Day #10,242: On the third day of our Parisian adventure, Mr. M & I woke up early in a futile attempt to beat the masses on their pilgrimage to the bourgeoisie capital of France. (Try as you may, my friends, it ain’t gonna happen. Unless you steamroll your way through the interior like you’re sprinting to the finish line of an imaginary race, you WILL be forced to enjoy Versailles with all the other tourists.)
The train left us a few tree-lined, suburban blocks from the main entrance to the Palace. I was feeling Frenchly smug at having arrived without incident. Until we ran smack into the horrific entry and security line. Seriously, the line into Versailles is rather epic, so arrive as soon as possible- post morning cappuccino + croissant, of course.
Once through the security line (or perhaps, including it), the Palace is visually, physically, historically overwhelming.
Any way you slice it, it’s difficult to get a sense of the scope. How can so much time and toil and war and love be crammed into one place? In a way, Baroque architecture, with its more-is-decidedly-more, when-in-doubt-bedeck-it-in-gold outlook is really satisfying for a historical locale; it mirrors the layers and layers of… everything… existent in the place itself.
The Palace started out as a hunting lodge for the royal family, but Versailles really became Versailles when Louis XIV began massive building and landscape projects in 1632. The next two Louises (the plural of ‘Louis’? Anyone?) took it from there, until Versailles became the gargantuan symbol of absolute monarchy that it is today… and then came the boiling point and the start of the French Revolution.
After the Main Palace, we meandered the gardens (I say this like it wasn’t a giant trek… even for a city dweller like I, Versailles involves a lot of walking. Parisian designer stilettos are not your friends on this day trip, stylish city girls).
Even in the dead of winter, the gardens are a sight to behold.
It was nearly impossible to imagine someone actually living at Versailles and using the gardens as a ‘backyard.’ It’s seems gauche to bust out a Weber Smokey Joe grill on such a stately lawn… perhaps it was best that the palace was lived in long before Smokey Joes. Although it appears as though one famous resident had similar sentiments.
As a concession from the King, Marie Antoinette had her own cozy estate built on the grounds (presumably where she could loosen her corset, leave her hair unpowdered, and set up the 18th century version of a Smokey Joe)… something a little less baroque-exploded-all-over-my-walls and a little more down-home. The Queen came from relatively modest means and apparently never felt comfy in the vast sprawls of regal rococo.
And perhaps because the royals also appreciated the joys of ‘slumming it’ once in a while, there was also Grand Trianon, the royals’ home away from home, still on Versailles grounds.
Having got a plush taste of the swish life- and a few blisters from all that garden-walkin’, Mr. M & I were ready to head back from our vacation within a vacation. I will admit, it’s a tiny bit easier to pull yourself away from the magic of Versailles when you know you have Paris to go home to.
All that walking will make a girl munchy, and I knew just where to stop: Laduree, the famous Parisian macaronerie in a Baroque wonderland that we’d happily stumbled upon the day before. Let them eat cake, indeed.
The all-too-appropriately named Marie Antoinette cake from Laduree caused my undoing. I squealed at it, posed with it like a Japanese tourist, and cursed myself for not having the foresight to serve mini Marie Antoinette cakes at our wedding. Mr. M audibly wondered about being tied to a woman who could be sent into histrionics by a dessert.
We were still in a regal state of mind and decided to wrap up our day visiting the Tomb of Napoleon at the Royal Chapel in the Hotel des Invalides.
Like Napoleon’s persona, the Royal Chapel is larger-than-life. The glowing altar surrounding his tomb is simply magnificent.
Having extolled the virtues of the ruling class, we ended the night with a boat ride down the Seine… and a glimpse of the glittering royalty that currently presides over the city of Paris.
Paris is a city of excess. Of architecture dripping in gold, of gorgeous little cakes done up in fondant and dragee, of layer upon layer of history. There’s nothing to do but give in to the sparkling lavishness and, of course, eat cake.
Details of the Day:
Transportation: From Paris, take the RER train to Versailles Rive Gauche. It’s an easy, scenic train ride seemingly filled with loads of other tourists headed to the exact same place. The subway system in Paris is a breeze and will make you want to spearhead a movement toward better public transportation here in the U.S. As in any foreign country, it’s best to memorize the number of subway stops till your destination- unless you speak French, the destination name may sound like romantically nasal gobbledegook.