Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Palace Of Versailles.......An Opulent Nightmare

From a distance the golden gates glistened as the sun reflected off their magnificent rails, and we knew we had arrived at the Palace of Versailles in France.  Originally built as a hunting lodge in 1694 by King Louis XIII, it was later expanded to what is now one of the largest palaces in the world. With some 700 rooms, 60 staircases and 1,200 fireplaces it sits on over 30,000 acres of land.  It's no wonder that when Marie Antoinette lived there she had her own house built far away from the palace where she could enjoy a simple life.

In the months prior to this trip I came across the palace as a must-see while in Paris, and quickly put it on our list.  Our day in Versailles began with a 30-40  minute rather slow train ride from Paris to the wealthy village of Versailles. The double decker train was decorated with graphics about the palace and even came equipped with an accordion player to entertain the tourists. After exiting the train we followed the crowds up the hill where the massive palace was visible in the distance. 

On The Train To Versailles

Garden Graphics On Walls & Ceiling
Along With Accordion Player

While we managed to escape long lines on most of the popular attractions throughout this trip, today was not going to be one of those times. The mile long line of tourists snaked around in loop de loops and we could barely find the end.  "But wait, " I said to my dear husband Clyde, "we have the Paris pass which allows us to skip the line."  Clyde found a worker who was herding the tourists like cattle and asked her, "where do we go with the Paris pass?"  She told him that we were indeed in the correct line so apparently we'd have to wait just like everyone else.  As the line moved and we came closer to the entrance to the palace I reached into my pocket to get out my Paris museum pass, which would grant me free access to the palace.  To my shock it was gone!  Apparently when I pulled out the plastic, tri-folded holder to pull out the pass for the train it dropped out. Shocked since this is NOT me.....I'm the careful one that is sure to put everything away safely. I think what happened is the day before while at the Louvre I used the pass for free entry and neglected to tuck it back into the plastic sleeve properly.  Instead I just put it in between the three folds and stuck it into my pocket, planning to fix it later. So as much as I was pissed I had to realize.....that stuff happens and I had to just make the best of it and get over it. 

Long Lines Outside Palace

Once we reached the ticket booth Clyde purchased a "full pass" for me which would allow entry to all buildings on the estate along with the gardens. He showed his museum pass to the ticket agent, we picked up our free audio guides and off we went to explore the world famous palace.  Upon entering each room we pressed the corresponding number on our audio guides and listened to the explanation of each room. The rooms were large with high ceilings covered in gaudy paintings, gold leaf, statues, chandeliers and so much more.  From the massive windows we looked out onto the gardens that were so expansive this was the best vantage point to view their full splendor. The gardens were gorgeous with beautiful fountains, a lake and canal running through them and hundreds of lovely statues.

In Front Of The Golden Gates

Outside The Palace

Yes It's BIG!

 Gold Everywhere! And Flocked Pink Walls?
The Famous Hall Of Mirrors

There Was A Bed Behind That Curtain


After completing our self guided tour of the palace we headed outside to the gardens only to find yet another ticket booth.  The Paris pass covers entrance to the grand palace along with Marie Antoinette's house but does NOT cover entry to the gardens.  Now the catch here is that unless a tourist happens to have a helicopter at their disposal, they MUST walk through the gardens to get to Marie Antoinette's house. So Clyde was forced to purchase a ticket to the gardens for an additional 9 euros.  We could barely see the house in the distance as we watched hoards of tourists head over in that direction.  Nearby was yet another line where visitors were boarding a train, an apparent shortcut to the farm and house miles away.  But as we tried to board the train we were stopped by a guard who told us we'd have to purchase another ticket.  We passed on the train and decided to walk along with many others who chose the same. We walked miles past sheep grazing on the farm alongside meticulously manicured landscapes until we arrived at the smaller dwelling.  Quickly we toured the property and decided to head back toward the palace to find the exit.

The Garden View From A Window

Another View....Yes They're HUGE!

Many Fountains

Fountains & Statues Everywhere

Once again we walked miles heading back toward the palace along the same road that the train travels.  Eventually we came to a guard gate that would allow us to take a shortcut through the gardens.  The guards asked to see the ticket we purchased for the gardens.  I showed my ticket but Clyde couldn't find his so we were told we could NOT reenter the gardens.  Instead we were directed to another exit which was a longer walk but there seemed to be no other option.  So we walked a few miles out of our way to get back  to the area where the palace sat, just trying to find the exit. 
But once again we were stopped by five security guards that requested to see our tickets.  Clyde explained that he misplaced his but we showed them mine.  Again we were told that we could NOT go through this exit and were directed another way.

Marie Antoinette's House In Background

Inside Her Simple Abode

Sitting Room
A Golden Staircase Fit For A Princess

At this point we had been walking in the hot sun for over five hours. We were hot, sweaty, thirsty, tired, lost and just wanted to leave this freaking  place already, but that didn't seem possible.  Expecting this would happen as we approached the guards I suggested to Clyde that we create a scene.  One of the guards was the same girl that SOLD Clyde the ticket to the gardens in another area.  He asked her IF she remembered him since he also asked her for some other information and she said, "yes," she did.  So she verified that he DID buy a ticket to enter the gardens, but now they refused to let us reenter them to gain access to the exit.  He raised his voice to the guards explaining loudly that all we wanted to do was get out of this place.  I began to yell, the scream and cry saying, "all we want to do is get out of this f_cking place and you won't let us."  The tears seemed to work and one of the guards agreed to let us out.  What a nightmare......the feeling of being trapped in this massive estate with no way out!

Although the Palace of Versailles is beautiful, opulent and a sight to see according to us it's a tourist trap to suck money out of visitors by charging them for everything along the way. I would not recommend it to anyone. And later that night when I read the information that came with the Paris pass it said that the "skip the line option" was NOT available during peak times at the popular attractions leaving us to believe that the Paris Pass really didn't live up to our expectations either.

The palace of Versailles was more like the palace of hell that will let you in but not let you out unless you keep giving them more money.  It was a poorly run operation that had one ticket booth to serve thousands of tourists.  Even the restrooms were few with long lines for both men and women, trying to serve thousands of tourists.

We were thrilled to finally leave that place.  Back at the train station we discovered that our train/metro pass seemed to work on the way over to Versailles, but would not work to get us back to Paris. The free pass that came with our Paris pass was valid for unlimited public transportation in zones 1-3 which covered most of Paris. Since Versailles was out of zone 3 we had to buy a ticket back which was only a few euros so no a big deal.

Once back in Paris our plan was to stop for a few groceries and to take back to the apartment.  But little did we know that all stores are closed on Sunday, so we had to come up with another plan.  Found a hole in the wall restaurant where we shared a meal of chicken cordon blue that came with fries, salad and a drink for around 11 euros. On our way back to the apartment we stopped at a chocolate shop for a few treats.  Like many Parisians the clerk at the counter spoke fluent English.  I asked her where she learned to speak English and she said that kids in France take 4-5 years of English while in school.  We're constantly amazed to find that so many other countries take advantage of the young mind and teach them several languages in school.

Near The Eiffel Tower Was A Man Selling Bunnies

After resting in the apartment for a while we headed back out to see the Eiffel Tower at night, since someone told us that was a must see too. Temperatures had cooled off and we found a park bench with a tower view and waited until it got dark, well after 9 pm.  I had read that the tower lights flicker on the hour we had to wait patiently until 10pm. Clyde was falling asleep after a long tiring day but came to life again at the lovely light show that lit up the massive tower.

Under The Nearby Tower

Night View Of Tower

After three days in Paris I've fallen in love again with my wonderful husband and the Parisian way of life. Perhaps because I packed scarves to make me look and feel like a local I could easily settle in and spend the rest of my days here.  The tiny cobblestone streets, the bakeries on every corner with cheap, delectable delights, the assortment of crepes and so much more. This was our first trip to Europe ever and we've realized that we have so much to see, and so much to learn.  Everything here is done on foot with a wonderful, efficient Metro system.  Many of the locals ride bikes or scooters since traffic is heavy and it's much easier to get around this way.  The cars that are here are tiny Smart cars or electric ones with recharging stations all over the city. Gas prices are high so alternative energy is much smarter.  About the only negative in Paris is that everyone seems to smoke on the streets, although it's never allowed inside.

Patrons Sit Facing The Street To People Watch
They Looked Like Students At School
Keeping Paris Clean
Public Drinking Fountains Everywhere

Back in the apartment we cranked up the heat to take out the chill as we sipped on cheap wine which helped us relax from another long day. We fell asleep so thankful that we're able to explore this great, big world of ours during our retirement years.....along the gringo trail.

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