If you are approaching Versailles by road from the outskirts of Paris, you wind through mostly pleasant countryside on the A5, which is infested with transport trucks that somehow don’t seem to annoy the cows lounging on the receding farmland. Our helpful guide says you can tell what country is schlepping Euro goods by checking the license plate on the back of the tracker-trailer. The consensus is that Poland is the most industrious transporter, followed closely by Czechoslovakia. This tells you something about the economics of the European market: since goods can do wherever they want across 28 countries and probably just as many mountains, best to have the cheapest cost of manpower to get them there, since apparently, much like North America, highways are the way to go. But that’s another topic.
It’s a drizzly spring day, but soft in the way that spring meets Europe. Our group left early to make it to the gates of the palace before the real onslaught begins. If travelling on your own, the guide books tell you to hit the regional train in time to get to the site at least a half hour before it opens. When we got there an hour in advance, there was already a steady stream of visitors slogging in from the station, complaining about how the trek was longer than expected. But maybe that was just because of the rain. Or more likely because of the guide book…
We ran the gauntlet of machine-gun slinging French guards (perhaps on higher alert because France had just bombed the Syria border with Iraq) and were lucky to be able to enter from the private group entrance rather than languish in the damp and increasingly cranky line of hopeful early entrants. This turned out to be the highlight of the visit. I am told Queen Elizabeth and others stuck endlessly in crowds without an easy egress advise hitting the bathroom facilities when you get the chance. This is very true here, although unlike Marie Antionette, they did not build them especially for me. I must say, though, the ladies room most immediately adjacent to the private group entrance would probably be acceptable to any lady in waiting.
Even early in the spring, the crowds at Versailles are something to reckon with. Many that might not have French, English, Japanese, Chinese, German or anything else as their first language do not know how to read the signs that say flash photography is not in the best interest of fragile paintings and textiles. And nor is leaping over barriers to sit on Renaissance settees for an awesome selfie a socially acceptable idea. But who will know you were there if not for Instagram?
The piece de resistance is supposed to be the the Hall of Mirrors. And maybe it would be, if not for the graffitied initials on the lower mirrors or the masses of security guards trying but spectacularly failing to prevent even more defacement. Or the many flashes going off. Or the sitting on ancient furniture. Or even the fact Jay-Z was allowed to rent it for a cool million. Maybe the machine guns could be better deployed. Despite the rain, we headed outside to the gardens and the triumphant Spring debut of the musical fountains.
The gardens are green and there are fountains, but that’s where my idea of Versailles’ gardens diverged from reality. The music and the fountains are literally not on the same wavelength: the majestic classical music has no relationship whatsoever with the frothing-forth of water around various (not too shabby if they were in my yard) water features.
I can now say it is safe to die because we have seen Versailles. The cake was okay, though.