During a recent trip to France, we visited the Palace of Versailles. The Palace’s website warned to arrive early to avoid the crowds. We ignored the advice and arrived at 11am after a much-needed lie-in. Now the word crowds was a serious understatement, there were hordes of humans, swarms of bodies, and packs of camera-swathed people. I never seen so many people in one place and I’ve been to Disneyland… and the Hay Festival!
We joined the back of the queue and were blissfully unaware that in two hours’ time we’d still be queuing. One hundred and twenty minutes is a long time shuffling along in the heat of the day but I’d bought the tickets I was bloody going in! Scarves became makeshift sun shelters and periodically spinning on the spot prevented burning the back of the neck or the face. We got chatting to the people behind, they were travelling Europe, and even though they weren’t English we spent a lot of time talking about the weather. Maybe the English propensity to discuss the rain, wind, sun, snow, and clouds is catching like a virus.
A snake of people queuing in the baking sun for entry.
The first clear view of the golden gates.
We finally entered the building, had our bags scanned, and were hustled through a doorway. Now my expectations of the first sight of the Palace of Versailles were not a plywood lined right-angled corridor. One side of the Palace was under refurbishment and this was where we entered. After baking for two hours, I wanted gold, jewels, statues, and mirrors. I got plywood, heat, people, and a strong smell of glue. The corridor spat us out into the courtyard. The first thing that came to mind was a scene from Doctor Who. In the episode, The Girl in the Fireplace, Madame du Pompadour leaves Versailles for the last time in a black-feathered horse-drawn hearse.
With some trepidation, we entered the Palace amongst a throng of other bodies. And therein lies the problem, like the London Underground at rush hour we were dragged along in the mass. Within ten minutes, I had to fight to reach the relative calm of a corner and have a breather. Being a person who has never coped well in crowds the experience was, well, a challenge. My daughter summed up the visit in two words—people and ceilings. Later on, she would sum up the gardens as hedges and fountains. So there you are no need to visit the Palace just think people, ceilings, hedges, and fountains.
Beautiful ceiling number one.
Number two… I could go on but at the risk of boring you, I’ll stop at two.
The main reason I wanted to visit the Palace was for the famous Hall of Mirrors. The crowd swept us along to the grand entrance where everyone stopped and took pictures through the doorway. That was annoying; I do find other people’s agendas irritating. Grumpy? Not generally.
The stunning Hall of Mirrors.
We decided to cut and run, my husband was looking miserable and my daughter was sick of been bumped on the head by backpacks. However, we couldn’t get out, the narrow corridors to the exit were crammed with people taking pictures of ceilings and the heads of other human beings. After pausing at various windows for air, we cascaded out into the gardens.
The gardens were playing host to a mirror exhibition. This photo was taken in a massive convex mirror.
A huge circular concave mirror with the Palace in the background. We are reflected near the top in the middle.
Hedges and fountain.
A musical fountain whose sprays danced to baroque music.
Watch out for the whistlers. Police hired just to blow a whistle at you if you so much as step out of line. Police tooted us when we cut a corner across a dry and parched lawn. Then we spent far too much time watching the whistlers and laughing at their victims. Sad? Yes of course.
The Palace and gardens are masterpieces of design, opulence, and lavish to the nth degree. I just wish we’d seen it with less people, a lot less people. I would follow the advice and go early, in fact go earlier than early, maybe camp outside the gates but make sure you’re not whistled at.
Earlier in the week, we also attended the annual Merlin Meet Up in Pierrefonds. My report for Julie Bozza’s Merlin Locations website can be found here.