September 27, 2011

Our visit to Versailles (along with the entire population of Western Europe)

I'm not sure what April and I were thinking when we thought we'd take advantage of a warm and sunny Saturday to visit Versailles. Somebody should have stopped us! Although we suspected it would be crowded, we reasoned that because we were not going to be viewing the palace (been there, done that), and just visiting the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and the Hamlet, it shouldn't be so bad. We couldn't have been more wrong.

Having done some research on the Versailles website in advance of our trip, we knew that we could purchase a ticket to visit our desired locations (sans the Palace) for 10 Euros, instead of buying the full ticket that includes the Palace (25 Euros). Once we were in the outer courtyard, we could find no signs to indicate if we could purchase our ticket anywhere else but from the ticket office where there were already about 300 people in line. Merde.

After standing in this line for almost an hour with many people who had questionable hygiene habits, we finally get up to the ticket window only to be told that we could not purchase our ticket there. We must purchase our tickets at the Grand Trianon or Petit Trianon palaces. And here's the other kicker: in order to get to the transportation options for those palaces, we have to enter the garden and there's a separate entrance fee for that! So we had to pay a ticket that cost 8 Euros to "enter the garden" to go stand in yet another line to get to the palaces. Merde merde, merde!

What a racket! None of the hundreds of fountains in the gardens are actually on, except for during two times that afternoon when there's a "musical extravaganza" -- kind of like the fountains you see in Vegas at the Bellagio where the sprays of water are in time with music. So even if you wanted to just wander around the gardens and NOT stay for the "musical extravaganza" you're still going to pay 8 Euros to enter the garden. Unless of course you've purchased the full-fare Versailles "passport" ticket for 26 Euros. I might also add that's it about 80 degrees out and we're getting kind of cranky.

So our choices to get to the Grand Trianon palace are either to walk (1 hour walk over cobblestones and rocks), take the "petit train" where there's already about 100 people in line (the train maybe accommodates 30 people) and will take about 30 minutes to get there, plus we're probably going to have to wait through 3 or 4 trains before it's our turn, or stand in yet another line (although shorter) to wait for a golf cart to be returned to rent by the hour. Guess which option we chose? If you wonder what lovely gifts from Paris I'm going to bring you when I return, I will tell you that instead of buying you a gift, we enjoyed the use of a golf cart at Versailles for 4 hours . . . I won't even tell you how much per hour we paid because you will undoubtedly feel your heart stop. As the saying goes, "it is what it is."

Luckily for us, once we had come to this decision, we hurried over to yet another line and like a sign from the Roman Gods, 4 golf cart chariots had just been returned and we were the lucky recipient of the last available one. Don't judge us.

So off to the Grand Trianon we went. We thought about zipping into the town of Versailles to acquire some chilled rosé, but we were told that the cart must stay on the "marked paths" or it will stop. How do they do that? GPS technology? And they were right -- we took one wrong turn (April still can't read a map) and sure enough, our chariot stopped. It will, however, let you put it into reverse and correct your direction of travel. So much for our rosé.

During our visit, there was a special fashion exhibition at the Grand Trianon on the influence of the 18th century on modern fashion. There were fifty models by modern designers like Vivienne Westwood, Karl Lagerfeld pour Chanel, Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Thierry Mugler and others that showcased haute couture designs, with reference costumes and accessories from the 18th century. The pieces came from the archives of the couture houses and from the Musée Galliera’s collections.

This special exhibit was pretty popular and we stood in yet another line for over an hour to see it and I almost got into an altercation with a women at the entrance to the palace. It was our turn next to be "let in" (they were modulating the number of people allowed inside at one time) and some woman who acted like she was more special than the rest of us that stood in line tried to push her way in front of April and I. As you can imagine, I was not having it. I caused enough of a commotion about it that two employees had to come over and see what the problem was. And I was happy to tell them. There was NO way I was going to wait patiently for my turn to see the exhibit and have some woman push her way to the front of the line. It was not fair. This woman really thought that she was going to get her way and after some Franglish (I think she might have been Italian) was told that she had to go stand in line like everyone else.

Although it was interesting, it was very, very, very, crowded and the rooms were just too small to hold that many people. I have never encountered so many rude people before -- people just pushing and shoving you out of the way so THEY can get a better look. I'm pretty sure that April got more enjoyment out of it than I did. No photography was allowed, but I was able to create some images from the brochure:

The Grand Trianon was commissioned by Louis the 15th and built in 1672 as a retreat for him and his mistress(es) where they could take light meals and entertain guests away from the strict etiquette of the court. Here's a picture of the backside of the Grand Trianon and the gardens:

Our next stop with our luxury mobile was the Petit Trianon. The Petit Trianon was commissioned by Louis the 15th for his long-term mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and was constructed between 1762 and 1768. But Madame de Pompadour died four years before its completion, and it was subsequently occupied by her successor, Madame du Barry. Upon his accession to the throne in 1774, the 20-year-old Louis the 16th gave the château and its surrounding park to his 19-year-old Queen Marie Antoinette for her exclusive use and enjoyment. Marie longed to escape Louis and his court, and he gave her just the place.

Marie Antoinette would come to the Petit Trianon not only to escape the formality of court life, but also to shake off the burden of her royal responsibilities. At Versailles, she was under considerable pressure and judgement from both her family and the court, and the Petit Trianon was her place of ease and leisure where she could rest from those trials. Since all was "de par la Reine" (by order of the Queen), none were permitted to enter the property without the Queen's express permission (not even, it was said, Louis XVI). The interior of the Petit Trianon is somewhat understated compared to other royal residences.

My favorite part of this visit was the surrounding park known as the "Hamlet". In spite of its idyllic appearance, the hamlet was a real farm, fully managed by a farmer appointed by the Queen, with its vineyards, fields, orchards and vegetable gardens producing fruit and vegetables consumed by the royal table. April and I probably spent two hours just wandering around this park. It was lovely.

Visiting the Hamlet made all of the day's pain go away. It was such a beautiful day and I enjoyed wandering around this little French village. Bravo Marie Antionette!

You can view more of my pictures from our visit to Versailles here.

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