There are few houses in Europe considered more elegant than Louis' House: Château de Versailles. This was the centre of political power in France, starting in 1682, when Louis the XIV moved there from Paris (20 km away), until the French Revolution in 1789. The property began as a hunting lodge For Louis XIII, though you couldn't tell today, with the gold lining every wall and ceiling. Of course the building didn't happen all at once. Different apartments, chapel, opera house, and gardens were build for different kings, mostly coming from their own pockets (some money of which came from "New France - aka Early Canada).
Given that we were a school group, we were lucky enough to be entitled to a super cheap tour and free entry. For very few euros (and a LOT of phone tag) we managed to get a 9:30 tour through the chapel and kings apartments, with a guide from the museum. We began our tour IN the chapel. The only way you can get into the chapel is with a guide, otherwise you are looking at it through the doorway from behind a red rope. Getting to stand inside (and photograph it!) was such an honour - and a great place to learn about the building. Following this were rooms and apartments from the King, Marie Antoinette, and various dignitaries in between.
When the official tour wrapped we were left at the Hall of Mirrors - where the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I. This is my second time walking through this room, and I still want to know - who do I have to pay to get in hear early enough to photograph the room empty. There should be a special reservation based photographers pass. Sigh. One can only dream.
Once we finished on the inside of the Palace we met in the lobby and gave two options to the group - return to Paris now, go for lunch, have a nap, start packing OR stick around, have lunch here and explore the gardens. 8 students were exhausted and headed back to the hotel, and 18 were ready to see more, sticking around the gardens with Mr. Becker, Mr. Dewinetz and myself. We found a place to sit for lunch before walking down to the lake, past the fountains, through the flowers, and around the mirrored art piece that was super fun to photograph. Fun, food, and smiles all around. Our group stayed another 3 hours or so before boarding the RER back to Paris. The 45 minute train ride is very soothing - so much so it is easy to fall asleep (especially after 5 hours wandering through Versailles!) In fact, when we got off the train, Mr. Dewinetz realized we were missing a few kids, and had to run upstairs, wake them up, and run down the stairs back off the train - almost getting caught in the door on the way out. Closest we have ever come to losing a student! Who knows where they would have woken up down the line!!
Fortunate for us, it was early September, and the weather was cloudy. While the hall of mirrors and Kings apartments were shoulder to shoulder (I think Versailles could learn a few things from the efficiency of Neuschwanstein), the arms were empty due to the clouds. We had a reservation for a tour - which allowed us to enter through a different line than the usual tourists (though this was a school entrance only), which helped as well. I don't know if there are secrets to a tourist free experience at Versailles, at least not in the summer season. Maybe in winter, on a Wednesday in the pouring rain? Maybe if it snows? But regardless of the crowds, a spectacular site to be seen. Whether history, architecture or gardening is your passion, there is something to enjoy for (almost) everyone.