Versailles On Life

Versailles: home of Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour and four generations of King Louis. Additionally, an astonishingly large number of sheep, which is just one of the thrilling encounters Fiona and I had during our whirlwind visit in December.


I always feel very grand talking about Versailles. Whether in the context of hot 1700s dramah or The Treaty Of, it's just a very grand word to say. First off, if you're pronouncing it right you've got the smugness of feeling like you can speak French, and secondly the final vowel sound is very easy to drag out in a way that suggests the opulence of a gold-plated palace is nothing to remark upon, for one so grand as yourself. 'What are you doing this afternoon, Maddi?' 'Oh not a lot, just having a wander in Versaaaahhhhhhhhhhyiiii. Catch it on insta stories.' Fab. I think I would have fit right in as some sort of high-ranking yet charmingly rebellious courtier. Grandeur and reward for doing next to nothing? Sign a gal up tout de suit, monsieur. All aboard the Opulence Train to Guillotinesville.


Speaking of trains (seamless segue), getting to Versailles is really very easy. We hopped onto the RER C train at Champ de Mars metro station following a successful photo mission at le Tour Eiffel (which you will have already read about here), and despite most websites saying it takes 60-90 minutes to reach Versailles, I barely had half an hour of solid insty editing time before disembarking. I don't know how these other people are traveling, but don't be put off by the google. Once you're out'n'about in Versailles - barring a brief diversion to Starbucks and/or Maccas which we certainly did not make ourselves - it should only take you about ten tree-lined, pleasant minutes to walk to the Chateau. The route is very much marked, and as soon as you're on the right track it's impossible to miss - usually due to a hoard of people queuing down the cobblestones to get in, but if you go on an off-peak, rainy day like we did, the enormous palace should still probably act as somewhat of a giveaway.


By off-peak, I mean our visit fell on a Monday, when a large portion of the estate as well as the palace itself are closed. This worked out well for us because we only had a few hours to spare before going back to London and were happy to explore the grounds without encountering The Public, but if you're making a real go of things (see: actually want to go inside anything) it's something to keep in mind. That being said, the gardens of Versailles are worth the journey in their own right. In the warmer months there is greenery as far as the eye can see, and you can spend hours wandering through the hedge maze with a persistent overture of classical music being played throughout the grounds to Disney-esque mood-altering effect. Yes, a sun dappled stroll through the leafy gardens sounds rawther ideal, but ya not gonna get it in December.

Luckily, as a perpetually moody individual with a combined degree in both creative writing and history, a rainy day in Versailles is right up my rue. Had to google 'street in French' but now we're back. My penchant for the historical means I am well down for any venture conducive to me conjuring up some sort of physically-anchored narrative of days gone by, and my intrinsic dramatic flair means it's even better when these days are overcast. Granted, I've more of an affinity for a verdant landscape so the ghost trees and brownish hues were throwing off my aesthetic, but considering previous residents literally had their heads cut off I can probably put that to one side and deal. I'm a bit saintly like that.


After a quick photo call on the top level of the grounds (which went super well but honestly is an ongoing struggle to fit into my instagram theme), we made our way down the steps and the ambling began. I may be recounting this all several months later, but luckily for us all I vlogged a few clips whilst there, from which I am able to present you a brief snippet of our historically rich conversation.

Fiona: Why is this house so big
Me: Because it belonged to a very rich royal family, and also all of court would've needed to be able to fit in here
Fiona: Yeah but how many people are in that. Was it in Les Mis?
Me: Les Mis was after the revolution so I'm gonna say no, the monarchy and court were not in Les Mis. Also I dunno a couple thousand?
Fiona: Oh, I was thinking more like ten. Why don't people still live here now?

After wasting several years of my life trying to explain the bare bones of 18th century politics and the various intricacies of revolutions involved, Fiona was thankfully distracted by a very small yet obese cat and we were able to move on. Foregoing the hedge maze, since it is not particularly poppin' in the winter months #nooffensebutitstrue, we followed the Grand Canal (not as baller as the one in Venice but would still probably be ok with having it at my house) through the grounds. The rare absence of crowds on this particular day made the whole thing feel a bit ghostly, and the mist on the water coupled with the skeletal trees to enhance an underlying feeling of intrusion. Made me focus a bit more on the whole 'retracing the footsteps of a doomed monarchy' thing than I may otherwise have been inclined to, but I was into it.



We walked for quite a while without making much tangible progress, which raised several questions about the practicality of such a sprawling residence, especially in an age when one's choice of vehicle was far more limited than it is now. I imagine Marie Antoinette nowadays would have hopped aboard a four wheeler and drifted merrily from door to door, pug on lap and joy in heart, but even the terribly rich did not have access to motorised transportation until at least three decades after her decapitation. I know nothing about the history of cars, but I know for damn sure they didn't have them in Les Mis, so I'm willing to make that call. Despite mentions of several possible but unlikely modes of transportation, ultimately no conclusion was reached, and even the most high-brow of discussions must eventually end. With the descent of a sprinkly Londonesque rainfall threatening the integrity of my hair, a decision was made to find temporary shelter.

Just past the fountain with all the sinking horsies you will find a small cafe - quaint enough that Belle would probably sing an angsty song about it making her feel trapped, but for someone who already experiences much more than that provincial life (more than familiar with adventure in the great wide somewhere) it provides a welcome respite from the overwhelming expanse of the grounds. To those unfamiliar with the varied lyrics of Beauty and the Beast, I apologise for that prolonged reference, but also culture yourself. Innywho, we popped into said cafe for a hint of recaffeination and to give my hair a fighting chance against the precipitation before deciding to explore a new portion of the grounds.


I skulled my cappuccino like a boss, headed North West (iconic) and after trudging through ninety miles of muddy forest we emerged into a clearing. Ironically this clearing is where we completely lost track of literally every sense of direction and bearing we may once have had, but all gucci, c'est la spirit of adventure amirite. From my googlings I have ascertained that we ended up around the Chateaux de Trianon et Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, but that's pretty much all I've got. I had thought until today that the pastel fortress you see above and below was the Petit Trianon, but turns out it was in fact the GRAND Trianon, so wowee gee is that a mental faux pas spanning several months. Makes a lot of sense though, and also explains how despite looking at multiple maps we managed to get monumentally lost following this jolly little photo session.



Due to our lack of planning, direction and remaining energy, we ended up returning to the palace NOT via the way we came, but past fields and fields of sheep. So many sheep. We're talking thousands. This raised fresh, scholarly questions such as 'Did the royals keep sheep or is this a new development', and 'why does that one look like an actual earth-bound demon?' An intriguing end to a leisurely afternoon.

Following this we returned to Paris for a hearty meal before boarding the Eurostar back to Mother England. While I am happy to have spent this trip the way we did, I hope that next time I find myself in France I've got a bit more time on my hands to explore things properly. I am aiming for my next visit to Versailles, for example, to involve actually setting foot inside a building. A bold step, oui, but one I think I'm ready for. For starters, the Grand Trainon is something I didn't even know existed prior to this trip and now that I've looked into it virtually I would quite like to do so physically in the future. Last time I was in Versailles (in 2011, which you can get a glimpse of here) it absolutely bucketed down but the gardens were on point and we explored them thoroughly, so I feel between that visit and this one I've got that side of the experience covered.
On to bigger and dryer things.


And thus concludes my coverage of Paris Weekend 2k17. It's been a journey and I'm sure many a parting tear will be shed, but there are adventures still to come. Oh yes. I don't want to spoil anything, but you're going to be hearing a lot about ABBA.

That's right Maddi, leave 'em wanting more.

For now, however, au revoir. It's time for me to say bonne nuit, hit publish and breathe a Versaille of relief.

No comments