The iconic Hall of Mirrors is supposed to be right here.
Wednesday, July 19th was blazing hot in Paris. Figuring it would be easier to endure the heat outside of the city, I decided this would be my day to visit the Palace of Versailles.
Their outing at Versailles is part of one of the biggest, happiest days for Cornelia and Emily in all of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. It is when those engaging young doctors from the ship, Paul Dudley White and Joe Aub, make a reappearance. The men have arrived in Paris, and take the girls to Versailles in the afternoon. That evening, back in Paris, the four go out to a fancy dinner and a show.
I was eager to get out of the Paris heat as soon as possible, and caught a morning train to Versailles. I had been to the palace once, many summers ago, during the Eurail youthpass/backpack month of my first time abroad. It had been cold and rainy that day, and my traveling companion, Stephanie, and I didn’t attempt the gardens. So I was eager to wander the grounds on a day when – though hot – the weather was cooperating.
Emerging from the train station at Versailles, along with what seemed like a thousand other people, I made the short walk over to the palace, where I was able to quickly and easily buy a ticket.
… and then stood in line for an hour and a half to get in. Apparently all of the tourist attractions in and around Paris are like this. Those lines at Notre Dame should have clued me in. No more simple ticket taking and in you go. There was high security, with a preliminary bag checkpoint, a metal detector/body scan, and another bag check through a conveyor belt scanner before one gained entry to the attraction. It’s what it is now, completely understandable, sadly necessary, I said to myself. But it can put a person off wanting to do anything.
Still, this was for Cornelia and Emily. And as I had nowhere else I needed to be, I could and would tough it out.
During that hour and a half in the snaking line, I got to know the lovely women from Long Island who were standing behind me. They had come over for a party that was being given in honor of one of their daughters, who had married a Frenchman. They lived in the States, and his family is in Normandy. It was his family hosting the party. The women were fun and funny and made the time pass quickly, and I was so thankful to be in line with them.
Once I’d finally made it inside, I joined a huge, ridiculous mass of people touring the palace. Every room was wildly crowded, and I didn’t linger in any of them. Instead, I focused on trying to hustle through the palace as quickly as I could.
It became almost comical, the size of the crowds and the unsavoriness of the situation. I felt extremely grateful that I’d seen everything before – otherwise I would’ve felt rather short-changed by the experience. Then again, I had been looking forward to my second visit to the historic Hall of Mirrors, but…
It didn’t take me long to hightail it out of the Hall of Mirrors and into the fresh air of the gardens. The revitalizing breeze and return of personal space put a spring back into my step, and I started the long stroll to Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon and medieval hamlet, which I especially wanted to see. The day which had started out so beastly hot had turned partly cloudy and more comfortable, with light winds and spots of sprinkling rain to cool things down, so I felt certain that both destinations were within reach.
But more important things first. I had on my phone a snapshot of the picture of Cornelia with the doctors, from Paul White’s photo album. With this, I was able to locate the spot in the gardens where Emily took the picture of the other three, and I got my picture made there.
It was one of the top, best, closest moments of being with the girls – in their footsteps, matching their experience – that I would have. As an added treat, I was also getting to spend some time with Joe and Paul. I had gotten to know something about these young men through the research I’d done at Harvard, so I was very pleased to finally be meeting up with them here.
It was lovely to start my tour of the gardens on such a high note. Perhaps that is why I was so devil-may-care about exploring the other four hundred square miles of them (okay, more like three). I didn’t have the intel – or, at the very least, the good sense – to rent a golf cart to get around in. Despite my best efforts that day, I left a massive amount of gardens and grounds undiscovered, which will just have to wait for another time.
Still, I managed to walk to the Petit Trianon and squeeze in a quick tour, and then it was on to the medieval hamlet, where I sat for a bit enjoying the charm of it all before starting the heinous walk back to the Palace.
I made it as far as the enormous Apollo fountain at the top of the Grand Canal, where I sat down on the edge, took my shoes off and put my feet in the water. It wasn’t as cold as Lake Michigan or the Thames, but about ten minutes of soaking my feet did a world of good, and I felt refreshed enough to continue the walk back.
Overall, my day had been a success. I had spent time with Cornelia and Emily and their doctors, gotten a photo which meant the world to me, seen the elusive Petit Trianon and hamlet, and put my feet in one of the Versailles fountains (which, I must confess, is an immensely satisfying notion). Also, I was coming away with some useful knowledge for next time: no palace, grounds only, in a golf cart.
Travel tip: The gardens are free, with gift shops and cafes of their own, and there’s no waiting in line to get in.
As I made my way back to the palace, I passed the bodies of numerous collapsed tourists which were sprawled out on the grass and benches along the way.
Defeated by Versailles.
I made it to the top of the palace’s terrace steps and found my Long Island ladies sitting there. They were completely worn out, and said that when they saw me, I looked as tired as they felt.
Versailles defeats everyone.
Top row: The third and last leg of the staggeringly long line; joining the others in the garden; the serenity of the grove.
Bottom row: The “mill” in Marie Antoinette’s pretend village; the Long Island ladies take a breather (note the collapsed tourists in the background); close-up of collapsed tourists — definitely defeated by Versailles.