Continuing with our exploration of Paris and it's environs, we ventured to nearby Versailles to visit the much ballyhooed Chateau de Versailles on the C train that loads at our 1/4 block away metro station. We got an early start as we anticipated a full day of touring. When we arrived half an hour later we stopped at the McDonalds across from the rail station to have a Caf?® Americ?íin along with a smuggled-in pastry from our local patisserie. From here it was a five-minute walk to the front gate of the palace complex. And what a gate it is; a golden gate to go along with the golden fence. The line to get in was long because of the obligatory security check but it moved quickly as did another smaller line for the audio guide.
Well let me tell you that what we found inside was astounding! First of all the grounds are immense with the actual palace and its two wings (one for the king and one for his queen) making up about 5% of the property. The gardens go on for days with immense greenery, huge fountains, numerous lakes and long walkways. In the rear are two more chateaus for guests plus another one built like an English manor built especially by Marie Antoinette so she could kick back. We navigated the lush gardens until we got tired of walking especially since the skies opened up with an intense pesky rain. Thank goodness we found a shuttle to bring us back since their signage is not very good. It was somewhat like walking in a huge maze.
Now back to the palace. It was built as a retreat from the hectic Parisian city life by a succession of emperors as each added to the expansion and beautification, especially Louis the XIII thru XVI. Well, let me tell you that I have been fortunate to visit three other very famous palace/castles. First was Schonbrunn, the palace of Franz Joseph of Austria (older brother of Emperor Maximilian of Mexican infamy), then Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria Germany (model for the castle in Disneyland) and finally Buckingham Palace in London. The Chateau de Versailles makes them all look like shacks by comparison. Each succession of salons appears to be more opulent than the previous one. Most all rooms have paintings, frescos on walls & ceilings, statues, busts, chandeliers, tapestries, immense windows (to admire the perfectly groomed gardens), furniture, fireplaces and ornate trimmings to go with them. Wow! Everyone is walking around with their mouth agape with disbelief at the grandeur of the place.
No wonder the poor starving people of Paris finally got pissed. While the royals poured money into their estates and lavish lifestyle they couldn't even afford a simple loaf of bread. The story goes that when the peasants laid siege to the city Louis XVI tried to escape in the dead of night. But he refused to go without his gilded carriage, so he was quickly caught (Duh!) and jailed. When Marie Antoinette was being led to the guillotine to be executed it took two hours to go a few blocks as she was spat on, cursed and pelted with garbage and feces. As she ascended the steps of the guillotine she insulted Monsieur Executioner so he took off the good blade and put on an old rusty one. It took three tries to do the job! Talk about being pissed...man!
Back in town, we finished the day off with a night cruise on the River Seine. This beautiful big river snakes the length of Paris and adds to the beauty of the city with numerous boats and many different, and some very ornate, ponts (bridges). Most everything in town is identified according to which side of the river it's on. Thus anything on the left bank is referred to as being on the Rive Gauche. It was a soothing pleasant ride on a gorgeous starlit night in this exciting City of Lights. A perfect ending to a hectic day.
Today Sheila and I split up. She went shopping and I went up on top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Talk about a view of Paris...