Today was a day that showed that sometimes you really can make demands on your children when you travel–and they can rise to an occasion.
We left this morning for Versailles, not as early as we should have, as both Caroline and I are slow to get going. Matt, prince that he is, said nothing reproachful, although I know he would have had us out the door at least an hour earlier. There were lines in the train station and then in a hurry to get us going I got us on the wrong RER (these are the suburban trains that run to the areas immediately outlying Paris). Thankfully I realized this before it was too late, and we simply had to get off and switch trains, but it probably cost us ten minutes.
All this means we arrived just before lunch time, which with our hungry crew necessitated an immediate detour into town to have some sandwiches. A fortunate detour, actually, as my panini of cheese and chicken was the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life. Then there was a long wait in a potty line (it was, as you can imagine, insanely crowded at the château).
It was a beautiful day, with skies like a Fragonard or Boucher painting. I imagined my two little boys wearing silk breeches and blowing bubbles or playing blindman’s bluff while I took pictures of the gorgeous golden gates and waited for Matt and Tommy. But then, finally, everyone’s bodily needs had been met and we were inside.
I was eager to show Tommy the fantastic royal boudoirs, but had forgotten that before you can see them you are first required to walk through room after room after room after room of paintings. Portraits of the bewigged variety. Pictures of naval battles. The occasional painting of Louis XIV all gotten up as Apollo. This seems very French to me–that is, they are going to make you take a boring tour through their history before you get the honor of seeing their treasure. And of course, the panels are all written only in French, so you better know the language too.
I actually found this a bit wearying (and recall that I did long ago when I visited as well). Certainly it is nothing of interest to small children. That is, except our two. If you will allow me to boast for a moment, I’ll share that Tommy wanted to look at all of the paintings and try to figure out what the import of each one was, a sore test of my French if ever there was one (especially since I really have no idea which Duc d’Orléans did what or why). But we talked a lot about things like why how the clothes were different and why the king might want to show off his legs.
Meanwhile, Matt and Teddy amused themselves by deciding what each room should be named based on the color of the damask walls. There were (in no particular order) the raspberry room, the lime room, the chocolate room, the strawberry fruit roll-up room, the blueberry room, and the pièce de résistence: the King’s Bedchamber, a multicolor masterpiece, which was dubbed the Pop Tart room by my youngest.
Matt and the boys also danced in the ballroom
and counted the chandeliers in the Hall of Mirrors by way of diverting themselves.
After we were finished in the château, Matt tried to retrieve the stroller for a walk around the gardens, but for some reason they wouldn’t let him take it from the coat check into the park. I really wanted to go over to the estate in a corner of the garden where Marie Antoinette famously played milkmaid with her friends, but it is a looooong walk from the palace over there. We were all tired, and I wasn’t sure that the kids could do it, but fortified with artisinal Italian ice cream on the way (OK, I’ll be honest: I had one too. Much to Matt’s amusement. I missed no opportunities to eat ice cream on this trip) the boys trooped all the way over there with nary a complaint.
Once we were there, we all forgot how exhausted we were. This corner of the estate holds the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, two smaller palaces that the royal family used to get away from court life (Trianon was the name of the village that was destroyed to build them). Tommy gamely offered to tour the Grand Trianon with me, but rather than subject him to more gilt furniture, we pressed on to see the queen’s estate. The Petit Trianon, which is the small palace on the grounds was closed, but the rest of the estate was open. We were all captivated by the English Garden;
the Temple of Love;
the Hamlet, complete with it’s own little carp-filled pond;
and the Grotto and Belvedere (the latter being a free-standing music pavillion surrounded by sphinxes, or “lion-ladies” as Teddy calls them).
I think these pictures show why we loved it so much. It made me wonder about the queen who created such a magical little world for herself and her children, a place of beauty and secret passages and delicious gardens. She often is not remembered kindly, but I believe that she must have had her own kind of genius, that of childhood magic. I think that if we had offered to let the boys spend the night there, they would have accepted eagerly. Tommy’s only disappointment was that the buildings themselves weren’t open.
After a good hour of even more walking we managed to squeeze ourselves onto a very crowded shuttle that bumped and jostled us back to the palace where we finally retrieved the stroller and our backpack, which we had also left, and so gave Teddy a ride and the rest of us access to water bottles and carrots and all the necessaries that we normally don’t do without. And so we headed back to Paris on our double-decker train, as happy as could be, the two boys chatting up two nice women from Maryland. By the time we got home it was well past dinnertime and they had been going for nearly ten hours straight. I rewarded Tommy with the purchase of some sushi–his favorite food–on our walk back from the Metro.
He was so happy not to be faced with cheese and ate it like it was a feast fit for a king.