Thursday, May 27, 2010

Paris - Day 6

First, I must apologize for the length between posts. While we were in Nice, the internet was spotty at best and I couldn't get a reliable signal to upload photos on here. Now, that we are home, I can finally finish our story of our adventures in Europe!

Day 6 was another early morning start for us as we were once again headed to the metro to spend the day with royalty. We easily got on the RER C line and took it westward to the last stop, Versailles. After a quick 10 minute walk off the train, and a stop at the tourist information shop to buy tickets without the lines, we descended down the street to the famous palace of France, Chateau de Versailles.

This palace was completed in 1682 by Louis XIV following his desire to move his court and government from Paris to the countryside. He believed that by moving the seat of government from Paris, he would have greater control on the country and distance himself from nobility in Paris.  Following completion, only 3 French kings (Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI) resided here until the French Revolution in 1789. 

Upon arriving to the entrance to the Chateau, we thought we'd have a shorter wait due to having tickets in hand, but alas we still had to wait in a very long line to go through security! Luckily, it moved fairly quickly and we only stood outside for 20 minutes. We received our audio tours and were off to battle the crowds inside. 

Our first glimpse of the wealth of this palace was in the Royal Chapel. 

This chapel was used for daily mass, weddings, baptisms, and special ceremonies. Although you can't tell from this photo, the ceiling is covered in paintings depicting how the french monarchy believed they were chosen by God and through coronation became his "lieutenant" on Earth. The King sat on the second level gallery directly opposite the alter as to be above the public in the nave. 

From here we went through the history of France galleries, which was filled with various paintings of Kings and Queens of France, battles, and buildings. We then traveled upstairs to the King's State Apartments which consists of 7 drawing rooms each designed and dedicated to the planets gravitating around Apollo, the sun God (which was Louis XIV's emblem). The rooms were fantastic, but extremely crowded and difficult to get any photos as they were often dimly lit to preserve the paintings and furniture. From here you enter the most recognizable room in Versailles, the Hall of Mirrors. 

The Hall of Mirrors is very long room which is covered in mirrors on one side and huge windows facing the gardens on the other. This great hall was used for receptions, royal weddings, and ambassadorial presentations. The grandeur of this room is truly hard to appreciate with hundreds of tourist crowding the room, but you can get a good idea from the pictures. By far, this was the best room in the palace to visit. 

Directly off the Hall of Mirrors is the entryway to the King's Chamber. Louis XIV moved his bedchamber here to face the rising sun. If you look at the first photo of the front of Versailles, the 3 arched windows in the center on the 2nd floor, are the windows to this room and faced directly east. 

Directly off of the Hall of Mirrors, is the Queen's Apartments, which consists of 4 rooms, including her bedchamber. Each queen who occupied these rooms made small changes to the decor, however the rooms are preserved with it's last occupants style, Queen Marie-Antoinette. 

It was in this bed, that 19 children of France were born (in full public display!) And the most famous French Queen, Marie-Antoinette. Let Them Eat Cake!

After taking in the beauty of the interior of Versailles, we then ventured out to perhaps the most beautiful part of the palace, the surrounding gardens. 

Your first impression after walking out of the chateau is how vast the gardens is. From here, you can barely see the very end of the grounds. On weekends, the fountains are turned are turned on for brief periods throughout the day. By the time we made it to the grounds, the first period had passed and we had several hours before the next display started. So instead of walking around and seeing the nearly 50 fountains, we ventured over to see the Grand and Petit Trianon and the Queen's Hamlet. It was nearly a 30 minute walk to get to this area on the grounds, but well worth the exercise. 

The Grand Trianon was originally constructed to allow Louis XIV to leave the pomp of court life and retire to a more comfortable lifestyle with his mistress. Napoleon Bonaparte also restored the palace during his rule and stayed here often with his wife. The palace is made of pink marble and has additional gardens surrounding it. 

King Louis XIV's bedchamber, although revamped by the wife of Napoleon, still contains some of the original decor in the columns and paneling. Most of the furniture in the room was removed during the Revolution. 

From the Grand Trianon, a short walk takes you over to the Petit Trianon, best known as Queen Marie-Antoinette's private residence. This is the only place in Versailles were the Queen was able to design her surroundings according to her personal taste, after she obtained the grounds as a gift from her husband, Louis XVI. 

Although the inside of the palace is unique, very little is able to be seen. What's perhaps my favorite part of Marie-Antoinette's grounds is her hamlets and farm. The grounds are frozen in time and much of the original buildings haven't been restored, which makes the grounds really feel like back in the 18th century. 

The rustic style of the Queen's house is true country charm. It consists of 2 buildings joined by wooden walkway. 

This staircase mesmerizes me for some reason. You can just imagine how it looked some 200 years ago when Marie-Antoinette came down them in the early morning to sit out by the lake. 

The mill was used to grind grain and also for washing. 

Another interesting fact about this hamlet is that the farm is still functional and grows crops, keeps cows, and other livestock. 

We continued to walk around the gardens from the hamlet and saw lots of beautiful scenery. As you can tell, this area is perhaps my favorite part of Versailles, or possibly even the whole trip. 

Can you see my man trying to hide in there?

From Marie Antoinette's special estate, we traveled back to the main grounds of Versailles to catch the fountain display before we headed back to Paris. Nearly every fountain spurted to life at 3:30 pm and would continue to flow for 1.5 hours. We figured the easiest way to navigate through the gardens was to start at one end and work back towards the Chateau and the exit. 

The first fountain we stumbled on was the Encelade Grove. 

The Lantona Fountain and Parterre

The Obelisk Grove

The Starla Fountain Grove

And just a cool shrub!

After walking around for another 45 minutes or so, we had enough and our feet were screaming at us. So we headed back to the train to return to our home, Paris. We did get off the train at the Eiffel Tower and thought of trying to go up it, but the lines were loooooooong and it was cloudy out. Got a few photos, which didn't turn out well. Don't fret though, we ventured back to the tower the next morning and I'm glad we did! Check in for Day 7 soon. 

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