Thursday, February 2, 2012

Paris Day 6 - Off with their breath

We hadn't planned on stepping out of Paris at all when we were deciding on our 14 day itinerary. Early on, we were lucky enough to understand that there's more to Paris than we can see in 14 days. So all ideas of a quick hop into a neighboring destination (we toyed with Amsterdam for a bit!) were unequivocally erased by both of us.

Then we watched Marie Antoinette. And the idea of going to Versailles crept in. After much debate and moving dates around, we agreed to accommodate it on the itinerary. We did a bit of research and our suspicions were confirmed - a trip to Versailles would take an entire day on our itinerary.

We left home pretty early, taking the RER B to Saint-Michel - Notre Dame and the RER C from there to Versailles Rive Gauche (€6.50 for a return ticket). It was a cold, wet rainy day and it was wonderful to see the landscape change as we left Paris. The larger buildings began giving way to smaller homes and empty spaces. There were fewer people we saw outside. Along the way, our train reached the end of its line and a local reminded us that we needed to get out and hop into another train (further proof of French hospitality that we would continue to experience through our trip).

It was easy to find Chateau de Versailles once we got off the train. We simply had to follow the crowd. As we walked up to the Chateau, it suddenly didn't seem very impressive. Was this what I left Paris for? Sure the facade and the gate are impressive but where's the rest. The rest, of course, was hidden from view right now. And all through the rest of that day, we were so glad we decided to step out of Paris.

The attractions are divided into 4 primary sections - The Palace, The Garden, The grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette's unique estate.

The Chateau de Versailles is French classical art at its best. From the extravagant curtains and upholstery (much of which has been restored or recreated thanks to the generosity of various establishments like, if I remember right, Louis Vuitton or Swarowski) to the numerous busts and figurines scattered around. Of noteworthy value is the Hall of Mirrors in the Grand Apartments. Built during the time of Louis XIV, who converted this into much of what it is today. Imagine, this was once just a hunting lodge for Louis XIII! The Hall of Mirrors is as grand as grand gets. After walking around speechless for a while, it was time to get out to catch some fresh air, especially after having my breath taken away so many times.

Is that you, Marie?

The Gardens, even in freezing winter, were an absolute delight. Unfortunately, we couldn't do too much walking thanks to the the steady drizzle. But we soon had that problem sorted out. There are nice golf carts you can hire for about €75 for the first hour. There's a lot of walking to be done, so rain or sunshine, I strongly recommend hiring the golf carts. We hired one, after leaving a driver's license as a guarantee (I don't think any cop is going to want to see your license anywhere inside) and headed out to see the rest of the place. The Grand Trianon is and white marble, smaller less opulent rooms, including the games room that resembled the one from the movie. We didn't spend too much time here because we were keen on seeing Marie-Antoinette's freakish little hamlet.

I wonder what he was thinking of.

There's a lot of walking to be done.
Nap, anyone?

And what a hamlet that was! It seemed like it was a painting come to life. Everything, dirt included, was perfectly in place. Maybe it seemed that way because we haven't seen a European hamlet before but this seemed picture perfect. The little stream, the bridge, the homes, the rickety crumbling staircase...even the birds flying around seemed to be deliberately planted in their respective spots!

After a long tour of the Estate and the rest of the gardens, we dropped off our golf cart and headed out of the Chateau. Along the way, we stopped for a late Italian lunch before getting our train back to Paris. I'd definitely like to see Versailles when the gardens are in bloom. And with that promise, we waved goodbye to Marie and Louis (however many there are!).


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