Though Bastille Day was the main reason I traveled to Paris that weekend, experiencing Versailles was one of my favorite moments.
Never before had I experienced a weekend as busy as the weekend of Bastille Day in Versailles, it’s a French holiday that parallels the Fourth of July for Americans. The start of my trip was disastrous, having arrived at the station out of breath and barely on time for the train speeding off to an airport an hour north of the center of Paris. When I finally arrived outside of the terminal, it had started to rain. As it was the middle of the summer, I had packed mostly tank tops and shorts, and the friend I was meeting didn’t have a cell phone. Needless to say, I was drenched. When I couldn’t find her hotel, I had to track down an Internet source in the middle of the night.
Upon reaching each other, we immediately went out, and I had the best meal of my life: an incredibly flavorful and juicy steak and perfectly crisp fries, red wine, and salad. We then went to an intimate bar for some peach beers before going to bed early so that we could wake up for the Bastille Day activities. Things were starting to look up.
Except that we missed Bastille Day Parade. By the time we woke up the next morning and looked out and saw the parade on the iconic Champs-Élysées, we knew there was no way that we could even get there, let alone have a view of the parade lined with decorated military groups and other uniformed squads.
So instead, we thought we would just pop over to Versailles. Why not? Neither of us had ever been. We hopped on the train and rode over. Once we got there, however, it started raining again (which I had not even thought was an option, coming from everyday ninety degree humidity in Florence).
But instead of turning back, we decided to drop seven euros on some head-to-toe pink ponchos. It’s safe to say, there was no way that we could have lost each other as we battled hurricane-like winds down the stretch to the palace. The trip was back on track.
When we got there, it was all worth it. It was as though once we set eyes on the gilt and lavishly ornamental palace, the rain seemed to dry up and the sun came out. As cliché as it sounds, it was an amazing moment. Water droplets fell from the gates and occasional puddles only accentuated the perfectly groomed grounds.
The gardens rendered us speechless, surrounded by this vast and ornate architecture. It was like stepping into a photograph in which the contrast was turned up. Everything shone at its best in the sunlight. Of course, one could only imagine the luxury that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI lived in, but firsthand, the chateau was beyond imagination. The painstaking detail in the architecture provided a utopia for the art it housed. Paired with the reflective silence of the surroundings, there was a quality of preservation and timelessness that was unmatched by any other place I have ever been.
Though the day and the weekend started with obstacles, I can say confidently that I am glad that things happened the way they did. I realize the decisions that are unplanned are often the ones that reward the most generously, and this trip served to remind me again of that mantra.
Though Bastille Day was the main reason I traveled to Paris that weekend, experiencing Versailles was one of my favorite moments. There are truly some places that cannot be captured completely in pictures, and Versailles is one of them. I plan to return, no matter the weather.
Written by AJ Kiyoizumi.