Sunday, December 11, 2011

Paris, day seven

I woke and was 44 years old. Well, that's that. But I was in Paris and that was something. The sky was blue and we were off to Versailles. The stuff we bought in our shopping expedition last night was wrapped and given to me with a lovely card written on by all members of the family. Very sweet.
We went for pain au chocolat and then caught the train to Versailles. The kids are kind of over seeing large palaces, but too bad. This one could not be missed. I was keen to see the marble sign that notes the beginning of the Estates General but the lovely woman from whom we bought tickets to the palace did not know what I was talking about. Oh well.
Versailles is very gold - gold on the gates and gold on the palace. You'd have to like gold if you were indeed (un)lucky enough to be monarch. Marie Antoinette was apparently the only queen to have spent any time redecorating the palace ('in her style' according to the information sheets). So we stumbled around with bus loads of other tourists, all with audio tours clamped to the sides of their heads. Not us. I don't mind an audio tour personally, but it kind of makes you a little blank too, and there were whole swathes of people flicking their heads from side to side to locate the structure or painting the audio tour was describing. I see could see us being drawn into this world and losing our kids in the process. So we went sans audio tour, and relied on our map and the english signs dotted about the place. I liked that the King's Bedroom was more or less right off the Hall of Mirrors. We saw the Queen's Bedroom from where Marie Antoinette escaped from the angry women in October 1789 - through the left door and into the King's Bedroom. Not sure why they couldn't find that - but there you go. History tells us that the fishwives (which they were, by and large) then shreded her bed. No evidence of that now. It was perfectly made up and looked rather comfortable too. Versailles made Myles a little panicked. He worried that if he were the King, he might get lost. Yes, well.
Huge as palaces tend to be, we spent about an hour looking at palatial room upon palatial room until we were fairly cured of luxury and finery. You can see how the royals might get this way early on in the peace.
Into the gardens we went. Gone was the blue sky; we were now deep in grey cloud and misty rain. Paris was under dressed (being completely blindsighted by the blue sky) and I wondered if there was gift shop for velvet cloaks. Alas no.
The gardens are incredibly, miles apparently of formal gardens and lakes and then forests and hunting grounds. Louis XVI didn't mind a hunt. Indeed, the day the Bastille fell, his diary recorded the word: 'Nothing'. This referred not to the events in Paris (which he cared little for) but for the daily hunt - he had caught nothing on July 14 1789. History judges him harshly for this. It probably should. Poor Louis. Not the sharpest tool, but a tool none the less.
I was keen to go to the Petit Trianon; the mini palace where Marie Antoinette like to escape from the stuffy protocol of Versailles, and where she built her little fantasy of a village and a farm.
The Petit Trianon is tiny compared to Versailles but in reality is a huge country house. Inside it has become something of a shrine to Marie Antoinette. There are portraits of her everywhere; and her china is preserved with great love. There is a real sentimentality to the relics of her life. I can see why; the story is full of excessive details like the Petit Trianon and her hair styles and it all ends very badly for her. But for the most part, Marie Antoinette had a pretty good life. The last year wasn't great, and the last two months were particularly bad, but I would have lived her life any day of the week compared to the lives of most of her subjects. Anyway, I digress.
The village is a little Disney worthy imaginarium of what a village might be like. Everything is in miniature; except the fish in the moat which are huge and you could practically ride. Then you walk past a miniature vineyard, and into her fantasy farm. There is a barn, and little farm houses and tiny paddocks with lovely little animals. The animals are clearly new - and the whole thing was restored in 1993 by those who hold this memory dear. I'm not being completely cynical but it is all rather over the top. We lost the boys in the park, they had run off to play some game, so when we found them, we walked back via a different route. We then found the restoration (not yet completed and therefore not yet open) of Marie Antoinette's music room and grotto on another man-made lake. She didn't want for much.
By this stage we had been walking for some time - about three hours - and we were a little peckish. Had we been royal, we could have called for a chicken or two to be brought to us. But, sadly, we are only poor, ordinary people and had to make our way back into the town. This took us another 40 minutes or so. The grounds are huge. Some rather clever types had hired golf carts to convey themselves around. We walked, and we began to get very wet as the misty rain got more serious. When we made it back to the train station, we fell into McDonalds and ate a Royal with Cheese. It was appalling. Not only because McDonalds is appalling, but also because there was some kind of mustard that was most unwelcome. It was after 4pm. We got back onto the train and made it back to the apartment just after five. The kids and Myles then went out for birthday cake. They brought it in triumphantly with balloons and candles. It was so rich, I think it might have ruptured an organ in or around my stomach.
Then, for fun, we youtubed University Challenge and became rather addicted. I don't know if anyone knows this show, but it is worth seeing. Completely abstruse questions with little or no chance of possible answers, and yet these boffins from various English universities can produce them. It is so funny.
It might be a rest day tomorrow. We are all rather footsore and a little tired.

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