Versailles, France

On our recent adventure to Paris, we finally made a side trip to Versailles. We hadn’t been able to fit it in on previous trips but I’m glad we reserved a day to check it out. The Versailles experience is something to behold–gold everywhere and so many paintings and sculptures that it makes you wonder how many artists were employed to get it all done. We opted to wander around with ear buds playing a downloaded Rick Steves guide on our mobile devices to allow us to spend as much time as we wanted in each room versus the group tours with a live guide, which is certainly a popular option for many people.

With our 9 am “first in” tickets purchased online, we broke to the left while everyone else ran to the Hall of Mirrors. This meant we had the apartments all to ourselves to meander through in awe of the over-the-top decorations illustrating how the mighty royalty lived their lives. Must not have been all that great though because Marie Antoinette had a whole village built on the property to escape to experience the “simple life” when she needed a respite from the royal life.

We did make it over to the Hall of Mirrors eventually and it was pretty spectacular. Mirrors at the time it was created were very new and cost plenty so this was a huge showoff room for the royals to declare “hey, we’ve got mirrors!” Lots of chandeliers too. Always look up-the ceilings are masterpieces.

The most fun all day was renting a golf cart ($38 euros) for an hour. They give you a map of the route all the way around the extensive grounds (you leave your driver’s license with them, so you don’t take off with the cart-it’s happened!) and if you go out of bounds, the car shuts off (it’s electric) and you have to back it out to get back on the approved pathway. It’s bumpy over the stone paths but with a very low speed limit, it’s manageable. You can park and get out and walk around but it takes about an hour to go all the way around the paths and, if you go over your hour, you pay a hefty fee for each 15 minutes over the hour. Assign someone to be the timekeeper!

In addition to golf carts, you can rent bikes (though you have to walk miles to get to them deep into the property by the grand canal) or boats (by the bikes on the grand canal). They also have a tram you can take which rides you around and is a great option if you are either physically or time challenged. Believe me, you could spend weeks walking the property. Lots of beautiful gardens and nooks and crannies to explore. There is a restaurant (by the bikes/boats/canal) and gift stores. As always, we went off the beaten track and managed to wander into the “working” area at the back of the palace and saw the kitchen garden loaded with tomatoes, some very old and not so glamorous back rooms, and had to step over the “keep out” tape to get back to the exit out of the palace.

When I look back on our visit to Versailles, I will remember the opulence and the many huge paintings and sculptures but, most of all, the golf cart ride! One trip to Versailles was enough for us but you could definitely take days to explore the Palace and Gardens if it’s your thing.

TRAVEL FROM PARIS TO VERSAILLES: (3 ways to get there-don’t even think of renting a car due to limited parking, intense traffic and crazy drivers) Versailles is 11 miles from Paris.

  1. TRAIN: RER C train (many stations throughout Paris) Round Trip Ticket about 10 euros. About 30-60 minutes. Destination will be Versailles Chateau Rive Gauche. Buy round trip ticket in Paris to save time. Make sure to “validate” your ticket or you could get a stiff fine (we saw someone get fined 50 euros for not validating their ticket).
  2. BUS: Versailles Express Bus departs from near the Eiffel Tower and takes about 30-45 minutes. About 24 euros.
  3. TOUR: The Tour Guy offers package that includes transportation.

WHEN TO GO:

  • Go to the museum palace first and be there before it opens with tickets already printed from online purchase.
  • It’s closed on Monday. Tuesday is busiest day and also weekends are busy. Pack a picnic because there is very limited food to purchase in Versailles. Take your picnic and eat in the Garden.

TICKETS

Passport tickets can be purchased online on the official site here. This $27euro ticket gives access to the whole estate of Versailles and guarantees access to the Palace within half an hour of the selected time. It includes:

In order for you to make the most of the Estate of Versailles, the Gardens are open from 8 am, the Estate of Trianon from 12 pm, the Gallery of Coaches and the Sculptures and Mouldings Gallery from 12:30 pm. Always check the official website before going just in case there are changes to scheduled hours.

  • Printed ticket-go to Entrance A directly (can use Paris Pass: $124 two day to $199 six day)

PALACE

  1. Hall of Mirrors is beautiful and the WWI treaty ending war was signed here. Light is beautiful in the afternoon.
  2. Gallary of Battles
  3. Empire Rooms

THE TRIANON AND THE QUEEN’S HAMLET

  1. King and Queen went here to “get away” from the Palance
  2. Estate of Trianon is separate ticket-two smaller palaces

GARDENS

Walking Paris

 I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower in person.  Something about those big city landmarks speak to me and I’ve been lucky enough to live by three of the best-NYC’s Flatiron Building, Seattle’s Space Needle and Shanghai’s Pearl Tower.  On the way to Lisbon today, we got to live my dream and turned a long layover into an adventure in Paris.

Finally here in Paris!

“Think Amazing Race!” I told Thom as we raced through Charles De Gaulle airport.  We had limited hours to navigate through CDG airport in Paris, go through customs, find the RER train and make it to the city with enough time to explore.  Customs was a breeze as the French don’t chit chat like the engaging Brits who want to know every last detail of your trip.  Our security guy didn’t even say hello, which I was perfectly fine with as the line moved quickly indeed with no pleasantries unlike at Heathrow where chattiness caused 90 minute delays in processing.

Following the signs through the huge airport, we made one wrong turn that required retracing of steps (good for the Fitbit!) and sorting out which platform to aim for after a serious wait in line at the ticket machine.  Not cheap-20 euros each for a round trip to/from city, but riding the train allows for a glimpse into Paris not found gazing from a bus or taxi.  Behaving more like a locale got us into the city (with only one transfer required) in about an hour.  Not bad!

As we got off at the Eiffel stop, we ran up the stairs and looked around the leafy streets but no Tower in sight.  Where in the world is the Eiffel Tower???  Crossing the street to the River Sienne, we looked  up and to our right and THERE IT WAS looming over us and only a block away.  The Eiffel Tower in all its glory was just gorgeous.  Did I mention there wasn’t a cloud in the bright blue sky?  With no time to go up or even walk all the way around it, we walked into a park next to the Tower where school groups played next to heavily armed guards patrolling to keep us safe.    

After taking many photos, we found the nearest facilities (pay to pee here too just like London so have .50 euros handy) and then we took off walking by the river.  What a glorious day!  The wide paths easily accommodate both bikers, joggers and strollers.  The plentiful bridges and boats on the river add ambience galore.  While there were many cafes along the path, they had just opened for the day and weren’t busy yet.  I can only imagine how beautiful it is at night to walk along the river and see the historic buildings lit up.  Another time perhaps.

WP_20170509_10_59_00_Rich

Paris, like Seattle and London, has a huge ferris wheel by the river to entice tourists.  Like no other city I’ve been to before, though, stalls line the river path, selling vintage books, newspapers and magazines.  Oh how I wish we had time to sit in a café, sip espresso, eat pastries and read a good book.  Heaven.

WP_20170509_11_29_01_Rich.jpg

But time was wasting and Portugal was waiting.  So, 5 miles and 2 hours later, we had walked along the river from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame Cathedral and, as luck would have it, caught the express train to the airport so we made our flight with a little time to spare.  We promised each other that we would come back to Paris and explore the narrow alleys filled with quaint cafes.  Soon.