Saturday, 22 October 2011

Versailles Happens

I discovered a running theme during my Europe trip, and that was: "have no expectations, and you will never be disappointed". It  might seem cynical, but it was fairly accurate.

Versailles was a place I had high expectations for. I had heard from a co-worker that it was a "must-see", and there was a fairly large-ish section in our travel guide about it, so I figured it must be pretty fantastic. Worth a little out-of-the-way daytrip that would otherwise have been spent in the beautiful city of Paris...

Perhaps the rain had something to do with it. And the stress of knowing time was short because we had to be back in Paris to catch our first night train. Anyhow, our spirits were considerably dampened upon arriving in the town under a gray, drizzling sky, carrying our heavy packs and not totally sure if we would be able to store them somewhere.

It didn't take us too long to find the palace...I mean, it is a fairly obvious building, and the hordes of tourists that came with us off the train were all migrating in the same direction. This equaled horrendous lines to the ticket booth.
Not impressed with the rain, long lines, and non-budget-friendly prices.
As we shuffled closer every few minutes, we spoke with a friendly staff member about the different touring options. Should we visit the Chateau AND the Gardens? One or the other? Le Grand Trianon, and Marie Antoinette's Estate?

When faced with the prices, we were horrified. 15 EURO to see the Chateau alone, not including the gardens or anything else...our wallets wept bitterly. After much discussion we decided that we didn't really have time to see anything else anyway, so we bought the single tickets and then got in line to actually enter the building..

.The line began at the far left there, in the distance, traveled up to where the pic is taken, and then continued up the right, and over to the left again at the top.


I don't remember exactly how long it took us to to actually get inside, but I'm fairly certain it was hours in the plural. Luckily, they did have a bag check, so our huge packs were not an issue.

Why is gold in Europe so yellow??
We were still excited to see the palace though. Determined to enjoy our hard-won experience, we quickly picked up a pair of FREE (hooray!) audio guides and started exploring.

Known as the Sun Palace, Versailles became the hub of political court during the reign of King Louis XIV in the 1600's, as a show of his wealth and power. It is a massive building with extensive gardens, and each room seems more elaborate than the last. Every ceiling is fresco ed, every door wrought with gold, paintings and statues line the walls.

This is the palace where Marie Antoinette threw wonderful parties, and allegedly gave the flippant command, "Let them eat cake."
Audio-guiding it.
The royal family was also forced to sell most of the furniture to cover debts, and eventually driven from the palace during the French Revolution.
Key holes large enough to peek into :)
There were a ton of people visiting the palace that day...I think it was probably a weekend or something. The further in we got, the narrower the halls became, and the closer the crowds were pressed together.

A photo with no people in it! 
About a half-hour in, I was getting severely hot and claustrophobic....but there was nothing I could do to get out. At a certain point, you are simply part of the herd, and you can only move where and when everyone else does. Unless your a snot-nosed French highschool kid who doesn't realize how lucky you've got it...then you're allowed to push and shove everyone out of your way. Not that I'm bitter or anything!

Longing for a breath of fresh air...
It was so hot and stuffy, I'm actually surprised no one passed out. It was almost impossible for me to enjoy that experience at all...I tried snapping pics so that I would be able to appreciate it later, but 99% of my photos didn't turn out because of dim lighting.

The Hall of Mirrors
Once we reached the end of the tour, we burst outside to breath the cool air...I think that was the best moment for me. I don't remember if it was then, or a little later, that we agreed that perhaps crowds and museums were not for us, and that we should be much more cautious about how we spend our time and money in the future!

This is not to say that Versailles is not a really amazing place. I think I would really enjoy walking around during the off-season, and I think I would especially like the quaint little buildings that make up Marie Antoinette's estate. But I simply have no patience for paying through the nose to be squashed and pressed and pushed through hundreds of people that are taller than me, so that I can catch a few glimpses of fancy furniture and portraits of people in white wigs.

We snapped a photo through the fence, so we could at least sort of look at the gardens...
When we got out of there, we wanted to grab a coffee at a cafe before our train arrived. Turns out, cafes are hard to come by in France. Who knew?
We wandered for another hour or so, grumpier by the minute, until stumbling across a Starbucks five minutes from the Chateau.
We settled down after we did a few crosswords and mutually agreed that Versailles was a let-down. .
And then we grabbed our bags and caught our train by the very. last. second.

Audio guides: a shining light in a dark place
It might seem odd, wrong, or even simply ungrateful to think that while traveling you can have a bad day. I mean, I am SO lucky to have had this opportunity, and see these great historical buildings...
But the fact of the matter is that I am still me, and I still get frustrated, tired, and disappointed, and that is going to happen whether I am working at home, or visiting Versailles in France. Sometimes things just don't work out how you want them to...and that's ok.
We were able to laugh about it later, albeit a little grimly. And on our bad days (there was really only 1 other one I can think of) we just dubbed them, "A Versailles Day", and moved on.

For more information on Versailles:


Aneta said...

Love your commentary, Jill! I think I'd agree with you about the claustrophobia thought. I don't think I could have gone through all that waiting and squishiness.

Maureen said...

I hear you on crowds.

Jill.and.Regis said...

glad I'm not alone...sometimes I feel like a wimpy whiny traveller.