Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Versailles




There are many tourist places to see in Paris. Unfortunately, Gino and I only had a couple of days to go sightseeing there and we had spent a good chunk of that in the Louvre Museum. But I was content to see major landmarks in the city and leave the rest for another trip. Besides, after two weeks of traveling, my body was starting to complain and my feet were screaming, When will this walking end?



le Château de Versailles (More photos from Versailles in the Sky website.)


On our last day in France together, which was a Monday and Gino's birthday, we went to Versailles (ver-sayh), a wealthy suburb about 17 kms southwest from the centre of Paris. In the 17th to 19th centuries, it became the unofficial capital of the kingdom of France three times, I think, during the reign of the King Louies. By 18th century standards, Versailles was considered a very modern city, and according to my readings, it was even used by the French-born American architect and urban planner, Pierre Charles L'Enfant as model for building Washington DC. There, just another piece of information for Jeopardy.

OK, have I lost you? If I haven't yet, here's another historical tidbit -- Versailles was also the cradle of the French Revolution. Liberté, égalité, fraternité!! Liberty, equality, fraternity. I think that's the only thing I could recall from my high school Social Studies lessons on the French Revolution.

It really makes a difference when you see actual places where important historical events transpired. I got to appreciate the facts and figures I only memorized for quizzes and periodical exams. Back then, it was all so ho-hum... Is the Revolution over yet?...When is recess??

So there we were at the grounds of the spectacular Versailles Palace, le Château de Versailles, symbol of absolute monarchy and the biggest palace in the world. It was humungous! We did not tour the inside. Instead, we went around the chateau's grounds which was as far as your eyes could see. No kidding! 800 hectares of parks and gardens, 42 kms of paths, 55 pools and fountains, 400 sculptures... Check out the website above if you want to see it yourself.


Gino. You can't see the end of the park behind him. That's the Grand Canal, with a surface area of 23 hectares and a circumference of 5.6 kms. We walked around maybe half of it.



A view of the Palace from near the Grand Canal.

A fellow plane passenger told me that the King's palace was very splendid inside. She also said that according to their tour guide, it was considered the highest honour to clean the king's, uhmm, waste matter. It reminded me of the palazzos in Florence. So for all its opulence and grandiosity, this royal palace also had no toilets? That seemed to be so, if my source got it right. If the most prestigious job I could ever aspire for is cleaning royal merde, I too would clamour for liberté, égalité...!! But first I should get my French right. (Gino: Mom, that's not egalyt.)

At lunchtime, we decided to eat at a restaurant in the park. This was the only time we had a really special restaurant meal complete with service de luxe. It was Gino's birthday. We were celebrating. He had a big steak while I had a quarter chicken. Yummm! The wine was the best I had ever tasted, and that's coming from a non-drinker. Enough euro-pinching--for now.

After lunch, we resumed our walk around the park. We walked and walked and walked, and talked and talked and talked. I dont' think we covered even half of it. There were golf carts for rent. I read it cost 7 euros per 15 minutes and it could take you an hour, or 28 euros, to tour the gardens without stopping, following a certain route. We did not even think about renting a golf cart. Gino always preferred to walk, while I always preferred to save on expenses.

We loved this place -- everything was so manicured and tranquil. Gino commented that walking around the parks and gardens was like a sacred experience. It was very calming to the soul, a good way to end our vacation. We soaked in the sights and sounds of silence--when we were not chattering.


Lovely wooded areas



Towards the end, I preferred to walk on the grass because it was gentler on my feet.


My only beef about this place is that the public toilets were very few and soooo far between. When I had the urge to go, we had to brisk-walk back more than 10 minutes to the restaurant. "Mom, just go in the bush," Gino said. Or behind one of the park's 200,000 trees? I admit, I entertained the thought, but my sense of decency prevailed. Calling the Parks Authority, I think you need to add more restrooms to your park.

I hope to go back to Versailles someday. Gino swears he will visit it again. It is an excellent place to meditate and withdraw from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here are a few more pictures that we took of the palace and the park. Click on any picture to enlarge.



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