Here is the story of two girls who dashed in mad flight from the city one weekend to court. Enthralled by the sun and autumn around them they went boating, were surrounded by lady bugs and beheld the wonder of Versailles at sunset.
le château du roi-soleil
Nicole and I, war battled travel pals at this point in time, set out as we normally do, early in the morning and half awake. We hopped on the Metro at Kléber and took it to where it connected to the RER C, getting off at that stop we find out that the RER C is not stopping at this station until the beginning of November. This is of course just the sort of thing that would happen to us. We flounder for a few seconds waiting for my data to adjust from coming from underground and in end simply did to hop back onto line 6 and take it to the 10 where the RER C connects again. Once on the RER C we take that to the end of its line Gare de Versailles Château Rive Gauche.
Once in the city of Versailles we do what must be done before attempting to take on such a daunting task such as seeing the old sun king's home and gardens. We stop at Starbucks to fuel up on scones, muffins, tea, and pumpkin spice lattes. Facing to train station I watched as person after person consistently did the same thing, they would descend the stairs, look about themselves confusedly then head towards where all the other people were going: left to the Château. This is what most come to Versailles for, the grand palace of the once beloved sun king, who's rule was absolute, until it was not. And then, well then heads rolled; but that's a different story. Today, we talk about what is left of this king.
Caution~ Tangental aside on the tiny beds at Versailles; skip over if disinterested.
The one thing I did not understand a second time was the tiny beds. Last summer when I first went I swore I'd go back to my apartment and research as to the historical accuracy of these tiny beds. Alas, I did not do this last summer, so now, now I research. My google search started first as a question "Why tiny beds Versailles?" This search proving unfruitful I switched from web to books and searched "beds 17th century France" this brought me to page 206 of a book called "Culture and Environment" written by Irwin Altman and Martin M. Parliament. On this page I learned that a bed was an integral piece of furniture in a home because as I was told, Guy de Maupassant (a 19th century French author) says "The bed comprehends our whole life..." I was also informed that Louis XIV was said to have 400 beds made throughout his lifetime and one truly large one installed in the French Parliament. The official website for Château de Versailles says that the bed that is in the Queen's Grand Chamber today was "... resculpted from the old documents..." and having interned in a historical landmark I am quite aware of the tediousness of having to be as precise and historically accurate as is humanly possible when one is trying to revamp a bedroom. So I have no doubt that the beds are true to size.
So back I went to google this time searching "average height of French people in 18th century". Because if the beds were historically smaller than average sized beds today than logically the people should be smaller. Interestingly enough with this search I found a discussion paper written in 2005 by John Komlos and Francesco Cinnirella for the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München Economics department entitled "European Heights in the Early 18th Century". This analysis relied a lot on datasets pertaining to the heights of soldiers and estimated that the general height in France was 65.8 inches which is roughly a person who is 5'5. So, basically people were not all that short in the 18th century and I still have no idea why the beds are tiny.
Aside is concluded, you may resume to adventure here.
The marble staircases in the château have worn groves in them from where mass quantities of people and their weight over the decades have walked on them. The wooden floors creak and the age of the place resounds in such a way that its hard not to imagine what it would have been like in the 18th century.
les jardins du roi
I remember reading in my first World Civilization's textbook four years ago that it took thousands of people to keep the gardens of the Castle groomed. Walking around today, I wonder how long it takes the army of gardeners to prune and tend to the vast acres of these gardens.
Nicole and I got it in our minds, while on our way to find the Queen's Hamlet that it was a great idea to rent a row boat and row around the grand canal. Now, I have rowed a total of one kayak in my entire life and that Kayak's ore broke on the way back to shore. Nicole has never rowed a boat before in her life, she was; however, very determined to row this one. And one thing I have learned about Nicole is that when she has settled her mind on doing something, there is quite literally nothing you or any force in the world can do to stop her from doing that.
So, there we are rowing this wooden boat on the grand canal in the middle of this garden next to a castle. And there I am advising Nicole that if we wander too far away from the boat launching area we will have a harder time getting back there. She is having far too much fun at this point enjoying my freak-out session to be bristled by my advice and continues on, struggling with those two ores and treading a lot of water in the process.
We hit the edge of the canal twice, a stone ridge that divides the water from the people who are lounging on the grass and chuckling at our slight dismay. We nearly topple over twice during this boating adventure when we try to shift positions. At one point a song from Pocahontas is sung by Nicole and I have proclaimed that we are redefining the notion of the chivalrous lord who rows his lady around the canal.
When we return to land, I obtain an ice cream for my efforts and Nicole a tea. Than we return to our original mission of finding Marie's house because the clock strikes 6:30pm and the grounds close. We take a misleading road that turns out to not be the road we needed to take and have to make many turns to readjust our direction and when we finally reach the area where Marie's house resides we discover that a tram would have taken us from the Grand Canal straight to Marie's house.
le domanine de marie
This is where the ladybugs made their move on us. Nicole and I walked down a tree lined gravel path took two rights asked for directions and then took a left into Marie Antoinette's house. Coming from the opulence of the gardens and the gilded house, we were expected the same to be found here. We were though very surprised, instead of the ornate designed wooden floors or the tapestries that we had been expecting, we found a same country home. White marble floors, cream stone walls, arched ceilings with sparse furnishings were the things occupied the Austrian Queen's home. To get to the Queen's Hamlet you had to walk over the carcasses of the fallen ladybugs, which was really quite unsettling for me. I wish I'd been able to snap a picture, but my phone had died at this point; however, the sheer amount of ladybugs (we're talking hundreds here) was truly astounding.
It seemed somehow fitting to me that the Queen's respite from the court, its glamour, and espionage, would be simple and surrounded by foliage, trees, and small ponds.
By the time we'd left the city of Versailles around 7pm(ish), boarded the RER C heading toward Musée d'Orsay, and sat for about an hour in that train Nicole and I were barely able to keep awake. I climbed those 133 stairs of my 6-floor walk up and fell face first onto my bed with a huff. How I even showered that night is beyond me.
Still despite this being my second time seeing Versailles I still feel like I could go back a thousand times and still discover new things, just because of the sheer vastness of the estate.