We woke up early to try and maximise the time for today’s itinerary. Had about 4 hours of sleep last night. Luckily our apartment was pretty close to a Métro and we made our way to the Saint-Michel – Notre-Dame station. Make sure you buy the right tickets! To get to Versailles, you need to be on the RER C VICK train. Once you have the tickets, head towards the correct platform, they have screens to show you the arrival of the next train and the number of stops. Try to get the return tickets (€6.50) to save time on your way back.
You need to be on the RER C (VICK) train to get to Versailles
The train takes about half an hour to reach the Versailles-Rive Gauche station. Do not worry, it is a terminal, so you can have a nap on the train without worrying about missing your stop. Unfortunately the palace is not right outside the station. Coming out from the train station, turn right along the main thoroughfare. If you arrive during office hours, there will be shops along this route that will sell you tickets for guided tours at Versailles. My personal opinion: Skip those and get them at the Chatéau.
“Where is the palace?” quipped the wife as we approached the junction. “Turn left,” I answered. We found ourselves starring down a long tree-lined boulevard and at the end of it — the Chatéau. It was only 830am but there were a few tour buses parked outside the courtyard. “It’s going to be another long queue again,” the wife grumbled. Nothing much to worry about since we have the Paris Museum Pass.
For those of you who did not pre-book the tickets, you would have to queue twice. Once for the tickets, the other for the security checks. For those of you, like us, who possess the Paris Museum Pass or The Passport (Versailles only), make yourself available at the modern glass entry area. You will have to deposit your back packs. Whilst you are queuing, keep your eye on the golden Royal Gate next to the queue. For your information, this is not the original.
We were here on a weekend, so the fountains will be working accompanied by classical music. The catch? You will have to pay another extra €8.50 to enter the gardens. It is a one-off fee for the whole day, meaning you could leave and enter the gardens at any given time as you wished.
The catch? You will have to pay another extra €8.50 to enter the gardens.
The area closest to the Chatéau and extending towards the Fountain of Apollo right in the middle of the gardens is off-limits to the cyclist. Cycle anywhere around the Grand Canal and you will be find. The same goes for the golf cart. The cart will shut off automatically if you diverge from the prescribed route.
This fountain that you see here in the picture above is called the Fountain of Latona. Legend has it that she is the mother of Apollo. Being an unwed mother, she was insulted by the peasants. She called on Zeus (father of her children) to punish them, so they were turn to frogs and lizards around the fountain.
I wonder who does all these trimming and mowing?
Strolling from one fountain to the other (Fountain of Apollo) is about half an hour. “I just wonder who does all these trimming and mowing?” I wondered out loud. Imagine punishing your child to mow the lawn, here, at Versailles. That would be crazy. The classical music is broadcast via speakers embedded in the tall hedges, together with the working fountains, it is a joy to behold.
We did not have time to visit Marie Antoinette’s Domain or either of the Trianons (Grand & Petit).
In keeping with my blog’s theme, this is the Chatéau. It was the centre of political power for almost 100 years, from Louis XIV to XVI, I hope my history is accurate. The French Revolution marked the ending of this pompous monarchy and after visiting the Chatéau, I would have done the same if I was born in that era.
The tour of the State Apartments begins with the lavish Opéra Royale (Opera House), with its dazzling mirrors and chandeliers, laced with gold trimmings. In case you have forgotten, they did not have electricity back then, so all the chandeliers were lit by candles. Which would number by the thousands, imagine that for one single night of performance here. Note: only a guided tour will allow you to enter here.
Next up is the Royal Chapel. This is probably the only hint of Christianity in the entire complex. Surprisingly, it celebrates Man, not God. Man here is depicted by Louis XIV (who else?) personified with all the good qualities.
Hercules Drawing Room, so named because of the ceiling painting of Hercules. But the highlight of this room is the picture opposite of the fireplace — Meal at the House of Simon the Pharisee. For the full effect, stand at the fireplace, look across the room to see how the painting matches with the height of the real life columns and arches. “Incredible”, sums up the wife.
Look up at the ceiling. Each drawing will depict the Roman deity involved.
From now onwards, we are in the King’s Apartments, it is a one-way tour to you won’t be getting lost. Each room is named after one of the then known 7 planets. How to identify the room you say? Easy. “Look up at the ceiling. Each drawing will depict the Roman deity involved.”
For the next half an hour, you will be bombarded with numerous paintings, carved wooden furniture, all sorts of lavish embellishments that can be found in those days. We are talking about minimalism nowadays, but back then, it was extravagant-ism. Pay attention when you enter the Apollo Room, remember the saying ‘four corners of the world’? Look up (again), Europe is depicted by a sword, Asia — a lion, Africa — an elephant and America? Indian maiden with a crocodile.
Europe is depicted by a sword, Asia – a lion, Africa – an elephant and America? Indian maiden with a crocodile.
The highlight of this tour would most probably be the — Hall of Mirrors. A room 250 feet long decorated with 17 arched mirrors matched by 17 windows facing the gardens. There are 24 candelabras hanging from the ceilings and to avoid bombarding you with more numbers, go and count for yourself the number of statues and busts of Roman emperors.
Close your eyes for 1 second, open them and replace all the tour groups members with visiting ambassadors, noblemen and guests. Imagine the place being lit by thousands of candles, servants walking around serving wine and what-nots. Imagine checking out your reflection in the mirror, you and your fine digs, your curly wigs, your bling-blings whilst joining in the dining, chatting, laughing and flirting while watching the sun set across the Grand Canal. “Are you on dope?”, the wife said. Snapping me out of my mystified stupor.
The grandiosity of the entire complex was carried on in the Queen’s Apartments, I am already out of superlatives to describe each and every room. You must see it to believe it. Somehow or another, these emperors managed to outdo each other during their reign, while the rest of the common folk had little to be proud of. No wonder Marie-Antoinette had a phrase attributed to her when asked about peasants with no bread to eat — Let them eat cake.
It was almost noon when we came out from the complex and half a day well spent. If you have the time, I would recommend visiting Versailles. It doesn’t have to be on a weekend since the fountains and classical music is nothing much to shout about and not worth the admission price, unless you plan to spend the whole day here. It would be easier if you do it as a day trip from Paris.
Best way to enjoy the day at Versailles?
- Book in advance or get the Paris Museum Pass.
- Come early to avoid the long queues.
- Do the Chatéau first.
- Then the Gardens.
- Visit both the Grand Trianon & Petit Trianon.
- Visit Marie Antoinette’s Domain.
- Rent a bike and cycle along the Grand Canal.
- Admire the fountains in the late afternoon (if it is a weekend).
- Have dinner in the town of Versailles.
Maybe it is just me, but I find the tour groups a bit annoying. Specifically the tour group members. They will bump, squeeze and push to get to wherever their guide takes them. Anyone else has had similar experience?
Lunch was at Class’Croute, it is actually a chain of similar stores selling fixed menus all over France. I don’t understand French but I think they have 160 stores nationwide. We had a simple lunch of frittes/fillet. They heated it up in the microwave oven before serving it to us.
(to be continued)