I dreamed of visiting Versailles…
… and it took me nine years to make it happen.
A year after I graduated from college, I saw Nancy Meyer's "Something's Gotta Give" in the cinema and immediately latched on to one of Erica Barry's (Diane Keaton's character) quirks. After her divorce, she started to learn French and after a number of years became completely fluent (the scene had her buying cheese at the Gourmet Market). Completely inspired by her seamless ordering ("Bonjour, je veux une partie de votre pate merveilleux et de votre meilleur fromage absolu de chevre."), I enrolled immediately at the Alliance française in Makati and studied the language for a number of years (still not fluent, btw).
Thus, started my rabbit hole into French movies, French history, and French historical figures.
"Lost in Translation" was one of my favorite movies, so when Sofia Coppola did "Marie Antoinette," I rushed to watch it. It may have gotten booed in Cannes, but I fell in love with the styling and the costumes and the production design and became obsessed with the idea of going to Versailles. I also read the book by Antonia Fraser, which is a wonderful read for anyone interested in Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
And so, it was decided. I was going to make my way to Paris and speak French like Erica Barry in "Something's Gotta Give," and I was going to Versailles to see how the royals lived. It was 2006 and life did not pan out the way I had planned at all—not in the slightest—and my plans took a backseat to More Important Matters™️.
I can't really pinpoint why I decided, nine years later, that I was going to resuscitate my France thing. But a trip to New York and then a flight over the Atlantic ocean finally took me to Charles de Gaulle.
I don't know if it was me and the hype I had built around the trip, but I had a really good time on that JFK-CDG flight over Air France. They had good food, a good menu, I was on a premium seat, and the in-flight safety video was très chic (video linked above).
On my first two days, I hit all the landmarks in Paris that were on top of my list, met up with my friend Queenie who had taken the train from Geneva, and geared up for our Tuesday trip to Versailles, on the outskirts of the city.
Queenie had lived in Paris a while back (she worked at Disneyland), so she could speak French and knew the Metro like the back of her hand. From our Airbnb at the 16e (Trocadero), we took the RER C headed to Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche (a round trip costs €7,1).
We were so busy catching up with each other that we didn't notice we were headed in the wrong direction until we got to this lovely station (shame about the graffiti). Pro tip: As long as you're surrounded by a bunch of schoolchildren and teachers herding them around, then you know you're on the right train.
The palace is a short walk away from the station. After turning a corner, you end up on a road where crowds (!) of people are all strolling towards the main gate. France is lovely in the fall—we went there at the end of September and the skies were blue and the weather was perfect. It was the perfect backdrop to this equestrian statue of Louis XIV.
The gate's gilding is almost blinding, it's so gold. It provides the perfect sunshine-y contrast against Versailles' cloudless sky. I was a little stunned by the time our line snaked to this point, but this was a mere preview to the extreme richness we would encounter inside.
Before entering the palace grounds, we made our way to the restrooms to prep ourselves for the long tour inside the palace. I was surprised to see the room made up so modern. The spider chandelier was super chic! Pro tip: Do pass the loo before making your way in—it'll save you a lot of time!
Queenie and I picked up our headsets (they were free) as soon as we were in, and made our way, room by room, painting after painting, tableau after tableau. It was literally bumper to bumper traffic in there, with people just inching up to each other. Versailles is huge, but so is the crowd that visits its grounds.
The first time I actually took a pause was when we were right by this chapel, which we could only look at through a door (the space was roped off). At this point, my camera was out and I kept snapping photos—the thing about these museums is you have a lot of will to document everything the first couple of minutes… and then the place just complete overwhelms you and your camera just falls by the wayside.
I guess that's a good thing. I may not have all the rooms of Versailles documented, but I at least, enjoyed the experience while I was standing there amidst all that history. I mean, you can always pick up a documentary afterwards anyway
I remembered this particular hallway from the movie. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were finally making headway in their marriage and she was seeing him off on one of his routine hunts. Why is the light always so beautiful in places like these?
We snaked through a couple more rooms and made our way up some stairs and ended up with a different view to the chapel we saw in the beginning. It turns out that this was the very place where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were wed. (Check out that ceiling.
No trip to Versailles is complete without a promenade through the Hall of Mirrors, whose mirrors were not as squeaky clean and clear as I thought they would be. It is virtually impossible to get a shot of this place without tourists appearing in every angle en masse. I had to whip my camera out once we stepped into the hall, and realized that the better shots would come once you make your way to the very end.
Of course, there were a ton of rooms, and of course I cannot remember them all. This was three years ago, after all!
Some of my favorite rooms were the "unmarried sisters'" library and bedrooms at the palace… they had Queenie and me cracking up with our headsets on.
And as in most of these palaces, you can't not look up.
Marie Antoinette's own bedroom is unmistakable though. Her taste was impeccable. I mean, this still looks good (if not a little too Town & Country) to this day.
There were also a lot of paintings, but I feel compelled to point this one out. Marking the coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, I was particularly chuffed to have seen this because I took a private tour at the Louvre the day before and Jonathan, our lovely guide, pointed this piece out—he made mention of the girl on the left wearing a pink dress. Of course now, I don't remember why he pointed her out, but my googling has pointed me to Napoleon's favorite sister, Pauline, who happened to be famous for being The One Who Slept Around.
Toward the end of our palace tour, I couldn't help taking another photo at my favorite hallway.
When you're done at the palace, you have the option of taking a tram to the Petit Trianon. Versailles also offers tours of the gardens, which I would have loved to do (with a bike, because why not), but we had arrived at the grounds past lunch time and there was just no time nor willpower to get through it all.
When you take the tram, you're treated anyway to a nice view of the beautifully manicured greens. It was such a trip to imagine Marie Antoinette and friends traipsing down these paths (seriously).
And then we get to the Petit Trianon, which was built for Marie Antoinette by her husband. This "little" home away from the palace was anything but little; but I can understand how it would have seemed quaint compared to the extreme gilding of Home Number One.
Antonia Fraser's book takes you through many of Marie Antoinette's portraits—this was one I remembered from my reading.
The home was fun to walk through. Her monogram is everywhere and I remember taking these stairs all the way down and visiting the "downstairs" of the home with what would have been the kitchen. Kind of creepy but interesting, nonetheless.
Your treated to a bevy of landscapes when you walk outside. These gardens must look gorgeous as the seasons turn.
And I know that this is France, but the rear elevation of the Petit Trianon reminded me of Pemberley from "Pride and Prejudice" (wrong country, wrong era, but I will look for Mr. Darcy anywhere I can).
The Temple of Love is a pretty picturesque spot you run cross as you walk through the gardens. In my head (Austen alert), this is where Elizabeth confronts Darcy after reading his letter (Keira Knightley version, of course).
Marie Antoinette went into several phases of her life and the hamlet with the rustic little cottages came about when she was trying to shed the trappings of royal life, heavily influenced by Rousseau's writings. Of course she could never truly live like the townsfolk did, but she tried—in this Disneyland version of provincial living.
I could not help it, and I know it was again from a completely different time, but you can't not sing Belle's song from "Beauty and the Beast" once you get a glimpse of these cute houses. (There must be more than this provincial life! Ironic, yes.)
And as I am just chockfull of pop culture references, this one reminded me of Winterfell.
These are actual working farms with greens and animals. My heart melted at all the fat little rabbits hopping all over the place. TOO CUTE
As Queenie and I rounded up our tour, we were exhausted and excited for the prospect of grabbing some of Angelina's famous hot chocolate right in the palace. On Queenie's last visit to Versailles, the popular Parisian food place was stationed right there. Unfortunately, it was gone by fall 2015. We had to settle for our very late lunch at the cafeteria instead.
But really, nothing about my trip to Versailles was "settling," at all. I was only too happy to have stepped into Marie Antoinette's shoes for a moment and walk in her footsteps.
For all its sheen and glamour, Versailles represents a particularly sticky part of France's history. It's nice to have a reminder of how it all was before the mighty fell.
If I ever make my way back here, I am definitely riding a bike through the gardens. Maybe, in springtime, after getting a much-needed refresher course at Alliance française!