When we headed to Paris, we knew a day trip to Versailles was in order. However, as the week progressed we kept putting it off, mostly to avoid being out in the palace gardens in the heat, and little because we didn’t really know what all the pomp and circumstance was about.
But then you get there, and you walk up the front pathway, and you SEE the grandeur of Versailles and it makes a little more sense. It really is unlike anything other. The pure oppulence that comes with Versailles can not be understated. From the rooms to the hall of mirrors to the kings gardens – each piece is extravagent.
When we arrived, I was more concerned with seeing (and photographing) the gardens than the inside of the building (which was going to be crowded given the line that went down the street). So we snuck around the side and thought we’d start wandering among the fountains. They wouldn’t let us use our museum passes and forced us to buy a ticket for €8,50 – which annoyed me. We entered the gardens at 9:15 and started to wander, but I couldn’t figure out why all the water was stagnant. Finally, after about 25 minutes of wandering, Ray went and asked someone if the fountains ever get turned on. This si when we found out that today was FOUNTAIN DAY. During the summers on Saturdays, Versailles turns on the fountains for select portions of the day. Because of this our museum pass wasn’t valid for the gardens. But what is Versailles without the fountains? So now I was more grateful to have stumbled on this day (because of weather and not any brilliant planning of my own) and couldn’t care less about the extra cost. We took some pictures of flowers and bees while waiting for the first fountain to turn on.
At 10:00 the musical Mirror fountain (photo directly below, with the rainbow) began it’s 7 minute show (cycling all day) and from 11:00 – 12:00 all the fountains on the grounds turned on. This gave us 60 minutes to loop through the garden as strategically as possible to see them all. The “main” big fountain was under construction unfortunately.
The Apollo Fountain (looking like a greek god bursting through black rock), Neptune’s Fountain (with the horses, fish and man spiting out water – also one of my favourites), Grand View (looking down from the top Palace all the way through the gardens to the lake), gardens and flowers, funny shaped trees, and other minor fountains (all of which have names I cannot presently remember) were all beautiful. For some reason, turning the fountains on gave the air a sulphur smell (which wasn’t amazing), but this dissipated as the hour progressed. We found a couple tourists to take a photo of us together and overall enjoyed the experience, all the while listening to the very regal music playing throughout the gardens on loud speakers. At some point I expected to turn a corner and encounter some royal gala – which was kind of a fun thought to leave in the corner of my imagination.
After our tours of the gardens we stopped for lunch…in the gardens. It was already 30 degrees, and though most guidebooks recommended heading back towards the train station for cheaper fair, we didn’t want to do the extra walking (as we’d already been wandering the gardens for 3 hours). Ray enjoyed (and I did not) some Duck confit. What Ray didn’t enjoy was the pushy way the waiter asked for a tip. Tipping in France is minimal (most cafe’s actually include a service charge already, so tip isn’t necessary), so Ray was annoyed that he was asking. I assumed it was an adaptation to the number of North Americans passing through that tip, as a default. It has been nice not to have to mentally add 15% to ever food item we purchase. I wish in North America waitstaff were paid more and a set service charge was included in the bill. Also, I like that taxes are included here in the prices – just feels more honest and up front. Sorry – that was a little bit of a tangent.
Post-lunch we stood in line for about one hour to get into the Chateau. People of all languages and nationalities were crammed into this line waiting to get in. Unlike the castles we’ve visited in Germany, with set ticket times, guided groups and limited entry (to avoid overcrowding), Versailles just gets in as many people as possible as quickly as possible. This made moving through the palace 45 minutes of shoulder to shoulder shuffling…which wasn’t any fun at all. Of course in addition the palace was hot and stuffy, and taking pictures was limited. While I’m glad we placed our importance on the gardens (especially after seeing how busy they were by lunch – filled with all those who started in side or arrived later), I think the Chateau could only fully be enjoyed first thing in the morning, last thing in the afternoon, or, or course, on a super lucky non-busy day. The photo below shows us in the hall of mirrors (which was stunning, though the beauty was detracted by the stupid number of tourists), and both the King’s Bed (Red) and Marie-Antoinette’s Bed (Pink). The palace was built by King Louis XIV, moving out of Paris (and away from the palace that is now the Louvre). He reigned for close to 80 years before passing on the thrown to hi great grandson (Louis XV) and eventually to his grandson (Louis XVI), who married Marie-Antoinette and was beheaded as part of the French revolution. Only 3 kings ruled from Versailles.
We didn’t get a chance to bike or walk around the lake or visit the Queen’s hamlet further from the main home. By 3:00pm we were exhausted and ready to return to Paris. The RER – or a rapid rail system connected to the metro, but actually a train system, connects Paris to Versailles in about 45 minutes – though learning to navigate the RER was less intuitive than the metro or the rail system. Our early return gave us time to walk down the Champs-Elyseés, and view the Arc de Triomphe (though we didn’t have the energy to wait in line or climb it – this will be saved for another trip), and return home to pack. And of course, one final dinner at our favourite little cafe. It was a wonderful way to end our time in Paris.