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Versailles and The Eiffel Tower
Maria's Last Day in Paris
I was tired - bone tired - after traveling across time zones and being lead by an energetic 15 year old to see and do everything, all the while eating pan de chocolate, had taken a toll on me. I just wanted to lie in my bed and sleep.
But my Maria had other plans - we were to travel to Versailles this last morning. A private tour had been booked which picked us up from the hotel first thing in the morning. The driver/tour guide was from Mexico but had lived in Paris for fifteen years. It was strange getting a tour of Paris and Versailles in Spanish accented English! We proceeded to pick up three other guests to our party. They were two middle aged women and their mother - all from California. They took an immediate liking to Maria - from her Latin beauty they asked where she was from and what interests she had. Maria sings constantly and is enrolled in a performing arts high school. The ladies heard this and were begging for her to sing them a song. I know that Maria can be shy singing for small groups even though she can get up in front of hundreds to perform. It pleasantly surprised me when she agreed and proceeded to sing 'Et tu Mami' in Italian. Maria is blessed with a gorgeous voice and she had the ladies clasping their hands in delight!
In no time we were speeding through the Parisian suburbs to the Versailles Palace. Our modern day trip took about an hour, but when it was built, a full day's coach ride was required to reach the palace. The town of Versailles, which grew up outside the palace, is French provincial and very well to do. The palace itself is enormous with a gated and cobbled courtyard encompassing many acres. The gate and front structure are clad in gold leaf. Above one large portico are towering inscriptions which read 'A Toutes Les Gloires de la France' - reading this put a lump in my throat and must have humbled visiting dignitaries in the 17th century.
Construction started on the chateau in 1624 and took 40 years. It became Louis XIII's official residence in 1682 after he, the Sun King, decided that the French Royal Palace, what is now the Louvre, had become too vulnerable to defend - he had witnessed a riotous crowd storm the Louvre when he was a child.
Versailles sits on 1,800 acres of rolling hills reminding one of the rolling terrain of Virginia - the grounds are larger than the island of Manhattan. The chateau sports 1,250 fireplaces, 2,000 windows, 700 rooms and 67 staircases. It is immense and visiting guests only get to see a portion of it. The palace was built, at a present day cost, of over 2 billion dollars. Now Louis did have to accept some hardships at his chateau - one irritation for him was the design, by architect Louis de Van, had placed the kitchen a quarter mile from the dining hall (yes in the same building!) meaning that the King's meals would often arrive cold.
Touring the present day chateau, one is permitted to stroll down the Hall of Mirrors - this immense space symbolized the power of the Sun King. Although mirrors were invented in Venice during the year 1291, they were still relatively rare in the late 1600's with just a single pane inspiring awe and wealth - this hall has acres of mirrored glass! The Hall of Mirrors was constructed over an existing terrace at Versailles in 1678 - four years before Louis would take up official residence. It is in this same hall that the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending WW1.
One of the largest rooms in the royal living area is the Queens chamber. What may strike us as odd in this day and age is that the queen was required to give birth in public - her room was required to hold upwards of 100 people! The reason for this was to assure the public of the authentic bloodline of the royal family. A humorous story has it that during the birth of Louis XVI the royal doctor panicked when upwards of 200 people jammed into the queens bed chamber.
Eight million people visit the chateau each year - so it will be crowded. Our guide had tickets available for us so we did not have to queue with the other visitors that morning - and it was a long line! The palace is open every day except Monday - from 9am to 6:30pm with the last guest allowed access at 6pm.
The Eiffel Tower
After some hours touring the palace and the grounds we were back in Paris. For our final afternoon, Maria and I were going to chance that the lines at the Eiffel Tower would be relatively tame. We had our tour guide let us out close to the tower and we strolled over . No luck - hour long lines to get tickets and additional hour long lines for the first of three elevators.
Maria was disappointed but she accepted a gelato as we strolled back towards the hotel. As soon as we got back I collapsed into bed and was sound asleep. Maria woke me hours later to darkness - how long was I asleep? 'A long time', she answered and proceeded to ask, 'I really want to go to the tower - please?' Oh my - it was late and I was still tired, wanting to just hang in our part of town. After her convincing she had me on the Metro. It was after 9pm, but the adventure woke me up enough that I wasn't denying her this last memory. We let out a few blocks from the tower and while walking towards it, thousands of blinking lights started flashing up a down the superstructure - Maria grabbed my arm and exclaimed, 'Oh dad - it is just beautiful!' OK - the trip was now all worth it!
We were in luck - the crowds had died down and we were able to get through the ticket line and up to the top in less than an hour. And oh! The tower at night is spectacular. All of Paris is laid out at your feet - the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the city streets - all lit up below. Two searchlights beam a large ray of light from the towers apogee - on our night these rays were diffused by a foggy water vapor which added to the mystery. A small champagne bar at the top added to the 'Frenchness' of it all - and no we didn't have any!
Excited but tired from our long day, we made our way back to the Metro to get a few hours sleep before our morning flight home.