Peter the Great was in the process of building a small summer palace west of Petersburg. Then he visited Versailles, and plans got a bit more ambitious. The end result is mind-blowing, more than ten times the size of Central Park, with thousands of acres of parks and fountains radiating out from the palace. The fountains — hundreds of them — are powered entirely by gravity, as water flows downhill underground from a reservoir uphill of the grounds.

We walked, often completely alone, across the grounds. It was cold and rainy, but beautifully peaceful. Late in the morning we ducked into the palace for a tour, and in the afternoon stopped in a small restaurant on the grounds for lunch: Soup, as a smooth jazz rendition of Backstreet Boys bubbled out of the speakers.

Andrew Bartholomew