Let Them Eat Cake
This was hands down my favorite day in Paris. That's surprising because we almost didn't go to Versailles. Doing a day-trip meant poor Lorenzo would miss his long morning nap. I also despise crowds and everything I read about Versailles said that Versailles is worse than Disneyland when it comes to crowd management. However, my love of palaces won out over my disdain for crowds, so off to Versailles we went.
My original plan was to leave the hotel by 7 and be at the gates of Versailles when they opened. What ended up happening is that we all slept in until 8:30. Whoops. Luckily my guidebook had a tip that said another good plan for crowd management at Versailles was to arrive in the late morning after everyone else and start with Petit Trianon and Domaine du Marie Antoinette's first. Best tip ever.
We got on the train and Lorenzo fell asleep. A point in our favor. When we got off, we tried to take Phebus straight to Petit Trianon, but we missed it thanks to a non-helpful bus attendant. So we began to walk. We walked around the side of the whole palace. I think it was over a mile in all. Eventually we needed to stop for a break to breastfeed and regular feed. We made it to the Grand Trianon first. The interior was ok. My favorite thing about it was the pink marbled exterior. Lorenzo's favorite thing about it was the stairs.
After we finished that palace, we tried to go to Marie Antoinette's palace but got lost in the hedge maze on the way. It was actually really fun to walk where there was absolutely no one else. Life goal: own a hedge maze. Probably not consistent with my other life goal to live out my days in California.
Next was the gardens and grounds around Petit Trianon. I loved all the details and the carefully maintained gardens. Lorenzo enjoyed the rocks. Literally. He kept putting them in his mouth.
I have a new fascination with landscaping now that I have an area to landscape myself. As I get older, I accumulate more interests. I guess that is a good thing, but it also means that there are no sections of Target where I don't want to buy things.
We continued on to the part of Versailles I was most excited to see, Marie Antoinette's Hamlet! While the peasants were starving around her, Marie Antoinette yearned for a simpler country lifestyle. She had a working dairy farm constructed so that she could enjoy the "simple country life." So it is a fake fairytale village. There is much historical debate on whether Marie Antoinette deserved her fate or not. How clueless was she about what was going on around her? Was she a victim of her circumstances? Whether or not she actually said her most famous quote about "Let them eat cake," is even disputed. Much of it may have been propaganda or yellow journalism. Also I learned that "cake" is not actually what we think of as cake, but it's the burned parts of the bread crusts. That statement is even more offensive than previously thought. I've read a few books about Marie Antoinette (one silly YA novel about her ghost and a very well done historical fiction novel) and I would love to read more. She is a fascinating historical figure.
Marie Antoinette's motives aside, her Hamlet was every bit as charming as I thought it would be! Everyone loved the fish and the farm animals. Yes, we went all the way to Paris to see farm animals. I also enjoyed the Korean family passing by exclaiming over the baby. Alex loves to surprise Korean tourists (there are a lot) by answering them in their native tongue. This was a good one. He told Lorenzo to bow to the family (a typical greeting in Korea) and the grandma was absolutely floored.
We ventured back to Petit Trianon. So the story of Versailles is this: Louis XIV built this amazing palace dedicated to himself. He called himself the Sun King. He moved the capital outside of Paris and basically "domesticated" the nobles by giving them leisure pursuits outside of the city hubbub. He was then free to run the country as he pleased without much meddling from the pesky nobles. His plan worked well, he ran the country for 70 years. At this time, Paris was the epicenter of European culture. Anywhere in Europe when you said "The King" you meant Louis XIV. He reigned through two successors and eventually Louis XVI took the throne. He did not have the ruling power his predecessor had. He married an Austrian princess Marie Antoinette and they retreated further from court life to Petit Trianon. Meanwhile, revolutionary fires simmered. The king spent lavishly while the commoners became more poor. Eventually, they stormed the palace (it was a group of storming ladies that got Marie Antoinette) and captured everyone. They then beheaded the whole royal family, as well as anyone else who got in their way. It got kind of crazy for a while, they were even beheading people on their own side for minor offenses. Marie Antionette accidentally stepped on the foot of the executioner as she was lead to the guillotine and apologized. Ever the lady until her last breath. From this madness, Napoleon took power and began to conquer Europe. One thing I found to be a total mind-trip was that Louis XVI actually met with Benjamin Franklin before the French revolution. This guillotine madness was not that long ago! American Revolution: 1776, Louis XVI and American diplomats meet: 1778, French Revolution: 1789-1799. They must have gotten some ideas from us. I hope the guillotine wasn't one of them.
After seeing where royalty retreated, we were ready to see where they lived. We went in through the side entrance to the right of the gates when you are facing the palace directly. No wait! Compare that to the two plus hour we walked by that morning. We let Lorenzo wiggle in the courtyard as we switched off touring the different parts of the palace. We decided to take him with us when we went to the Hall of Mirrors. Big mistake. He loved his echo in there and it was so packed we couldn't move quickly. We exited and allowed him to play in the courtyard some more. The courtyard ended up being my favorite part of Versailles, so it worked out. Although you could see less with a baby, I ended up enjoying the things I did see even more because I got more time there to inspect.
One mantra I always try to remember while traveling is to pretend you will return. This allows you to maximize your time and energy in each location. If something is closed or will take too long, that's find. Now you have a reason to return! There is just no way you are ever going to see EVERYTHING in any city, even if you live there. So take a deep breath, put your itinerary away, and enjoy what you do get to see.
We then left Versailles and got back on the train. Lorenzo fell asleep on the walk there. We had a funny moment where he was sleeping on the train and he woke up facing the row across the way from us. At first he didn't see anyone he recognized and he made THE saddest face I've ever seen. I will never forget that face. When we got home, we fed him and let him wiggle on the bank of the Seine. Alex was so tired after this day, so I ventured out to get Asiatique, which is to-go Asian food buffet that is very popular in Paris right now. A trend I can get behind.