Building to impress

There’s too much gold at Versailles for my liking

This morning, we were on the RER train out to Versailles, when an American chap asked us if there was a toilet on the train. Apparently he’d had a little too much coffee and now had to get rid of it somewhere. We had to shrug our shoulders and declare that it was our first time on an RER train.

Which reminds me…For the first time since leaving Australia, we’ve not only seen but also ridden on a double decker train! They are used on the RER line to Versailles. I’d forgotten what they were like.

Anyway, the American chap claimed there was a door downstairs with a sign and an arrow indicating a toilet. He wondered whether he had to go between the carriages (YUCK!) or if there actually was one in the next car. I had my back to where he was indicating so had no idea.

The amazing Hall of Mirrors

Eventually he went and investigated and, believe it or not, there was a toilet in the next carriage. Not that I want to discuss his bathroom requirements. We were more struck by his daughter.

She was in her mid thirties and lives in New York (“The greatest city in the world.”) and hates Paris. She thinks the people are rude. She was saying this in quite a loud voice, on a Paris train.

I was a bit concerned that any French people in the carriage would think we knew her. I was relieved to discover that the carriage was full (and it was full) with Americans, so it didn’t matter and they may have all been of a like mind.

Just a little bit of outside decoration

But that’s also not really why I mentioned them. The thing is, they are the only people we knew (sort of) in Paris and we managed to spot them many times throughout the day at Versailles (among the massive hordes) and they caught the same train back as we did – a random choice decided by fatigue.

Now, I happen to think this is all a bit coincidental. Either that or perhaps we always see the same people when we go places but, because we don’t know them at all, we don’t recognise them.

I really wanted to know whether they enjoyed Versailles but they were seated too far from us on the way home. Mirinda didn’t think they were close enough to bellow at.

Just a very tiny bit of the Versailles gardens

So, anyway, Versailles. It’s big. Feet achingly big. We didn’t see everything because you can’t. We went all over the Chateau and walked a lot of the gardens, popping into the Petit Trianon before heading back.

That was more than enough and, as I’ve said millions of times before, it’s always nice to leave something for next trip. Mind you, next time I think we’ll hire one of the little golf carts.

A little potted history of Versailles
Louis XIII built a small hunting lodge near the village of Versailles because he hunted there. Clearly not an ostentatious, show off kind of a fellow, his lodge was quite modest. So modest, in fact, that everyone laughed at him, insisting he build something bigger; fit more for a king.

Poor old Louis XIII buckled under this peer group pressure and commissioned an architect to design and build something a bit grander. Even so, it was more a stately home than royal residence.

Somehow, the show-off gene appeared in the next Louis, King Louis XIV, the Sun King. He went insane, building all manner of things, turning the tiny, modest, yet stately hunting lodge, into a sprawling mass of opulence, fit for a king with his head up his bum.

He only did it because he wanted to impress everyone. It’s not like he needed 3,000 rooms to sleep in.

Eventually, he moved the monarchy from Paris to Versailles (I assume because he wasn’t keen on the commute) and the place just grew and grew, until his death in 1715, when the court moved back to Paris (via Vincennes). But then, just six years later, it returned to Versailles.

Mirinda walking towards the Petit Trianon

Louis XV carried on from where his dad had left off, adding even more ornate stuff to blind the peasants. But when he died and Louis XVI took over, all building work ground to a halt. Louis XVI wasn’t really that much into building work, apparently. Although he did add a much needed opera house.

Eventually, everything came to a head and the peasants revolted, cutting off the head of Louis XVI and poor Marie Antoinette.

But then, just as we all thought the French monarchy was over and done with, up pops a few more. Napoleon I, Louis XVIII and Charles X all had a go at doing a bit of restoration but there was no way they were going to open it up as a seat of government again. I assume they feared losing their heads.

It wasn’t until 1833 that King Louis-Philippe decided it should be a museum for the French People that Versailles was once more considered a going concern. And, since 1837, it has been.

Everything is, of course, priced accordingly…still, you have to go, don’t you. And we certainly did that!

Detail from the ceiling of one of the more ornate rooms

The highlight of the entire day, though, was dinner. We went to the oldest bistro in Paris, the Polidor which has been in place since 1845. It is also, quite handily, just around the corner from our hotel.

It is a traditional Parisian bistro where you sit opposite each other, close to people either side of you. You make friends with strangers over good, wholesome French food while you sip excellent French wine.

We did just that, enjoying the conversation of a young university law student, his mother and step-father (an artist).

Highly recommended especially since you cannot book a table (you just turn up) and you cannot pay with a credit card (they proudly boast that they have not accepted a credit card since 1845).

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One Response to Building to impress

  1. flip100 mum says:

    They certainly did a lot of chopping heads off in France, not good but interesting all the same. love mum

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