All the photos in this post can be seen at a larger size by clicking on them.
The very first time I saw the Palace of Versailles was in 1991, on a Saturday morning as I drove one of my sons to a swimming competition. I forget where the competition was held but I'll never forget that first glimpse of the sunlight sparkling on the golden railings. I had no idea where I was but it took my breath away. "Where on earth is that?" I asked, more or less talking to myself. And the reply from the teenager beside me was the statutory "Huh?"
On my visit last weekend, I tried to recreate that first glimpse but I would have had to take my life in my hands by braving the traffic of the Place d'Armes, and even then there were far too many people around. So the shot above is from inside the gates while everyone else was otherwise engaged.....
....standing in a queue waiting to buy tickets, which could take as long as two hours. You can bypass this wait by buying tickets in advance. We bought online.
In an effort to avoid the hottest part of the day sun we toured the palace interior first, along with an amazing number of people. There was no need for a sign showing the direction of the visit - just follow the crowd. To be fair, for the most part, the size of the place allows people to be absorbed quite easily, but I did find many of my photos had to be taken of out of the way corners, at odd angles, or hastily through a suddenly appearing gap.
I don't know how to describe these. To call them "lamps" seems a little inadequate.
This is a corner of the Hall of Mirrors, which is so much hyped, so often featured in various illustrations, that I was fully expecting to be disappointed. I wasn't. It is stunning.
In spite of the crowds.
I am an impatient photographer and rapidly tired of waiting my turn to catch a shot of a room, only to find someone stepping into the frame at the last moment, so I took myself off into the gardens.
The west side of the palace seen from across the water parterre.
The vista from the palace.
The ballroom is in one of the many groves and gardens hidden in the trees and shrubbery. This was taken before the fountains were turned on, before any people arrived.
I wonder did anyone really dance there. Look at the state of the "dance floor".
What the pictures can't show you is that baroque music was playing in the background all the time, making it very easy to conjure up images of Marie Antoinette and friends. However although the music plays all the time and they call it "Les Grandes Eaux Musicales", the fountains don't play continuously and are switched on at particular times, and not always all of them. If you don't know this, you don't know to look for the schedule in advance, and even then it's not easy to find specific variations in the schedule.
If I were to go another time, and I will, I would visit the interior in the winter time when there are fewer people about. The fountains can be seen only in the summer but I imagine during early or late season there would be fewer people about and easier to absorb the atmosphere.
So often these key tourist destinations are a let down and in the past I've wondered what people see, for instance, in Notre Dame. Versailles, though, is not one of them.
I'll leave you with a picture of a newly restored bronze of the Sun King on horseback which is outside the front gates looking down the Avenue de Paris. According to some who know more about these things than I do, it has little artistic merit, but I like the way the king is apparently overlooking his city of Versailles.
If you want to see more of my photos from this visit, there are more on my Flickr account. These are mostly a different selection, and I plan to add to them over the next few days.