Versailles is the triathlon of tourist experiences. It's right up there with the Vatican and the Louvre, although they probably beat it with the sheer tourist mania displayed per cubic meter. However, Versailles requires not only physical stamina to cover its more than eight square mile area (unless of course you rent a golf cart to tool around on), but it also demands a kind of mental stamina to experience and process the incredible amount of visual stimuli it provides--both good and bad.
We were prepared! Thanks to friends' experiences and help from guidebooks we bought our tickets ahead of time, arrived just as the palace property opened on Thursday morning. Shortly after looking at the property map we dispatched with the "burden" of seeing everything here, which in truth is impossible to do and do thoroughly in one day. What most people--including us--didn't get until we were there was the sheer immensity of the property (it makes Schonbrünn, which dedicated readers will remember we already saw in Vienna look like a quaint guest house) and the fact that what most of us know as "Versailles" is really the "chateau," as in ONE building. The palace property actually has 4 chateaux, although the large hunting lodge you see in the photos below is certainly the largest and most elaborate of the group.
Here Louis XIV, XV and XVI (before his untimely end) whiled away the hours.
Storms threatened the whole day, but it wasn't until about 6:00 that the skies finally opened up, which luckily coincided with when we were tired and ready to go.
I've divided this post into two parts, the palace proper--that is the hunting lodge--and the gardens, which were a whole other wonderful experience separated by lunch at Angelina's, one of the onsite restaurants where I had my first macaroon and discovered, to my surprise, that I like them!
Our arrival at Louis' doorstep.
His coat-of-arms greets us at the gate.
Looking at this gate, where angry French demanded Louis XVI's head, it's not hard to see why France had a revolution. This gate was recently restored to its original glory, which required the application of over 100,000 sheets of gold leaf! (You can see it in the sun in the first image--blinding! And, unbelievably decadent.)
Me, inside the gate, within the courtyard where carriages once dropped off their royal guests. (Notice how chilly it is. We haven't been complaining--just re-wearing the same 3 things! It hasn't made it out of the 60s since we've been in Paris.)
The man of the hour (or multiple hours, I should say), Sun King Louis XIV by Gianlorenzo Bernini. If this trip has proven nothing else, it's shown that Bernini got around...oh, and that he can sculpt like nobody's business! This bust commanded the room it was in and put the other sculpted busts to shame.
The absolutely breathtaking Hall of Mirrors. This room is justifiably famous. What a space! It's captivating and magnetic. I didn't want to leave it, despite all the tourists, which is saying something.
Dave is nonchalant in his excitement.
I leave you with a hint of what's to come...here is a shot taken from one of the upstairs rooms.