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Paris Daytrip to Versailles

Posted by Lori in Paris on 13/Oct/2006
I've always been attracted to all things completely gaudy... well, art- and architecture-wise. So, of course, I had to witness the decadence which is Versailles when I visited Paris. Aside from being into the royals of the past, I will confess... I have a big crush on paintings of young Napoleon, and I wanted to see "Bonaparte à Arcole" and the larger than life "Coronation of Napoleon" painting with my own eyes! Oh yeah, and the acres of lush gardens, Hall of Mirrors and all the crazy statues and paintings... and stuff.

All over Paris, you'll find advertisements for day trips to Versaille via motorcoach ranging anywhere from 25 to 50 euros. Ignore them! Getting to Versailles is ridiculously easy via the regional RER line. Take it from Gare du Montparnasse toward "Versailles-rive-gauche-château". It's about a 40-minute ride on a double-decker train for only 4 Euros, and the château is an easy 10-minute walk from the train station (there are many signs and many many tourist shops). The ride is actually really interesting, taking you from glamorous Paris through the spirals of the lesser and more ghetto arondissments.

Originally built in 1672, the château is huge; divided into many apartments, opera house, gardens, then theres the trianon and Marie-Antoinette's hameau (built so the Queen could play at being a peasant). You can visit as little or as many as you want, starting at 5 Euros to 25 Euros for a day pass during peak season (most include audio tour). The gardens are free. If it's nice out, I recommend bring a picnic and eating on the grounds (the cafe in the basement is so-so, serving sandwiches and coffee). The vast garden and ponds make it easy to imagine what life was once like at Versailles, sitting amongst the same trees and statues that Louis XIV once sat under. Much of the castle was looted during the Revolution, and although it has been mostly restored, the gardens are the only element that remain exactly the same.

When touring Versailles, get there early. There is A LOT to see, and honestly, when are you going to go to Versailles again? Also, there will be crowds - I went in the dead of winter, and so did every Japanese school boy in Paris.

Versailles Interiors That said, make sure you look at every inch of the place, floor to ceiling. Everything is meticulously decorative, down to the Zeus faced window locks. I love the audio tour because it really brings history alive, and also draws your attention to these details. For example, I have read a bit about the history of the château, but being that it is so big, it was hard to visualize what went on where. The queen's bedroom, where the Royal births took place, is overly ornate, with a four poster bed with original feather plumes on top. But the audio tour points out a hidden door in the wallpapered wall, where Marie-Antoinette and her children escaped the crowds that ambushed her bedroom during the Revolution. Don't feel like a dork with the headphones on, just pretend they're your cool iPod's.

Another thing I always like to take note of when visiting historical sites is the view from the windows. Maybe a bit cheesy or hopeless romantic, but I like to see what exactly kings and queens of the past saw when they woke up each morning. It helps me put everything into a bit more perspective of what life was really like.

Aside from a historical residence, I tend to forget to think of Versailles as a museum to hundreds of ornate relics, sculptures and paintings. The king's chief decorator, painter Charles Le Brun, designed each room from floor to ceiling, as well as served as royal portrait painter. Le Brun also designed the incredible planetary themed ceilings of Louis XIV's Grand Apartment, which have been erected by various painters over the years. An architectural feat can be seen in the Royal Opera House. Seating for over 700, the floor is mechanised, so that it may be raised to become level with the stage for balls and banquets!

I could go on and on, just as you will. Versailles really is never-ending. Before you know it, it's sun down, and you must return to Paris. Check out the gift shops on the way back to the train station - I didn't find much at Versailles itself except for books and postcards. Even if you just go to have lunch in the gardens, or take a look around outside, I strongly suggest you do so! Where else in Europe can you reach a decadent château/"castle" in under an hour and for the same cost as a cappuccino?!

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