On our unexpected, unplanned outing to the Palace of Versailles we were totally mesmerized by the interior. No one mentioned the upcoming picnic lunch on the terrace or that soon we would be enchanted by a magical spring like day in March.
As far as the eye could see the garden went on. The long set of stairs led us down onto the garden path. Our goal was to reach the place past the grass because we heard that there was a four channel man made lake where one could rent a boat. The idea of rowing ourselves around a garden had us moving quickly.
On our way to the lake little or big things kept popping up that would capture our imaginations. Look at the way this horse and chariot just rises out of the water. We walked around this fountain alone for about 15 minutes really looking to see how the sculptor had thought this idea up. Our conclusion is that he was a fan of Greek Mythology.
"Let's just rent a bike for an hour and take a ride, then we can come back and rent a boat." I said.
Everyone was game for the adventure. The day was nearly 70 degrees and sunny. There was a light warm wind and that little euphoria that sets in during the beginning of Spring hit us. I think if it was allowed, we would have rode our bikes to Amsterdam.
We followed this path through the garden until we could go no further and had to park our bikes. We had arrived at a manor house. A house which was actually the first building on the Versailles property, built as a hunting lodge by King Louis the XIV. Later the Trianon became the manor house of Marie Antoinette. She hated court life and this allowed her some breathing room from it all.
"Happiness is doubled when shared with a friend...." In those words are contained the value she placed on friendship as being intrinsic to her happiness. Indeed, the queen had a great capacity for friendship.
As we came through her house, there was yet another magnificent garden which called us to walk along its pathways until we reached this little village. It is known as the Hameau, the Hamlet. Along with not liking French court life, Marie Antoinette loved playing peasant. She had a complete village built which housed a fishing pond, vegetable gardens, life-stock, grain fields, and anything and everything a village needed to survive.
This building was the dining hall. We loved looking in the windows. One can really imagine what life was like here. It was really fascinating the way history comes together and what we think of as facts and dates in a book, actually took place in the company of many historical figures. I was so surprised to learn that Marie Antoinette was dear friends with the Swiss philosopher Rousseau and that he inspired the hamlet gardens which reflected his "back to nature" philosophy. He also helped decorate two of the buildings along with his brother.
Mimi and I couldn't help but comment that we could really feel the queen in this place. It left us with many questions which we would later have to answer. Was Queen Marie Antoinette the selfish extravagant of French history or was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Our research would show us that she got the raw end of the deal and was a victim and not an oppressor. She was completely unaware as to what was happening in the outside world. From being born an Austrian princess to marrying the King of France, her life was actually imprisoned in the palace and she had no clue what life was like outside it's walls.
In spite of its idyllic appearance, the hamlet was a real farm, fully managed by a farmer appointed by the Queen, with its vineyards, fields, orchards and vegetable gardens producing fruit and vegetables consumed by the royal table. Animals from Switzerland, according to the instructions of the Queen, were raised on the farm. For this reason the place was often called "the Swiss hamlet".At some point we looked at our watches and discovered it was almost 5 pm. We had 15 minutes to get our bikes back and then it was the long walk out of the palace gardens. We never did see or make it to the man made lake. That we will have to save for another time. Walking out of our reverie but fully contented that we had an impromptu day which delighted us in the most magical way.