Versailles: Where all that glitters is, well, pretty much actually all gold.

IMG_1170After our first visit to Paris, Carolyn was a little bummed out that she didn’t get to see the Palace of Versailles.

The Palace was the principal royal residence of France from 1682 until the start of the French Revolution in 1789.

I hadn’t realized it was only about 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the center of Paris, otherwise we might’ve squeezed it in last time… but, here we are in Paris again! So off we go to Versailles!

IMG_1909Of course the palace has plenty of patience and was more than willing to stay just as gaudy as ever no matter when we decided to visit.

IMG_1179It is a sign of more gaudy things to come when you see a fence made out of gold.

IMG_1910As you first approach the palace, you can’t help but be impressed at the size and elaborateness of the grounds and construction.

IMG_1178Pictures don’t do it much justice, but let’s just say it’d be a great place to live out your golden years. Until you were assassinated by some revolting peasants, that is.

IMG_1912We were smart enough to buy tickets online the day before, which saved us probably about an hour of waiting in line.

IMG_1937As you can see, there is no shortage of visitors. This is in the famous Hall of Mirrors, so-named because of all the chandeliers. Oh wait, no, there are mirrors here somewhere.

IMG_1199I guess mirrors were a big thing for rich people back in the day, because poor people had to ask their family how they looked, and since they generally looked pretty bad and families can be brutally honest, the answers they received just kept them depressed and poor. So the rich invented mirrors and made sure they stayed expensive.

IMG_1197With all the mirrors in the room, this could just be a reflection of myself.

IMG_1198There are seventeen arches with mirrors that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens, which ask to be overlooked, but we looked over them anyway. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors, which is why they originally decided to allow people to drink at that age, because after you drink enough, everyone, even me, looks good in a mirror.

IMG_1940During the 17th century, the Hall of Mirrors was used daily by Louis XIV when he walked from his private apartment to the chapel. He thought he looked awesome even when he wasn’t drunk.

IMG_1206As usual, no white space was allowed. Everything has to have a decoration, because otherwise someone might think you didn’t have enough money to decorate every square inch.

IMG_1218They missed a spot (zoom in to figure out where).

IMG_1924This one is spot-free. 100% coverage! Woo hoo! Actually the other one was spot-free too. If you zoomed in… gotcha! Ha ha! See, this isn’t just a travelogue, it’s an immersive interactive experience!

IMG_1186These are paintings.

IMG_1918These are more paintings, except with Carolyn in the shot.

IMG_1214This room was a bust as far as we were concerned.

IMG_1217Oh shoot, now I have to start a new column.

IMG_1191Proof that the iPhone is mightier than the sword. As evidence, I offer the fact that he’s dead, and I’m not. Yet.

IMG_1953This is the Hall of Really Big Paintings.

IMG_1920I can’t remember what the hall this is.

IMG_1923Excuse me, I guess they’re called salons. So this must be the Salon of Really Big Fireplaces.

IMG_1921If I was assigned to paint that ceiling, I would’ve tried it with massive squirt guns filled with paint, so I wouldn’t have had to lay on my back for years. It probably would’ve just been a big mess, but then I could’ve called it abstract art.

IMG_1917Rumor has it they played chess on that floor. Note the king standing by the wall as evidence. Okay, that’s why they call it a “rumor.” I don’t know who started it. Well, I do, actually, but I’ll pretend that’s a rumor too. Anyway, my queen is there as well.

IMG_1960I don’t know where the hall this goes, or why no one’s here. I think someone farted.

IMG_1943They put the “omigawd” in gaudy, that’s for sure!

IMG_1944Carolyn’s listening to the statue talk to her. At least she’s fully clothed. The statue, I mean.

IMG_1938Ah, now we’re back to the good stuff. After all, they didn’t have HBO back then.

IMG_1952They’re both trying to figure out what that picture means across the room. She gave up, but he’s still at it.

IMG_1959Which one of us do you think is the more statuesque? And for the record, I really wasn’t trying to flip anyone off. I was trying to hold my iPhone like a cane. Of course, it might be ironic if this guy tortured one of my ancestors, in which case my bird would be completely justified!

IMG_1219Okay, you can have another shot at the statuesque question with this one. Rats; I already know the answer. Men are never called statuesque. That’s only for women… and statues. Foiled again!

Speaking of women, I have to post this blurb from Wikipedia: During the reign of Louis XIV and most of the reign of Louis XV, there was no plumbing to speak of in the palace itself. Only the King, the Queen, and the Dauphin had anything approaching bathrooms. Some courtiers who lived at Versailles would often have their own collapsable “commode” which was a seat with a chamber pot underneath; it was brought when needed and then taken away when finished. It is estimated that there were only three hundred of these at any one time. Everyone else, if they couldn’t afford to bribe an owner’s servant, had to just go in a corner somewhere or go outside and urinate on a tree. The smell was horrific and became notorious throughout Europe.

Lave.gifIsn’t that awesome? You’d think the French would have subsequently learned a thing or two about bathrooms after all that, wouldn’t you? But no-o-o-o. While I didn’t take a picture of what I’m about to describe, I have to apologize to all women on behalf of all men for the fact that almost no architects seem to understand the differences in sexes when it comes to bodily plumbing. There is a distinct shortage of bathrooms in the palace even today, but, as usual, the number and size are equal between the sexes. So of course you end up with a line of women about a hundred meters long while men jauntily breeze by on their way to immediate relief in the plentiful urinals. I actually saw a couple of women give up and go into the men’s room, for which I cheered them on heartily. I would’ve done the same thing. Women really need to rebel over this. I would happily stand side by side with them, because it’s just silly and unfair. Give the women their peedom!

Okay, I’m climbing down off my soapbox and going back to the computer again.

IMG_1956In our visits to other palaces and such, we learned all about the origins of some of that stonework, but have since completely forgotten every detail except that it’s kinda purple. That’s why I don’t pay much attention to tour guides anymore… it’s interesting at the time, but five minutes later I’ll have forgotten it all while I hunt for a gelado.

IMG_1913A very suitable Door of the Day.

IMG_1935After walking through the salons and halls while being buffeted about by anxious Japanese tourists clicking their cameras at every square inch of gaudiness, we finally plunged outside, gasping for breath and wiping our sweaty brows. Even though the weather was a little gloomy, we were delighted to inhale fresh air.

We interrupt this blog for an important announcement!

Before and after road.jpgOur road has been paved! Our road has been paved! About a year and a half ago, they began tearing up the road in front of our house in order to lay a sewer line. Finally, after breathing enough dust to make any Burning Man attendee nostalgic, they paved the road. Who would’ve thunk two people would get so excited to see a road paved?

And now back to our regularly scheduled blog:

IMG_1181Okay, so now we’re outside; the back of the place looks like Disneyland’s Haunted Castle, except ten times bigger and a hundred times more real. Maybe that’s why they call it “real estate.”

IMG_1949This is the sight that greets you once you step outside of that hellhole of a palace.

IMG_1222I think the gardener was stoned when he mowed the lawn. Oh wait! Carolyn tells me they did this on purpose. Aha! Art! I get it now!

IMG_1230Speaking of being stoned, I was trying to look high here for the joke, but ended up just looking kinda stupid. Well, maybe that’s the same thing.

IMG_1969Here’s a broader view of the gardens. I say that because Carolyn took the picture. And because, you know, she’s a broad. And we’re abroad. Now that I think about it, after living abroad for all this time, going back to the US is what will feel like going abroad.

IMG_1967So just imagine that this is your house, and you get all the way down to where Carolyn is and you realize you forgot your keys.

IMG_1227He’s naked and I’m not… and I know you’re glad for both of those things.

IMG_1234This is definitely a rip-off for the ladies. Hey-ho! The leaf must go! At least I think that’s what the protesters were saying.

IMG_1990To make up for it, I took this shot just for you ladies. My guess is most of you appreciate this more than the front view anyway. You can’t tell me I don’t listen to women… indeed: what you say never goes in one rear and out the other.

IMG_1971Will someone please give her a hand?

IMG_2018You have to admit that this picture of a statue is less interesting than when one of us is goofing around in front of it. If you disagree, well, go type in “statue” in Google and have a ball. But if you do that, come back to the blog! There might be more statues here too!

IMG_1237And fountains! We have plenty of fountains!

IMG_1239Despite their beauty, supplying water for the fountains of Versailles was a major problem; Versailles has never had sufficient water supply for its hundreds of fountains. True story: when the King sauntered about the gardens, they turned the fountains on when he was approaching, and then turned them off after he was out of view.

IMG_2030They also quickly erected some pillars and stuff to make the palace look more impressive. Just kiddin’. That thing in front is an elevator still under construction. Just kiddin’ again. It’s a fire escape, obviously. Or telescope. Or maybe a big blender. Obviously you’re getting what you pay for in a tour guide.

IMG_2007The gardens cover about 800 hectares of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French formal garden style. Here Carolyn is landscaped in the Portuguese casual chic raincoat style.

IMG_2013A hectare is 100 meters by 100 meters, which is about the size of a professional rugby field, so figure the gardens are 800 of those all put together. 800 hectares also equals 8 square kilometers, or a little over 3 square miles. If you prefer acres, 800 hectares is 1,976.84 acres.

IMG_2012Another way to put it is that it would take the average lawnmower 44,302 litres of gasoline to mow it all. I just made that up, there’s no way I’m gonna try and figure that one out. Let’s just say it’s all pretty damn big.

IMG_2005And there are yet more fountains. Of course, this may have shut off once we turned our backs.

IMG_2021And this one probably turned on as soon as we had turned around from the last one to look at this one. Sneaky water-savers, those French.

IMG_1999So we tried to trick them by turning our backs, but the fountains can spot a selfie a hectare away.

IMG_1997Some of the hectares.

IMG_1964We’re not sure where the hectare we are.

IMG_1995Aha! Found it on the map. The big lawn thingee.

IMG_1968Just to give you an idea as to the scope of this thing. And to think it was just a King’s backyard! No wonder the peasants ended up revolting!

IMG_1977Dancing waters.

IMG_1983I took this picture because the worker was literally walking around this tree picking up leaves and twigs. I guess that’s job security for ya, because I think as soon as he was done on one side, there were plenty of new leaves and twigs on the other side.

IMG_1998Our artistic shot of the day.

IMG_1994The trees made it all cool and peaceful. Which meant I had to shout some taunts at passing English tourists: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries! Pffffft! Pffft! Prrrfft!” (Some will get it, some won’t.)

IMG_2029Versailles is the answer to the following Jeopardy question: What would a residence look like if you had unlimited funds and were especially interested in impressing your national neighbors?

IMG_2032And so we said goodbye to a truly magnificent palace and gardens. But I gotta tell ya, if I’d a been a peasant back then, I would have been revolting too!


Le Mont-Saint-Michel (Saint Michael’s Mountain)

IMG_1677As soon as Carolyn showed me a picture of this tiny French island with a monastery on top, I knew we’d have to visit it.

It’s one of the most striking constructions I think I’ve ever seen. It just sits out on an expanse of sand like a gigantic jagged molehill. When the tide comes in, the entire thing ends up surrounded by water. Fortunately, it’s a little sturdier than any sand castle I’ve ever built, so when the tide goes back out, there it stays, standing there as it has for nearly 1,000 years.

IMG_1674To get there, you first have to catch a bus from the parking lot, which we were grateful for because it was a bit of a rainy day.

IMG_1010But even through the mist and the rainy windows, you can’t help but be impressed as you approach.

IMG_1014Once you get off the bus, you still have a walk on the long walkway that connects the island to the mainland.

IMG_1676But we were smart enough to bring an umbrella, so the water didn’t dampen our spirits any.

IMG_1076As you approach, the abbey looms above you like a gigantic haunted house.

IMG_1782Which apparently didn’t scare the smiles off our faces.

IMG_1016Upon entry into the town, you’re greeted by a cute little avenue lined with merchants hawking all sorts of touristy goods. It almost looks like something you’d see in Disneyland.

Including doors that look like they were made for Mickey Mouse.

IMG_1772The island has supported strategic fortifications since ancient times.

IMG_1763Since the 8th century, it has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name.

Once you’re in, they really don’t want to let you back out, because the island only has about 30 permanent inhabitants. But since neither of us can make or bear any children, they eventually did let us go.

IMG_1781It actually was a prison for a time, sort of Alcatraz-like due to its location. I doubt the prisoners were this cheerful, generally.

IMG_1031The island’s location is so strategic and defensible that when the tide came in, any attackers were stranded, drowned, or driven off. Maybe they should have called it Mont-Saint-Moses.

IMG_1053These victories left the occupants, especially the king on his throne, feeling rather smug.

IMG_1059The island remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War; in fact only a small garrison was needed to fend off a full attack by the English in 1433.

IMG_1027During the Hundred Years’ War, England made numerous assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey’s strong fortifications.

IMG_1062Mont-Saint-Michel is visited by more than 3 million people annually. Well, now 3 million and two. France protects over sixty of its buildings as historical monuments.

IMG_1063This is either a fireplace or where they roasted their enemies for lunch.

IMG_1751I think it might be the latter. Here, they would be preparing Asian cuisine.

IMG_1045The original site was founded by an Irish hermit, who amassed a bit of a following, one that began dublin’ every year or so, ire-ronically.

IMG_1732The salt marsh meadows surrounding the island were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The meat that results from this diet makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb), a local specialty. We didn’t know that then, which now makes us feel a little sheepish..

Dad Jokes

IMG_1020I think this might be a statue of St. Michael, but I’m just winging it. According to other people who were also winging it, the legend is that the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.

IMG_1040In 1067 the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England. He rewarded that with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modeled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.

IMG_1044It’s nice that they put a putting green in, but I couldn’t find any flags. Or putters. Or golf balls. Silly French peoples.

IMG_1752This room is called, “Crypte des gros piliers,” although the pillars didn’t seem very gross to me.

IMG_1046Except they are kinda gross as hiding places.

IMG_1754Carolyn was excited to learn that Mont Saint-Michel was the inspiration for the design of Minas Tirith in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

IMG_1737It also served as the artistic inspiration for the Disney movie Tangled.

IMG_1761This device is cleverly called “The Wheel.” They used it to haul up supplies and VCRs so they could watch The Lord of the Rings and Tangled.

IMG_1746The door of the day.

IMG_1747There are about fifty shops for the three million annual tourists.

IMG_1739And one organ.

IMG_1731Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. The construction of the Romanesque church of the abbey was begun in the 11th century,

IMG_1742The church is at the very top of the island, signifying God being above.

IMG_1760Which offers some spectacular views of any invading troops.

IMG_1720This seagull is inspecting their firing range, because of course they have to practice in order to hit their targets efficiently.

Here you can see what the island looked like during various stages of development. They kind of look like unbaked chocolate chip cookies on a baking sheet, eh?

IMG_1685Many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to compensate for all the weight of that construction.

There’s a lot of uphill climbing to get to the top. Fortunately, this results in a lot of downhill climbing when you’re ready to leave.

And so, we knocked another Unesco Heritage Site off our bucket list. There are 1,092 of those all together. We’ve seen a relative handful so far. I wonder how many years it would take to see them all? Too much for one lifetime I’m afraid, so we’ll have to make do with what we see while we’re traveling Europe!