“Louis XIV was known as le Roi Soleil…”
I closed my eyes and slouched lower in my seat as I tried to tune out the lilting voice of Magnus, our tour director from the National Educational Travel Council (NETC). About thirty students were traveling on the ten-day NETC “Paris et Le Midi” tour, and today, we were on a bus for a morning visit to the palace of King Louis XIV in Versailles. Twenty-nine of the students were still half-asleep, leaning on bus windows or friends’ shoulders; Sasha was the only one wide awake, interjecting Magnus’s trite speech with her own quips.
“Le Roi Soleil, that means the Sun King,” she matter-of-factly stated. She blinked her eyes several times for approval.
“Yes, that’s quite right,” Magnus replied while adjusting the wiry frame of his glasses, pushing them higher up the bridge of his aquiline nose. His voice droned on as he continued to explain the history of the famous Bourbon king.
I scoffed and suppressed a chuckle, keeping my eyes closed. I had heard the history about Louis XIV and Versailles, along with the French Revolution in 1789, more times than I could count. I knew Louis XIV’s motives for moving the palace from Paris to Versailles probably better than most of the nobles themselves of his day knew them. I felt like I knew this story like the back of my hand. This whole thing is going to be pretty boring.
It wasn’t but a couple minutes later that our bus stopped in the parking lot at the chateau. As I stepped out of the tour bus and took my first glance at the vastness of the palace surrounded by glistening, gold gates, I changed my mind completely.
Every inch of the palace interior—the walls, curtains, ceilings—was covered with decoration and art. I gazed intensely at the paintings and carvings on the ceilings until my neck started to ache and eyes began to water. I could envision the noble ladies of the court, floating through the Hall of Mirrors with a curious smile playing on their lips, and the confident men wearing powdered wigs, sauntering across the marble tiled-floor.
The gardens were also visually stunning. It had begun to rain during our visit, and the gentle droplets that fell around me matched the rhythm of my footsteps as I roamed the wide, pebbled paths. My eyes feasted on the breathtaking sight: the streams of water jumping and dancing in the grand fountains; the splashes of vibrant color from the flowers that lined the expanses of lush grass; the poised statues that looked as if they would spring to life at any given moment.
Being in the Versailles palace and gardens was a surreal experience. Having read about the history of King Louis XIV in class, I could now relate the stories and the people to something tangible. My visit to Versailles was not just a single stop on a tour, a morning passed and gone, or a dry reiteration of names and dates, but rather a deep, inexplicable connection to a greater past.
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