Sunday, August 3, 2014


This morning, Friday morning, was our "late" morning for the week. Wakeup call was 7:45, and go time was 9:15. We drove out to Versailles, and we had a 10am guided tour of the palace.

A word about the technology: we had a Whisper System for the group, which is a radio-based device with an earpiece. The tour guide would speak into their microphone, which was the only broadcast system. Our radios were set to that frequency, and we could hear them speak (but not talk back). It was truly an amazing device: the crowds throughout Versailles were intense and a bit pushy, but we could clearly hear and understand the tour guide. We used the Whisper System both in the Louvre and in Versailles. Highly recommended, for sure.

Plus, having the tour guide was awesome. Kiko, our tour guide at the Louvre, took us to the major pieces in the museum - the tourist pieces - while giving us a broad, general overview of the rest of the museum. You know, this stuff is over there, that stuff is over here, that sort of hitting. Sylvie, our guide at Versailles, did the same thing. We walked reasonably briskly throughout the rooms in the big tourist area of the palace, and she described the major contents of the room, from where they came, their use, and the history. The coolest bit was that Sylvie was able to maintain the continuity of the story even as she was flowed out of the room by the traffic.

Versailles was - um - wow. Amazing. Opulent. Rich. Regal. Astonishing. I quickly run out of adjectives to describe the palace and the gardens. The difference between the normal quality of life in Paris - small buildings, clustered closely together, with people on top of people on top of people - and the size and scope of the palace at Versailles was striking. Its luxurious, sprawling splendor..... man, I'm not entirely sure what to say about it.

I'm not a political creature by nature. I don't care if you're republican or democrat: as long as you want to sing one of the four parts, I'm cool. I am also not one to advocate a revolution. But, looking at the difference between how the normal French people of the time lived, and how the royalty lived..... I can see how some rancor could develop.


After we finished the tour of the palace, we had a few free hours to explore. Some chose to stay up near the palace and explore the town, while my group of friends chose to follow the tour guide to the gardens. The palace in Versailles was designed to go along with the massive gardens, and the engineers of the day devised creative solutions to draining the marshland native to Versailles and building a canal to get irrigation up there. The architectural layouts of the various sections of garden are amazing.

After Sylvie gave us a brief rundown of what was where we walked down along the Grand Canal of Versailles, which was truly an engineering masterwork for the time. There were amazing plants along there, and Romanesque statues lined the sides of great, sprawling pathways. There are enormous fountains along the way, but those are only turned on for short periods of time on the weekends. Kind of makes sense: the piping on the fountains is a few hundred years old and a bit leaky. One of the fountains was under renovation, which is normal; they are always working on keeping the palace in shape.

At the end of the Grand Canal, there are a handful of food carts and restaurants. Molly, Barb, Jim, the Covells, and I ate at the same restaurant, La Flotille. It was absolutely wonderful, and we splurged on a half bottle of wine (which, interestingly, was about the same price as the two sodas our friends bought). There is something about enjoying a good glass of wine in an outdoor restaurant in Versailles.... heartily and enthusiastically recommended.

After lunch, we walked down to Marie Antoinette's residence. We did not pay the 10€ to enter, but we did take advantage of the free public restrooms. The courtyard of the area, anyway, was very nice and surprisingly tasteful, consider the excessiveness of the rest of the palace area. A quartet sang "Going to the Chapel," in the actual chapel of Marie Antoinette's residence, which was fun.

We meandered back to the palace, around the building, and into a little piece of town, where we bought some souvenirs and discussed the presents we would get for the children. We took a picture of the large statue of King Louis with the palace in the background, then we got back on the bus to head back.

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