Fontainebleau instead of Versailles, reasoning that it would be less crowded, and I'm glad we did. Getting there was a good reminder that it's all about the journey, not the arriving: the Gare de Lyon was packed with people, we got differing opinions on whether our Metro tickets extended as far as Fontainebleau, and when we did find the right guichet and bought our train tickets, we had to wait until the train finally pulled into the station 45 minutes late (strike issues? not clear).
But it was all a part of the experience, giving me lots of opportunities to get tangled up in French and to spy on French fashion and manners.
The chateau was built in the 1200s and expanded over the centuries, with King Francois I leaving his mark on it everywhere. His symbol was the salamander, and just in case you weren't sure whose castle it was, he decorated almost every room with it.
Everyone who was anyone seems to have lived here, been born or died here, or said farewell here. Our old friend Henri IV is looking particularly dashing here:
Marie Antoinette lived here for a time, in this elegant white and gold apartment.
When Napoleon was banished to Elba, he said his farewells on the front steps of Fontainebleau.
We both liked the library and wished we could have walked along the hall and looked at the 14,000 books.
Despite all this royalty, the place seemed just a bit neglected. Most rooms were elaborately decorated,
but some of them seemed to have been forgotten.
The grounds were, of course, formal and extensive. Perfectly clipped rows of trees.
Topiary that made the place look like Alice in Wonderland.
And plenty of statuary.
The slightly melancholy mood was heightened by the gardener pulling out the annuals from the long, straight beds.
I asked him what he would be planting next and got a fast-paced explanation, of which the words "bulbes" and "tulipes" were among the few I could understand.
If we ever return, I'd love to walk in the Forest of Fontainebleau...someday.