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Sunday, May 20, 2012

360 Degrees

Elle circles a statue at Versailles and finds "thar be dragons."

I don't mean to disparage the French and their incomparable history however Versailles is a MAJOR disaster in regards to heritage management both in the protection of a historical structure and in the control and flow of visitors.  I worked in Heritage Management for a number of years at one of  English Heritage's premiere London sites so I am familiar with the effort necessary to balance both the building's integrity and the visitors' experience.  It is not easy and when the building was in peril we would take measures.  At Versailles today, I could only say that it felt like we paid our fee to push through sweaty bottle necks at every doorway, constantly dodging other people's photographs,  learning nothing and feeling like rats in a maze.  There was no easy exit and no attendant in any room.

 Displays were paltry and uninformative.  In fact, there was almost no interpretation.  You could get a free audio guide but what was the point?  You couldn't see much.  In more than one room there was simply a load of cushioned stools pushed back in rows behind the rope suggesting courtly ghosts might be sitting on them and looking back at us.  Well that's a thought I would have had if I wasn't tearing through the masses to get to some air.  It was really ghastly and the decay of the palace was really depressing.  I realize the age but nothing was sacrosanct, nothing appeared important enough to protect.  Hell, I used to keep people from stepping on a replica carpet we prized it so much. 

We used to joke about the visitors who rarely had questions about the palace we worked in but always wanted to know where the toilets and tea rooms were.  However, those two locations are crucial knowledge in a heritage site.  And the toilets at Versailles were quite appalling.  The toilets always had long queues and there was no real distinction between the men's side and the women's.  All the women queuing for the loo in the garden could watch the men at the urinals should we accidentally look left.  In fact the last loo of the day was unisex and two men were using the urinal beside my daughter and me as we were drying our hands.  Fantastic.  Not Continental Chic, just foul really.

Versailles is quite literally not what it used to be.  Save your money and your time and read about it instead.  Buy a guidebook because that is the best way to actually see a room.


1 comment:

  1. I am so glad I didn't make it there, or take the day out to "do it." My limited Parisian experiences say that Paris and likely much of France, is not the place for "pleasant" loo experiences, rather only "experiences" in the loo! I've never been to Japan but apparently they have "the" toilet worth visiting. Oh, and the street toilets in Paris are said to be fine, but I avoid those in any language. The only public toilet I used in Paris was in Montmartre, and it was of not being able to figure out how to get the stall door open to go in, only to have my waiter, step out of his and open it for me! hmmm....