There has been a massive gap between posting Part 1 of my Parisian Birthday adventures and this part, so I apologise for anyone that has been waiting for this. It’s been a massive cliff hanger for you! But I’m happy to report there were more joyous experiences on Day 2 of my adventure with my housemate and good friend Ludo, and his friend Aurore.
Day 2 saw us trek out to Versailles, home of the incredible palaces and gardens that served the monarchy of France until the people saw it fit to remove their heads and take control themselves. I studied the French Revolution in high school, so I knew I was in for a treat, but I never expected the incredible opulence that awaited me.
The gilded top of the main palace was just the start, inside every room was incredibly textured (one could almost say too much, however I am both an occasional minimalist and in no way royal, so what would I know) with textured wallpaper, painted ceilings, delicate cornices, finely stitched bed sheets, and gold, gold gold gold. It was everywhere.
What got me more though were all the paintings. Pictures that I had seen in my history textbooks were here hanging on the walls. The original paintings. It blew my mind a bit. As did the secret escape door from Marie Antoinette’s bedroom which was utilised when the palace was besieged by peasants, at which point she has been falsely quoted as saying “Let them eat cake.” The quote that is also the reference for this birthday tour.
After wandering through the various rooms that were open to the public in the main palace we headed out into the gardens. I didn’t know what to expect from the gardens, it was winter after all, and sure enough there wasn’t a lot flowering. But again the scope and size just left me gobsmacked. All of the statues stood eerily under winter covers to protect them, which may have been the oddest sight of all. With our map in hand we headed for some of the smaller palaces (yes there are multiple palaces on the grounds) something I thought would take 10 minutes took us an hour.
The second set of palaces we entered were slightly less luxurious, but when I say that, don’t think I mean people are sitting on stone benches or something, again they were finely decorated, in every colour under the rainbow and the details (like the curtain above) were incredibly intricate. This was still plush, just not to the extent of the main palace.
Our wandering then lead us to Marie Antoinette’s own palace. The smaller stone building (still large) was significantly more stripped back than many of the other palaces, but it was still easy to see the opulence, from the guard jackets (that could have belonged in a glitzy Broadway musical) to the mechanical devices that allowed a room to have windows, or to hide them away and block out the sun.
And whilst all this wealth, and opulence that we’d already seen, would understandably drive any poor peasant (who’s year salary would earn them a loaf of bread) to revolution, the kicker was further out on the far side of the palace grounds.
You see when Marie got bored of palatial life she requested a plot of land to build her own town. We are talking the Disneyland of 1700s France here, because Marie built a village, a totally fake one, with working farm and mill, and lighthouse (?!?) and employed servants to act as fake little villagers. Here she pretended life was fine and simple, without having to worry about politics. Yet her quaint little village was nothing like the true villages of the country she ruled with Husband, where people were starving in the streets.
Those harsh realities would come though, for now she had her dream land. Although not original, the recreated village to original plans is something to see. Absolutely absurd, and yet possibly the best part of the whole palace tour. This niche little corner of the vast palatial grounds seems a world away. No wonder Marie felt like she could escape.
Before we left Versailles we had to do the one thing we set out to do on this birthday mission- eat cake! Tucked away in an unrestored segment of the palace was the stunning patisserie Angelina where we had some of the most beautifully presented cake I’ve ever had. My caramel nun (it sounds better in French) oozed everywhere, whilst my traditional (thick) hot chocolate was unbearably sweet. It was all incredible, but it was about to get better, when I looked at my receipt I noticed our waitress’ name was Marie. Marie let us eat cake! Amazing!
We headed back to Paris by train, Ludo and I had dinner plans with some of his friends, but we needed to supply dessert, and were also busting for a toilet stop. We also found out there were major train delays on the line, so we got off around the Eiffel Tower. Possibly a big mistake. The familiar “shick shick shick” noise of trinket hawkers abounded, but we found a cafe and sipped on a little coffee before getting on our way again, this time take a Metro line.
Dinner was a fantastic home made lasagne, and whilst Ludo’s friends continually apologised for their lack of English (I mean why should they apologise, isn’t it arrogant of our English speaking nations to consider speaking another language a hobby whilst so many countries learn English as a necessity?) I was enamoured by their beautiful accents, and the way the French language (as with the amazing wine, “If it’s in a screw cap it is never good wine”) flowed.
We finished the meal with (of course) some cakes that we’d picked up at a Boulangerie that was still open, before returning to Aurore’s house to settle in for the night. Under my arm was tucked a bottle of red.
With a cork.