Saturday, November 7, 2009

Visit to Versailles

Today is Saturday and after yesterday's extravaganza of walking and touring I just might sit around the house today and do nothing. Teahana and Arnaud and I are planning a visit to, let's see now, where were we going again? Fontainebleau maybe? Anyway, another picnic, French style, if the weather's good, another impressive and historical venue. Stay tuned.

By the way, during my walk to and from the Rive Droit train station and around the opulent and meticulously maintained grounds at Versailles yesterday, I logged 39,025 steps. Now, that's a bunch of steps; based on my standard gait that's equivalent to approximately 19 miles! No wonder I was dragging my feet when I got back here. I wanted to break the 40K mark but pretty much ran out of steam.

The Palace of Versailles, or more properly, the Chateau de Versailles, was built by Louis XIV when Paris was a small town at the site of one of his hunting camps in the country. It was begun in 1661 and became the seat of France's absolute monarchy for generations, persisting as such right up until the time of the French Revolution in 1789. It is a place of incredible opulence. One wonders how a person or family could have been held in such high esteem that such palaces were built with tax money. It's difficult to look back from today's perspective with our ideas about political freedom to the time when kings possessed absolute power over their subjects. If you want to read more about it check out this Wikipedia article. The roof treatment on one of the buildings appears below as well as a small copy of a painting of Louis XIV borrowed from Wikipedia.

(Note: Arnaud and I just returned from a quick walk around to the neighborhood markets with brunch (seeing as it's afternoon already): persimmons (kaki), croissants, two kinds of baguette from two boulangeries, roquefort cheese again, mangoes (mangue), wine (Cote du Rhone), and some assorted vegetables for dinner. I love beets and I spotted some in the street market. They're soft and appear to be already cooked. Strange. I bought one and will report on its condition and taste later. We're enjoying these various snacks and tidbits, a true melange of comestibles, with coffee as I write.)

Back to the travelogue. I got directions from Thea about traveling to Versailles as it required a short trip on the Metro and a transfer to an RER commuter train in the Gare Saint Lazar to get to Versailles, which is in the suburbs. After a few minutes of confusion in the extremely crowded Saint Lazar station I boarded the RER and rode to Rive Droit, disembarked and turned on my GPS to help me get to my destination. I was surprised to learn it was over 3.5 miles away. Thea knows I like walking, need walking, so she had me get off the train a stop or two before the Chateau. I headed off down the street going west.

After reaching the palace I queued up to buy an entrance ticket and heard the young people just ahead of me speaking English, so I introduced myself. They were sophomore college students spending a semester in Seville, Spain, and visiting Paris for the weekend. We talked about Alaska, naturally, and the Yankees winning the series (they were from Connecticut and are Red Sox fans), their visits to the Eiffel Tower and Musee D'Orsay . Nice kids. I paid my 15 € and toured the palace. Some photos follow. The first two show the amazing artistry of the rooms, the king's meeting places and some of the other decor. Following is a photo of one of the larger fireplaces and the altar in the Chapelle Royale. Imagine the quantity of wood required to heat this place in winter.


Just above is a closeup of some of the fine woodwork that is everywhere in evidence; alongside is a shot of the famous Hall of Mirrors. How about taking a romantic quarter-mile long stroll by candlelight, all indoors? Ah, to be born long ago. And into a royal family, of course. Life was very good for the fortunate few.

After my indoor explorations I began my circum-ambulation of the extensive gardens and water features.  But first things first: I was hungry and wanted to eat my picnic lunch. Of course I had an ulterior motive for picking a secluded corner well off the beaten track. I must confess I was obliged to answer the call of nature while in the Jardins du Roi. I was only following a cue taken from a Frenchman I spotted in the bushes doing the same thing.

I had brought along a small bottle of Cote du Rhone,  a papaya, a tomato, a few slices of whole wheat baguette and the remains of a hunk of Roquefort cheese we snacked on last night. A much more reasonably priced lunch than the one I had the other day at Musee Rodin.

After my fine repast I continued the tour by walking completely around the huge reflecting pool and its transecting canals. I was wishing for my Cannondale mountain bike at this point, and not for the first time: the beautiful gravel walkways passing through an utterly beautiful and quiet setting were begging to be ridden. Removed from the intense Paris traffic I was hearing bird song and squirrels chattering for the first time. Very nice.

A fine repast

I rounded the last pool and made my way back to the entrance of the gardens to retrace my steps back to the Rive Droit station. Along the way I checked out a different station that I suspected would take me back to Saint Lazar. I asked the attendant, Does this  train go to Saint Lazar? She answered in the affirmative and I thanked her and promptly started back toward the exit. She asked, So do you want to purchase a ticket? I said, No, I have some more walking to do. She stared at me with a funny look in her eyes. I said, Merci, au revoir and walked out the door.

Some scenes from the Jardins du Roi.

My long walk from Rive Droit to Versailles Palace and back