June 17, 2010
We went to Versailles today. We walked to the Montparnasse Train station and took a local train to Versailles Chateau. The tickets cost only about ten euros in total. The trip was quick and the walk to the palace was short. The morning was cold and windy and I made the mistake of wearing a skirt. I was glad to get inside and warm.
I tried to see if I could get in free like I did for the Louvre and could not. I had to pay eighteen euros. I am not so sure about this European resident/ European student deal. At the Louvre the woman selling the tickets suggested it, at the middle ages museum they wanted to see my student card, I am still confused by what happened at the Orangery and it didn’t work at Versailles, although the woman selling the tickets suggested that if I said I was a resident of the UK it would have been fine. She didn’t seem to believe that the stamp on my passport was a six-month visa (the visa for US citizens enter the UK on a tourist visa for six months or less is just a stamp). The stamp doesn’t have a length of stay printed on it, which seems to cause a lot of confusion. I’ll keep seeing what sort of discounts I can get as a UK student (technically I am still a student of UCL until September.
When we went through security the guard make Anna check the Swiss army knife she’d forgotten to remove from her bag that morning. Although food was not permitted in the palace he didn’t notice the entire picnic was smuggled in to eat later in the public gardens. I supposed he might have also figured that we had the good sense to wait until we left the palace to eat the food so didn’t feel the need to tell use to leave it at the coat check.
The Palace was ridiculously opulent. No wonder the peasants revolted. Louise covered every surface he could with the imagery of power using everything from gold to roman gods. His great mistake, as I see it, is that he focused only on impressing his nobles and foreign dignitaries. He should have spent all that money and artistic resources on using the same subversive imagery on the Parisian people and the rest of France. It worked for the Roman emperors, at least for Augustus.
I couldn’t help but think about the shadow of the French revolution as a I looked at the palace and the grounds. They were incredible and stunning but you have to think about when and how they were built. It’s still up for debate what all the factors were that caused the French revolution but Versailles seems to me in to be in many ways proof of public image failure and political miscalculation. It was beautiful though.
The audio guide really romanticized the French monarchy and didn’t talk about the revolution much. I can’t really blame the people who run the palace, it’s their job to restore and maintain the place, of course they’ll romanticize it.
I felt a little like a sheep as I was herded from room to room by the tide of tourists. At one point I got very rudely shoved out of the way by a tiny Japanese grandmother. I guess she was really interested in Marie Antoinette’s bed or maybe she had just had it with being polite in such a huge crowd. The palace felt like a long corridor of beautiful gold inlayed rooms with ceilings painted with neoclassical depictions of Roman gods. It was fairly repetitive after a while; creativity wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind. Every inch of the imagery on the walls was symbolic and ceremonial.
The royal family was essentially putting on a full time show for their nobles from the moment they woke to the moment they went to bed. It allowed the French king to keep his nobles close and weakened their ability to plot or organize against him. Unfortunately it also weakened the noble’s ability to keep an eye on and control their peasants.
The most stunning room was the hall of mirrors. On one side was a row of windows and on the other tall mirrors. It created an impressive corridor, and must have been doubly impressive in a time when glass was more valuable and difficult to make then it is today.
The gardens were the real reason for going. Although Versailles is known for its fountains they were not on while we were there. Versailles is actually located in an are with very little water, even when a king lived there they could never run more then one or two fountains at a time. They do shows on specific days when they run the fountains but not when we were there.
We ate lunch in the garden. We have a good system now. We can put wine into a metal water bottle, tea into a thermos, sandwiches into a bag and fruit into a plastic contained. Travel is a lot more pleasant when you don’t have to worry about finding somewhere affordable to have lunch and can just eat when we are hungry. We wandered up towards the Grand Canal. We took a left towards the Grand Trianon and then the Petite Trianon. They were the king and queens private houses when they felt the need to flee court. I was more impressed by their gardens.
Marie Antoinette had a Hamlet built for herself with a little fake French village and farm. It was like a Disney movie come to life complete with baby animals at her farm. I thought it was bizarre but I really like the picturesque village and the animals. I do still think it was kind of a bizarre thing for one person to have built for herself.
We also saw Marie Antoinette’s private theater, where she put on plays with her friends and servants to be watched by her family, friends and servants. Apparently she liked acting and often played a serving woman. I kind of suspect that court life was driving her and her husband slightly insane.
We walked back up just as it was starting to get cold and rainy. We retrieved Anna’s pocked knife from the coat check. This was very important since it contained our wine bottle opener. We got the train back and had dinner at a little cafe. Roast chicken and potatoes is a wonderful dish.
We had a night in because we were exhausted and laid out our plans for our final full day in Paris. I realized as I flipped through the guidebook that we haven’t really taken advantage of the Paris nightlife. It’s not as if we can go see a flay thought since I wouldn’t understand a word of it. Neither of us likes clubbing and we can’t afford to go the Opera or the symphony. We’ve been so tired every night that the best we can do for going out is to have dinner at a restaurant. We have enjoyed walking through Paris in the evening or seeing the sun start to set over the river.
We may see about more evening stuff when we get to Tours or maybe in Nice when we can talk to other travelers at the Hostel about what they have done and liked. I went to so much theater and the like in London I don’t think I’m missing much finally having a break in Paris. It’s also not as easy to get cheap student tickets to things in Paris as it is in London.