{ Paris Day 2-The Palace at Versailles }

A year ago this Easter weekend…

Our first full day in Paris happened to be Easter Sunday. It didn’t really feel like Easter Sunday at all-there was no going to church together or Easter baskets or decorated eggs. No big dinner feast or family festivities. But as we got up early that morning to catch a train to see the Palace at Versailles right outside Paris, there seemed to be a special stillness in the air. The streets we walked on were mostly empty, and the train ride was one that was a time of just quiet reflection.

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We had planned to spend the day in Versailles because it was closed on Monday, which was our last full day in Paris before moving on to Germany. We caught our train early so we would have enough time to stop at a hotel near the train station for a morning breakfast buffet. It was one that was recommended by Rick Steves’, and it didn’t disappoint. It was a quick walk across from the train station and they had crepes, fresh meats and cheeses, croissant with chocolate, and fresh fruit and bread. It was simple and perfect.

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From the train station and hotel everything still seemed so quiet and serene, we really thought that we had outsmarted the crowds today by coming right when they opened. We thought maybe others had decided to celebrate the day in town because of Easter. As we rounded the corner after our walk from the hotel restaurant though we were greeted by this. Hoards of people all lined up waiting their turn to enter the palace.

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It was so quiet on the train station part of town because many people had driven out from Paris instead of taken the train or most had come on huge tour buses. Just like many other places in Paris, there were so many people and it was packed both outside and in the palace. The weather was much warmer than the previous days so we didn’t mind too much having to wait  in line outside. The sun was shining and it gave us a chance to be a little silly while we tried to get some great jumping shots, and gaze extra long at the outer courtyard of the palace. This palace is really quite breathtaking with all the gold gates and ornate buildings. It’s something a bit out of a fairy tale.

Here is a little background about the palace from the Rick Steves’ book:

“Every king’s dream, Versailles was the residence of French monarchs and the cultural heartbeat of Europe for about 100 years-until the Revolution of 1789 changed all that. The Sun King (Louis XIV) created Versailles, spending freely from the public treasury to turn his dad’s hunting lodge into a palace fit for the gods (among whom he counted himself). Louis XV and Louis XVI spent much of the 18th century gilding Louis XIV’s lily. In 1837, about 50 years after the royal family was evicted by citizen protesters, King Louis-Philippe opened the palace as a museum.”

There are three main sites to see there at the palace-the Chateau, the Gardens, and the Trianon Palaces and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette.

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While we waited we took our turn at some jumping shots out in the big courtyard in front of the royal golden gates. It was pretty entertaining to watch these two-Austin was having quite a time at jumping up. Cute kid.

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“Outside of the golden Royal Gate in the center of the courtyard, nearly 260 feet long and decorated with 100,000 gold leaves, is a recent replica of the original.”

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The Chateau

We had purchased our Paris Museum passes beforehand so we were able to avoid the long ticket line to get in. After receiving headsets we started out our tour of this massive palace at the Royal Chapel. It was two stories high and was decked out with beautiful painting and detailed scrollwork and carvings everywhere.

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Each room seemed to compete with the previous one, with more magnificent paintings on the ceilings and walls, and more elaborate gold leaf work and carvings. I think I may have toured the whole palace with my mouth wide open. It is just so hard for me to imagine all of the work that went into making this place, especially considering it was all done without the modern equipment we have today. No detail seemed to be forgotten-right down to the door knobs and window openings-it was fit for a king.

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“The Hall of Mirrors-250 feet long, with 17 arched mirrors matching 17 windows looking out upon royal garden views. The mirrors-a luxury at the time-reflect an age when beautiful people loved to look at themselves.”

I think I would love to have a room with 17 huge windows in it to let in all that light. Can you imagine the great pictures you could take if you had that many windows? It was love at first sight. I was happy to wander around admiring it, but I think Austin was getting kind of bored, so he started playing the “Where’s Waldo?” game with me. He would wander around and see how many pictures he could get caught in that I was taking. It was pretty fun to go back and try to find him-he’s in quite of few that he snuck into.

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The Queen’s room with her huge lavish bed. I think I would be too scared to even sleep in that bed with all the heavy duty gold carvings going on above it-I think I would be afraid it would fall on me. Across from the bed the queen would have enjoyed beautiful views of the outside gardens. I think I would have loved this room just for that.

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The Gardens

“Versailles was laid out along an eight-mile axis that included the grounds, the palace, and the town of Versailles itself, one of the first instances of urban planning since Roman times and a model for future capitals, such as Washington, D.C., and Brasilia. A promenade leads from the place to the grand canal where France’s royalty floated up and down in imported gondolas.”

Wandering around outside in the gardens was a very enjoyable experience though we missed out on all the beautiful flowers that normally grace the grounds this time of year. That darn late spring tricked us all when we planned this trip. The missing foliage didn’t diminish the beauty of the many acres of gardens though. I could just imagine the royal queen wandering around all day, with her kids in tow running in and out of tall bushes and trees that served as good hiding spots and breathing in the wonderful aroma from the flowers. There was dozens of fountains throughout the property that I am sure would have offered a calming atmosphere that the royal family craved for and hadn’t gotten in Paris.

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Another attempt at some great jumping shots. I am pretty sure all of the other tourists must have thought that we were pretty much nuts from some of the looks that we were getting.

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I am already planning my next trip here, because I am pretty sure I need to spend a whole day just rowing up and down this canal soaking in the atmosphere. I can remember a painting that I love that has a sea of people lining a canal similar to this one, their parasols out, and eating picnic lunches-it all seems so dreamy to me. We were getting a little short on time and it was too cold to have stopped and rowed in a boat that day-next time for sure though!

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Trianon Palaces and Domaine de Marie-Antoinette

“Versailles began as an escape from the pressures of kingship. But in a short time, the Chateau had become as busy as Paris ever was. Louis XIV needed an escape from his escape and built a smaller palace out in the boonies. Later, his successors retreated still farther from the Chateau and French political life, ignoring the real world that was crumbling all around them. They expanded the Trianon area, building a fantasy world of palaces and pleasure gardens-the enclosure called Marie-Antoinette’s Domaine.”

We toured through the smaller palace, and then sat down for a short break to read up on the rest of the area. Brianna and I needed to use the restroom, but couldn’t go backwards through the palace we had just left. We needed to go out the gate and back around. We left the camera with Austin to hold, and we went out the one way gate around the side of the building where they were sitting. After walking around to the front of the building we discovered that they had closed the doors because it was getting close to closing time-we were stuck outside the gate! We ran back around to the one way gate. We were going to ask someone to go and talk to Aaron and Austin before they left the gate, but most people didn’t even speak English, and our French interpreter was inside the gate. We started yelling their names, but it wasn’t until after about 20 minutes that they came looking for us. Luckily Austin had the camera, so Aaron and him set off to try to get and see the last few parts before they closed-a few pictures of it would have to do for Brianna and I. Instead we spent the time wandering up and down the parking lot (trying not to think of how bad we needed to use the restroom still), and looked at really cool cars that were parked there. It was fun to see people pass by on bikes they had rented and families out exploring the area. There was an area that led to the canal that wasn’t part of the palace so many people just came to enjoy that without having to pay for the whole palace.

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