No one ever looks back on their life and remembers a good nights sleep they had or some perfectly organized tour they went on, because perfection is boring. The most memorable things in life happen when you are, like John Lennon says “Busy making other plans”. When you are out in the world veering off the path a little bit. Like when a stroll down an undiscovered street leads to a great party; or a missed flight leads to meeting the love of your life in the airport lounge. All of which started out as unfortunate mishaps and bad planning, but turned into something more magical, and rewarding in the end. Life is filled with little surprises, you get a door slammed in your face and someone else opens up a window for you. You balance the good with the bad and you take all the little things that make up the difference and you’ve got an experience. I love that word, experience; I believe its alternate definition should be freedom, because when you gain experience its because you took a different path, you tried something new. You let your hair down, and were free to follow your heart. So my next little travel tale is a simple one. It took us on a journey to one of the most lovely places.
A Queen’s House
My favorite place in the entire world is Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles, in France. Yes, it is opulent, and a museum where you can’t really touch anything, but when I am there I can feel the time period, in the way of the architecture, the perfectly trimmed hedges, the romantic walkways and the scandelous nature of Marie Antoinette’s alternative life. It is something you just cannot find on our side of the pond. Usually when I am there I just sit in awe, or wander down every pathway. Years ago on my first visit to the palace, I fell in love with the architecture and the pastel palette of the buildings. I think what I love most is that Versailles is meant to look the same way Marie Antoinette left it. I have always wanted to photograph a couple there. This spring Ryan & I got the chance to photograph Elizabeth and Stephen on their 15th wedding anniversary in the gardens.
An Escape Artist
From all the people I have talked to whom have travelled to Paris, the consensus has two sides; that they fell in love with the city or that they absolutely, and without a shred of doubt hate the place. But thats Paris for you, its like a right of passage to have Paris kick your ass in some way or another during your first visit. We have been to Paris 4 times, and each time has been in some way or another, disastrous; but I can’t shake my love for this amazing city. We have missed flights, and trains. Got lost in the gardens at Versailles. Slipped and fell in front of a huge group of tourists on the Musee de Louvres famous floors. Lost 5 years of travel writing (essays and journal entries) in a rental car at the airport. Been completely rained out of photo shoots, got into tons of arguments, and on the wrong metro line. Ryan has had flights cancelled because the airline went bankrupt, and we both have lost all our luggage and had to buy a weeks worth of clothes. So Paris certainly loves to challenge you, but if you fight hard enough back, you can have memories that last a lifetime.
This time we fell asleep on the train to Versailles and didn’t realize until 1.5 hours later that we were actually traveling in the wrong direction. Once we all realized we were traveling the wrong direction and for such a long time, no one wanted to make eye contact. Everyone was tired, frustrated and hungry and at the end of their last fuse. We had an early start and intended on beating the crowds to the palace and were so certain we knew exactly how to get there. After 3 hours of travel we all finally arrived at the palace. The line up was a zig zag of at least 2000 people, and stretched from the entrance to the first set of gates roughly 150 metres away. Luckily we had our Paris Passes which put us into the 500 persons long line up. Getting inside the palace means slowly waddling in tiny corridors until you reach the chapel. Since it is the first major thing you see when you arrive, and you only get to look at its grandure through a tiny doorway, hundreds of tourists are pushing and squishing up against you for a chance to feast their eyes on the place where Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were married. Its quite a miserable way to view it, especially when you have just come from a long line up. Since Elizabeth & Stephen had never visited before, they wanted to do their own tour of the palace interior, and try to sneak away from the crowds of people. Ryan and I set off to the garden to take a few photos of ourselves in my favourite location: Le Petit Trianon; which was flooded with tour groups. With a lot of patience and perfectly timed photo ops from a camera on a tripod, we managed to come out with some truly lovely photography. Elizabeth & Stephen planned to join up with us shortly after their tour, for an anniversary photo shoot at Le Grande Trianon in Versailles. After hours of wandering the palace and the getting lost in the gardens, Elizabeth & Steve were exhausted and their feet were killing them. This romantic day in one of the most beautiful places in France, was really taking a toll on us.
So with all the charm we could muster, we convinced Elizabeth to put on her heels and fancy dress for the sake of photography, and because we were in fact in a beautiful place, and if we all pretended long enough to have a good time, we might in fact just have one. Fake it till you make it.
With only 10 minutes into the photo shoot the guards were telling us that the palace would be closing soon and that we must go with them if we wanted a ride back to the main entrance. With a nonchalance we said that we would be fine to walk and that we were still looking around. He warned us that we will not be able to get out if we did not leave now. At the time that didn’t seem like such a big deal. Why would they keep us locked inside? He was clearly exaggerating, and his shift was probably ending. We continued to shoot, and the guard left in a huff. Within 10 minutes the place was completely deserted. The 4 of us were alone in the garden, and without the sounds of tourists, golf carts or the comical mini train to cloud our experience, we could actually hear the sounds of nature. We had the place to ourselves, this historic, wonderful place. We took photos, but not without admiring every inch of where we were, and what we were so uniquely privy to. When we were done the photo shoot it dawned on us that were were in fact locked inside the gardens. After foolishly trying to open the gates, it was evident that we were locked in. Elizabeth came up with this great idea to sneak out through an opening in a hedge. Excited in the moment, we all encouraged her to squeeze her tiny little body through a prickly bush, only to find out that there was a 10-12 foot drop on the other side. In the distance a woman saw Elizabeth in her bright pink pants on the 12 foot ledge. She was waving her arms and yelling at us.
“Lady, lady, you crazy tourist lady do not jump!”
Elizabeth waived to the lady and the lady continued to yell at her.
“You will hurt yourself, please do not jump!” When we explained how we were locked inside, she came a little closer and explained to us what locals know.
“All French people know that you can press the green button, and the guards will let you out.”
The green button, apparently a local secret, situated just behind the gate and on the side of a little black box mounted atop a post about chest high. You can press it to talk to the guards in the main palace. And just like that we were out, and strolling along the Grand Canal. The french woman had a great story to tell at dinner that night about a crazy tourist lady who tried to jump from an 8 foot height at Le Grande Trianon.
The Security Guards Sunset
The gardens are huge, and its takes time to walk from one end to the other. Meandering, we enjoyed the last of the days sunlight. When we finally arrived to the Palace, the only people left were a crew of security guards, in golf carts and small service cars, all of whom were enjoying the sun as it set over Versailles. It was an epic view, and I do not use that term lightly. When the sun was finally on the horizon, the limestone buildings and statues were glowing a very powerful orange, and the palace was the brightest shade of gold. Its reflection in the fountains and ponds was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was sheer perfection. It actually took our breath away. To have a view like this once in a lifetime is truly special, but those security guards must have done something wonderful in a past life to get to witness it every night.
We hope you enjoy these breathtaking vignettes from our adventure to Versailles. We hope you visit and see it all for yourself one day.
Erika & Ryan