Two Versions of Versailles
Our last day of touristing. We were finally going to have to get on a train. I’d foolishly been researching how to get to Versailles and been a bit taken aback by how complicated it seemed to be. That plus the fact that I panic when confronted with the spoken French language. I can make it out when written down, but when spoken they may as well just be gargling honey at me. But we popped into St Michel Notre Dame, asked for some return tickets to the Chateau, was sold same and directed to the adjacent platform in perfect English and told to wait nine minutes. Easy as tarte tatin.
We arrived in the weak sunshine, ignored the enticements of the travel guides and followed the tourists. You turn a corner, and it rather stands out. The golden gates were only restored in 2008, but they give a taste of the sheer quantities of gilding you find within.
Once again the children were free, and I shelled out the extra three euros to take a look at Marie Antoinette’s digs at the other end of the gardens. We wanted to do this first as I’d noted that the weather was set to get a little unpleasant in the afternoon, and look at all that garden. The gardens are open to the public and despite the chill there were quite a few locals in there going for a jog in their all weather gear or riding a bike. And wouldn’t you, if you lived nearby? All the statues were hibernating for the winter.
Once again we were amazed at how much the French love a formal garden. The Moose was trying to estimate how many Groundskeeper Willies would be needed for the sheer amount of topiary going on. We came up with a round thousand.
Petrificus totalus! It felt like a really long walk to the Trianon group of buildings at the other end of the gardens, but it must have been less than an hour. Louis the Fourteenth built them for his mistresses, the first of which was Madame de Pompadour. Marie Antoinette ended up living here for a bit, finding the excess of gilt and all the straight lines in the garden a bit wearing up at the main palace.
The kids noted that there were a lot of pictures of Marie Antoinette in the Petit Trianon, but none of her husband. We couldn’t visit the top floor, the King’s Apartments, there may have been some of him up there. Anyway, it has all been restored, so who knows how it was originally decorated. It was a rather cosy little house, we could well imagine Marie Antoinette and her mates hanging out here, drinking cups of tea and buzzing about the English garden she created. That’s what we visited next, she made a whole little fantasy area complete with ideal farmhouses and a tiny little farm, as a bit of an antidote to the enormously pompous geometrical hedges and lines of rectangular trees and sweeps of statues and wide gravel walks up at the main house. I wonder if Walt Disney ever came here?
The donkey looked like the one in Shrek, the sheep had twisted horns, the rabbits looked like the Velveteen Rabbit and the goats put on a head butting display. Just for us. That wasn’t in the brochure. We then wound our way back to the main waterway via some Marie Antoinette grottoes and artificial rock formations. The woman should have been designing theme parks instead of irritating the locals.
So that was the first half. We grabbed some baguettes just as the cold cold rain started, then sprinted up the gravel walkways to the palace. This was the real deal, a palace dedicated to showing the peasantry exactly who was boss and how many artworks and gold leaf you could actually cram into a building. Early on we got the Hercules Room. It had a most magnificent fireplace, in which it would be a pleasure to travel by Floo Powder.
Facing this was a massive painting by Veronese of The Meal at the House of Simon. You may remember me mentioning him in our visit to the Louvre, he was responsible for the biggest painting there, the one nicked by Napoleon, the Marriage at Cana. Veronese must have charged by the square metre, but at least this one was given by the Venetians as a sweetener to a deal for support against the Turks.
There was room after stateroom, chock full of paintings and marble and so much gilt. I do like the idea of wallpapering a room in green velvet damask. Where can I get some?
Well I thought it was very impressive. It wasn’t until later that I realised the audio guide hadn’t mentioned that this was the room in which the momentous Treaty of Versailles was signed. You’d think there would be a bit of a song and dance about that in there, but no.
Nothing was private for the monarchs, even their bedrooms had a public area, with a gilded fence in front of the actual bed. My photo just can’t convey the overwhelming amount of scarlet and gold the Sun King managed to cram into his sleeping quarters.
They even ate their dinner with the adoring aristocracy looking on. The original dinner service was swept away by the French Revolution, but luckily the English King at the time had had a copy made and here it is. I really hope that’s also how their serviettes were folded. Amazing.
Napoleon Bonaparte moved into the Trianon buildings while he was being Emperor and tidied the place up a bit after its sufferings in the Revolution. He had commissioned a painting of his coronation at Notre Dame from the French painter Jacques-Louis David, the original of which we’d seen at the Louvre. It was here before being moved to the Louvre, but what is here now is a replica of that piece, also painted by David. I dunno, does that make it a replica? Or the same piece, painted twice?
A few more staterooms later and we were gilded out, the kids too tired and cold on the way home to even want to find some exciting afternoon tea. An early dinner at home and I haven’t heard a peep from them for a couple of hours. I’m sure we can find some kind of sugar coated pastry for them in the morning, they’ve earned it.