I see the sun! It was a pleasure waking up to weather other than rain or clouds. Pop Pop and I grabbed a quick bite that our host kindly left us, and then we were off to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. Today we planned a bike tour of Versailles with Blue Bike Tours. We met the group and tour guide at the station and then hopped on the next train to the city. The trains are interesting here because passengers have to scan their tickets through the machine on the way in and as they exit. I assume this is to make sure they do not travel further than their tickets permitted. This is definitely not a very lenient system, and I’ve never seen it in America.
When we arrived, we walked through a market place in Versailles. The inside vendors were selling all types of food—vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, pastries, cheeses and sandwiches. The outside stands were filled more with goods such as clothing and knick-knacks, like one may expect to find at a flea market. We split up to grab some food that we would be eating on the royal grounds, and then walked to pick up our bikes once we regrouped.
Getting our bikes was more stressful than it needed to be due to group members wanting extra bags to carry the food in and having issue after issue with the bikes, but all was remedied and we were eventually on our way to explore Chateau de Versailles. The town is a lovely place, filled with beautiful architecture, stone roads and trees lining the streets.
We reached our security check, which was very relaxed, and entered the grounds of the palace. We stopped between a long grass section that sat between the parking lot and the pond of the palace. This was a huge man-made pond and it reminded me of the reflection pool in Washington, D.C., only much larger. Here our tour guide, Claire, told us about the history of the kings of France from Louis XII to Napoleon, which was incredibly intriguing. It is insane to think that a boy was made king at five years old and that another king had 200 mistresses. We learned that Versailles was originally built by King Louis XIII as a small hunting lodge to escape the people of Paris, but because it was so small, he got terribly ridiculed. He eventually had a larger one constructed, but it was still not “king-size.” So, he had the palace built and from there, each king added something extra to the getaway. Claire also explained why there was a giant metal structure spewing water into the pond. Apparently, the museum selects a new piece of art every year to place on the grounds and this waterfall was it. Last year the chosen artwork was a cylinder that was placed on the grass and known as “the vagina of the palace,” which struck much controversy over the conservative people of Versailles.
After receiving the most interesting history lesson of my life, we rode our bikes halfway around the pond to reach the other end that looked directly at the palace. We had a picnic there, which was quite lovely. The sun was shining and the grass was comfortable. After lunch, we rode our bikes around the rest of the pond and off to the summer house, known as The Grand Triaon. This was built as a request from King Louis XIV as a retreat for himself and his head mistress, which apparently was a high title to possess. We then rode to Petit Trianon, which was a smaller chateau created for King Louis XV’s mistresses. This palace was smaller and less grandeur than the Grand Trianon. This was later handed off to Marie Antionette as a place for peace and quiet.
Speaking of Marie Antionette, she was the most intriguing part of the tour, in my opinion. Although she was beheaded as a traitor six months after her husband King Louis XVI was guillotined, there can be a soft spot found for her in one’s heart. She was married to King Louis XVI when she was brought to France from Austria as a young teenager. Before she met her soon-to-be husband for the first time, she had to strip herself of everything she brought from Austria, including her clothes and dog, and was given French clothes and servants. Just her entry into France was controversial due to the war that was just ended between France and Austria. She was then hated because she did not produce any heirs to the throne for more than eight years after she was married. However, that was because Louis XVI was an extremely shy individual and did not understand how producing children worked, or was too embarrassed to try. She did not enjoy her life, and to escape from reality, she had workers build her a farm and village on the grounds of Versailles. While there, she did not have to be a queen and could work on the farm like a normal person. However, she did not like getting too dirty, so she had a real farmer clean the animals and even brush off the chicken eggs before she would retrieve them in the morning. On the other hand, when people discovered the rumors about her farm village to be true, Antionette probably looked so far away from the normal life because she got a fancy level of treatment on her farm. All in all, I was absolutely blown away when I learned about her and her dream life.
The last stop of the tour was the main palace of Versailles. In it were paintings, rooms and furniture that showed how royalty lived while there. It is truly incredible that all these items were preserved over hundreds of years for the world to now see.Versailles was absolutely spectacular and so impressive. I can only imagine the planning, time and money that it took to build everything.
To finish the night, Pop Pop and I took the metro to Sacre Couer, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. This is the highest point in Paris and overlooks the whole city. To get to it, one can climb stairs, or take the funicular, which are two cable cars that balance each other as one travels up and one goes down the side of the hill. We ate a mediocre dinner in the town of Montmarte, which is the town that surrounds the basilica. It is a cute town on the hill, but also full of tourists.
It was a long day in Paris and Versailles, but well worth it. I couldn’t believe that the last day I would spend in Paris was only hours away.