The palace is immense, and in all of my visits I still haven't been inside, partly due to the steep entry fee (25 €, or something like that). It was actually my intention to finally take the palace tour this weekend; that and get a look at the gardens before they pull out all of the flowers. I was thwarted on both accounts, but more on that in a bit. First here's a photo as I walked up from the train station.
One thing to know if you ever go, don't ever expect a photo without a bunch of unwanted tourists making a cameo. Think of them as extras in the movie of your life and it makes it all a little easier to swallow - or maybe not. The place is immense, as I said before, and the grounds are larger than some countries (okay, maybe only bigger than the Vatican, but that's a country so it counts) but that just illustrates how many people come here every day. There always seems to be someone in your way. While I had finally brought myself to pay the exorbitant ticket price, it was the people that kept me out this time.
As you can see (in the background) that's one long line, and that's just the line to get in, first you have to stand in an equally long line to buy your ticket (unless you're smart enough to buy it online - word to the wise, buy online). I'm not that smart, so I would have had to stand in both lines. Another time.
Somehow I always forget when the first Sunday of the month is. That's an important day to remember in France because it is often the free day for the museums. Either it's a day you want to shoot for in order to make your Paris stay a bit more affordable, or if you're like me, it's a day to avoid being caught out with every other tourist and half the locals. Being that I was already out in Versailles, though, I thought that at least I could see the gardens and maybe find a quiet spot to eat the picnic lunch that I brought with me.
As you can see, I did manage to find a few flowers, but I had to look pretty hard and even these were almost gone. See the cool patterns of the shrubs in the lower photo; well all that dirt around them is usually filled with all kinds of flowers. This type of garden is usually found throughout the grounds, not just tucked in a corner around the back and off to the side. The French can find lots of things to NOT be efficient at (like VISA applications), but pulling flowers come Sept., that they do with great expediency.
So, twice rebuffed from my attempts to enjoy Versailles, I buckled down, forced a smile on my face and set off in search for my quiet lunch retreat. I'm happy to say that I did find it, and in my search I saw some things and parts of the gardens that I hadn't seen before. You're probably already sick of reading this (it's not like I'm painting a great picture of Versailles at this point), so I'll try to keep my descriptions brief, but get ready for a bunch of photos (click on the pics to get a larger view and see more of the details.)
The next 3 photos are all from a "tree artist". There was a lot of his work on display (Perone, I think his name was). I didn't really get it, to be honest, but thought I should take a few photos, so here they are. The floating tree (first photo) and the upside down tree (third photo) were the ones that I liked the best (I use the term "like" loosely here). Almost all of his other stuff was giant rocks perched in trees (see second photo). Truthfully, I'd be really impressed with those (some of the rocks were huge - maybe 1m across) if the "artist" had put them up there himself - by hand. I'm betting he had the assistance of heavy machinery, so I'm much less enthralled. BTW, this is where I finally got to eat my baguette, nectarine and paprika flavored chips (what's up with paprika on chips ... seems to be a french favorite).
Well, that was my day in Versailles. Not what I expected, but not a complete waste either. Glad I stuck around to get something out of the day.
If you ever get the chance to come here and make the trek to Versailles here are some tips that you might find helpful:
- Buy tickets online if you want to go to the palace, and arrive early if you want to get in.
- Download the guided tour app for Android or iOS so you can avoid needing to spend money on the audio guides or personal guides the museum offers.
- Stop at a boulangerie (bakery) and pick up some sandwiches, or make your own at home (like me). Food is not that great in and around the palace, and certainly isn't cheap.
- Make sure you catch the right train (RER line C) to get to Versailles. There are a few with the Versailles name, but only one route that says "Chateau", which is the one that you want. They run every 20 min. or so, so you can go at anytime of day and get back to Paris at any time too.
- Get off the beaten path for your picnic, that means avoid the water features and venture into the arboreal labyrinths. You can find a quiet secluded place to eat those sandwiches you made/bought, but you might need to do a bit of walking and take the opportunity when it presents itself.
- If you only have 1 day to see Versailles, skip the main grounds and palace and head over to the Domaine de Marie Antoinette. It has everything the bigger place has plus a cool medieval hamlet (she was nuts) and you can see the whole thing in a day.
- Don't panic about bathrooms, but do keep your eye out for them. There are plenty, but they aren't always that well marked if you're not used to looking for the smallish "toilette" signs that the French like to use.
- If you want to see the gardens in their full glory (i.e., full of flowers and with the fountains running), which I do recommend, then go in July or Aug. Even Sept. 1st is too late, as I have just found out.