September 1st, 2013 – Sunny
Versailles + Eiffel Tower
Woke up today around the same time (9 AM) but the scenery outside our apartment changed drastically. Usually a quiet street, Boulevard de Grenelle had transformed into a buzzing open-air market selling everything from baby clothes to the freshest produce every Wednesday and Sunday. Unfortunately we did not have time to check out the market as we were already running behind for… Versailles!
We made our way to Champ de Mars/Tour Eiffel Station for our RER C connection to Versailles [Tip: Buy a return ticket on your way to Versailles in order to avoid long lineups at the Versailles station on your way back. In addition, there are several destinations for RER C so make sure you board the correct train heading for Versailles Rive Gauche (or “Versailles” on the monitor)]. It was only a 25 minute train ride from Paris to Versailles, but it was nice to catch a glimpse of the suburbs of Paris (In France, graffiti were extremely common on the walls of train tracks, abandoned buildings, tunnels, and many public properties… more on that in a separate post).
Versailles was one of the richest cities in France and it was evident from the 5 minute walk between the train station and the Palace of Versailles: well maintained buildings devoid of graffiti. We purchased sandwiches and refreshments on our way to the Palace because judging from the amount of tourists on the train it would simply be frustrating if we were limited to purchase food from the palace cafeteria. There were two long lineups when we arrived at the palace: one to purchase tickets and the other one to get in. We were able to bypass the tickets queue since admission was included in the Paris Museum Pass , but the queue for security check remained intimidating (there were probably 2-300 people in the lineup). Luckily, the security check was quite efficient (never thought I would say that about France lol) and we only had to wait for about 20 minutes.
With audio guides strapped around our neck (which were free by the way) we embarked on our journey through the Palace of Versailles along with several thousand visitors. Initially we were herded through a series of rooms taking us through the palace’s history, after which visitors were free to roam through rooms and halls at their own pace. The palace was overwhelmingly luxurious with antiquities, crystal chandeliers, and ceiling paintings covering every inch of the palace. As we proceeded onward through different halls we would often find a bigger chandelier, or a more lavish decoration than the room before. This obvious flaunt of wealth culminated in the grandiose Hall of Mirrors where golden walls, countless chandeliers, and matching windows/mirrors combined together to inspire awe. After having visited the Hall of Mirrors the rest of the palace became ordinary and paled in comparison.
We were quietly laughing inside when we walked past the ground floor cafeteria because the line up was absolutely monsterous. Access to the palace gardens required a separate admission fee today because it was a “musical fountains show” day. In other words, for 8.50 euros per person one could enjoy the gardens with music playing in the background (fountains were operational only at specific times). For the first time at the palace we were able to find a relatively quiet spot away from other tourists where we consumed our delicious sandwiches in near isolation (it was amazing how the most ordinary sandwich could taste so good… only in France).
The gardens at Versailles can only be described using one word: Ginormous. There were several options available for visitors to tour the gardens with limited time: Bike/golf cart rentals, and mini-trains to transport tourists to popular attractions around the grounds… for a moderate fee of course. Since we had the entire day scheduled for Versailles we opted to casually stroll through the gardens instead. The music was a pleasant addition but it was hardly worth the admission fee. We gathered near the edge of “Basin d’Apollon” and by the time the fountain show was about to begin there were about 1-2000 people around us.
The fountains started right on time to more up-beat music (not elevator background music like before) to everybody’s excitement. However, after patiently waiting for 3 songs worth of music it was apparent that the water fountains were static and the “fountain show” was simply having the fountains turned on. Disappointed from our expectations we visited several other smaller fountains (one of which was a dancing fountain but quite small in scale). We then abandoned the fountain shows all together and headed toward the smaller royal palaces/private royal residences (Grand Trianon & Petit Trianon).
The walk from the main palace to Grand Trianon was about 30 minutes and the walk itself was lovely with manicured shrubberies/well-groomed trees along the paths. The further we walked away from the main palace the more locals we seemed to encounter… we soon figured out the reason why… the outer gardens were accessible by car! (there must be another entrance somewhere). The Grand and Petit Trianons were beautiful to look at from the outside, but to be honest the interiors were underwhelming. There was a significant difference in the state of upkeep between the exteriors and the interiors of the building; combined with the fact that we had just visited the Hall of Mirrors less than an hour ago, contributed to our lackluster attitude for the Grand and Petit Trianon. Our memorable Versailles day trip concluded with a casual stroll back towards the main entrance near sunset.
An uneventful train ride later we were back in Paris once again. Our hunt for dinner took us to a posh eatery called “Pottoka” where we had one of the weirdest, most polarized meal ever (for me it was possibly the best meal I had in Paris, whereas it was the worst food in the entire trip for my wife… she was not into gastronomy at all). When we finished our meal it was only 10:00 PM and we didn’t want to turn in quite yet, within seconds we were on our way walking toward our favorite location in Paris: The Eiffel Tower. (We visited the Eiffel Tower almost every day we were in Paris)
We originally planned to go up the Eiffel Tower during daytime. Since we were at the site already and unlike during daytime there were no line ups nor 2 hour waits for the elevators to the viewing platforms, we arrived at the lower viewing platform within minutes. (One could also hike the stairs for the lower platform, and since we walked the entire day at Versailles already = elevator!) The lower platform was busy, but WOW the panoramic view was so spectacular that it simply made us forget about everyone around us. When we woke up from the mesmerizing Paris lights ten or so minutes later, we realized that people WERE actually disappearing around us and tourists were emptying from the viewing platform: It was getting close to closing time! We bought tickets to the upper viewing deck as well so we quickly queued up for the second elevator to the top. It turned out that we were one of the last visitors to the top deck that night because they closed the queue shortly after us. The view from the upper platform was similar to the lower deck but with a stronger breeze. The changing lights from Tour Montparnasse; red and white lights from street traffics; dim orange street lamps illuminating the bridges on River Seine as well as the city itself, created an unforgettable image that will be cherished for the years to come. The fact that we enjoyed such scenery in near isolation made our experience infinite times richer.
We stayed at the top for as long as possible and we were ushered back down on the last elevator for the night. Our evening concluded with one final Eiffel Tower light show (where the entire tower sparkled) until the landmark went dark at 1 AM.