Heaving our huge and heavy suitcases up the spiraling staircase, we finally made it to the 4th floor where our room is. We walked to the end of the hallway, opened the door, and collapsed on the bed. After catching my breath, I looked around and realized how tiny this place is: 2 single beds, a puny closet, and a sink in the corner. The bathroom is outside, shared with the rest of the floor. The only “treat” was the window that opens to the street, allowing the sounds of Paris to sneak its way inside.
It was our first day in Paris and the start of what would be an epic Euro-trip across the Western side of the continent. I had always, always wanted to go to Europe; it’s a lifelong dream of mine and to finally make it into a reality gives a very satisfying sense of accomplishment. Plus the fact that this happened 2 days after I finished writing my last-ever undergrad exam made it that much better! With our excitements mounting, we quickly freshened up and stepped out the door into the melodies of bustling traffic and the scents of freshly-baked baguettes.
Because we bought a day pass to make our way from Charles de Gaule (CDG) Airport to Paris city centre, we decided to spend the day in Versailles so as not to waste it. To reach Versailles, you have to go on the suburban train, specifically the RER C line, that breaches into zone 4 and is not covered by a regular Paris Metro ticket. Along the way to the station, we passed by a tourist information booth where we grabbed our entry ticket into the Château. Tip: If it’s possible, ALWAYS buy your entry tickets in advance! Trust me, you will be eternally grateful that you did since this will save you TONS of time (See below)!
The 45-minute train ride was supplemented with our oohs and aahs as we passed by suburban Ile-de-France; everything was so novel to us: the small houses, unkempt front lawns, graffiti arts, and rusting bikes. We even ate our sandwiches in silence – in awe that we were actually in Europe! Oh, the keen sense of wonder of a novice traveler! We arrived in Versailles along with a throng of other camera-totting tourists and dutifully made our way to the front gate, where there were two lines snaking its way through the palace ground: one is the ticket line and the other is the entry line. Beaming with pride and generally feeling really victorious, we marched to the entry line and waited. And waited. And waited some more until we cleared security and were FINALLY allowed into the Château.
Château de Versailles
, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an exemplary form of the 18th century French Art. What started out as Louis XIII’s humble hunting lodge was transformed by his son, Louis XIV, into a palace worthy only for kings and queens. In 1682, he transplanted the court and the government of France to Versailles, an arrangement that lasted until 1789, before it was moved back to Paris.
Inside the palace are wide, open rooms filled with antiquated furnitures, their walls adorned with centuries-old paintings, and majestic chandeliers are hung from the ceilings. One of the most famous rooms is the Hall of Mirror or Grande Gallerie. Constructed in 1678 with 357 pieces of mirrors, it was used daily as a passageway as well as a waiting and meeting place frequented by courtiers and the visiting public. It was also the location where many important celebrations were held, including the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which marked the end of World War I.
Photo by Jean-Marc Manaï
We wandered through the rooms absorbing the overload of information from the audio guide (yet retaining none of it) and taking the obligatory pictures of significant paintings before we finally made our way outside to the gardens.
Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre to design and create the gardens surrounding the palace. Built over 800 hectares of land, the gardens are filled with 200,000 trees and 210,000 flowers that are planted annually.
Countless fountains and canals were also built throughout the ground.
The Château’s is also home to the Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, neither of which we visited as we didn’t know they exist.
Ah well, now I have an excuse to return to France (and stuff my face with pain au chocolat while I’m at a it!)