I like to think that every moment I spend in France is precious. I will never, ever relive this very experience. It is so special and so wonderful. I have never felt more this way than I did on Saturday at about 2:45 when the architect and my “host uncle,” Regis, turned a key and opened up the first hidden room in the Château de Versailles.
When I say Château de Versailles, I mean the big one, the real one, the one where all of the Louis lived. At about 2:30 on Saturday afternoon, my host family and two of their godchildren and I embarked on the private tour of a lifetime. Our guide was Regis, brother to my host father and architect to the grand palace. When I first met my host father’s family, those who live in Versailles suggested I come visit and have a tour. We had the chance to go this weekend and we took it, but I had no idea what I was in for. This was truly the tour of a lifetime.
For me, just stepping inside the palace was enough to cause shivers. I felt like I’d read so much about Versailles and the people who once lived inside the beautiful golden walls. Vast amounts of both good and bad history have happened there, and I was shocked to see it with my own eyes. I was shocked at the beauty and the grandness of it all.
Thanks to Regis, I was able to see the beauty and the grandness in all of its splendor. As an architect, he had the right to take us all over the château. So, according to his plan, we visited the private rooms when the palace was open to the public and we visited the public rooms after the palace had closed. Regis kept his plan to himself and executed it beautifully. I was surprised every time we entered a new room.
“It was like being at home, not at home, but at home,” my host mother said. She was right. We were nearly alone in every room we visited. It was clear that we weren’t at home, but it felt like we were going around a place no one else knew existed.
I was more shocked than I can ever remember being when we turned a corner and landed in the Galerie des glaces, empty. This is a room I have seen in films and in photos. It’s iconic. And it was empty. My heart leapt and sank at the same time and all I wanted to do was dance, so I did.
I felt in that moment like I always imagine Marie Antoinette might have felt when she was at Versailles. I hope that one time in her life, she was able to dance like that in an empty galerie des glaces, but she probably wasn’t allowed to. And this is what I found so eerie about our private tour: we weren’t at home, but we were more free than Louis XIV or Marie Antoinette or any of the mistresses or servants might have been before the French Revolution. During our visit, there were ropes up and security guards and we couldn’t touch a single thing, but I danced alone in the galerie des glaces.When we walked around Versailles, asked questions and joked and laughed and danced, I felt like the palace was being enjoyed the way it was meant to be, filled with people having little joyous moments. The palace was meant to be a place of luxury and happiness, after all and I think it still serves its purpose. It certainly did on Saturday.
I was impossibly lucky to have a tour of the château the way I did. I still can’t quite believe it happened. It was so dreamy to walk around and talk with my host family in French, to think about the way the same language was once spoken by such historically important people in the very same rooms.
My visit to Versailles was only possible because of the kindness of Regis and my host family. So, merci mille fois to the architect/private guide Regis and his wife for welcoming us in Versailles. More impressive than the grandeur and beauty of the palace, I realised on this trip what a life changing experience I am having with my host family. Every moment I spend in France really, truly is precious. This is special and it is wonderful and I am so, so happy.