We had been in Paris for only a couple of hours when Todd made the suggestion to visit the Palace of Versailles. Ugh, I thought to myself. The whole concept of paying to tour another dead person’s home didn’t interest me at all. Sure castles are cool. Historical sites are insightful and all, but they are always the same. No matter how big they are.
For me the problem lies in being too much of a realist. I know I won’t get to gallivant through the vast, spacious hallways. Sneak into the bedrooms and open the drawers of these former prince and princesses. See what weird shit they were getting into back in the day. Let my mind really wander, envisioning what life was like back then. No no no. I will wait. For hours. Up to 3 sometimes, just to get a ticket. And then be informed I must wait again, “over there,” in a separate line for ticket holders. When I finally reach the entry point I am exhausted, tired and far from enchanted.
Typically, the average paying tourist will get to see a couple of rooms that have been redecorated in what the assumed style of the time was. Which is always gaudy and overdone. I am definitely not getting any ideas on how to furnish my future home and there is a reason why big houses and covering everything you own in gold went out of style. It's just silly.
I told Todd I had no interest in spending my hard earned euros continuing to indulge in some under endowed former king’s wet dream of still being a commodity after all these years. I don’t know why Louis XIV thought his shit didn’t stink more than the rest of those old royal folks. But seriously, no one needs a 720,000 sq feet palace. And that’s not even including the grounds.
Obviously I lost that battle. And off we went.
A quick history lesson will teach you the Palace of Versailles is the central most part of the complex which housed the French government, most notably its royalty, during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. Infamous Louis XIV was largely responsible for its construction and expansion during his 72 years as king. This great mirage of wealth manifested from power, luxury and overindulgence is now one of the largest tourist attractions in Paris. And for good reason I discovered. A short train ride from Paris, you board a lovely branded car at a stop with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. The precise location where I stopped talking so much shit and actually began to appreciate the whole experience. Which was in fact quite splendid.
The walk from the train to the palace – charming. The line to get inside - manageable. The views – incredible. The weather – perfect.
We set aside an entire day for the excursion, which relieved my chronic travelers anxiety of accomplishing as much as possible in a single stretch of daylight. Todd is a self proclaimed history buff and insists we do the audio tour whenever available. I frequently complain but am often impressed with the commentary they provide throughout. Germ infested console in hand we set out in our exploration.
We might have liked to move at our own pace, but Todd and I both lack the height needed to spot someone from afar and can get easily lost in a crowd. Surrounded by what felt like a southern grown football team, we locked arms and pushed our way through the introduction videos and educational notes.
Despite being abraded from both sides of my body, and by no means in a good way, I was quite astonished with the place. The sheer amount of incredible architecture and art meant we spent little time talking to each other and a lot of time wide eyed, glued to our audio guides. Todd and I were both in awe and amazed at how even in the most crowded places you can find a certain repose that evokes true appreciation.
And then there were the gardens. The incredible and unimaginably beautiful gardens! At first it seems impossible to imagine so few people having the opportunity to enjoy such luxurious sanctity back then. But if you walk just a short distance, remove yourself from the crowds and erase the noise completely you can arrive there. Todd and I spent the afternoon walking through the maze of trees - mini bottles of champagne and crepes in hand.
Stomachs full, tipsy and happy from the day's events, we headed towards the exit. A lofty attempt at one last adventure, Todd urged us to rent a boat before we departed. It really did look like fun and I screamed, "Yes, lets do it."
My natural abilities on the water confirmed I wouldn’t have faired well in a place like Versailles, or what I imagine an ivy league school being like. I cant play tennis for shit, horses terrify me and rowing didn't make any sense at all. After a few failed attempts, my man took care of the rest.
He toured me around the lake for over an hour. We had planned on a brief and cost effective ride, but after finding a corner all to ourselves we were in no hurry. As we drifted away from everyone, I closed my eyes. The rock of the boat and euphonious sound of the paddle hitting the water put me in a disarming trance. All the emotions from the day culminating. In those moments my mind clears completely and the world appears infinite.
When I opened them we were stopped and Todd was smiling in my direction. He leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “sometimes watching you lost in a moment is better than being lost in one myself.”
I rolled my eyes, smiled and thought again how silly this place was and how silly I was in it. Sitting in an overpriced rented boat, on a crowded lake, in the biggest tourist trap in France - who was I? My heart kindling over the picturesque backdrop and purely in awe of the man in front of me. Caught up in the cheesiness of it all and what I can best describe as a staggering moment of pure happiness, I realized I had found myself in love again. Utterly, irredeemably in love.
By the time we made it back to Paris we decided to skip dinner and drink wine in bed until we fell asleep. I thought about how poor Louis XIV never understand the comfort in simplicity. But I do hope he knew a similar moment out on that lake. And love.