Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Visit to the Château de Versailles

When we first decided to visit Paris again this summer, Versailles was right at the top of my list of places I wanted to go. Last time, we just didn't have enough days to fit it in – so I was absolutely set on making it a priority this time around!

Versailles is, in theory, very easy to get to from Paris. In practice, not so much. I'd checked using the route planner on the RATP website, and our plan was to get the metro to Gare d'Austerlitz, change to the RER C which goes to Versailles Rive Gauche, and that would be easy as pie. However, we spent a good 20 minutes wandering around Gare d'Austerlitz looking for an RER C train that was going to Versailles Rive Gauche before finding a staff member to ask, and he informed us that the line was disrupted and advised an alternative route. We weren't the only people confused, and it would have been really helpful if there had been some posters around to advise people of the disruption… But whatever. So instead we took the 10 to Javel Andre Citroen and transferred to Javel to pick up the RER C from there – and had a little wander down memory lane because on our last visit to Paris we stayed just up the road from there.

Versailles Rive Gauche (also called Versailles-Château) is the terminus station, and is just a short walk from the palace. When you arrive, you really can't get lost as there is a swarm of people heading towards the Château and you just get swept up in the flow of the crowd. The first view when you turn the corner is simply breathtaking; the gold features glint in the sunlight and you can tell the whole place is just massive.

Also massive are the queues! I'd tried (and failed) to pre-book tickets on the website, but I found it so difficult to navigate that I gave up. So when we arrived, we immediately joined the queue to buy tickets – and we were in this queue for over an hour. It would have been longer still if we had been paying with cash, as we discovered that once we'd snaked our way through the barriers, and around the building inside past the information desk, that there were machines for card payments – so we decided to go for that option rather than wait any longer.

Tickets in hand, we headed back outside to figure out how to get into the palace. And then realised that the enormous queue snaking up and down the courtyard was the line for that! A staff member gave us an estimate of 2-3 hours waiting (!!!!!) so we decided that we'd go around the gardens first and come back later on, in the hope that the line would have reduced by then.

The gardens are free to visit, if that's all you want to see of Versailles, and they really are spectacular. Some parts of the gardens were only open to ticket holders on the day we were there, due to it being a Musical Fountains day (which increased the cost of the Passport ticket by €7).

We had a look round the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trainon, which are both steeped in history and decorated very extravagantly, as is befitting to a palace estate I guess!

At around 3pm, we decided to head back towards the Palace and see how the line was looking then. To our dismay, it was almost as long as it had been hours earlier. By this time, we both had aching feet, and my back was starting to really hurt (I have ongoing issues with my back and I have to be really careful), so after waiting in line for 10 minutes and then realising it would likely be at least 2 hours before we got in, and then we'd be rushed around because they'd be closing very shortly afterwards, we decided to just give it a miss. It was a shame, but we agreed that if we did wait, and then we had to rush around and not really look at things, and we'd both be in considerable discomfort and pain, we really wouldn't enjoy it and it wasn't worth it.

We headed back towards Versailles Rive Gauche station, and – understandably – the crowd of people waiting to buy tickets and get on the train was enormous! I quickly opened up Google Maps to figure out how long it would take us to walk to an alternative station (Versailles-Chantiers), in the hope that it would be a quieter station and a quieter train. It was only around 10 minutes away on foot, so we went with that as our new plan and it totally paid off! Although still the RER C, it goes on a completely different route around the outskirts of Paris, and terminated at Gare d'Austerlitz, which made the journey back to our hotel so much easier. It was nice to see a different side to Paris too.

It was only when we got back and I had a browse on TripAdvisor that I saw lots of people advising against going to Versailles on Tuesdays because the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays so the crowds go to Versailles instead - oops! Obviously I hadn't researched that part well enough! There were also people advising against visiting in August, so I really messed up by going on a Tuesday in August. Not a mistake I will ever make again, believe me! In fact, I'm not sure I'd want to ever visit again, full stop. Don't get me wrong, it's impressive and I am glad that we got to see it with our own eyes (or most of it, at least) - but I'm not sure it lived up to expectations. And then there's the fact that both of us became ill after visiting, and Versailles has been given the blame for our lurgy!

Have you ever visited Versailles? If not, would you put it on your list?

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1 comment:

  1. Wow...beautiful. I need to get my bum over there to see that. :)

    Mandie ~


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