Fenton & White Visit Versailles

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TO GET TO THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES, WE TOOK AN RER TRAIN

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If you aren’t driving,  the cheapest and easiest way to get to The Palace of Versailles involves taking a regional train known as an RER (which stands for Reseau Express Regional).  These trains connect into the hub of Paris.  If you ride them in the centre of the city, you can use a standard Metro ticket,  but if you are going beyond the core of the city you need a special ticket which is available through machines at the Metro stations.  Versailles is located about 35 kilometres outside of central Paris.  A return ticket to Versailles costs about 7 Euros (which may go up in price after this blog is published) and can be purchased from the Metro attendant or at a machine at the Metro station.  Ensure you ask for a return fare, and you will receive two tickets, (one for each direction).  For detailed instructions on how to connect to the right line and get off at the correct station, go to http://mikestravelguide.com/the-easiest-and-cheapest-way-to-get-from-paris-to-versailles/  Note that the ticket that you use to get on will be required to exit the station at Versailles so don’t discard it until you are clear of the station.

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TIME WAS NOT ON OUR SIDE AS WE TRIED TO GET TO THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES IN TIME FOR OUR TOUR

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We had pre-booked an English tour of the  King’s Apartments online through the official site of the Palace of Versailles for an additional 7 Euros each.   Admission to the grounds of Versailles is not included in the tour but our Museum Pass  did cover admission allowing us access to the gardens, the Grand Trianon (another palace on the grounds) and the Petit Trianon where Marie Antoinette lived.  Our tour was to start at 9:30 AM.  We headed off from our hotel at 7:15 AM thinking we would arrive at Versailles at about 8:30 with time for a coffee prior to going to the tour entrance .  Unfortunately the Metro ticketing system was down when we went to get our train ticket.  After waiting for 15 minutes we scrambled to a second Metro station three blocks away, purchased our tickets, got on the train, rode it to the original station we were trying to buy the tickets from, transferred onto the correct Metro line, and then transferred onto the RER train to Versailles.  There was a delay on the RER line which slowed us down further.  We got off the train at 9:22 AM …  and that let us off in the town.  We still had a half a kilometre to cover to get to the gates of the palace.  We really thought we were going to miss our tour.

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APPROACHING THE GATES OF THE PALACE, ONE SUSPECTS THIS IS A BIG PLACE

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We rushed across the street, down another long lane, and ran across the cobbled parking lot.  We found a door and flung it open only to discover we were at the wrong end of the building. We raced back outside and down to the other door.  Time check … 9:29 AM.  As we scrambled through the metal detectors, we thrust our tickets into the hands of the tour coordinator with breathless apologies in broken French.  She smiled at us and told us it was okay.  Five minutes later, our tour guide walked in.  She had been on the same train, but had been smart enough not to run.  We made our tour after all!

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OUR TOUR GUIDE EXPLAINS WHAT MAKES THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES SO SPECIAL AS THE SUN GLINTS OFF THE GOLD ON THE BUILDING.

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Why go visit The Palace of Versailles and surrounding grounds?  Well, it is the place where French royalty lived.  During the reign of King Louis the XIV, known as The Sun King, money was poured into the palace and surrounding grounds.  Louis the XIV was an extravagant fellow, and the place is covered in gold gild and fancy rooms that simply have to be seen to be believed. A tour of the palace helps one better understand the rites and rituals and  rules that the monarchy were bound to in order to fulfill their duties.  We learned about the various meals (some which were in larger dining halls, some which were in private dining rooms), where the king received people who were asking for court business (often in one of his bedrooms), and how an advisor to the king would only be employed for one day and then replaced with someone new so that court secrets remained … secret.  Not a position for someone looking for career stability!

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LONG CORRIDORS CONNECT SECTIONS OF THE PALACE

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RARE EXAMPLES OF CHINA IN A COLOUR MADE EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE KING CAN BE FOUND ALONG THE TOUR IN ONE OF THE MANY DINING ROOMS

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IN DECEMBER OF 1763 A CHILD PRODIGY NAMED MOZART PLAYED IN THIS SPACE (KNOWN AS THE GOLDEN PLATE ROOM)  AT ONE TIME, THE MONA LISA HUNG ON A WALL IN THIS ROOM.

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THE CHAPEL AT THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES IS AN ACOUSTIC WONDER

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Is it worth it to pay the extra 7 Euros for the tour?  Our feeling was that it was.  By having a tour ticket you avoid the lines … and at The Palace of Versailles, those lines can extend for hours if you don’t get there early enough.  The tour guide gave us a deeper understanding of court life.  But best of all, we got to see a few places where others didn’t get to go.  In particular we were delighted to see the Royal Opera House of Versailles (also known as Theatre Gabriel named after the designer, Ange-Jacques Gabriel)

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THE WALLS AND BOXES OF THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE AT VERSAILLES HAVE A SECRET

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The Royal Opera House of Versailles was built very quickly by most standards. King Louis the XV had wanted a grand theatrical space and had decided upon Ange-Jacques Gabriel as the architect.  But the king was displeased by almost every design option he was shown.  With the pending marriage of  his grandchildren  coming up, he finally gave approval for a design in 1768 and the hall was speedily constructed over 23 months.  But there were more than a few challenges … for one thing, after the wars the royal vault was a little low on cash.  Gabriel had studied all the finest opera houses in the world and came up with an ingenious compromise.  He needed an acoustically live hall but couldn’t afford marble for all the facades, so he built the columns of wood and had them painted to look like marble.  And what to do about the cost of glass chandeliers and the limited space for the boxes?  His solution was clever and practical.  When you look at the above picture, each of the second row of chandeliers is not actually suspended.  In fact the boxes only hold one row of patrons, for behind them on the wall are floor to ceiling mirrors.  The second chandeliers are actually half chandeliers glued onto the mirror to create the illusion of a full chandelier suspended in the air.

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TORONTO’S OPERA ATELIER PLAYED THIS STAGE  IN NOVEMBER OF 2015 WITH A PRODUCTION OF ARMIDE

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We were delighted that the stage was open and the cargo bay doors at the back flooded the stage with light.  There is one other secret about this space.  I indicated that King Louis XV wanted this space ready to celebrate the wedding of his grandchildren (most notably the wedding of the Dauphin (who became King Louis XVI) to Marie Antoinette.  The space was designed not only as a place where spectators could look upon the wonders of the stage, but the entire orchestra level of seating was put on a mechanism that allowed it to be raised to the level of the stage, thus doubling the usable floor space in the room.  The idea was that the audience area (which in those days was standing room anyway) could be used as a grand ballroom when not in use for concerts or theatre. In essence the space served more than one purpose.  In the end, there was a banquet held in the room for Marie Antoinette’s wedding which dukes and duchesses watched from the boxes above, but the royal wedding party feast only numbered 22 … a lot of work to build an opera house for a 22 person dinner party.  Today the Royal Opera House features performances from all over the world, including Toronto’s Opera Atelier who will perform their production of  Medea there  in April of 2017.

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THE SHEER SCALE OF THE WORKS OF ART IN THE PALACE MAKE ONE FEEL SMALL

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THIS IS THE ROOM EVERYONE COMES TO SEE … THE HALL OF MIRRORS

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The Grande Galerie, better known as the Hall of Mirrors is a a wonder of glass and light.  357 mirrors reflect back the light from 17 large arched windows.  This corridor connected two sections of the palace and was used as a gathering place for extremely special occasions and grand galas.  Mirrors were a sign of wealth and this was a showpiece to the world that France was a power to be reckoned with.  The greatest beauty in the hall is not the chandeliers or the mirrors themselves, but the 30 spectacular frescoes on the ceiling.  The overall impact is somewhat diminished when crowded with visitors, but when it is less-crowded, the overall effect is spectacular.  The Treaty of Versailles was signed here on June 28th, 1919, bringing an official end to World War I.

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By the time we had done our private tour of the King’s Chambers (which was supposed to last 90 minutes, but wound up lasting over 2 hours because our guide kept offering to show us more spaces … if we had time), and wandered the rest of the main Palace of Versailles … it was time to go explore the grounds.

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THE GARDENS OF THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES ARE IMMENSE AND INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL.

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The gardens of The Palace of Versailles cover 800 hectares, contain 55 fountains and over 150 statues.  To explore the grounds and other buildings just a little, a full day of touring is best.  We decided to walk to the edge of the woods and find some lunch before continuing with our journey.

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Tomorrow … A Walk In The Woods.

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Fenton & White (but since we’re in the Hall Of Mirrors … we’ll switch it up to White & Fenton)

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