A reflection on her time in the town of Versailles, our editor-in-chief, Emily Fata, expounds upon the fulfillment of a childhood dream. As she explains, sometimes meeting your 'heroes' turns out to be an incredible experience.
At the age of six, I told my schoolyard friends of a place that I had found in a library book. “The royal family lived there once,” I explained to them in a conversation that I can still vividly remember today, “and it’s the most beautiful place on earth. One day I’m going to go there, and become the Queen of France.”
Everything but that last sentence was true. To me, Château de Versailles certainly is the most beautiful place on earth (at least, the most gorgeous man-made construction), but my definition of “soon” was fifteen years until I eventually got there. I finally did though, at the age of twenty-one… and of course, as far as I know even two and a half years later, I’m still not the Queen of France.
As an avid traveller, the Ville de Versailles was a place I endlessly envisioned walking through for the first time. I pictured how the stone roads would feel beneath my shoes, how I would interact with the locals, and especially how I would react the moment that I turned the corner onto Avenue de Paris and saw the palace come into view. I always thought I’d be so overwhelmed by finally arriving in the ‘Promised Land’ that I would burst into tears, but when the day eventually came, I was surprised that I didn’t.
On this particular trip to Paris, my second time in the beautiful city, I was with my mum in October of 2015. We caught the RER train from near our hotel at Gare Saint-Lazare all the way to Gare de Porchefontaine in Versailles. From here, we walked out to Avenue de Paris which, as it turns out, is a long and winding road. Every turn in the street, I was anticipating the moment I would finally catch a glimpse of the famed Château in person.
After a couple of souvenir and antique shop pit stops, we finally turned the final bend and through the trees, I could see the silhouette of my Palace of High Expectations. With my admission ticket clutched in one hand and my mum’s arm clasped tightly in the other, I practically dragged her forward in my race to get to the golden gates ahead.
Walking through the courtyard made me teary-eyed, but I felt more speechless from the sheer excitement of the situation than anything else. Once we made our way into the main entrance along the side of the palace and through security, my hands began roving over everything I could get them on: the towering walls, the intricate moulding, the protruding cherub faces as we approached the Royal Chapel (which, when I went, was closed to the public except by a guided tour). It was immediately as if I lost most of my vocabulary, other than the words, “Wow mom, look” tumbling from my lips like a broken record.
The Palace itself contains 2,300 rooms within its 63,154 m2 area, but of course, not everything is open to the public. This might have been a good thing, because I was spending a seemingly infinite amount of time admiring the rich details of the main palace. From the King’s lavish apartments to the renowned Hall of Mirrors, everything about Château de Versailles left me breathlessly awestruck. The sheer grandeur of everything enveloping me made my heart ache for this place that I would have to leave by the end of the day.
What’s more, the thought that my favourite person in history walked those very walls made my heart skip a beat. France’s misunderstood Queen Marie Antoinette (who met her death on October 16, 1793), has always been an object of my fascination. So, it was to my absolute horror when I found out from a security guard that her private chambers, the Queen's apartments, as well as the Dauphin and Dauphine's apartments, were closed. As we neared the exit of the main Palace, I felt a sense of panic come over me that I had missed the rooms I had wanted to see most. This was especially difficult for me to come to terms with, knowing that Marie Antoinette’s hamlet was closed for the season, as well. I reluctantly reconciled this in my mind by reminding myself that I still had the expansive gardens and Trianons to see.
When we exited out into the gardens, we made our way to the Orangerie, where I was immediately enraptured in photographing the beautiful greenery around me. Despite it being October and slightly chilly, a lot of the shrubbery still held on to its vibrant colour. Thankfully, you can enjoy a great deal of the gardens as you make your way toward the Trianons. For me, the Petit Trianon, built between 1762 and 1768 during the reign of Louis XV of France, was a must-see. It’s located in the park of the Grand Trianon, rather close by. This became the domain of Marie Antoinette during her reign of France, and the stunning miniature neoclassical château with perfectly manicured gardens swept me off my feet.
Inside of this domain, I felt once again as if I had stepped back in time to the opulence and splendour both of the eighteenth century, as well as the last monarchs’ predecessors. From the slate and white checkered marble floors, the smooth stone walls, and towering ceilings of the foyer, I was instantly enraptured by this beautiful ‘informal’ palace. The chambers, though far smaller than those of the main palace, were still beautifully decorated with intricate white wainscoting on the walls offset by detailed coloured fabrics on all furniture and accompanying décor. I was absolutely in love.
Leaving the Petit Trianon was as heart-wrenching as leaving the Château, more so because it was now nearing the evening and thus, our time to leave Versailles. We boarded a little train that made its way through the back roads of the gardens, passing by the picturesque Hamlet and sprawling green fields with grazing sheep, the trees shading the path as we once again neared the main palace and nearby exit.
When the time came for me to leave my favourite place on earth, I did so reluctantly. As we made our way back to Gare de Porchefontaine train station along Avenue de Paris, I found myself peering back over my shoulder at the château, slowly moving out of sight. As it finally disappeared, I turned my head forward with the knowledge that I would one day return to this personally sacred space.
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* This article was featured in Wanderous Affair: Volume 1, Issue 2