Paris Tips: Daytripping to Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at Versailles

Treading the boards in shoes by Roger Vivier Photos by Theadora Brack

M.A. on a side plate

By Theadora Brack

Whenever I need to get far away from the hustle and bustle of Paris, I trek it to Le Domaine de Marie-Antoinette. Nestled behind Château du Versailles is a palace called “Le Petit Trianon,” along with a dreamy little hamlet created for the Queen. It’s the perfect spot for some tranquility, introspection, and splendor in the grass.

Bewitching with its seductive cave, mystic temples, a tiny village (surrounded by farm animals and vegetable plots) and placid lake (complete with island and lighthouse), it’s no surprise that the countryside in miniature was Marie Antoinette’s favorite retreat from the very public and frenetic life she led back up at the main Château.

Getting there

Tip: Trekking to Versailles from Paris? I recommend taking the RER C line to “Versailles-Rive Gauche.” The scenic train ride takes 30 to 45 minutes. Also, buy a round trip ticket while you’re still in Paris, because by the end of the afternoon ticket lines at the Versailles-Rive Gauche station can be horrifically long, while the self-serve ticket machines are often broken.

Going to the Temple of Love

Once you reach the Château du Versailles, start looking for “Petit Trianon” signs. After paying the entrance fee at the gate, you’ll either hoof it down through the gardens and fountains, or take a tram directly there. Personally, I’d walk the walk. Along the way, there’s much to see.

During the warmer months, amazing displays of aquatic artistry bring the palace fountains to life while piped in Lully and other Baroque favorites spray on to everyone’s delight. The weather and your entourage will most likely determine your mode of transportation. Take heed, because along the way you’ll encounter steps and uneven ground, especially treacherous after a downpour. So pack your Chucks or Keds, kids!

Bonfires were often  lit at the Temple of Love

Walk this way

There’s no set order to touring the grounds. At the Petit Trianon entrance, you’ll find a café with benches and the best chicken salad sandwiches I’ve ever stuck a tooth in. Here you’ll also find a welcome center, a WC, and a gift shop. Pick up a free map and plan your route at lunch. I usually start my stroll at the nearby Temple of Love, first paying homage to Cupid with crossed fingers and toes. Then, after putting in a cameo appearance at Marie Antoinette’s little theater, I follow the winding brook down to the hamlet.

Stay on the path! Legend has it that back in 1903 two English school teachers, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain brazenly took a short cut and ended up time trekking back to the 18th century. “Everything suddenly looked unnatural, therefore unpleasant; even the trees seemed to become flat and lifeless, like wood worked in tapestry.” Jourdain reported. So for the love of your pocket-sized technology, stay with your group!

Keeping it real

Marie Antoinette was just 19 years old when Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to her. It was initially built for his grandfather’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Designed by architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, this symmetrical royal haven with a neoclassical twist gave Marie Antoinette what she craved most—personal privacy and room to blossom. “Here I am me,” M.A. wrote.

The Queen was also given full rein of the grounds. Inspired by Rosseau’s writings, she got architect Richard Mique and artist Robert Hubert on the case, and the dream team designed a rustic hamlet that was “charming, but uncultivated and wild.” Fully embracing shabby chic, painters were also called in to create faux wood with imitation cracks, splits, and green moss. Talk about getting all crafty!

The view from the Queen’s cottage

Ode to Jouy

Here’s the squeal! Back in the day, visits were by invitation only, and costumes were kept unusually simple and informal for the time. “I shall be quite alone so don’t dress up; country clothes and men in frock coats,” M.A. scribed on the invitations. A “little” white gown, a gauzy hankie, and a straw hat was the expected attire at the Petit Trianon. Banned were big hats, long dress trains, and the wide panniers that put the hustle in the bustle.

Here games like cards and blind man’s bluff were played both day and night. Let’s not forget the seesaw and the fleet of tiny row boats. At l’heure bleu, lanterns adorned the bushes, statues, and hideaways. Soon nocturnal fêtes, impromptu concerts, intimate co-ed suppers with BFFs, and private theater spectacles featuring the Queen became the norm at her private domain.

Approaching the Petit Trianon

On the boards in her very own theater, Marie Antoinette fearlessly took on her alter egos like an 18th-century Lady Gaga or Beyoncé, performing as milkmaids, shepherdesses, or village maidens. Studying theater, opera, and ballet (with celebrity tutors snagged from Paris), she managed to fine-tune her craft while crafting her own idyllic world.

Despite her unfortunate fate, in this tiny theater, with its seats for only forty, its walls and ceilings of blue velvet and paper-mâché ornaments mimicking putti, shiny gold, and cool marble, her spirited dreams live on. More than anywhere else, you can still feel her presence here, so trust me, don’t miss it.

Oscar Wilde said it best: “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

Need a lil’ hameau fix now? Sofia Coppola’s movie “Marie Antoinette” was shot on location.

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106 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Daytripping to Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at Versailles

    • I know! I know!! What a crib. You should check out the musical fountain shows. They’re spectacular. It’s a great place to people-watch and photograph. Enjoy the weekend!! T. (I have a “mystery” shot for your “Paris by Cell Phone” site. I’ll send it to you next week!)

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    • Theodora I am so smitten with this post I’ve read it four times (and I’ve been to Versailles myself!) Would you ever be interested in a collaboration? Your photos are inspired, I’d be curious to see what was left out!

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      • Yes! Yes! Yes! Here’s my address: Theadora.Brack @ gmail . com. Feel free to drop me a line. Perhaps after work slows down a bit? I dig the idea! T. (Your “Attack of the Brooches” series is pretty darn terrific!! Fabulous.)

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    • I agree. Trianon, take me away! It is the perfect place to visit during the summer. Tell your friends to keep their eyes peeled for royal ghosts and re-enactors! I highly recommend the Fountain Spectacles. I’ll dig up a link to the schedule. The grand final of the Fountains Show takes place at the Neptune fountain. It’s amazing! Also, there’s a fun garden gift shop, along with a nearby ice cream stand. Hello, perfect day!! Theadora

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  1. Like walking the path with you Theadora! Just lovely and for my own part…I wouldn’t mind straying off the path and taking a trek back….as long as I could turn around and find my way home again. What splendor it must have been in it’s day…

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    • Thanks for the stroll, Rhonda!! Back in the day, all you needed was a sword to gain entrance to Versailles. Funny tidbit! Animals were everywhere, including birds, snakes, cats, dogs, and spunky monkeys! I bet the palaces were pretty darn smelly but still gorgeous! T.

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    • Merci!! Say, I’m still dreaming about your “apple” and “cactus” stools! I’m sure they would have received Marie Antoinette’s Good Palace Seal of Approval!! T.

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  2. Reblogged this on Coup de Foudre and commented:
    Loving Theadora’s posts at the moment. She’s writing about places we’re planning to visit this year and the extra information is so great as it’s information that I wouldn’t find in guidebooks, etc.

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  3. I’m loving all your posts at the moment. You’re posting information on places I have already planned to visit during our trip this year. Versailles and Le Hameau de la Reine is another one on the list and you’ve provided lots of added information that’s really supplementing my research info. Loving this… and thanks again, Theadora! I’ve reblogged this post.

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    • Merci, Vivien!! I’m looking forward to reading your Paris dispatches. They’ll be fabulous. I know it!

      By the way, while you’re in Versailles, if time permits, visit the Osmothèque Versailles. It’s both a perfume museum and conservatory! A few years ago, they helped re-create M.A.’s perfume. Formulated French nose Francis Kurkdjian, “Marie Antoinette Sillage de la Reinecost,” it’s made up of rose, jasmine, and tuberose, along with orange blossom, cedar wood, and sandalwood. Price tag? 300 to 400 euros!!

      The Osmothèque Versailles often offers workshops and classes. A few years ago, I got to smell original classic French scents by Guerlain, Coty, and Molinard, along with Houbigant, Bourjois, and Lanvin-just to name a few! It was heaven!! Luckily, the class lasted three hours! It’s also affordable. At the time, it cost just 7 euros. Worth every SCENT.

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    • Ah, Merci!! And speaking of sumptuous and spectacular, I’m looking forward to seeing your weekend photographs! Babs (By the way, I’d like to shoot the Congress Hotel and the Buckingham Fountain. It’s such a beauty. Have you photographed it? Created by Edward Bennett, it was inspired by the “Bassin de Latone” fountain at the Versailles! I love the sculptures created by Marcel Loyau. It’s another great place to people-watch. And picnic.)

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  4. Be still my heart. I am transported back in time, gamboling with the lambs, applauding Marie Antoinette in the tiny jewel of a theatre. Virginia

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    • Thanks, Virginia!! While strolling, I spotted a few white fetching bunny rabbits. Big wigs Oswald and Edward would absolutely dig the grounds at Versailles! Perhaps Oswald has made the jaunt?! T.

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    • Yes, add it to your list!! Versailles is about a 30 minute ride from Paris. And along the way, there’s plenty to see! Also there’s a great gift and book shop at the entrance of Versailles. You’ll find the a nifty garden shop near the Petit Trianon. Enjoy your weekend! Theadora

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    • Thanks, Jody!! You do need to visit Paris. You’ll love it. In the meantime, have you seen the Marie Antoinette film? It’s a sweet, frothy escape. It’s a worth a viewing! Ladurée’s pastel-colored macarons inspired the color scheme of the set in Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. The sweets make cameo appearances throughout the movie. Now I’m hungry. . .Theadora

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    • Thanks!! I agree. I also loved the film!! I’ve seen the gorgeous flick about 100 times. The soundtrack is also pretty wonderful. One of my pals taught Kirsten Dunst how to play the harp for the title role in Sofia Coppola’s film. She loved the gig! Also, Antonia Fraser’s “Marie Antoinette: The Journey” is very interesting. Have you read it? Sofia based the movie on the book. Seize the day! Theadora

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    • It’s the perfect place for a lazy, hazy day! For the love of strolling, napping and ice cream eating, I could live there. Did you get to catch one of the fountain shows?! Theadora (By the way, I just found a photograph of Zelda Fitzgerald holding one of her cats. It’s adorable. I’ll post it soon!)

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      • Sounds to us that you could happily be MA yourself, minus a few distractions. The Sophia Coppola film captured it beautifully. Yes, we had the most fabulous, wind free time there and the fountain shows were wonderful. Do look forward to the Fitzgerald cat!

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  5. Le Hameau was my favourite part of Versailles, even though I was there in the autumn and it wasn’t nearly this pretty. Thanks for the gorgeous summer pics!

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    • Thanks, Krista!! I love strolling the grounds at Versailles and Petit Trianon during the fall. I used to compete in the Paris to Versailles race. It was mostly uphill! One mile boasted a 10 percent grade! It was fun. Plus, they gave out medals and roses! After running, I’d spend the day walking and resting by the fountains-yes, wearing my medal! France is a great place to race. The competitions are usually inexpensive and the prizes are always beautiful. Sometimes they give out compact mirrors, oysters and dark chocolate! T.

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    • Ah, Marcos!! Thank you for your sweet, sweet words and clap-clap-clapping!! The feeling is quite mutual. Your work always pretty darn fab. I loved your sand and sea series. Golly, I could almost hear the waves crashing!! T.

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      • Thank you so much Theodaora!! I’m glad that you like my work, you are very inteligent and has an incredible ability to write, I admire your work. You are a person that everyone wants to be around…to talk, etc… And to have a true friendship! You are a sweetness.

        *When you have time, please see more photos here on my Homepage: http://home.fotocommunity.com/marcos

        All teh best,
        Marcos

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  6. T, just when I think your posts and your prose can’t get any better, they do. I LOVED THIS! We plan on making a trip to Europe someday and your guides are not only wonderfully entertaining and visually stunning, but so informative. I’ll stay away from that spot that whisks one back to the 18th century, though. I don’t think me or my banter would be a very good fit there. ;). Merveilleux lire! (hope I’m translating that correctly). Merci beaucoup

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    • Golly, oui! Merci, Brigitte!! Your supportive words always make me smile and write!! And your banter, too. I think M.A. would have appreciated your banter. You probably would have been a favorite and regular fête guest at Petit Trianon AND changed history!! T. (Versailles is definitely worth the trek!)

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    • Thanks, Ann!! How cool is that! What color? Fabric? Roger Vivier created the shoes in the top shot. His innovative designs have inspired both Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. Gorgeous!! T.

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    • Oh, no!! It is very difficult to leave Paris. Tears will fall, I’m sure of it. I’d start planning your future return trip now. And every moment. Big hugs!! Theadora

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      • I know!! It’s not easy! We are moving to London soon so it’s not SO far away from here … but still I feel like next time I come back it’s not gonna be the same.. I will not have a home here anymore.. 😦 How long have you been here in Paris? are you staying for good?

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      • For the love of the Chu-Chu-Chunnel, London is not so far away!! Take care during the move! T. (I’m currently trekking between France and the East Coast of the States.)

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    • Funny!! Do you have a Versailles café recommendation? A joint near the train station? Or in between the station and the palace? Theadora (I loved, loved your recent post about Poissy, Yvelines. It’s so close to Paris. What a great tip!!)

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      • indeed. between the station you mean rive gauche( Versailles has 3) and the palace is too much touristic, but O’Pub Paris is ok, and you better off by rue satory or in the Notre Dame district nearer me.Au Chat Qui Prise, and Montbauron .

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      • Oh, thanks for the great leads! I appreciate it. I’ll check them out during my next jaunt to Versailles! Theadora (And yes, I once “mixed up” the station names. I’ll never make that mistake again! Along the way, the historic houses were very pretty, but the walk was very long!!)

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  7. Alas I was Versailled out by the time I made it to this part of the Palace grounds, your photos give me a new perspective 🙂

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      • Hi Theadora, my timing was never great on the flea market side of things and most things were closed or I just couldnt make it. A shame as I was looking forward to finding some unique treasures.

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    • Thank you, Iris! And speaking of retreats, I’ve been enjoying reading about your Wayfayer’s history. It’s beautiful place. I bet Bachelor Burtker’s letters are fascinating! He sounds like a character! Theadora

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  8. Great post! The hamlet is really a gem; when I came upon it one day by surprise I was like “wha? are you kidding me?”. It was a fantastic surprise. My favorite detail about her pretend “rustic” lifestyle is how only the most beautiful and docile farm animals were chosen for it, with sheep being cleaned and groomed before she milked them, and chicken eggs being pre-washed before she arrived to gather them. Not unlike our modern concept of “camping” by renting a furnished cabin with internet and a microwave!

    I didn’t know the Petit Trianon was originally for Madame de Pompadour, which is an interesting tidbit. Thanks again for a great post!

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    • Thanks, Corey!! I loved your “modern concept of camping” comparison! Perhaps one day, they’ll open the other Hamlet buildings. Fingers and toes are crossed! Say, have you participated in any of the foot races in Paris? If you enjoy running, the Paris to Versailles race is fast, steep, and scenic. It’s usually held in September or October. I’ll check the calendar to see if it’s being held this year. Again, as always, thanks for your thoughtful words and gorgeous Paris posts!! T.

      And yes, Petit Trianon was built for Madame de Pompadour, but sadly, she died before they completed the project. Lucky for Madame Du Barry!

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  9. Theadora,
    Thanks for bringing some very warm memories of a similar visit several years ago. After reading your blog, Kate and I had a wonderful conversation, over dinner, remembering walking through that very unique village. Thanks, Thom

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    • Thanks, Thom! I’m digging your nod to New York City parks and playgrounds! The Carl Shurz park is now on my list. Local parks ARE treasures! I loved your line: “Sometimes a vist to your local park can bring a smile or a chuckle.” So very true!! Theadora

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    • Gosh, thank you!! And congratulations et Bon Anniversaire to you!! T. (I just located my old French typewriter. Brainstorming now. . .Thanks for the inspiration!)

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  10. Ah, Theodora, thank you once again for sweeping me away from the hustle and bustle of my own life. I gotta have those precious shoes! Over the past several years I have taken inspiration from the Gardens of Versailles in my artwork. I’d love it if you’d go to my personal artwork site at http://www.anitahorton.com and look under “Gardens”. Look especially at the mobile home/trailer houses situated inside the lush gardens. 🙂 I just love reading your posts. Thank you for your hard work. 🙂

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    • Merci, Anita!! Roger Vivier created the satin shoes. You can’t go wrong with brilliant rhinestones! Thanks also for sending the link to your garden works. I’ll check out the site! (Also, I recently scored a photograph of Zelda Fitzgerald, holding a cat. It was taken in 1936. I’ll post the treasure soon. You’ll love it!)

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  11. Amazing post! I wish I could experience just half of what you do and am so happy you share it all with us! 🙂 Amazing photos and I LOVE your shoes.
    X
    BD

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  12. I’d love to visit Versailles someday, and after all I’ve heard about it, le petit Trianon also. Thanks for the lovely photos (and your very funny comparison of M.A. to Lady Gaga!).

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  13. Your beautiful photographs transport me out of my stress filled office to a place of relaxation and meditation. Thank you!

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    • AH! Merci, Curly Girl!! What a fabulous, fabulous message. I really appreciate it. You made my week!! T. (M.A.’s Petite Trianon is definitely worth the trek!)

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  14. Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon is one of my all-time favorite places to visit – such an idyllic setting! Some of my favorite photographs have been taken there.

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  15. An unbelievable post Theadora! This is (yet again) so incredibly helpful for planning our upcoming trip! Versailles is SO on the list and this little excursion sounds amazing. Thank you! 🙂 xox

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    • Thanks, Shira!! Yes, add the little jaunt to your list. It’s a great day trip. The train ride is both short and scenic. Also, after a year-long make-over, Petit Trianon reopened in June. Perfect timing for you! It’s also worth a peek. I’m looking forward to reading about your trip!! T. (One more tip!! Marie Antoinette’s shoe is at the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais.)

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      • Cool! Thanks my friend!! I’ll be going through your site with my notebook soon! Thank you for all you do – I can’t wait to blog from France!

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    • Thanks, Susan!! M.A.’s hamlet is beautiful and magical. Whenever I visit Versailles, I always, always stay until the very last fountain show!! Also, the Petit Trianon reopened in June 2012 after a one-year makeover. It’s worth the visit. Enjoy the week!! Theadora

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  16. I’m an old retired guy living in the middle of Iowa, which is probably not you target audience, but I so much enjoy reading your posts. I look forward to seeing more.

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    • Great to hear from you!! Gosh. I’ve been enjoying your shots of downtown Marion, Iowa. The “Street Light,” “Memorial Hall,” and “Doorway” are favorites. I love your eye for detail and traces from another time. Lovely. Theadora

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  17. Oh Theodora, what an elegant day! My visit there in 1999 was not so elegant. We rented bicycles at the palace and rode on down (half way I realized the tires were flat), and I got busted by the guard with walkie-talkie who was not impressed with my casual response to his warning of no bikes in the trianon…..it wasn’t casual, really, i was just trying to tell him yes, I would leave, I just needed to wait until my husband saw me so we wouldn’t get separated….and then he started with those walkie talkies and I high-tailed it out of there. I thought I was going to get thrown in the pond.

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    • Dear Susan, I loved, loved your story!! Now, that’s a souvenir!! My goodness. I am still giggling. Yes, they still run a tight ship at Versailles. Did the guard wag his finger while saying, “no, no, no?” Oh, yes. I have been there. Apparently, I was standing too close to the edge of one of the fountains. Oh, la la. Again, thanks for sharing such a swell story!! Theadora

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    • Ah, thanks!! Very cool timing. Did your niece go on any other day trips?! Theadora (By the way, I’ve been enjoying your book reviews. I love the art, too!!)

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  18. Wonderful post, Theadora! I’ve been to La Petite Trianon and adored it – absolutely charming. In an interesting coincidence, I just watched Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” for the umpteenth time last night. A bon-bon of a film!

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    • Merci, Patricia!! Whenever I’m feeling blue, I watch the flick. For the love of pink, it’s gorgeous. The perfect escape! I also listen to the soundtrack. It’s even on my running iPod. Yes, I’m hooked. Enjoy the week! Theadora

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    • Thank you, Dave!! I always enjoy visiting your world. Your photographs always, always catch my eye. Yesterday’s “Searching for Spock” was fantastical. Dead Ringer. Yes, I agree. Enjoy the week!! Theadora

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    • As always, Merci!!! October is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to visit Paris! Here’s to blue skies!! T. (I loved your recent post about Marquis De Lafayette and the handsome Cedar of Lebanon tree at Montpelier. Beautiful photograph!!)

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    • Well, thank you. Exactly. My toes always shake and my knees knock as I hit the “publish” button. (Hence the slight blur.) Enjoy the weekend!! Theadora

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  19. Loved this post – just back from a great trip combining Versailles and Paris. The night fountains show in Versailles was FAB – a bargain at just €23! (Some hot shots on my blog if you are interested). And Paris…my heart skips a beat at the mention of its name….there will always be Paris….Keep inspiring.

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