A Day at Versailles

My mum and stepdad will be going to Paris later this year and mum was asking me about the places I saw, and things I did, and food I ate so that they’d kinda know what to expect when they get there. They haven’t been to Paris yet so they’re quite excited about the whole adventure (I have been and I’m still excited). I spoke to my mum the other day and she asked me about Chateau de Versailles. I said it’s a really beautiful place and they need to spend one whole day to fully appreciate the palace. I went to Versailles last year and, honestly, I no longer remember what trains I had to take to get to Versailles from Paris (it’s quite easy really, you won’t get lost, Just get on the RER Line C – it’s the last stop) but I remember getting off at the Versailles platform, crossing the road (I was just following what the guides were saying), turning right and walking past a small shopping centre selling souvenirs and knick knacks, turning left on the next main street and then going “Oh My God” when I saw what lay before me. Versailles literally and figuratively took my breath away.

Welcome to the Chateau de Versailles
Welcome to the Chateau de Versailles

The palace wasn’t magnificent in scale but it was in opulence. The gates themselves were covered in gold, as well as the fascias of the roof tops. The queue, even for those holding Paris Passes, (which I strongly recommend anyone going to Paris to get) was unbelievably long and snaked it’s way up and down the courtyard. There were buses upon buses of tourists, private vehicles and visitors like me, who arrived by train. It drizzled a couple of times while I was standing in line, but a little water could not dampen the moods of those wanting to see how the former Kings and Queens of France lived.

A Peek Inside
Hall of Mirrors
Hall of Mirrors

If I remember correctly, once you reach the entrance of Versailles, you’ll need to put your belongings through a metal detector before you enter the grounds itself. There’s a counter where you can borrow audio guides (come in different languages) and you can turn it on/off as you please, depending on what you’d like to know more of. To be totally honest, I couldn’t for the life of me, get the silly thing to work so I ended up wandering around aimlessly from room to room (and believe me, there were several) going “ooh” “aahhh” “wow” every step of the way. I think my favourite part of the Palace was the Hall of Mirrors. It’s basically one long hall with one side covered in mirrors (the king’s quarters were behind these mirrors) and the opposite side opens up to spectacular views of the gardens. The arched ceiling was covered with fabulous trompe l’oeil paintings and these, as well as the hallway itself, were illuminated by several crystal chandeliers. It was truly a sight to behold. Photos of some areas of the Palace, below.

After I had my fill of the magnificent interiors, I wandered around the gardens that surrounded Versailles.I caught a glimpse of a portion of the gardens through a window at the Hall of Mirrors but didn’t realise just how large an area it covered.

Not Your Regular Garden Gnomes 
One of the many man-made lakes / fountains at the Gardens of Versailles.
One section of the Grand Canal at the Gardens of Versailles.

Most of the garden is open to the public, but you’ll need a ticket to access other parts of the garden, like the Petit Trianon. I think I managed to get my audio guide to work at this time because I recall being informed that part of the gardens were open to the public and an area had to be paved to make way for public roads. In the public section of the garden, there’s a big man-made lake where one can go on (short) boat rides. There were several smaller “pocket” gardens within the main area that separated from the main garden by hedges and shrubs. The entire place was overwhelming – beautiful but really overwhelming. I tried to imagine what it would have been like if I lived as a scullery maid during those times – and I just cannot fathom how I could have survived. I probably would have been relegated to just one area of the palace and I wouldn’t have had the time to mingle with the other “servants”. I probably would not know who the gardeners were, or who the servants at the east wing were. Anyway, the garden wasn’t in full bloom when i was there (I was there in May, so it was in between Spring and Summer – but the gardeners were busy planting bulbs). I’m sure it would have been an amazing sight during Summer.

After roaming around the gardens, I decided I’ve had enough of royalty and decided it’s time for me to see what life in the City of Versailles was like. So I walked past the golden gates and walked among “the mortals”.

Outside the Palace Gates
The main street at Versailles
The main street at Versailles

The city of Versailles was quite the opposite of it’s most famous landmark. The buildings around the Palace were quite simple and unassuming yet still had that unmistakable quaintness and charm. The first building I went into was the Versailles Cathedral. It wasn’t quite as ornate as the 2-storey cathedral (or prayer room) inside the Palace but the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling were very similar to those found at the Hall of Mirrors. I stayed a while to take some photos and offer a silent prayer and then I headed out to do a bit more exploring.

The facades of some buildings were quite uniform in style – I’m assuming these were office buildings or apartment blocks. But I can’t say the same for residential units because I walked down a street that was lined with such adorable homes with lovely gardens. I had a great time wandering around and just admiring the architecture – then I somehow thought it would be a good idea to try to walk around the Palace. Big.  Mistake.

I had forgotten that the Chateau covered such a vast land area and I found myself walking and walking and walking along what I assume was the main highway (looking at Google Maps now, I think I was on the D10). I honestly can’t remember how long I walked. I do remember freaking out because:

  1. I got somewhat soaked by the intermittent showers (the brolly I bought from France gave up on me on Day 2!), 
  2. I felt that I had gotten myself seriously lost and I was tempted to ask tourists going on a bike-tour around Versailles (at least I think that’s what they were doing) to give me a ride back to the city centre,
  3. I entered a gate that would lead to the gardens, walked a fair bit and came to a dry moat with massive metal spikes at the bottom – or massive gates (obviously to deter those who want to enter the gardens without a ticket) 

Thankfully, after a few more wrong turns, I FINALLY saw a sign that led me to the right direction (Thank you Lord!).  I was able to enter the Palatial compound because I still had my Paris Pass with me and, after walking and walking in squeaky wet shoes, I found myself in familiar territory again.

After that afternoon of misadventure, I decided it was time to go home. I had to take the train again and paid (i think it was) Euro 1.20 for a ticket that would get me to Paris (St. Michel station and from there I would walk to Port Royal). It was an amazing day and I would love to go back and experience everything – sans getting lost on the motorway bit – all over again. Before leaving the city, I simply had to take one last photo (see below). I couldn’t believe that I was standing on the same ground the Kings and Queens of France used to travel on. It felt so surreal.

My sore feet on the cobblestone path that leads to Versailles.
My sore (and wet) feet on the cobblestone path that leads to Versailles.
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