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The Wheelchair Queen of Versailles: What accessibility means in France

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 5/22/2015 - www.Littleviews.com ]

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May 22: Rolling Around the Versailles Palace

>>  Today we set our GPS on the Palace of Versailles, had our iPad Air's "onboard" French language translation program with us, and used our large Maps.Me as a backup should our car's GPS fail. I also thoroughly researched the palace's accessibility webpage and copied it to an iPad document. As I've been to Versailles two previous times, I believed that our thorough preparations would be sufficient for us to drive up to the palace, park, and enjoy the scene.

Then, after a peaceful one hour ride, we arrived at 10:00 AM and faced down the golden palace, its enormous almost-filled parking lot, and tens of thousands of visitors trudging towards it from the train station. We panicked! Keep in mind that although Phil regularly drives through New York City and regards Chicago traffic as a minor annoyance, we both began talking about postponing the visit for another day, maybe a few decades from now.

Out of ignorance and chaos, our first chore was to identify the accessibility Gate A or H with absolutely no way to do it. After circling the grounds a few times in the middle of heavy traffic, we searched for the Versailles' Tourist Information Office. To reach it, we had to drive on a half-car wide alley, jammed with pedestrians. Once inside, I approached an English-speaking information clerk who, unfortunately, had no idea what I was talking about. After showing her the paragraph I copied from the palace's webpage, we narrowed our target to Gate H. Resourcefully, she found it on a 3-inch property map that had the letter "H" called-out by a size 1 font. [Gate H is to the immediate right of the main plaza.]

With knuckles white and still harboring thoughts about quitting, we arrived at what we thought was an unmarked chain linked fence (actually, it was identified in French). After I proved my handicapped bonifieds, a car exited the minuscule nearby parking lot, allowing us to park up close and personal in the Gate H vicinity.

Best, an attendant (pictured) took charge of me. Royalty could never have been treated nicer than I was! He elbowed crowds out of the way, sat me down in a wheel chair, gave Phil and me free passes, and told us where we could roll. At the end of our visit, he also helped usher us back to the car and gave Phil permission to drive right up to Gate H so I didn't have to wobble downhill on cobblestones.

Although I do not think of myself as being permanently handicapped, I currently require crutches and the only way I could have seen the palace was from a wheelchair. Never in my wildest dreams, however, did I think having such an affliction would have caused my husband and me to receive such caring, individualized attention at France's most popular national attraction! [This, and they have socialized medicine, too! Need I say more?]

Phil and I toured the palace chambers. Many of the exhibits were under renovation when I last visited, so the "Hall of Mirrors" and everything beyond it was new to me. I certainly did not previously see the massive "Salon de Guerre (War Salon) that displays wall-sized military paintings of victorious kings happily standing amid the hacked up bodies of the losers. These paintings were commissioned in the 1800s to rev up the country's esprit de corps. (Oy!)

I prefer, however, to remember this palace for all of its beauty, and honer the craftspeople, artists, engineers, decorators, historians, archivists, donors, staff, and France for supporting and sharing this treasure with visitors from around the world.

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Karen Little - Karen@Littleviews.com

Article series by Karen Little for www.Littleviews.com. Photos by Karen and Phil Little. Series began on May 13, 2015. All rights reserved.

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