Monday, September 04, 2006

Day 10: Tuesday, August 15 (Paris)

Tuesday was Versailles day. We took a commuter train out to the 'country'. Once we arrived at the town of Versailles, our culinary options were limited, so we enjoyed a 'Royal with Cheese' and walked to the palace.

Versailles was the creation of Louis XIV (or the 'Sun King'). He took a small hunting lodge where he had lived as a child, and attached wings (so the chateau itself is a U-shape). In some circles, Louis is considered to be Europe's greatest king, a true Renaissance man (even though it was a century after the Renaissance). He called himself the Sun King because he believed he gave life to all that he touched. As Apollo is the god of the sun, Versailles became Louis' personal temple, decorated with statues and symbols of Apollo as well as Louis himself. Louis was a hands on king and the majority of the palace was open to the general public.

Versailles epitimizes the celebration of 'Man.' It has been called 'the last great flowering of Renaissance humanism and revival of the classical world.' Louis XIV grew up mistreated and poor and vowed to himself never to live in such conditions, or even be reminded that they exist. Under those terms, he did an excellent job of creating a home and office with no trace of anything but exquisite beauty and opulent wealth.

The Royal Chapel is the only place in the entire palace with a hint of Christianity. It was where Louis worshipped each morning and the site of important religious ceremonies (including the marriage of the Austrian Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI).

We viewed about 20 rooms making up the 'State Apartments'. Lavishly decorated rooms where the royalty of France slept, dined and entertained. Each room was named for the painting of the god or goddess on the ceiling (ie, Hercules room, Venus room, etc.), the Apollo room naturally being the grand throne room.

The Hall of Mirrors is a room 250 feet long, with 17 arched mirrors matched by 17 windows that reflect the view of the gardens. Used for lavish celebrations in the time of Louis XIV, it was here in 1871 that Otto von Bismark declared the establishment of the German empire; and in 1919 Germany and the Allies signed the Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I.

This is the room poor, dumb Marie-Antoinette was in when the revolutionaries, tired of starving while the ruling class led a life of luxury, stormed in and captured her and her husband (Louis XVI) in 1789.

Done seeing the house, we set out for the gardens. Because it was a state holiday it was 'fountain day', and we had to buy a separate ticket to get in.

The gardens of Louis XIV are lavish and extraordinary. The pictures don't really do justice to its size and intensity. This was the spot for parties for friends and dignitaries alike, and is full of amazing fountains, sculptures, orange trees and a canal (as well as The Trianon Area--a group of residential houses where royalty could 'get away' from vacation).

The 'Grand Canal' is a man-made body of water with no function other than to please. Originally, Louis imported actual gondoliers (with their boats) from Venice, who then lived in settlements next to the canal and whisked Louis and his guests around at their leisure.

The plan had been to rent bicycles to get around the gardens, but once we realized just how crowded it was and the fact that neither of us had been on a bicycle for years, we decided renting a rowboat was a better option to see the canal and surrounding orange grove.

At about 3:30, this amazing classical music started piping through loud speakers all over the gardens, and the fountains came on in full force. There were something like 1,000 fountains originally in the gardens and about 150 still remain. The fountains still operate the way they did in Louis time, using copper pipes and gravity.

Louis' favorite, The Apollo Basin:

After our long day at Versailles we wanted to eat anywhere that didn't require a Metro trip, so we figured it would be a good time to try Chez Ramuland, highly recommended by my sister Kristin and 'just downstairs from the apartment' on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Well, if we had read her email a little closer we would have seen that she meant 'just downstairs' from a DIFFERENT apartment she had also stayed in. An hour and probably 2 miles later, we found it (once we figured out the mistake we were committed to finding it). Although super duper smokey (I kept having to go outside for 'oxygen' breaks), the food was fabulous. We had carpachio, chicken cooked in a clay pot, a great goat cheese and fig salad, tuna steak skewers, chocolate mousee with ginger and a strawberry creme. I only got a pic of the dessert before we wised up and got a cab home.

No comments: