Friday, August 5, 2011

A palatial home and a dome

This morning we were breakfasted and out of the hostel by 8.15am (the hostel provides a basic but excellent selection of cereal, juice, croissants and hot drinks - not a fan of the tea though, I have to say I'm missing my morning Earl Grey). It is exhausting being a tourist - we've done at least one 12 hour day. I have never slept so soundly in my life.

We decided it was time for a break from the city so we took the train to Versailles. When we arrived the sun was so bright the giant gold gates were blinding. Appropriate for the residence of the self-proclaimed Sun King. Versailles is MASSIVE. I knew this, but until you actually see it, it's hard to imagine. The line was also MASSIVE. And we thought we'd done well getting there before 10am.

As well as the size, the sheer opulence is pretty overwhelming. As Ed said, 'They really laid it on thick, didn't they?'

Marie Antoinette 'escaped from the rioting crowd' to take refuge in the King's apartment through this door of her bed chamber

Today's 'me in a mirror' photo is brought to you, appropriately, by the Hall of Mirrors.

The gardens at Versailles are even more overwhelming, so we took one of Les Petites Trains to help us cover more ground. The novelty of a tiny train (although really they're small tractor-like vehicles pulling rows of wagons on wheels) also helped.

We stopped at the Le Palais de Grand Trianon, another 'smaller' palace on the grounds of Versailles, where haute couture by designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Karl Lagerfield for Chanel are currently being displayed. I liked the garden directly behind this palace the best. It had lots of tall, waving flowers in purples, white, and red.

Then it was on to the Petit Trianon, given to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI. It's the 'smallest' of the three residences we visited on the grounds.

In 1783 Marie Antoinette had a hamlet built near the Petit Trianon (I kept imagining her saying, 'Build me a hamlet, I want 12 houses with thatched roofs' - in French though, of course). Spotting one of the thatched buildings while wandering in the garden outside the Petit Trianon and then following the limestone trail to find ourselves at the hamlet was very cool.

It's so quaint it seems fake, and it kind of is. The layout and the buildings were all designed  specially by the same guy. Although of course they're real and they're very old.

It had started raining pretty steadily by the time we got to the hamlet (I love saying that), but we weren't too bothered by the rain - although we realised we had commited a cardinal tourist sin by not bringing a tiny umbrella. Everyone popped theirs open and the grounds of Versailles were covered with multi-coloured umbrellas.

On the way back to catch Le Petit Train to the Grand Canal, we clambered into a patch of sunflowers to try to capture a 'comedy photo' as requested by Alex. We braved thistles for this. I hope she's happy (although I was too excited to be in an actual patch of sunflowers to achieve a real comedy face).

Walking back to the main palace from the Grand Canal the size of the palace was reinforced. Although this is only the back section. I wonder if they needed their own maps to get around the different parts of the palace. 'Where's Marie? The north wing? But that's aaaaages away.'

It was 4pm by the time we got back on the train to the city - six hours at Versailles and we were well and truly royaled out. Unfortunately, we sat by a tour guide who decided to recount the entire plot of The Queen to one of the guys in his tour group and then talk about the state of the British monarchy.

When we arrived back in Montmarte we decided it was time to climb the dome of the Sacre Coeur. Turns out we chose an ideal time - by 6pm and after an afternoon of rain there was no queue and hardly any people up the top. Ed had a wee bit of trouble navigating the tiny winding staircase being so tall.

The view was great, even though it was overcast after the rain, and there was a lovely cool breeze. We sat up in the dome and sang snippets from a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang song: 'Truly scrumptious...'

On the way to get some dinner around the corner from the Sacre Coeur we passed a mime so stopped to watch him. For the first 'real' street mime I've ever seen, he was a disappointment. I even gave him money in the hope he'd do some classic 'wall' or 'peel and eat a banana' mime, but all he did were weird mechanical moves to music. I was tempted to then mime giving him more money, I even practiced when we went around the corner. Ed said I need to work on stylising my movements more - I think Ed needs to offer some direction to Le Mime Paul. He had his email address on the sign.

We had crepes for dinner at a piano bar and creperie, the walls of which are covered in photos, reciepts, tickets, business cards, notes, and serviettes with drawings on.

On the way back to the hostel we passed Le Mime Paul standing in the middle of the street with another man directing a car through a tight squeeze. He was talking. Truly the worst mime ever.

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