16th July 2014
From Pyrénées to République to Invalides on the metro and then on the RER to Versailles Rive Gauche – I think I was one of about 50 million who decided it would be a good day to visit the palace at Versailles. I had a little trouble getting from the metro station to the train station at Invalides, who’d have thought? But eventually I found someone to ask and off I went on my next adventure. Another place it pays to have pre-purchased tickets I’d say, I queued for about 40 minutes just to buy my ticket. The ticket office is just across the road from the train station at Versailles, apparently you can’t buy them at the palace itself. Then a five minute walk and – whoa, what a line-up, I’ve never seen anything like it, the queue snaked up and down the massive area in front of the palace, absolutely insane – and, it was boiling hot. I decided then and there to go investigate the gardens first and hope the line disappeared later in the day; I’ll let you into a little secret – it didn’t!
The gardens are amazing and the fountains are unbelievable, honestly, you could spend days there wandering around and still not see it all. I headed towards the Apollo Fountain, taking little detours along the way, it’s like a big maze, once you take a side track, you don’t really know where you’ll come out again – well, I didn’t, maybe that doesn’t happen to everyone. I just loved it, and once again, was transported back over the years, imagining all the people, apart from us tourists, who may have walked these same paths. All the gardeners who planted, trimmed and loved their charges, the courting couples who might have slipped into one of the secluded areas for some privacy – it’s magical to just let my imagination run riot and immerse myself in the feeling of being somewhere so special, and unbelievable as it might seem, peaceful.
I took a right just after the Apollo Fountain and walked through a forest-like area towards the Grand Trianon, a smaller and utterly lovely palace built in the late 1600’s. Even from the outside it looks peaceful and elegant, much more livable than the huge buildings of the main palace. The gardens are a little like a cottage garden in places, really quite sweet. I must admit I cheated a little from here and caught the little train when I eventually headed back to the main palace.
There weren’t as many people in the queue when I finally joined it – but, it was another hour and a half before I got inside! Thankfully the family in front of me sent one of their boys off to buy bottles of water a couple of times and he bought some for me each time; and thank goodness for the heat in one way – you sweated too much to ever need to go to the toilet. One of the hazards of travelling alone – no-one to keep your place in line. Once inside it was pretty much a free-for-all type of shuffle, shuffle, elbow your way through if you’re game or just hold the camera up and hope for the best. I didn’t do the place justice, I know that for sure, but I tried to absorb some of the smaller details when it wasn’t possible to get close to the main focus. I feel like I’m having a whinge, when I was trying to do the same as everyone else, but I was quite disappointed that it was so overcrowded and would love to return some time to properly appreciate the grandeur, the furnishings and the art. All that aside, in quite a few rooms, I did manage to back into a little corner were I could gaze in wonder at the excesses without fear of being in someones way or getting pushed out the other side.
The unisex public toilets near one of the cafés was an eye-opener, the women all came to the end of the line and stopped. Not the men – they all looked at us in the line then went charging to the front – only to be turned back if someone was game enough to point out it was a shared zone. The looks on some of their faces was priceless, well worth the queue just to see them realize they had to wait too!!
My feet were so sore by the time I headed back to the train, I really, really, wished I could have just stayed where I was, but as is so often the case, the journey home was lightened by my fellow travellers; we all had a grand old time comparing stories. I think by the time I got back to the apartment was the tiredest and sorest I’ve felt so far. I didn’t even go the extra few yards for a glass of wine at my favourite bar down the road, straight upstairs and feet up on the balcony with a Coke to drink in the Eiffel Tower again – how magic can the end of a long day be?