Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paris' Best #2: Versailles Estate (Introduction)

 The second best thing to do in Paris, in our opinion, isn't actually in Paris. It's an hour train ride southwest of Paris - the Versailles Estate. If you have one day in Paris, see the Louvre. If you have two days, see the Louvre on day one and Versailles on day two.

To get to Versailles, we took the Metro to the Invalides stop and bought a round-trip RER train ticket from Paris to Versailles-Rive Gauche. This ticket also included entrance to Versailles. It took about 15 minutes in line to get the tickets, but the time passed quickly because immediately to our left was a temporary booth set up that had a sign in French: "Shoes 3 Euros". Women getting off the metro and the trains were swarming that booth - women of all sizes, shapes, origins, and social statuses. It was quite a sight to see.

 Once we had the tickets, we boarded the C Line and spent the next hour watching the French countryside as we made our way to Versailles. It is an easy walk from the Versailles-Rive Gauche station to the palace entrance, I would say about a half-mile. There are a few cafes and at least one film/battery stop along the way (I should know, we stopped for batteries!).

The front of the chateau was completely swamped with tourists when we arrived - the photos you see here were actually taken later in the afternoon when we were exiting, getting ready to take the train back. There was a very long line of people behind the baricade in the photo to the right and just inside the gray doors is a metal detector - your first stop after the ticket-taker.

 We'll get to the interior of the chateau in the next post - for now, we will show you around the exterior. Here is a close-up of one of the statues that line the roof. As you can see, it is rather weather-worn. The exterior of the chateau is under rennovation (almost the entire front side is behind scaffolding and cloth), so I'm sure they will be restoring this fellow shortly.
 Here is a larger gathering of roof statues. You can see that even the water downspouts are artistic - notice the spout coming out of the animal's mouth. Note I said artistic, maybe not tasteful (you be the judge).
 If you stand at the center front of the chateau and look back towards the city and the train station from wence we came, this is what you would see. The large white-tarped building appears to be under rennovation also, and somewhere (to the left?) they appear to be building an entirely new visitor entrance.
 Being the nosy person that I am, I could not resist sticking my head and camera behind the scaffolding and canvas to see what was being done. As you can see, the restoration on this section looks about ready to be revealed.
 I turned my head the other direction behind the canvas and took this picture. Yep, almost complete!
 As I said, most of these pictures were taken towards the end of the day, and here is one group of school kids lined up for a much needed rest and head count. I am not sure why I took the picture, but I knew there was a good shot in there somewhere....
 ...And I was right. Look at the two boys comparing cell phone pictures - very nice! The boy in the red shirt had spotted me, even though the camera was up for just 5 seconds to snap the photo. The chaperones look ready to go home.
 There were an amazing number of tour groups going through Versailles - we saw about 50 tour buses out front. It really made seeing the chateau rather miserable, as you'll see in the next post. I think our big mistake was going on Tuesday. Versailles is closed on Monday, so I am speculating that everyone who wanted to go Monday showed up along with Tuesday's crowd, so Versailles was twice as busy. Lesson learned: don't go on Tuesday!

*** NOTE 8/20/08: I spoke with my friend Brandon who happened to be at Versailles the Sunday after we went!! There were about 100 people waiting to get into the Chateau on Tuesday when we were there, but he said that the line was several hundred people long and stretched all the way across the cobblestones to the edge of the tour buses when he went on Sunday. It was so bad that he and his wife did not go to the Chateau. Maybe Tuesday isn't so bad after all... ***

 Here are a few of the pamphlets that they handed us while we were there. The most interesting one is the first one, which shows a map of the entire grounds. This may be a useful reference for the next couple of posts.

Time Required: 6-8 hours
Stairs, Chateau: 25-50
Stairs, Trainon: less than 25
Walking Required: approximately 1 mile in gardens from Chateau to Trianon
What to bring: camera, water, walking shoes, money for lunch
Photos In This Post: Olympus Canon S5 IS

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