Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Versailles

Well, it's been a week since we went to Versailles, another busy, filled week in Paris. I've been wanting to write a post on our experience there, but where's the time go? There is so much to see and do in this fabulous city! We also want to share our visits to the Musée Picasso, Musée Rodin, and the Brancusi Atelier, as well as the 3-hour boat ride through the St. Martin canal, and Irie has taken some wonderful photos that we are trying to get her to write about. Sitting here alone in the living room of our apartment on a Saturday night, girls asleep, I finally have the time to think and breathe and write.

We decided to go to Versailles on a Sat. because of Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes held only on Sat. nights in the summer from 9:30 to 11:30 pm. It was described as a Grand Spectacle of fountains and fireworks. Since we have never been to Versailles, we decided to show up for the King's Promenade from 6:30 to 8:30 which enabled us to tour the main rooms of the Palais. Yes, it's a famous palace, and yes, it's something to behold, but as you can tell from my petty descriptions in the photo gallery, the ostentatious display of wealth and narcissism is a bit much for me. How many rooms can one see of spectacularly painted ceilings, decadent chandeliers, gold-gilded doors, fireplaces, and picture frames, and marble everything? Marble floors, marble pillars, marble statues, marble pedestals, marble walls, it's just too much. My thoughts go immediately to the common workers who slaved in the quarries so a few royalty could live in unnecessary extravagance. It's no wonder the people revolted! On top of that it was crowded. We waited in a line that stretched for at least half a mile before finally getting into the Palais, and this snaking coil of people only continued once inside. The famous Hall of Mirrors (where the Treaty of Versailles was signed after WWI) was probably my favorite and even that seemed overrated after all the accolades I'd heard about it.

Glad to get out of the Palais and breathe some fresh air, we headed for the famous Gardens of Versailles where the Night Spectacle would take place. We had about an hour until the festivities, and could see that the place was going to be packed. We waited in line for admission only to be told at the turnstiles that there were no toilettes in the entire gardens. Lisa had to go so we got out of line, fought our way back through the ever-growing crowd only to find another massive line waiting to use the bathrooms. Forget it! So we went back to the ticket line and finally jostled our way into the gardens. People were milling about and sitting wherever possible - the edge of fountains, on the gravel paths, etc. One of the stranger things about France is they have all these beautiful parks with luscious grass but the grassy areas are "Interdit", ie. not allowed. We found an area where the grass wasn't completely cordoned off, and like the others in the area sat ourselves down right on the edge of the grass and path. Luckily we planned ahead with a picnic that included some excellent french Savoie cheese and bread, olives, cinnamon-coated sliced apples, cookies, and a bottle of wine. We noticed a few people looking enviously at our delicious little spread, but we have been in that situation before and with a child...well, this time we were prepared. Of course, it didn't take long for the security to come and tell us (nicely) that we couldn't sit on the grass. He kept walking and warning so we stayed put and finished our picnic, and by the time he returned we were done and ready to walk around a bit. The sky was streaked with clouds and the light of the setting sun, so the gardens had a very nice twilight quality. Unfortunately, after 4+ hours of taking the Metro, waiting in line, touring the Palais, and having some wine in the garden, Lisa's bladder needed relief. We ended up on the far edge of the gardens, perpendicular to the Palais, where they had some evenly dispersed statues embedded into the hedges. We realized, with a two-hour show still ahead of us, that this was the perfect place and opportunity to "go." Irie and I stood guard (while trying to not look on guard) on either side of the statue while Lisa did her business, then I proudly took her picture with the unknown female statue who had aided her. A woman sitting nearby knew exactly what had transpired and flashed us a brilliant accomplice smile. We later saw men in the shadows "watering" rows of bushes, and when we heard a guard chastising one such patron saying "the garden is not a toilette" - we laughed saying "well then put in some damn port-a-potties."

On with the show. There is a big stadium to the side of the gardens near Lisa's favorite statue so we got in line with a lot of the other guests thinking we'd get good seats. At 9:30, as darkness fell, they opened the gates and in we walked. But there was no way into the stadium, it was roped off, and instead we were directed to make a left turn into a hedgerow filled with terraced lighted fountains that were steaming and shooting water while classical music played from speakers that were unseen but seemed to be everywhere. The end of these fountains led us into another hedgerow that reached a large round fountain with a dazzling centerpiece of dancing water. Then, yet again we followed a dark path through rows of trees that led to yet another large well-lit fountain, this one with an obelisque as its centerpiece. By now we felt a little naive as we realized there would be no stadium show, that this WAS the show, and we embraced it. One fountain had large green lasers that played interesting visual tricks with the water. Another had a circle of small pots (around a bigger central fountain) emitting steam that Irie treated like a cauldron with her as the wizard. Yet another involved a 18th Century ship that rose out of the depths blasted some cannons, before sinking again. Throughout the journey, the music would have different themes to go along with the different fountains, but it was all classic to the period when the royal families were living there and having their various decadent events. At one point we found ourselves on the main promenade that leads from the Palais to the Grand Canal, and here we found the famous Bassin du Char d'Apollon, the fountain with Apollo and the horses. Suddenly, in a long row, fire balls were shooting into the air in an orchestrated dance, more eye candy! About 11:15 we had covered the entire garden and headed up to the main fountain (the Bassin et Parterres de Latone) and pools just outside the backside of the Palais where most of the people were now congregating. The night ended with a 15-minute show of fireworks and dancing fire balls. I have some nice video of the event, about 14 minutes worth, but just don't have the time to create that now, maybe later.

While we very much enjoyed the Night Spectacle, as you could probably tell by my above description I was less than enthralled with the Palais itself. Out front as we initially approached the Palais, something seemed wrong, and as we got closer we realized they were doing reconstruction (what's new) and had erected a faux facade to make it look real...it didn't. For such a decadent place (and expensive to visit), it had a bit of a run-down feeling to it. Lisa noticed in the gardens that while some rows of hedges and bushes were perfectly clipped others were neglected. And the toilette issue was ridiculous. Oh yes, and to top it off, the train station that everyone came into Versailles on had no trains running until 5:50 am. So after midnight, literally hundreds of people, plenty with kids in tow, had to traipse through town about a mile to the next train station that was actually running trains at this hour. For a country famous for it's meticulous planning and preservation this seemed so completely unplanned for, a big Saturday night event at the famous Versailles, but no way to get back to the small hamlet of Paris. Somehow it seemed a fitting end to the evening.

2 comments:

Mom & Dad Browne said...

We Plan on going there while we are in France. Great to get your reflections on the place. Keep up the Blogs

Love Mom & Dad Browne

Nuevo Coach said...

I think I remember something about relieving myself alongside the road while competing in the Nice triathlon. When in France...