Paris was everything we could have hoped for. It was also not how we expected it to go. Perhaps it was over ambition or maybe it was a tendency to romanticize European travel to the point where I sometimes imagined our trip was a black and white Woody Allen film. I would say the trip didn't start when we entered the city, but when we boarded the train in London. Things started to go south pretty quickly. We started out by misreading our tickets, and got on the wrong train car. It took us two stops and about half an hour to realize we were in the wrong seats. Turns out we weren't in car 2, but car 14. Since the train was already moving we couldn't simply exit the train and walk down the platform and into the right car. We had to walk through the entire train to get to our seats, including first class, where the Eurostar employees repeatedly questioned our intelligence. If we're being totally honest here, we were starting to question ourselves too. I had 6 months worth of luggage with me, which translates to two very large suitcases, so it was a good idea on our part to leave them in the original car. When we finally entered the right car, we immediately saw a group of about 20 middle-aged British men, one of which was blocking the aisle. It was about 6 a.m. and they were drinking champagne, eating croissants, and conversing very loudly, not caring that everyone around them wanted to sleep. It made for a rather unpleasant train ride.
A good friend of mine from high school, Alex, was studying abroad in Paris for the year, so she offered to meet us at the train station and help us navigate to our AirBnb. We were tired and grumpy from the train ride so perhaps the charms of Paris hadn't reached us yet because we were feeling significantly underwhelmed. That must have been the case because when we reached our apartment we accidentally ended up taking a 4 hour nap. We’re such great travelers.
When we woke up, Alex wanted to meet for dinner, but before that, she suggested meeting at Notre Dame to be typically Parisian and drink some wine along the Seine. Two bottles later and we were feeling pretty good. We hadn’t eaten since the train this morning, so we were hungry (as usual). She took us to the Latin district because of the cheaper prices and larger student population. Natalie had some escargot and duck, I had some fish, and Ari had some chicken. And of course more wine. We called it a night after that because the next day we were going to Versailles!
I love everything about Versailles and Marie Antoinette because I read her biography about a year ago, so I booked us all a private tour to see parts of the palace we normally wouldn’t get to see with the regular ticket. We somehow managed to navigate the trains in Paris to find the correct one to Versailles, but we were about 30 minutes late for the tour. Oops. Oh well, so our private tour didn’t work out, but we still had access to the main Palace, the gardens, Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and Marie Antoinette’s Estate. There is seriously so much to see there.
The urban heat island effect is real, y’all. When we stepped off the train in Versailles, it was significantly colder than Paris had been. I don’t want to use the word “miserable,” but we found it a little difficult to take. Realistically, it was probably only in the 40s, but our warm Texas blood wasn’t adjusting well. It basically felt like Antarctica.
Once we made it inside the Palace, everything was magically okay. Every single inch of that place is extraordinary. The Palace of Versailles was built by Louis XIV as a commemoration of his father, who had built a small hunting lodge there. Louis XIV wanted to escape Paris and the pressure of life there, so he decided to move his entire court 12 miles outside of Paris to Versailles. He spared no expense, of course, and up until the French Revolution in 1789, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette all added their personal stamp on the Palace. The Palace became a symbol of the wealth and opulence of the French royalty, which would later lead to their downfall.
Even though there were crowds of tourists everywhere inside the Palace, we periodically took a step aside just to admire the tiny details of the place. The view of the gardens from every window was incredible, as were the curtains, wallpaper, and trim. Not the mention the art and furniture. We didn’t spent much time in the gardens because of the cold, so we took a shuttle down to Grand Trianon, built by Louis XIV as an escape from the pomp and ceremony of the main palace. We then walked through the gardens around the Grand Trianon, and admired the many fountains and small fields without the crowds. Turns out other people don’t want to stand around in the cold so we pretty much had the whole gardens to ourselves!
The Petit Trianon was built by Louis XV for his favorite mistress in 1762, but when she soon fell out of favor with the king, his new mistress was there for the inauguration in 1769. Louis XVI gave it to Marie Antoinette, who redecorated it, and used it as her escape from the main Palace. Pretty much all of the structures were built to get away from something; Versailles to get away from Paris, and both the Grand and Petit Trianon to get away from Versailles.
By the time we had finished exploring the Petit Trianon, we were exhausted, not to mention somewhat stuffed from our visit to the Laduree store inside the gift shop. It was time for us to head back to Paris.