• Cindy Zampa

PORTAL 52 Week 42: Versailles Portal 1, Outside Looking In

There is so much to do and see in France, it’s a bit of a challenge to prioritize where to go and how much time to spend at each destination. It becomes even more complex to consider the range of interests each traveller brings to the itinerary planning table. My husband, daughter and I were first time visitors to France so, of course, each of us had lists of things to see or do which were as varied as they as they were extensive.

With only 5 days to spend in Paris, it took some strategic planning to accommodate everyone’s wishes. Fortunately, some of our ‘must’ see or do items overlapped. All of us wanted to visit the Palace of Versailles, so it became our first planned outing. Since it is a vast and sprawling estate, located about an hour’s train ride outside of Paris, we allotted a full day for our visit.

We’d been advised to expect a long line-up, especially since we were going on a Tuesday, one of the days that a ticket includes musical fountains and musical gardens shows. We were assured that once the gates open at 9 a.m., the line would move quickly. Despite arriving at the entrance before its scheduled opening time, the line stretched from Honour Gate, through the Place d’Armes, and wound through an area of parked tour busses. Just as we’d get close to it, the end of the line moved further away from us. As bus after bus unloaded, its passengers moved in an undulating mass, like an amoeba engulfing its prey, toward the end of the line.

At 9:15, when as many people were behind us as in front of us, we wondered why we were still standing in the same spot. Not only had we not moved forward, there appeared to be some rumblings of discontent amongst the Chinese tour group in front of us. Since none of us speak Chinese, my husband left us in line to walk up to the gate to investigate.

He came back with the news that they're on strike! We debated what to do – should we stay or go back to Paris? Then, we wondered why the line had formed in the first place, given that the people close enough to see the signs announcing the strike had chosen to stay put anyway. I decided to go up to the entrance and see what I could learn from the people at the front of the line.

By the time I got to the gate I could see it was less line-like and more mob-like, with many groups of people clustered at the gate and along the fence. Armed guards could be seen on the other side of the fence, some of whom were glaring at the jostling crowd, while others yelled at the crowd, in French. I asked some English-speaking tourists if they understood what the guard was saying. Apparently, the gates would remain closed unless enough staff showed up to make it possible to open to visitors – he said to check back at about 10:30. They might be able to open by then…or maybe they’d open by noon. He could not say for sure if they could open at all.

We decided to leave the line-up to wander around the outside of the palace grounds while waiting until 10:30. We'd decided that if it still wasn’t opened at 10:30, we’d head back to Paris for other sight-seeing adventures. Looking through the fence surrounding the estate, we could see beautifully manicured gardens and fountains. We also discovered other entrances to the courtyard. Then we meandered up and down several streets of Versailles, stopping for a delicious latte. It is a very picturesque place, and I’m grateful that we had the chance to see it. We wouldn't have explored the streets, cafes and shops of Versailles had we gained entrance to the Palace like we’d planned. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry, but there can be collateral benefits.

The picture used as reference for this painting was taken near the Dragon Gate entrance. This is the entrance we walked through at 10:30, when the gates to the Honour Courtyard opened. There were only several people in front of us here, while the line-up at the Honour Gate was as long as it had been when we’d left it, perhaps even longer.

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