Thursday, April 30, 2009
PALACE OF VERSAILLES
Thursday, April 30, 2009 Chateau de Versailles
We woke up early to a beautiful day full of sunshine and decided to change our plans and head for the Palace of Versailles, also known as the Chateau de Versailles, today instead of the planned Fontainebleau.
Heading due east at seven thirty in the morning put us directly into the sun; beautiful but blinding for short ladies! Somehow we made the right decision instinctively because we were unable to read the directional signs and we found ourselves on the right highway! At the first opportunity we pulled off; put gasoline in the car and verified that we were indeed headed in the correct direction. Things went well until we took the shorter route and headed due north on a four lane divided highway. Half way there we decided that half of France was taking the same shortcut as we were moving about ten mph down the highway. It took us nearly three hours to go seventy miles! But, we arrived at Versailles by ten o’clock. They are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the palace as a museum this year; to celebrate they are doing extensive work including the spending of five million euros to replace the two hundred sixty foot long Royal Gate in the center of the courtyard that is decorated with one hundred thousand gold leaves. The original disappeared during the French Revolution. With the sun shinning directly on the fence it was blinding; they are also adding gold leaf to the roof edges so the whole appearance from the front entry will be golden when completed. Unfortunately the Opera House is totally closed by the restoration and we were unable to see that gem.
The crowds today were huge and we couldn’t imagine how it can be any worse but we understand that the summer months are unbelievable. We took our time and enjoyed the tour at our own pace; sometimes waiting for the large tour groups to disappear so that we could enjoy a room without them. The hall of mirror was spectacular as always.
After touring the state apartments and the galleries we headed out into the gardens and caught the mini train that took us out to the Petit Trianon where we enjoyed touring Marie-Antoinette’s restored “home away from home” and then walked through the gardens to visit her “Hamlet” with the thatched roof houses, the pond full of catfish who we enjoy teasing so that they would come up for feeding with their mouths open hoping for some food. The lone swan graced us with a visit before we strolled back through the garden to the Petit Trianon to catch the mini train for our ride back to the palace.
We stopped only for a minute outside the Grand Trianon that has centuries of history for the French Presidents and now houses important state visitors and also hosts state functions. We decided to pass on touring this one in favor of the one built for Marie-Antoinette. We also stayed on the train when it stopped at the Grand Canal for those that wanted to spend time there and maybe even rent a rowboat. During the reign of Louis XIV the Grand Canal was a true miniature sea with many ships of various types for his guests to enjoy riding around on in the canal.
Prior to the French Revolution, the Domaine de Versailles covered an area of the size of the present city of Paris. It was approximately 7,800 hectares surrounded by walls of 43 kilometers. Today the size is approximately 800 hectors. Sorry, you’ll have to look up the conversion as I don’t have it with me!
By the time we returned to our car we’d spent about four and half hours touring this world renowned site; time well spent as we truly enjoyed our day at Versailles in the sunshine. The last time I was here it was freezing cold in late October; I really enjoyed it much more today.
We headed out towards Fontainebleau; we knew that we needed to go south and east to the A6 Autoroute. We had some trouble and kept getting turned around so decided to take a road out of the city to find some of the streets outside of town. Down one road and then another; on country roads, on city roads, and suddenly we saw the same people standing in a field that we’d passed twenty miles before! Opps…we’d somehow made a wrong turn when we were going around a round-de-round too many times! Well, we didn’t make that mistake again! We just kept heading in the right direction and at one point Mary became so frustrated with trying to figure out where we were that she offered to drive and let me take over the maps! She did a great job; we never lost our tempers and even laughed now and then but suddenly we found that we were on the A6; who knows how…but we were home free! From there we followed the signs to Fontainebleau, arriving nearly three hours after leaving Versailles. We stopped to look at the Chateau that was closed and then drove on to find our Formule One Hotel for the night outside of town. It was a fun day full of ups and downs but mostly ups. We only covered less than two hundred miles but we were driving for nearly six hours. Tomorrow’s another day!