Sunday, June 30, 2013

Paris: Day 4

The fourth day of our trip was spent just outside Paris at the Chateau de Versailles. We didn't plan anything else for the day since there is so much to see at the palace and gardens.

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We took a double story train (the RER C) from Paris all the way out to Versailles. Cheap and easy, except that we had to transfer trains once because the particular one we were riding terminated one stop short of the Versailles station...for some unknown reason (at least to us). Thankfully, we had met some French-speaking Canadians who were able to help us navigate onto another (identical) train to take us all the way to that last stop. 

When you arrive in Versailles at the train station and turn onto the street leading up to Versailles, you can't miss where you're headed. First of all, everyone else is headed there too. And secondly, the palace is far from unassuming. It kind of smacks you in the face because it's huge.

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The cobblestone "street" that leads up to the palace is for real...and forces to you walk slowly. As you get closer, you start to see gold accents everywhere.

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And lines of people most likely. We tried to get there when it first opened, but didn't quite make it. Although, we weren't that much later and I'm not convinced it would have helped anyway. The lines at Versailles are famously long almost all of the time. It's kind of a popular place to visit; however, I would highly recommend not skipping it just because it's busy. It's worth the trip in my opinion.

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But somewhere (maybe on the actual Versailles website?), I read that the lines are always long in the morning especially and throughout the early afternoon. They start to taper around 3pm. So, it was suggested that you start with the gardens to avoid the crowds inside the palace. And that's exactly what we did.

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We went through the arches on the right side of the palace and around to the back, where there were very few people at all.

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The last time my mom and I visited Versailles, we didn't really have time to explore any of the gardens except the ones closest to the palace. So, this time, I was ready to see the rest of them. The only problem is that they are expansive. And Casey has a bad knee. So, walking the entire width and breadth of them or even just a little was kind of out of the question. However, Versailles has a few options for those that don't want (or can't) walk the gardens. You can rent bikes! This option sounded very fun to me. You can go anywhere you want on the bikes. But, that doesn't solve the knee problem for Casey. Another can rent golf carts! Bingo.

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Because we were some of the first ones at the gardens that morning, we were able to get a golf cart right away. They become more scarce as the day progresses. They give you a map that shows where you are allowed to drive. Where you are not allowed to drive (small walkways and passages), you just get out and walk those parts and then hop back on your cart. It was a fun and very relaxing way to see the gardens.

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Classical music played inside the cart, which was a nice touch, and anytime we passed a new part of the garden, there was a narrator that would give us a brief description and history of what we were passing. It was like a built-in tour guide.

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We spent the whole morning in the gardens, checking out the sculptures, fountains, and other surprises the gardens held. I loved it.

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When we'd park the golf cart on one of the large paths, we'd take off into a smaller hedged path toward one of the inner gardens (or copses) demonstrated by Casey below.

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My favorite copse was this grove. The combination of ornately sculptured stone along with the natural rock was just lovely and unexpected. And beautiful. The sculptures depicted Apollo bathing.

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This is the Encelade Grove with lots of trellis and arches around the whole thing.

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Obviously, these are French gardens and I really enjoyed seeing the sculptures continuing in the shrubbery and trees...

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It sort of goes without saying after looking at the photos, but it was a lovely, clear and sunny day.

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The Apollo Fountain...with Apollo driving a team of horses. Really quite a magnificent fountain when it's running, which we got to see for a few minutes. I wish they would just keep the fountains on all day (it's recycled water anyway), but they only run them at certain times. So, we caught the tail end of one display here, but weren't quick enough to take any photos.

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After we'd ridden around a good part of the gardens for a few hours, we got hungry! Thank goodness there are a few restaurants in the gardens themselves. We stopped at La Flottille, which is right along the grand canal. I am in love with their sign...

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We had a yummy lunch and then a crepe (for me) and ice cream (for Casey) for dessert after.

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The Grand Canal is actually quite large and you can rent boats to paddle around.

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After lunch, we made our way toward the Grand and Petit Trianons, which open at noon. They are tucked back in the gardens away from the main palace.

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The gardens become more like countryside over by Marie Antoinette's Hamlet. Complete with sheep!

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We went to the Petit Trianon first, which is where Marie Anotinette liked to spend most of her time rather than at the main palace with the court.

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It was moderate compared to Versailles, but still very ornate and very French.

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This bedroom, with all the matching floral fabric, reminds me of something out of a Laura Ashley catalog.

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After we made our way around the Petit Trianon we scooted over to the Grand Trianon. Had we known that the Queen's Hamlet itself was tucked behind the Petit Trianon in the gardens, we would have definitely trekked out there. But, we missed it because (despite all my research) we didn't know...bummer. Onto the Grand Trianon...

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Definitely larger than the Petit Trianon and definitely just as (or more) ornate.

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I found myself taking photos of all the chandeliers. I just loved them.

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Here I am hanging out in at the back of the Grand Trianon where the gardens begin.

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The plaster work, which is in every single room on the walls and ceiling, is amazing.

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After finishing up at the Grand Trianon, we rode our golf cart back toward the main palace, taking our sweet time. More and more people were beginning to filter out into the gardens so we took that as a good sign.

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After we circled around the back of the palace one last time, we turned in our golf cart and went to the front again to go inside. The line wasn't that long and we waited maybe 20 minutes to go through security to get inside. This is the inner courtyard inside the interior gate.

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We made our way slowly around the palace, which is (obviously) huge. Here is the music room.

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And one of the the bookshelves. Having doors must cut down on dust at least a little bit.

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Gold everywhere...

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The Mercury Room, otherwise known as the ceremonial bedchamber of the king.

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This room (including that breathtaking ceiling) was just recently restored.

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This is the Queen's Chamber. Several queens used this bedroom, but most famously, Marie Anotinette. Now that's a bed canopy...

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The French never forget the 5th wall...

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And here's the Hall of Mirrors...full of people. Our plan for missing the crowds was about 1 hour off. Had we waited one more hour to go inside the house, there would have been drastically less people.

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Antique mirrors don't provide the best reflection...

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The ceiling frescoes, the marble, the gold, the crystal...they all come together to create a magnificent display of opulence. It is so effective that this opulence inspired the French Revolution (basically).

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We finished up at Versailles and left by the same train line that brought us. We met an American couple on the train. They were dentists from Chicago and we talked to them the whole way back to Paris. We got off a stop early at the Orsay Museum so that we could head over to Rue Rivoli since we had the afternoon and evening completely open (unplanned).

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We went over to Rue Rivoli to do some shopping and to have dinner at an outdoor cafe...but mostly to stop at Angelina for some after-dinner treats. Serving Parisians for over a century, Angelina is a patisserie and tea room that makes the most decadent confections...and a not-to-be-missed rich hot chocolate. My first visit to Angelina 12 years ago was memorable enough to compel me to come back when I was in Paris again.

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The spread we ordered is just ridiculous...chocolate everything. Just the way I like it. We ordered two of their house specialty hot chocolates (of course), called hot chocolate l'Africain. It is thick, creamy and oh, so rich. It comes with a little pot of (unsweetened) whipped cream. Then, we ordered the Choc Africain pastry, which is a brownie topped with a dark African chocolate mousse covered with a dark chocolate glaze. The eclair chocolat is pretty self explanatory, except that I will go ahead and explain it...inside is a dark chocolate cream filling. I'm fairly certain we could not have ended our day any better than this.

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See...I'm a happy customer. And isn't the tea room just beautiful? After indulging in our chocolate-fest, we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

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Emily Cade said...

Versailles! Such a large, fancy and interesting place! The house of mirrors was my fave! And wow,that eclair looks amazing!!!

Colleen said...

That was one of my favorites in France by far!! The gardens were gorgeous. such a gorgeous place to visit!