27 December 2017 Wednesday
As expected, the French royals back then built palaces everywhere, making the entire country their playground. Fontainebleau, 20 minutes away from Paris, was one of the places chosen by the posh to construct a vacation home. Compared with Versailles, the palace was small. But already large enough that it took us almost fifteen minutes to find the entrance.
While celebrating Christmas, we also made plans for the days after the hype. Museums were closed on Tuesdays, so we didn’t see the point of visiting just the gardens of the château. Tuesday was more of a “do whatever you want” day. While Papa and Maman took one of Hélène’s daughters to the cinema, Cassandre and I decided to go into the city of Fontainebleau. Besides walking around discovering the area and having a coffee outdoors, we didn’t do much.
Wednesday noon we ate lunch rather early. And then we drove to the grounds of the château where we found a free parking space a few hundred meters from one of the back gates. Right after we got out of the car, it started to rain and the weather only got worse with the whipping wind. I took an umbrella as a shield, but still ended up looking a bit like a mess. So much for a graceful entrance to the palace.
The special thing about the Château de Fontainebleau was that they had a Musée Chinois (Chinese Museum). However, we didn’t go there immediately because there was a guided tour that we had to follow first.
Of course, the tour was in French. I tried my best to listen intently, but it was still a bit difficult to understand everything. I’d know what the guide was talking about at the moment, for example an omnipresent emblem in the ballroom, but I was unable to catch the meaning behind it. I found myself drifting off sometimes to gaze at details and find good angles to take pictures. I did hear something funny though – the guide was telling us how some rooms were expanded under the orders of Queen Marie Antoinette because she thought they were way too small (her main home was the Palace of Versailles, which is GIGANTIC). Why? Because “the sweeping and cleaning began in the morning and were finished in the afternoon, that’s unacceptable.” I found this joke pretty funny because it referred to the insensitivity that the royals often demonstrated regarding the peasants.
The château offered dress ups for both children and adults. Because of this, we found ourselves dodging cameras here and there as tourists tried to blend into the setting dressed in mock royal attire. Following the guide, we saw many intricate designs of the chapel and ballrooms. Even the ceilings were meticulously painted. There were also statues of naked women who had unusually long legs, for the king who ordered them preferred body ratios like that.
After one and a half hour, the guided tour ended in the royal apartment where we continued the visit on our own. Going from room to room, we reimagined the life back then. One thing I completely did not understand was why the king needed a napping room, placed right beside his bedroom. Why can’t he just sleep in his bedroom whenever he felt tired? Personally, I like sleeping in the same bed when I have the choice. I guess they were so rich that they just filled their lives with bizarre things, but these where the things that the rich were able to do.
Our last stop – the Chinese museum. It was a relatively small area, with just two rooms filled with artifacts collected by the Empress Eugénie. However, not all objects were Chinese. Some were offered to the Empress from the Ambassador of Siam (Thailand) who visited Fontainebleau in 1861. While those where gifts, most Chinese artifacts were stolen from Beijing back in 1860 when the French and British armies sacked the Summer Palace. (英法聯軍火燒圓明園）I explained this to Papa and Maman, and telling them of the copper pots scraped of their gold coatings which I saw when I visited the royal palace in Beijing. I was glad to see that they wrote on the introduction plate that the artifacts were acquired from a revolutionary plunder. It feels right when the history isn’t changed just to make the political images look good.
Most of the Chinese artifacts were vases, piled high all the way up to the ceiling. There were also a few paintings, scrolls, and some lanterns with detailed carvings.
Finally, it was time to leave. We did take some time to pass through the boutique shop though, where I recognized a lot of things that were also sold at Versailles. I did see an exceptionally beautiful mug of white ceramic with dainty roses painted onto it, completed by a silver handle. However, it was way too expensive for me to spend my money on.
We exited through one of the parking lots and had to walk around the perimeters of the château to get back to the car. Despite the weather, it was a great afternoon well spent.