Sunday, September 18, 2011

Paris Trip Recap -- Versailles

 No trip to Paris would be complete without a trip to Versailles.  I wanted to get up early and be out at Versailles when the doors opened.  My trip was so short, I didn't have time to sleep in or wait in lines behind a ton of people.  We intended on getting on the RER at 8h13 and arrive in Versailles at 8h47, 13 minutes before the palace even opens, hop in line, get tickets and tour Versailles before the crowds annoy me.

JB/RK didn't really seem to keen on this idea though. I didn't think JB really wanted to get up early our second day in Paris, so we all agreed that we'd get on the agreed upon train and head out -- even if we didn't see each other.  This was my idea, because I didn't want to wait for these guys.  We didn't get to the train station in time to make the 8h13 outbound.  JB/RK did.  We got on the 8h27 train which got into Versailles at 8h55.  We met up with the boys for a quick breakfast (pain au chocolat and jus d'orange).  We could see and were walking towards Versailles by 9h20.

We opted to take a quick peak at the grounds first, then worked our way back to the ticket counter for tickets to enter the palace.  The weather this day was amazing -- such a bright, sunny and pretty warm day.  Staring out at the grounds, I was surprised at how impressive it was.  I've seen several rehabbed palaces throughout Europe, but I've read that Versailles is the best of the best.  My research had told me that one of the best things to see at Versailles was the Hall of Mirrors and the grounds.

We collected our audio guides, which were included in the admission price -- which I really liked, I hate when you pay $25 to get in someplace then you have to pay another $8 to get the self guided tour.  We worked our way through the first third of Versailles without a problem...but then we hit grid lock. We had a large Asian tour group meet up with us. Everyone was taking pictures of each other, aggressively pushing their way though the crowd.  Obviously their pictures were more important that anything I was trying to do.  I also managed to take a good number of photos with a last minute Asian tourist popping into the shot.  This was so frequent and obnoxious that I decided I'm going to create a coffee table book called "Chinois en Vacances", which means Chinese on Vacation and I will include photos from my travels where other tourists have ruined my photos (not necessarily Chinese or Asian tourists, I just like the way "Chinois en Vacances" sounds and looks.

We finally made our way through to the Hall of Mirrors, which would have been wonderful, if it wasn't so  crowded with other tourists.  I think my favorite part of the Chateau itself was hearing about how Louis XIV-XVI and Napoleon used it -- four very different people who had very different uses for the place.  I wish I had done more reading on French History.  I hate feeling a bit unprepared for something as important as this.  Hopefully, I will learn from these continued mistakes -- probably not though.

After we finished the Chateau, we headed to the grounds.  We spent about 90 minutes wandering around the garden, looking at all the fountains, staring at the flowers, finding a nice piece of shade to hide from the sun and continually being surprised at how large the gardens.  I could have spent more time in the gardens but we were getting hungry. We didn't bring a picnic, which would have been a perfect way to spend a couple hours that afternoon.  Again, life and learn, eh?

All of the fountains were turned off when we were there.  All the fountains are turned on during the weekend fountain/music shows, that we were going to miss.  I think it would be an amazing spectacle to listen to classical music and watch the fountains at Versailles -- seeing it the way it was intended to be seen.

As we finished up we walked out of the Chateau grounds and into the village of Versailles.  We used our tour book to find a restaurant for lunch.  We opted not to visit the over priced Gordon Ramsey restaurant and instead went to Le Potager du Roy (which means the King's Garden Kitchen).  The food was amazing.  I, again, had lamb and it was really amazing.  We did have a bit of a language issue here though.  MS ordered a steak and the waiter asked how he wanted it prepared.  We did study this in class, and I remembered how to say "well-done" (bien cuit) and "blue" (bleu), but couldn't remember "rare" (saignant).  I knew he didn't want it blue (cold red center) or well done (grey hot center).  I also knew that the litter definition of saignant was "bloody", but couldn't get that across.  I had to say "Not blue, a little more".  The waiter partially understood -- and the steak came out "blue plus" or SUPER rare.  The steak was really tasty though.

I also was able to use my French at the post office, asking for 25 stamps for cards to the US.  Everything worked perfectly here.  We hopped on the train, which was not air conditioned and extremely hot and a pretty miserable 30 minute ride back to Paris.  We decided to get off at the same station we started at (Champs de Mars) with the Eiffel Tower.  We thought, let's hit it and let's hit it hard on the first full day in Paris.

If you've never been to Paris, I say go to Versailles, but go early and plan on having lunch there, but get back to Paris no later than 15h00 -- at the LATEST.  It is a quick 25 minute train ride -- you can't skip Versailles, you will be regretting it fully. 

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