The 21st of June to the average American is a day like any other but in Europe it’s all about celebrating the solstice. Solstice is a Latin word meaning “sun stands still.” It is the longest day and shortest night of the year and marks the Northern Hemisphere’s first day of summer. On this particular June 21st I found myself in Paris preparing for an exciting day trip to Versailles, a city about ten miles southwest of Paris. I would soon learn my idea was shared by many tourists this day.
Fortunately, my research paid off as I had signed the family up with Fat Tire Tours – a tour that allowed us to bicycle our way around the city as well as the expansive grounds and gardens of the Palace of Versailles – a property thought to be worth in excess of $50.7 billion dollars and once the summer home of King Louis XIV (the Sun King) and King Louis XVI and his notorious wife, Marie Antoinette.
When I booked this tour I was told that we would start with a bike ride to the Versailles Farmer’s Market to purchase lunch for our noon hour picnic beside the palace’s reflecting pond. The feast we gathered in the market was impressive: fresh baguette, meat, cheese, strawberries, raspberries and pastries from the local patisserie. We were also strongly encouraged to purchase wine since we were told the tour guide had the glasses and corkscrew for us.
The grounds were immaculate with long rows of trees to bicycle our way under like a canopy. I couldn’t help but notice busy workers building a stage on the palace grounds for what I was told would be a concert later that evening. The orangery and gardens were in full bloom today and just gorgeous.
Our picnic by the reflecting pond after a very long bike ride that morning was most welcome. The reflecting pond is deceiving because it appears much smaller up near the palace but once you are near the pond, it is very long. Our picnic was at the far end of the pond and little did we realize it was ever so slightly downhill. Our picnic was a memorable event with the most delicious food we personally selected in the farmer’s market that very morning. The wine was wonderful and refreshing. The fruit, baguette and desserts were scrumptious. Following our feast, I took this picture of my husband and kids at the pond that has since become one of my favorite photos from this visit to the palace.
The bike ride back toward the palace following the feast was truly uncomfortable to say the least. This was especially true since we had enjoyed a little too much wine, a little too much food, a few too many bites of french pastries and then realized we had a lengthy bike ride uphill and full afternoon tour of the palace still ahead of us. At this point all we really wanted was a nice little nap beside the pond.
After surviving the return bicycle trip to the opposite side of the palace, our tour group leader led us past the crowds to the front of the long line awaiting entrance to the palace. How thankful we were that our tour cut hours off the wait and let us immediately enjoy the palace, most especially the Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antoinette’s rooms.
The palace was packed this day with guests from all over the world (at times literally elbow to elbow). Following the palace tour, we were led out back toward the reflecting pool, gardens and sculptures to wander around at our leisure. Here is just a little of what we saw:
We easily spent 8 hours going to and from Paris to Versailles via train, touring the palace, the hamlet and the grounds and we still did not see all there was to see.
Touring the palace and grounds with Fat Tire Tours allowed us immediate access to our bicycles for transportation before and after the tour. This aspect alone was worth every cent we paid and allowed us to ride a bike and give our sore feet a break for a moment or two. During our train ride back to Paris there was a noticeable increase in foot traffic on the train. I heard so much about the European solstice celebration during this train ride.
I learned that the Fete de la Musique was upon us and that we about to enjoy a musical experience unlike any other we have ever witnessed. It began that very afternoon while we were busy touring the palace and would continue throughout the evening hours all across Paris.
- First, the metro was free and open to the public all night long allowing people to move freely about the city.
- Next, I learned the summer solstice is celebrated throughout Europe in holiday fashion with celebrations of great music and food.
- Paris utilizes every street corner, alley and boulevard not to mention the gardens, parks and public squares for lively musical performances.
- In one park you will hear jazz, in another opera, in another rock, and in another electronic music. I heard Versailles guests enjoyed chamber music on the very grounds where I saw the men erecting the stage earlier in the day.
After a long day of touring the palace, we slowly made our way via the metro system back to our hotel. When we walked up the steps exiting the metro and arrived at the Place de la Republique, despite knowing that it was the Fete de la Musique, we were shocked at what we stepped into: a heavily attended electronic musical fest featuring DJ Deadmau5. Thousands of party going revelers filled the town square on this night celebrating the summer solstice right outside our hotel.
Moving through the crowds was difficult – there were so many people attending this free event. I feared the worst….that the loud thumping of DJ Deadmau5 would continue all night and that the party goers and solstice celebration would never end. We entered our hotel, took an elevator up to our room where we snapped the following photo of the crowds that had gathered for this solstice celebration.
As I entered my room and began unwinding after a long day of sightseeing I heard the music stop. When it didn’t start back up again I glanced at the clock: just a minute after midnight. I looked out the window and the crowds of thousands were almost completely gone and all that remained was a cleanup crew. Summer had arrived.
The summer solstice will be upon us once again. Settled back into my little American life, I know that a continent away the solstice will be welcomed in a very special way –with music, concerts and community wide celebrations. This experience has rubbed off on me and I feel that it is only right to adopt this tradition and celebrate the return of one of my favorite seasons in a like way. If you are near my home at the solstice, you may just hear DJ Deadmau5, or at the very least Maroon 5, leading the way and singing us into summer.