If you’ve ever been to the Palace of Versailles, you know what a tourist attraction it is. If you’ve never been, take my word for it. Even on a cloudy, drizzly winter day like yesterday, when the park and gardens were closed and only the palace itself was open to the public, there were dozens of tour buses parked in front of the palace. Getting a photo without other people in it is nearly impossible. So it was somewhat remarkable that, for a few brief moments, Kathryn and I ended up in the Hall of Mirrors, the highlight of the tour, by ourselves. Here’s how it happened.
The tour started out like any other. We wandered our way through the ground floor exhibits and eventually upstairs to the state apartments, including the Hall of Mirrors. We had reached the King’s Bedchamber, behind the Hall of Mirrors, in the very center of the palace, when an evacuation alarm began to sound. A visibly panicked docent began shouting and ushered us through a set of empty rooms not normally open to the public, at the end of which we joined the evacuation route down one of the main staircases. Other officials directed us out a side exit.
A crowd quickly began to form near the side entrance. Several employees went through the cloud collecting as many of the audioguides as they could. I didn’t surrender mine. Somewhere in the back of mind I figured I could hold the audioguide hostage and use it as leverage in case they tried to deny me re-entry.
As crowds of tourists were forming at places where they thought they’d be allowed back into the palace, I reckoned since we were all now mingled with folks who hadn’t yet entered the palace, no one would be allowed back into Versailles without passing through the metal detectors again. Kathryn and I therefore set a direct course for the main entrance where most of the metal detectors are found.
Since we had evacuated relatively quickly when the alarm sounded, we were among the first to gather at the main entrance, where the crowd control gates had been temporarily closed. The gates open in two different places, so we picked one and stood in front of it. I figured we had a fifty-fifty chance of picking the right one.
Once at the main entrance, we saw there was more going on than just an evacuation. It appeared there was also a medical emergency involving a young boy. Paramedics were on the scene working with the boy and a concerned mother. At least a quarter-hour passed while the medical emergency was handled. It wasn’t clear whether the evacuation was the result of this emergency, the cause of it, or completely coincidental.
Eventually the authorities got the word to start letting people back into the main entrance. The police opened the other crowd gate, not the one where we were standing, but we were close enough that we were among the first dozen or so at the main entrance. After a few more minutes of waiting, they began letting people through the metal detectors, and then into the palace.
As people began re-entering the palace, they naturally proceeded rather quickly to the place where they had left their tour during the evacuation. The handful of people in front of us stopped at various spots along the tour until eventually Kathryn and I had no one in front of us at all. When we finally got back to the Hall of Mirrors, there was no one there but a docent, and since they were still positioning themselves after the evacuation and Kathryn and I posed no obvious threat, he left the hall for a few moments too.
There we were, in the Hall of Mirrors, at the Palace of Versailles, all by ourselves.
The rest of our visit was incredibly quiet. We were by ourselves in almost every room, except the very largest halls, where there might be one or two other visitors. We stopped at the Angelina tea room, which I mentioned in an earlier blog post, and we were all alone there for a while too, sipping rich hot chocolate in our very own room at the palace.
By the time we left Angelina, the rest of the crowds from outside Versailles had caught up to us, but by then we were almost done with the tour. All that was left was the apartments of the dauphin and dauphine on the ground level, which many visitors skip, and of course the gift shop.
Who would have figured such a serious inconvenience as the evacuation of a popular tourist attraction would have yielded us such a rare opportunity?
Note: As with many of my blog posts, Kathryn gets all the credit for the photos.