Coming Out of Left Field

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Paris experience: day 4

Since my wife and I know we're coming back to Paris (we're already trying to find a date), we had only a few must-sees for this trip. One of them was Versailles, which my wife hadn't been to in a while and which I -- having never been to France before -- had never been to period. After debating what exactly we wanted to see, we booked a minibus tour for the whole day: the palace in the morning, with time for walking around the gardens and having lunch, and the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette's Hamlet in the afternoon.

The palace was every bit as ornate and luxurious as the guidebooks say. Unfortunately, August in Paris is high tourist season; between the tour groups in front of us and the ones behind us, we couldn't spend more than a couple of minutes in each room. Our guide made the best of it, pointing out portraits of the royals and explaining how Louis XIV and his successors made their private lives open to the public. The queen even had to give birth in front of an audience (one reason why Marie Antoinette hated living there).

It was an extremely hot day, so we only did a little exploring of the gardens and took a few pictures. Because of the aggressive souvenir vendors, who would converge on tourists as soon as they exited the main gates, we stayed close to the palace until it was time to head to the afternoon sights. Even then, we had to wait for our afternoon guide to track down the bus, and the vendors had no compunction about walking right into the middle of the group to get attention (or, we later speculated, to distract people while someone else picked their pockets).

Fortunately, the Trianons and the Hamlet were much less crowded and much more relaxed. Two years ago, the Hamlet was converted into a working farm, so we got to meet assorted animals, including a friendly donkey that trotted right up to the fence. In her day, Marie Antoinette liked to play farmer, doing her own milking and selling butter and cheese to the villagers, who may or may not have had a choice in the matter. The Trianons were less elaborate than the palace, but since they were the lodgings of the kings' mistresses, they were chateaus, not shacks.

Technorati: , , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment