Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Versailles & Dinner out in Paris

I planned on spending the entire day at Versailles (the elaborate palace built in the 17th century by King Louis XIV) and wouldn't you know that today was the only day with rain in the forecast. Of course I just buy new sunglasses and it rains. C'est la vie. I could in theory switch around my plans, but as you all know, once I have committed to something in my mind, I don't change it unless I have a really good reason to. So, since I brought an umbrella (smart thinking on my part!), I made my way to the Château de Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors - Treaty of Versailles signed here
Versailles is about a 25 minute train ride to the suburbs of Paris. I got off the train and made my way to the nearby ticket sales - you can also buy your tickets at the gate but supposedly it's quicker if you get it before you get to Versailles. The tickets were pretty expensive. About 30 euros to see the château, the gardens, and Marie Antoinette's estate. I knew I wanted to see the château and the gardens for sure and that was only a few euros cheaper than the full package so I decided to just go for it which in retrospect I was very glad for because my favorite things to see were the gardens and Marie Antoinette's estate. 

When I first arrived at the château, I was impressed by the immensity of the palace. It was extremely large and like much of Paris, a piece of art in and of itself. I stopped for a few moments to take it all in before going to the long line for the entrance for people already holding tickets. Once I made it into the château, I got into another line for the audio tour (included in the price of my ticket) and started making my way through the designated route through the main château. Even though it was a Tuesday and the off-season, it was incredibly crowded with people. I felt like I was being herded along through the building and didn't really get a good view of much. Every time I tried to take a picture, someone would jump in front of me to take one and so it got to be very frustrating very quickly. My goal became to just look, try to snap a few photos, and make it out of the château and into open space as soon as possible. It was beautiful and gaudy and I would have liked to have more space to take my time going through. Another problem was with my audio guide - the last row of numbers didn't work and so I was unable to listen to about 1/3 of the audio tour. It was too crammed for it to be worth getting a different one and trying again so I figured I'd just read about it sometime later on. 

Musical Gardens with Grand Canal
Once I got out of the craziness that was the château, I made it into the immense gardens. Again, the size of it was overwhelming and it too was like walking through a giant sculpture garden where the sculptures consisted of actual marble sculptures, bronze fountains, and intricate landscaping artwork. It was incredible. I decided to make my way to Marie Antoinette's estate and wander around there first. 

Marie Antoinette's Estate
my long walk around Grand Canal
beautiful landscaping - focus on symmetry
After a short walk through a very scenic pathway and a stop for lunch at a small café, I made it to the estate. The tour of this estate was much more pleasant as there was not a huge crowd making their way through the buildings. I was able to take my time and actually look around and read the displays as I went through. It was much more enjoyable. I continued my tour of the estate and the grounds of the estate and then just started walking through the grounds of Versailles without any real purpose. I wandered upon the hamlet and the working farm and took several pictures of the charming old buildings there. I then made my way back towards the grand canal - a giant artistic body of water through the central portion of the grounds - and made the decision to walk around it. The walk was a lot longer than I anticipated and took over an hour to make my way completely around. I had the path mostly to myself though and enjoyed taking in the scenery at my leisure without being interrupted by crowds of people. 

Around 4 pm I decided to make my way back towards my hostel. I had plans to meet up with Dan for dinner that night at a French restaurant that he enjoys to get a different taste of the French culinary experience. 

incredible gardens of Versailles
The place where I met Dan was set back in an alleyway. It was very French in that the hostess seemed intent on moving people through the restaurant as quickly as possible. The restaurant was previously a soup kitchen that had been converted into a restaurant. It was big and open and filled with people. Dan helped explain the French menu to me and we decided to have several courses in the French tradition for our meal. I started out with avocado with shrimp followed by duck and French potatoes with a red wine accompaniment then ended the meal with some sort of dessert that sounded much better than it tasted. Turns out it was some kind of nut paste and it would have been much better with a boat-load of cool-whip on top. All in all, it was a great meal with great company. I have so much appreciated having Dan to show me some of the "real" Paris. I think it definitely enhanced my experience of the city and I made a new friend out of the deal! Hard to believe that tomorrow is my last full day in Paris. I'm sad to think about leaving...

Paris Restaurant

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