VERSAILLES! It is wonderfully beautiful! You gaze and stare and try to understand that it is real, that it is on the earth, that it is not the Garden of Eden-but your brain grows giddy, stupefied by the world of beauty around you, and you half believe you are the dupe of an exquisite dream.
—Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
On Friday we visited one of Europe's most magnificent palaces.
Versailles started as Louis XIII's hunting lodge, before his son Louis XIV expanded it and had the royal court moved there. It was home to the French monarchs for about 100 years, until the French people revolted in 1789. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Very happy with our Paris bike tour, we again entrusted Bike About Tours to show us around. We met our group in Paris at Notre-Dame and hopped on and off a few trains (I was very impressed with our tour guide's ability to herd us tourists during rush hour on the Metro). About an hour later we arrived and picked up our bikes.
First stop - the market! We gathered things for our afternoon picnic.
Tyler and I picked up apricots, cherry tomatoes, prosciutto, dried sausage, and mini pizzas with artichoke hearts, cheese, and tomato sauce.
With food in hand, we set off to explore Versailles.
We visited Marie Antoinette's estate, which was a rustic farm that she had built away from the palace. She was captured before she ever got to live there.
In an unfortunate turn of events, the palace was being evacuated just as we were walking up to enter.
Apparently there was a suspicious package left in the palace, and what with the recent attacks, the French were taking no chances. (Tourism is down about 40% because of the attacks.)
At the very least, the gardens were reopened after the package was taken care of.
It was disappointing not to be able to see the inside of the palace at the end of the day, but...I guess this just means we will have to come back!
Versailles is a big place, and our friends advised us to explore it by bike. We are so glad we took their advice! Bike About Tours did an excellent job of showing us around and providing us with historical context, which made everything we saw more meaningful.
It's recommended that you leave Paris around 8 a.m. to beat the crowds.
Bring a hat and some sunscreen, as many of the bike and walking paths are not shaded.
Have a picnic on the Grand Canal rather than eating at a restaurant - much more scenic!