two children, and Cambria’s parents. Cambria’s mother was from Chicago, and both her parents seemed to have a decent knowledge of what math meant (I forgot to ask what they did or what their degrees were in) so we had a nice conversation while we waited for everyone to show up.

Once they had, Erin told us to “closely” follow Guillaume. So we set off for station, and immediately lost him when he was the only person to cross the street before the light turned red. Fortunately, he was a good enough tour guide to wait for us instead of abandons and hope we found a train to Versailles so we could catch up with him there, so we all boarded the RER together, and settled into the longest train ride I’d had since coming to Paris. Which is to say it was in the vicinity of an hour and not 10 minutes like most of the metro rides were.

At Versailles, we were given tickets to get into the gardens. We showed these to the guards, entered the gardens, and proceeded to walk straight through them, barely stopping to look around. The only time Guillaume gathered us together as a group was to point out a recent art installation and even more recent graffiti. "Someone had broken in the night before" recent graffiti. Versailles: pre-revolution palace that made today's news.

Recent grafitti

After quickly checking to make sure no one had lost their tickets already, we left the gardens and found a patch of grass to sit down and eat our lunches at. I could never quite decide how I felt about the weather. Sitting in the sun (and on my jacket), I sometimes felt chilly, sometimes felt like it was perfect, and sometimes felt too warm in my short sleeves and jeans. Walking, I alternated between being too warm with my coat off and being too warm with it on. So I kept switching between the two and tried not to hit anyone during the process.

Once we were done eating, Guillaume brought us to view the outside of other buildings related to Versailles, like the summer palace, or the place that the king kept his favourite mistresses, or the place that Napoleon lived since the actual palace was too monarchistic. (I'm pretty sure we only saw two buildings, so combine two of those.) He encouraged us to come back and see them when we had our student IDs, since apparently that's another thing we can get into for free. (Being a French student is kind of awesome.)

One of the French courses that is offered at Brown is a course on Marie Antoinette. The students who had taken that course had a special connection to the buildings we were seeing, and even more information to share. Like that, somewhere around here (meaning somewhere in France) was the building Marie Antoinette had gone to so she could live a simple, country life. Or so she could make her servants live a country life while she pretended she was milking cows and collecting eggs. Whatever her real intention, that was what she ended up doing.

Or that Louis XVI was pretty much the only French king to not have mistresses. He didn't even know what to do with his wife. Seriously. After they had been married for a while, Marie Antoinette's brother had to come over from Austria to give him what was probably the most awkward sex ed talk ever. So mistresses really wouldn't have done any good.

During this part of the tour, we were following wherever Guillaume led us without really knowing why. It felt like we were consistently going farther and farther from the palace, but somehow we ended up back at the lawn where we'd eaten lunch. Which was a relief, because about five minutes before I'd made the comment that I would not be able to find my way back to the train station if I had to. Now, with only a little bit of blind stumbling, I felt like I could.

First though, I had the gardens to look at. And the fountains. It was a Sunday in nice weather, which meant we were granted the same privilege Louis XIV would have had every single day: seeing the fountains working. (Not that the fountains were always running, since that would take a lot of water. But they were turned on every time the king was looking at them, which is close enough.)

The fountains were amazing.

Fountain

Whirlpool

Trickle-down fountain

After they turned off, Guillaume went to ease the way for us to enter the Palace. No one wanted to pay, and no one had a European student ID yet. (Though the people who had European passports and were under 26 were nearly as good.) But, after some discussion, our US passports and visas, or US student IDs and more discussion, were enough to get us in.

So we get in, go through security, and enter the first room. And one of the Versailles people looks at Guillaume, looks at us, and tells us that he can’t have a tour group this late in the day. He says that he already got that approved downstairs, they say no, he protests, and they clearly decide it would be less work to let us in. So they did.

Guillaume talked a little bit about each room, its function, and its decoration. It was a necessarily short tour, but we got to see the fake bedroom that Louis XIV forced people to pass through and pay their respects to, (only people who he really valued entered his room. But he would receive people in his room, not fully clothed by the standards of the day. We were not valued, since even several centuries later we couldn’t see his room.) and the real bedroom of the queen. That one was arranged like it had been in Marie Antoinette’s time. It was very, very pink.

Honestly, the main word that popped into my head when I was looking around the Palace of Versailles is “gaudy.” And this was AFTER the king needed items so he no longer got a room of pure silver. And it was at least a beautiful kind of gaudy.

Doorway

Hall of mirrors

Hall of mirrors

We finished the tour at about the same time we were getting kicked out. By that point, we’d also gathered other people who had started listening in on Guillaume and were even asking him questions. He answered them, and then we headed back to the station to go home. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or even mythology, Versailles has enough to keep you engaged. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time I’ve been there, and it was every bit as beautiful as I’d been led to suspect.

Tags: art, fountains, gardens, history, mythology, versailles

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