Best Family Inside Joke Ever
Hello loyal followers! Guess what today is? It’s our one- quarter tripiversary! In case you don’t speak Kristin that means today is Day 31 and the official 1/4 mark of our trip. So take a chance to celebrate with us! You could even pop open a bottle of wine…we sure did! But we’re getting out of order…
Today we went to Versailles. Insert lots of excitement from Justine! This is probably the one place in all of Europe she was most excited for!! Versailles has symbolized so much in French history. Essays can be written on the amount…Justine has written essays on Versailles on just that! She will try not to bore you and divulge everything she knows about Versailles, Louis XIV and Marie Antionette (remember they are two of her favorite historical figures!).
Versailles is huge! We’re talking seriously massive. There are 700 rooms in the place, 67 staircases and 2153 windows. The palace is also completely golden. Literally Kristin’s first reaction to the place was “Wow, that place is shiny!” Louis XIV liked to compare himself to Apollo, the Sun God, and was commonly known as the Sun King. The crazy thing is that at Versailles the palace is only the beginning. The gardens stretch on for miles! There is more space than you could possibly cover in one day. And to top it all off, hidden away in the garden are smaller palaces and hamlets.
We started our Versailles exploration in the palace. There was a handy audioguide to direct & inform you. Plus Kristin had Justine to fill her in on anything the audio guide left out. Versailles began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge. When Louis XIV wanted to escape the rebellions and craziness of his youth in Paris he ordered the construction of a palace at Versailles. His family, court and the French government were moved out there with him upon it’s completion. Here Louis XIV became the absolute monarchy he wanted to be. During his father’s reign it was the nobles who rebelled the feudal system and caused havoc in Paris. To eliminated the remnants, Louis compelled the noble elite to come live with him at Versailles. By having all of the French nobles at the palace he was able to keep a close watch on them and ensure they would not rise up and revolt against him. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. The etiquette and minuscule tasks resulting from the amount of nobles at Versailles established a hierarchy and ridiculusness of trying to be in close favour to the king and feeling close to him while he was controlling everything from behind the scenes. A true absolute ruler!
The first rooms you enter are the state rooms. These were like the other palaces we had been to, if the other palaces were placed on steroids. Each rooms was fully decorated with lavish furniture, velvety walls and more god than you can even imagine. They also feature many paintings of old kings, the hunt and Louis’ mistresses in heavy gold guilded frames.
This painting is the most famous of Louis XIV, painted near the end of his life. At the time Louis was old and often not seen by the court. However he had this painting made to show him at his most grand. Look at those hot legs…not the legs of a 70 year old man in a wheelchair!
These rooms lead into the King and Queens apartments. If we had thought the state rooms were richly decorated we really had no idea! As you progressed through each of the Kings chambers they became more and more intricate and shining with gold. Each room was named after a Roman god who was featured in a giant fresco on the ceiling. This all fits with the Louis being Apollo theme. By the time we reached the Kings public bedroom there was not an inch of plain wall, floor or furniture anywhere. Everything shone & glittered and looked like it cost millions.
The Queens chambers we just as lavish but much more feminine. There was a lot of beautiful lilac & peacock feather prints that almost outshone the gold they were so elegant. Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette were living here when revolutionaries stormed the palace, captured them, and returned them to Paris. Marie Antoinette was in this room at the time and escaped for a while through the hidden door in the back. You could just make the door out. The rooms were all decorated as similarily to the originals as possible. However, all of the furniture in the palace was sold during the Revolution, so this was isnt an easy feat. Some of the originals have since been bought back and much has been recreated.
The conclusion (& highlight) of the the palace tour was the Hall of Mirrors. This is a long hallway with one whole side consisting of 17 huge arched windows overlooking the gorgeous gardens. The other side of the hall has 17 large mirrors set. In the same design as the windows. At the time Versailles was built mirrors were still a new & expensive technology. Louis used them not only to show off his wealth but also took advantage of their power to light up and expand a room. The interior of the hall was then packed with chandlers, candlesticks & stantues…and of course a lot of gold! The end effect is something so magnificent that it is hard to find words… Basically you feel like you’re in some wonderful fairy tale and should be running about in a huge 1800’s style gown. As an interesting historical fact: the treaty to end WWI was signed in the famous hall of mirrors…yes that is the Treaty of Versailles.
Sitting on the stairs at the back of the palace looking towards the gardens is probably the best view in Versailles. In every direction, all you can see is Versailles. The gardens stretch on elegantly for miles. This is where the Rick Steves Versaillies Garden Tour began, so it was also where we started.
The gardens themselves are 800 hectares. It would take a day to cover them. The gardens are highlighted by the Grand Canal. Louis XIV could not have Venice so he brought Venice here. The canal is cross shaped and a mile long. Gondolas would ride members up and down while a barge carrying an orchestra entertained them. Hidden away off the Grand Canal are hedges, paths, fountains, trees, picnic spots and groves of fruit trees. At one point there is a Roman Colonade, which was basically fake Roman ruins, because Louis was obsessed with the Romans and wanted ruins.
The gardens of Versailles are as well known as the palace. The grid layout has been duplicated many times, looking at the picture do you think Washington Monument and the Mall leading up to it?
The gardens were known for their numerous fountains, 50 remain of the large amount originally constructed.p. The most famous is the Apollo fountain, of course knowing Louis and his love for the Sun God. It’s a very cool design that gives the illusion fo the horses and chariot of fire rising out of the water to haul the sun up into the sky & issue in a new day. There was also a fun fountain that centered around Apollo & his twin sister Diana (or Artemis the Greek religion) and their mortal mother. The villagers mocked her for being an unwed mother so Jupiter (or Zeus) who was the twins father turned them all to frogs. You should see all of the frogs, lizards, etc carved around the central pillar!
We strolled along the garden views towards the smaller palaces set in the back. First we reached the Grand Trianon. This was built as the escape palace for the king. Louis XIV built Versailles to escape Paris and he built the Grand Trianon to escape Versailles. Tucked away the king would come here to enjoy some quiet time. This palace was made entirel of lovely pink and yellow marble (Justine loved it! Kristin not so much). When Louis XIV spent time here the flowers in the garden outside his windows were changed daily, can you guess what color they were? Gold maybe?
As for the interior, it was lovely, but kind of overshadowed by the exhibit spread throughout it. It was fashion of the 1800’s but done by modern designers. So basically it was odd versions of court dresses.
The Petit Trianon came next. This was the escape from Versailles for Marie Antoinette. She was an Austian princess who never really fit in with French extravagance. She longed to escape to the places of her youth and this palace was built especially for her. It’s interior varied from the decor you’d expect in a Queen’s home to rough, medieval style stone passageways. All in all though, it felt much more homey than any of the other buildings.
Marie Antoinette longed for an even more simple life. She wanted the fairytale peasant life. Her little hamlet hidden away in the far corner was exactly this. Right now imagine a perfect tiny, old fashioned village for us. Did you think fo Belles village from Beauty & the Beast? That’s what we thought of…and that’s what this looked like! Consisting of 12 buildings this is where she spent alot of her time. Wearing a simple white frock she would walk through the buildings and observe the people busy at work. She never actually did any of the work herself, after all she was queen. The hamlet was the most adorable thing we’d even seen, and that’s including that little village we saw on our Stonehenge tour. We took about a million pictures and not a single one it bad. It was quaint & picturesque & oh so wonderful! The photos will look so wonderful on the walls of Justine’s Tudor style cottage!
We ate lunch with our feet hanging over the edge of the canal. Grocery-store-struggle veggies, hostel buns & french cookies. Then we hit the gift shop. In all of the gift shops you can get Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette souvenirs. We don’t quite understand the fascination with her, we dont get why she’s such a big deal. She was the queen and did nothing of any importance but lose her head in the revolution. Whatever the reason for this fascination, Justine just loves her! Here Justine bought a post card to send to her history prof who taught her everything she knows about Louis XIV and Versailles 🙂 Now she needs to make sure she sounds good on that postcard!
When we got back into Paris we took a break at the hostel. This is after Justine had her usual nap on the train. The little boys sitting behind us thought it was hilarious that she was asleep. We sat around in our room, organized our stuff and did a little Internet browsing/work. We just need a break from the sun because, as you may have noticed in the photos, it was so nice out today. Sunny and hot! Although the weather doesn’t always cooperate it seems to pull through when we really need it. Then it was off into the city center again, this time to the Latin Quarter.
We found ourselves a cute little restaurant and ordered our dinner. We have had this meal planned out for days and decided Versailles Day was a good day to have it on…it was strategically placed to help make this the most perfect day Justine could imagine. Supper consisted of…drum roll…Fondue! Fondue! Fondue!
We enjoyed a super delicious 3 cheese fondue that came with ham & potatoes & bread & salad. It’s was sooooo cheesy and wonderful! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum!
We then had some time to kill and calories to burn so we walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower. We realize you probably have no idea how far this is so take our word for it when we say it’s quite the trek. We got there in time to be settled on the lawn behind the tower in time for the 9 o’clock sparkly light show. This is when Kristin uncorked our celebratory bottle of wine & Justine took the first swig.
Pretty nice setting for a drink, eh? This was what put the feather in the cap of Justine’s perfect day!
On the metro ride home we made some friends….and by that we mean we got so creeped out by guys trying to hit on us, but who only spoke French we couldn’t undertand, that we got off the train at a random station and waited for the next one. That random station is where this blog post was finished!
Love, Luck & Louis!