Versailles runaway

What had started out as a magical spellbound journey spent in appreciative wonder of the magnificence, opulence and decadence of Marie-Antoinette’s regal residence, had quickly turned into a frantic search for my 12 year old niece, who was lost somewhere in this 700 room palatial estate. Yikes!! How did this happen? How do you just randomly lose a kid?

I had instructed the kid to remain close to me and not wander off, as having to search the premises for a missing kid would be a task so daunting that I cringed in fright at having to envision such a scenario. Surely my niece would heed my advice and not head out on her own and absent-mindedly amble about the ancient corridors while re-tracing the footsteps of her long-dead heroine.  Perhaps the kid had intentionally crept away; hiding under Marie-Antoinette’s mirrored day-bed, anxious to play out her fantasy of living in the French Court and partaking in the revelries of the masked balls and soirees, waltzing the nights away in the bedazzled chandeliered Hall of Mirrors.

Reflecting back, I did recall that the kid was carting around an extra large knapsack, which I had merely assumed contained her beloved journals, biographies, maps and travel guides. Yikes!! I had the sinking feeling that she was busily setting up camp in one of the lavish apartments, blissfully content to immerse herself in 18th century Court life.

Perhaps she was abducted by aliens or better yet, was somehow miraculously transported back in time to the 18th century, gleefully content to be wandering around the French Court, a young “trainee” lady-in-waiting to the future Queen of France. You think? What were the odds?

 I had visions of having to make that dreaded phone call home, confessing to my sister that I had kind of, sort of,  temporarily misplaced her youngest child. On second thought, that might not be such a great idea at the moment, as it might not go over that well.  Paralyzed with fear, terrified that my rational, younger sister would scold and call me an irresponsible human being (who me?) I reasoned that it was best to be rational and not jump to hastily made conclusions. Transatlantic screaming would surely wake the dead and upset households on both sides of the Atlantic.

I would love to write that I was calm, cool and collected but alas, that would be a gargantuan lie. Imagination spinning widely out of control, envisioning the worst, I bolted out of Le Cabinet de la Meridienne, unaware that my niece had not strayed from her original vantage point and had been standing beside a marbled statue this entire time, calmly staring out the window.  Sequestered alongside the sumptuous brocade patterned drapes, the kid was oblivious to the raging drama that was unravelling in her delusional Auntie’s head, a catastrophe of now epic proportions. All notions of common sense had long been abandoned, replaced instead by an irrational conviction that my sister’s youngest child had vanished into thin air, never to be seen or heard from again.

Darting from one embellished chamber to another, my pink sneakered feet sprinting up and down marbled corridors and spiralling staircases, I was a vision to behold, a frazzled middle aged woman bawling hysterically, screaming the kid’s name over and over again, much to the chagrin and bewilderment of the multitude of foreign visitors, who had unsuspectingly witnessed a mini Nora meltdown, all for the price of a 25 Euro admittance fee to the Chateau de Versailles.


Yikes!! Could it get any worse than that?

Having now barrelled through at least half of the 700 rooms, my first place medal for next month’s 15K marathon firmly secured, I was at the end of my rope, close to losing the lone fledgling fragment that was left of my sanity, when, lo and behold, I spotted a blonde haired youngster tucked behind the drapes, admiring the spectacular view of the meticulously manicured gardens.  Could it be the kid?  Were my eyes deceiving me?  Had she been here the entire time?

A high pitched guttural screech emanated from the depth of my soul, temporarily jolting all 300+ camera toting tourists into frozen zombies; 600 pairs of eyeballs collectively giving me what could only be politely classified as “the death stare”, inquisitive as to why this disheveled foreign woman was behaving in such an odd and curious manner?  Hands shaking, body trembling, index finger pointing towards a lone kid standing serenely by a window, the marginally “lunatic” protective Auntie in me didn’t discriminate and mowed down old and young alike in my mad dash to embrace and envelope my young charge.

 Babbling incoherently, tripping over verbs, nouns and adjectives, it seemed as if the synapses linking my brain to mouth had temporarily been severed.  Unable to spew out basic sentences and recount the gut-wrenching imagined drama that had been my reality for the past couple of hours; my tongue seemed to be paralyzed, unwilling to utter anything that resembled any form of coherent thought.

Where have you been? You scared me. I told you not to wander off” were the first words that tripped inelegantly off my tongue, once I composed my dignity and regained the ability to speak. The kid looked at me in puzzlement, squirmed out of my iron fist tight grip on her, and declared:  “Auntie Nora, I’ve been here in this same spot all along, and I haven’t moved because you told me not to leave your side. You’re the one who suddenly bolted out of the apartment and disappeared into the crowd.”       

 Yikes!! Out of the mouths of babes comes a wealth of wisdom.

Come discover the magnificence of Versailles and gallop through all 700 rooms with the kid and I….

Did you know facts and legends about the Chateau de Versailles?

·         The Chateau is a UNESCO World Heritage site .

·         The Chateau de Versailles, being one of the grandest palaces in the world, is also one of the largest, with 700 rooms boasting 2,000 windows and 1,250 fireplaces!

·         Did you know that the chandeliered Hall of Mirrors was  once lit with more than 3,000 candles?

·         The Chateau is quite roomy, able to accommodate up to 5,000 people!

·         As much as Marie-Antoinette delighted in the balls, intrigues and chivalries as dictated by 18th century Court life, she spent most of her time in Le Petit Trianon and the Hamlet, where she was able to escape the formality and constraint of palace life.

·         The Hamlet was a replica of a small village, made up of 12 houses, located on the banks of the Grand Trianon Lake. The Queen and her entourage had access to 5 of the houses while the remainder were reserved for the peasants and for those who worked on the farm.


Next week – Champs-Elysees….discovering new adventures and strange encounters.

Losing the kid in Versailles

My sister had entrusted her 12 year old daughter to her older, wacky, slightly immature sibling for the kid’s first overseas trip to Europe. And what do I promptly do?  I go ahead and lose the kid amongst the crowds in Versailles. How did all of this happen?  How do you just randomly lose a kid?  Yikes!!  Let me start at the beginning….

The road leading to Versailles

My niece, voracious reader that she was, was currently obsessed with the French Revolution and had immersed herself in 18th century Court life, devouring endless biographies of her favourite Queen, Austrian born Marie-Antoinette, hence her insistence that I take her to see the opulent palace of Versailles. The Chateau de Versailles, originally built as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, was later expanded and converted into the primary residence of French royalty, spanning an impressive 977 acres.  Housing well over 700 rooms, this UNESCO World Heritage site was an ostentatious symbol of France’s vast economic and political power as well as an embodiment of royal absolutism.   Showcased to impress foreign dignitaries as well as the local populace, Versailles did not disappoint, and to this day, continues to mesmerize old and young alike.

So it was on a hot, humid and sweltering August day that we found ourselves crushed in a throng of what seemed to be hundreds, if not thousands of visitors, all lined up waiting to purchase tickets to gain entrance to this magnificent and pretentious edifice.  Admission is free for those under 18 years of age and so I only had to fork over 25 Euros “pour moi” for the opportunity to stroll amongst the royals and pretend that Versailles was my overseas palatial summer retreat.


Standing in line for well over an hour, glistening sweat cascading down my back, I cursed myself for having gotten us into this predicament.  It’s my fault, really, for I had overslept, my niece begging and pleading incessantly, “Please wake up, Auntie Nora, pleeeeease, pleeeeeease, pleeeeeease get up NOW!!”, as we had a late morning date with the aristocracy.

 Huffing and puffing, sprinting for the 11:00am train to transport us to Versailles, we barely had a chance to place our pink sneakered feet into the carriage car, when it promptly shut its doors, leaving us stranded on the now empty platform.  Hence our arrival two hours later than scheduled, squished like a sardine in the ever growing queue, having to further endure the unforgiving heat beaming mercilessly on our soon to be roasted sunburned skin.

After what seemed to be hours, we finally gained admittance to the palace and were instantaneously seduced, spellbound under its splendiferous pretentiousness. Words do not do justice to the grandeur of the rows of chandeliers, dripping light in the luminous Hall of Mirrors.  The gilded ballroom was also where Marie-Antoinette’s masked ball wedding reception was held, a spectacle so magnificent one can rightly say that it was indeed a fitting venue for a princess and a future queen.   Primarily utilized for greeting foreign dignitaries and hosting diplomatic receptions, the impressive Hall of Mirrors is also where the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th, 1919, thus ending the First World War.




Instructing the kid to stay close to Auntie Nora and to not wander off, I tried to keep one hawk eye glued to my niece while at the same time attempting to snap pictures of every bedazzled nook and cranny of this sumptuous Chateau. The last thing I wanted was to lose the kid amongst the masses and have to devote the remainder of the day to frantically searching for her whereabouts.

Fascinated by the luxuriously decorated chambers and compartments, my niece was especially taken with the lavish apartments of Marie-Antoinette, squealing in delight with finally having the fortune to walk in the footsteps of her heroine and experience for herself all that she had read in the history books about the Austrian former princess’ daily life at the castle.  Gawking in disbelief at the sumptuous drapery, tapestries and ornately patterned wallpaper, the kid was unable to contain her delight at being witness to a fragment of long ago aristocratic life.  Wistfully gazing at the gilded chaises and mirrored daybed in Le Cabinet de la Meridienne, my niece was lost in 18th century France, wondering what it would have been like to have actually met the famous Queen and been a maiden in her Court.

Momentarily distracted by the swarm of people descending upon the salon, I struggled to hold my camera high above my head, determined to capture pictures that didn’t reveal snapshots of unknown tourists’ heads and bodies, all jostling for that National Geographic picture worthy moment.

Having failed at obtaining an image worth a thousand words, scanning the overcrowded room for my niece, my heart momentarily stopped beating as I froze in terror, unable to glimpse the kid. Gulp. Yikes!!  Now what??

To be continued….come with me as I leave no stone unturned in my desperate search for the kid, lost somewhere amongst a mere 700 rooms on this sprawling palatial estate….


Did you know facts or legends about Marie-Antoinette and the Chateau de Versailles?
I read somewhere that the ill-fated Queen glimpsed her “headless” reflection in a mirror and saw this as an ominous forewarning of her beheading.
Climbing the scaffold, she accidentally stepped on her executioner’s foot, her last words being “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it”.
The phrase “Let them eat cake” has been widely associated with having been spoken by Marie-Antoinette, when she was told that the peasants were starving and had no bread to feast upon.  It is unknown whether or not this is a true fact or merely fabrication, as this quote can be found in an 18th century book by Rousseau entitled “Les Confessions”,  a loosely-based autobiography of the famous Queen, in which he refers to a “great princess” as having uttered those damning words. 

Next week: The search is on....where is the kid??

Waking up with the roosters, ambling along the Seine en route to see Mona Lisa

Today was finally the day when the Kid would get to see Mona Lisa up close and personal. Had it not been for my niece pestering me to take her to see DaVinci’s mysterious smiling muse, I wonder whether or not I would have actually paid the entrance fee to the Louvre, not because I didn’t want to see for myself the timeless masterpieces housed in this massive edifice of knowledge, but because I didn’t want to tear myself away from the seductive sights, sounds and smells of the streets of Paris and confine myself in a gallery for an entire day.  Short visits to museums and exhibitions, spending two or three hours appreciating the culture and history of the creativity and artistic talent of long-gone generations were entirely do-able, leaving the remainder of the day for ambling along the Seine, parking myself in a café, and indulging in my favourite pastime of sipping vino and foraging for small and large, preferably designer (Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Carolina Herrera) leather goods.
My dream handbag

The dream store I can't afford to shop in

Strolling along the Seine

The Louvre, being the showcase and repository of the greatest art collections of the world (cliché, but undeniably true) dating from antiquity to the modern age, is a full day event, if not an entire week or month long marathon, hence my initial hesitation to step inside this famous museum, as I worried that having glimpsed these marvellous masterpieces, I would not want to leave and would have to set up camp in one of the vast wings of the Louvre, my sleeping bag discretely tucked away behind an enormous marble lion statue. My two week vacation would then clearly not suffice and I’d have to call my employer and beg for an extra month or two off work as well as plead with my financial adviser to loan me a couple of extra bucks.

Having travelled to Paris more times that I remember, I can honestly say that I’ve never gotten around to actually placing my pink-sneakered foot in the Louvre, having devoted the majority of my leisure time to languishing in cafés and searching for heavily discounted designer handbags in the multitude of vintage shops tucked away in the sea of rues and avenues. 

Paris is a city meant to be traversed by foot, as it is only by leisurely meandering along the laneways, that one discovers hidden gems, be it an aromatic patisserie sequestered amongst a maze of twisting and winding streets or inadvertently stumbling across an 18th century ornate fountain, birds splish-splashing and delightedly bathing in its refreshing trickling water.

And speaking of birds, their chirping and chattering awoke us bright and early, allowing us the luxury of starting the day way ahead of schedule.  Since we were up with the roosters and now with the tweeting birds, my niece and I were out and about by 7:00am.  Yikes!!  Unable to navigate the intricacies of the modern glass topped European stove, I promised the kid that we would instead have “melt in your mouth” buttery croissants in one of the multitude of cafés that lined rue de Rivoli.

 There is something so incredibly magical about wandering about a beloved foreign city in the wee hours of the morning, “watching” the city wake up and come to life.  Street cleaners sweeping and spritzing the pavements squeaky clean; shopkeepers folding napkins and hurriedly setting up their outdoor café chaises and tables; impeccably attired office workers scurrying along the pavement pausing to savour a quick café au lait; uniformed school kids all lined up in a row up, waiting for the bell to ring…those are some of the memories and impressions that remain dear and near to my pink-sneakered Parisian enamoured heart. `

Strolling leisurely along the Seine, savouring our delicious buttery croissants, my niece and I babbled excitedly about the magnificent artwork that we’d soon have the privilege to admire and contemplate.

Words cannot describe the magnitude of the sheer size of the Louvre, each of its three separate wings home to priceless works of art.  Map in hand, determined to find Mona Lisa, the kid and I almost missed seeing Aphrodite (also known as the Venus de Milo) as well as the Egyptian and Greek sculptures and artifacts that were on display on the ground floor of the Sully Wing.

Racing past the Richelieu Wing, we barely had time to pause and marvel over the wonders of the Rubens and Rembrandts showcased alongside paintings from the Middle Ages up to the 19th Century.  Regretfully, we completely missed viewing the sumptuous and grandiosely decorated apartments of Napoleon 111.

We realized that we were inching closer to viewing the Mona Lisa as we approached the Denon Wing, the throng of camera toting tourists growing thicker, scrambling to get a bird’s eye view of the famous smiling woman.  Edging, squeezing and gently pushing our way through the crowd, my niece and I somehow managed to find ourselves face to face with her.  Hanging alone on a beige wall, her image protected by heavy shatter-proof glass, my first impression of Mona Lisa was a mixed one.  Measuring only 30 x 21 inches, she is miniscule in comparison to what I had been expecting to view.  Perhaps her grandiose fame led me to believe that her likeness would have been painted on a much larger canvas. Not only was the painting separated from the viewing public by thick glass, there was also a circular barrier encircling the wall she was hung upon, keeping spectators quite a distance away.  Nonetheless, the kid and I were enthralled, my niece much more so than I, having finally come face to face with Mona Lisa.

 Come skedaddle through the Louvre with us and appreciate the magnificence and creativity of past and current generations…come travel with us…

Next week – Losing the kid in Versailles

Rue de Rivoli, le Carrousel du Louvre and waiting for Mona Lisa

Traipsing along pedestrian-friendly rue de Rivoli, en route to the Louvre, the shopaholic in me was compelled to place my pink sneakered foot into each and every tacky and touristy souvenir shop that littered the promenade near the Carrousel du Louvre.  No matter that this was my 5th or 8th sojourn to the City of Lights, the glint of the shiny mass-produced trinkets never failed to mesmerize my inner scavenger, leaving me several Euros poorer, my satchel brimming with Eiffel Tower key chains, “I Love Paris” T-shirts, Paris-logoed caps, bags, pens and postcards.  So what if I wouldn’t be caught dead sporting a T-shirt or baseball cap and if all of my friends, family and colleagues had already received an abundance of these exact same souvenirs from my previous Parisian excursions?

Rue de Rivoli runs parallel to the Louvre, roughly an hour’s walk from Notre Dame Cathedral, depending upon how quickly or slowly one meanders along the promenade and stops to linger in the cafes, ice-cream parlours and designer shops along the way.  Pawning everything from high-end fashion to low-end reproductions of the Mona Lisa, this lively and bustling passageway is a must-see tourist attraction all on its own.

My 12 year old niece was growing increasingly impatient with my acquisitive shopping habits, annoyed (as only a pre-teenager can be) that I might end up squandering the remainder of the day sequestered in the shops, leaving minimal time in which to amble along the corridors of the Louvre.  It was already approaching mid afternoon and the kid was anxious to finally come face to face with the Mona Lisa.

My niece was a voracious reader, eagerly devouring biographies of long-dead royals, Marie-Antoinette being her current favourite.  A couple of months shy of her 13th birthday, her reading material of choice was the same as mine, historical non-fiction.  Disneyland Paris would have to wait.

I’m embarrassed to admit, but neither of my pink sneakers had traversed the hallways of this magnificent former 12th century medieval fortress.  I had been too busy scurrying outside the grounds of the Louvre, snapping digital memories, having devoted the majority of my leisure time to languishing in cafes, sipping vino, fully immersing myself in Parisian cafe society.  Oh… and rummaging for knickknacks and one of a kind treasures.

Avoiding the long line-ups to gain access to the Louvre, we instead chose to use the lesser known “Carrousel du Louvre” entrance, where a multitude of shops lay hidden below in the ground level of one of the winged sections of this world-famous museum.  In addition to harbouring somewhat pricey shops, a food court, water closets and payphones, the bottom portion of the inverted glass pyramid is also located in this mammoth edifice.  It also boasts an impressive exhibition hall, which is home to the annual “Paris Photo” exhibit.  One could easily be content to wander around the “Carrousel du Louvre”, pose in front of the inverted pyramid, take in the exhibition of the day and shop till you drop. And, we hadn’t even reached any of the four main wings, all of which house well over 35,000 priceless masterpieces!

 The entrance cost to both the permanent and temporary museum collections was 15 Euros for adults, and since I had squandered away most of the day scrounging for trinkets, leaving barely any time in which to absorb and appreciate the history and architecture of this colossal gallery, I succeeded in convincing the kid that we would return the following day.

 Admission is free to those under 18 years of age and also on the first Sunday of each month.   Since we were here mid-month, we would not be able to take advantage of that awesome deal, unless of course, we extended our sojourn an extra couple of weeks!   Hmmm.  That might not go over so well at my place of employment or my dwindling bank account!  And the chances of trying to pass myself off as a pink-sneakered 18 year old are pretty much slim to none.  

Meandering along the pricey shops of the Carrousel, I spotted a watch with the likeness of Mona Lisa imprinted on the background.  All for what seemed to be the fairly reasonable price of 17 Euros. Reaching into my limited edition bronze Carolina Herrera satchel, I came close to plunking down my Euros but my “wise beyond her years” responsible niece informed me that “Auntie Nora doesn’t need it”. Smart kid, as I happened to stumble across the exact same watch for the bargain basement price of 7 Euros, while later browsing in the tacky souvenir shops that lined rue de Rivoli.

Having now saved 10 Euros, I thought it only fitting to treat the kid to some well-deserved crème glace, promising her that “demain” (tomorrow) we would devote a full 12 hours to discovering the “magnifique” wonders that are housed in this colossal warehouse of knowledge.

Yikes!!  My pink-sneakered feet had better get a good night’s rest, as tomorrow they will be sprinting around the corridors of the Louvre, awed by the talent and creativity of the artistic visionaries whose masterpieces continue to inspire generation after generation.

Come rummage for “one of a kind” mass produced shiny trinkets on rue Rivoli…come appreciate artistic genius and the Louvre with us…

Note - I'm having technical difficulties uploading the remainder of my photos to this blog post and was only successful in uploading one picture. Since I always post new blogs on Wednesdays, I wanted to be consistent with my weekly posting. I'm going to have to contact the Kid for technical advice on how to solve my photo uploading issue. In the meantime, stay tuned, I hope to have the Louvre pictures added to this post soon.

Update - I've successfully uploaded my pictures to this blog. After a bit of research on the web, I found out that Blogger has been having some photo uploading issues and one of the recommendations was to download Goggle Chrome, which is what I just did and voila!, it worked like a charm! And all along, I thought that it was me and my lack of computer technical ability. Yikes!! I really did think that my laptop was on the fritz and needed major repairs but it turned out that it was just a glitch. This blogging thing really is teaching me a lot. In the meantime, enjoy the post and the pictures. 

Next post – The Kid and Mona Lisa