It was my last day in France, and I had another bucket list item to tackle by myself: Versailles. This was what I would call a triple threat: I am someone who loves history, architecture, and all things royalty. Well look at that, it’s got all three!
I allowed myself to sleep in till 9. Now, the Versailles people recommend that you arrive at the palace by 9. But, considering I didn’t get to sleep until 2 the night before, I felt I deserved a little extra rest before my last jaunt. I slept like a baby all night and was still cranky when my alarm went off. After packing up some of my things and getting dressed, I was ready for another solo escapade around France.
Disneyland had gone so smoothly. I didn’t even have to ask for directions it had been so simple. Versailles was not that simple. I made it to my second train station and saw the next direction I needed to take was the N train. There was no N line train. There was 1-18 and A B and C. No N. Hm. This threw a wrench into my plans. I approached the ticketing office. I asked if he could help me with directions to Versailles. He handed me a ticket. Well, that was one leg worth of questions down. Next I approached a woman at an information desk. I asked her if she spoke English. She did. I asked her where the Versailles train was. She pointed me upstairs. I took a series of escalators and found the trains. I swiped my ticket, and approached them. No N label, no screen saying “Versailles,” nothing. I found a third person, and asked her which one was the Versailles train. She offered to walk me down. As we approached, she saw the screen. “Oh, it’s leaving now. Go go!” I switched to a jog and yelled out a drawn-out “merci beacoup!” before sprinting onto the train. Of course, it sat there for another full minute before we took off. Oh well.
The train dropped me off in the town of Versailles. Versailles, I felt, was kind of like Charlestown was to Boston. Not part of the main city, a little distance from it, but not lacking in culture or charm. There were cute little cafes and colorful buildings, a tree-lined park between streets. It was a cute town.
It was a mile walk to the palace. Thank god for phone GPS, otherwise I may not have found it. Of course, once I approached it I wondered how I could have ever missed it. This place was massive and sprawling, glinting gold and polished stone from its place atop a hill. It had already lived up to its grand reputation and I hadn’t even stepped inside yet.
Unfortunately it would be a while before I did. Probably one of the reasons why they suggest you get there so early is because it is an incredibly popular destination, and the lines get really long around noon. I checked the time. Hey look, it’s noon.
I waited in line for about a half hour. There was a family behind me from Los Angeles, and we had a few chats. We discussed the difference between palaces, castles, fortresses, and chateaus. Now I know the difference, so I will tell you. Palaces are royal dwellings of any kind. Castles are fortified structures usually built in the medieval period, and are usually also royal dwellings, but they don’t have to be. Fortresses are basically any fortified structure that can be used for battle or protection. Lastly, chateaus are basically any semi-large dwelling that is French. Versailles is both a palace and a chateau. It’s definitely not a fortress, considering the townspeople of Paris broke in pretty easily and removed the king and queen in the late 1700s. The teacher in me would love to turn this into a complicated Venn diagram.
Finally, after waiting in the crazy line, I stepped into the castle. The first room was a security area, which was way too modern to be original. The father of the Los Angeles family made a joke that this room had been added during the Ikea Era. After passing through security, I walked into the courtyard, Already so beautiful and I still hadn’t stepped inside. I followed the path of the tour and soon passed into the original portion of the palace.
Already I was in awe of the grandeur. I couldn’t believe people had lived here before. It was so beautiful, full of multicolored polished marble, mirrors, murals, gold leaf: if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this trip, it’s that the French love to dip buildings in gold leaf. I passed through a hall full of rooms, King Louis XIV’s drawing room, receiving room, ballroom… They all flew by so quickly. The room I was most looking forward to was the Hall of Mirrors, the room famous for being the signing site of the Treaty of Versailles, one event I had drilled into the heads of my poor freshmen this past year. It’s also just rumored to be one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. I got paranoid. I had passed through a room with a lot of mirrors. That couldn’t have been the Hall of Mirrors, could it? I was three rooms away and got nervous and ran back. I had missed the title of that first room. I was really hoping it hadn’t been, I was expecting to be awe-struck by its beauty and clearly I hadn’t been if I had just run through. I ran back and saw its label near the fireplace. “Hercules Room.” Nope. I was good. I sighed a breath of relief and continued on.
I found myself back down the same hall as before with a few more rooms left. I passed through the last threshold in the corridor and there it was, as well as the awe-struck feeling I’d wanted. The Hall of Mirrors truly is an architectural masterpiece, as well as an interior-decorating marvel. Arched ceilings, ornate murals, seventeen matching windowpanes that lined up with the seventeen mirrors that reflected the day outside: it was gorgeous. Crystal chandeliers with candlelight added a touch of romance to the space. I walked from one end to another, not knowing where to look next. It was so grandiose and spectacular, now I know why there was such a fuss. Not to mention: I was there. Right there, where that stupid piece of paper was signed that ended World War I, sent Germany into a tail-spin, and essentially lit the match to set off World War II. Right there in that beautiful room! I instantly snapped a photo for my teacher instagram so my students could appreciate it. I’m totally sure they did.
My next stop would have been the Queen’s Apartments, but unfortunately they were closed for renovation. I had wanted to spend a portion of my day walking the halls once occupied by Marie Antoinette herself, pretending I was her (the alive version, not the decapitated one). But, it appeared that it was not meant to be. I’m sure she walked around the Hall of Mirrors from time to time as well.
There were a few more rooms to visit, but every one of them paled in comparison to the Hall of Mirrors. I was so content. History, architecture, royalty: it had all been wrapped into one and I felt complete.
There was but one more important sight to see within those grounds: the Palace Gardens. I had already pre-bought my tickets to see both the chateau as well as the gardens, so I didn’t have to wait in line again. Huzzah. I strolled through the entryway and made my way to the reflecting pool. I knew that music was supposed to play, considering the ticket I had bought was for attendance to the “musical gardens.” While I was taking my break on the palace steps, I was wondering when the music would start. Then faintly I could hear it. It must be down the hill.
I stood up and walked a bit further, closer to the edge of the reflecting pool. The closer I got to the edge, the more I could clearly see the beautiful palace gardens, trimmed ornately to perfection and expertly lining the edges of the fountains. I could hear baroque-era classical music playing in the background as I strolled around. Just like inside, the decorations of the fountains were sprinkled with gold and ornately decorated. I strolled around a bit, snapping some photos. Disclaimer on the photos: I know there are a thousand selfies, which hurts my soul a bit, but when you’re traveling solo, you only have so many options.
I was getting a bit hungry, and I had originally intended to stop by a bakery on my walk back for a sandwich or a pastry. But then, hidden in the bushes of the garden, I stumbled upon a snack shack. They advertised all kinds of things: Hot dogs, chicken fingers, burgers, sandwiches, but what stood out to me, even in French was: “Crépe Nutella Banan.” Banana nutella crepe you say? God bless France. It’s not every day you get to eat a crepe in the gardens once walked by royalty. For me, that day was yesterday. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounded.
I sat on a bench and soaked in the sights for a few more minutes. The music continued playing while I finished off my diet coke and enjoyed the view. It was just so magnificent; it was worth the crazy journey to get there.
After spending a couple hours in Versailles, it was time to bid the palace adieu. I walked back to the train station, trailing behind some obvious tourists that were doing the same. Back at the train station, it took many tries for the ticket machine to give me what I wanted. A lovely old French woman stood behind me and attempted to help me push the buttons. She kept breaking in and out of English and back into French. She meant well, and I appreciated it. Soon I was back on the train bound for Paris.
After leaving the train station, I took a wrong turn and wound up down the wrong side of the street. On my way back in the proper direction, I stumbled upon a bakery that smelled like heaven. On my last day in Paris, I needed to do something that would make my Dad proud. I walked in and ordered a baguette. The bakery boy, who was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and gorgeous, pointed to the selection. “Traditionale?” he asked. “Si.” I responded. I shook my head. “Oui.” I corrected myself. He smiled, “It’s hard,” of course speaking of remembering more than one unfamiliar language. I paid him and he handed me my bread. That was the end of that love story. If I’d had known how to say “Marry me” in French, things might have gone differently.
I took a picture of myself with my baguette and sent it to my father. This was a stereotype I wanted to be a part of. He texted back and asked if I finally felt like I fit in. I responded by saying, “yeah, France is basically just one big country where everyone walks around with bread all the time.” This was of course false, but I still felt like I needed to buy a baguette.
When I got back to my hotel, it was about 4:30. It had been a long day, a long two weeks really. I popped off my shoes, put on a comfier outfit, and grabbed my baguette. I had about a quarter of it, enjoying every bite. It was plain and yet somehow buttery and delicious all at once. After my snack, I collapsed into my comfy Ibis bed and fell asleep for two hours. I don’t think I had ever taken a more rewarding nap.
When I woke, it was almost 7. Kelsey, who was still in town, said she’d love to meet up for dinner, but she was also going to Disneyland. I knew she’d be having a lot of fun, so I expected she wouldn’t get back until late. I had seen all that I had come to see, done all that I had come to do. I didn’t feel like spending any more money, and I had a perfectly decent baguette for dinner. Instead of going out, I decided the best way to spend my last evening in Paris was downstairs in the hotel lounge, nibbling on a baguette, drinking some French wine, and polishing up some parts of my blog. It was a delightful, calm way to wrap up my trip.