Tuesday, 24 June 2008


A few weekends ago I headed back to Versailles and stood in the massive line again for what seemed like hours. Seriously anyone thinking of going to Versailles, buy your tickets before you get there, whether that is online, through the train company or a tourist bureau because it's not worth it to stand in the massive queue to get in. I thought it would be better this time as I went real early, one of the first trains to get out there, but nope just as bad.

This first photo is of the Flora fountain, she's there sitting on a whole bunch of flowers, I hope there aren't any roses in that bouquet as that could be a little uncomfortable.

It was pretty funny when we got to the train station at Versailles as there were a lot of tourists all getting off at this stop, and of course being tourists they don't really understand how the French train tickets work when you exit the train station. It's pretty simple really the tickets go in one end, and then the gate opens, but it takes them each a little time to work out where the ticket goes and if it has to go a particular way (it doesn't). So we are all trapped waiting whilst the tourists very slowly trickle through the few turnstiles. Perhaps the tourist bureau of Versailles could look at improving the access there as it was a serious crush.

The other thing they really need to look at is their joke of a ticket machine. When you want to go back to Paris the ticket machines, in a fit of absolute brilliance by the designer, only allow you to buy one ticket at a time, so if you are there with a group you have to very slowly buy each ticket one by one. What can add to the sheer enjoyment of this task is if the ticket machine also doesn't accept cash and so you have to go through the added bonus of using your bank card for each 4 euro ticket, which adds about a minutes to each transaction time.

This second photo is the glory of Versailles, looking down to the grand canal which is 1.5km long and was built so the King could have boating parties.

This time I got to visit the gardens, which I think really are the highlight of Versailles, I mean the Hall of Mirrors is good and all, but the gardens are definitely better. A weird thing they had done between my visits to the chateau is they had drastically reduced the audio guide time for each room. It was really bizarre as now the guide stopped almost in mid-sentence and a lot of the interesting information was excluded. I don't know why they did this, whether it was to get people moving through faster or to encourage people to go on a tour, because the audio guide was definitely better the first time I visited.

This photo is the gardener's house, it was well isolated from the royal residences, which is probably just how the gardener liked it, and certainly had some of the best grounds of any building. As you would expect I suppose.

So onto the gardens. They are pretty cool with their massive hedges and fountains and things, though I was a little surprised at the lack of flowers they had growing. I would have expected acres and acres of them but instead it was all gravel paths and massive hedges. What was kind of cool were the 'groves' which were basically overgrown scrub/forests. I can imagine people got up to a lot of naughtiness in those groves back in the King's day, and probably still to this day, which perhaps was the idea behind their design.

The fountains were impressive and there were an awful lot of them, I guess the only bad thing about them is when I visited they had some sort of music exposition, which basically means they turn the fountains on for a few hours during the day along with classical music. Nice idea and all, the only problem was the sheer volume at which they were blasting the music, you turn anything loud enough and it just becomes noise, I think I'm turning into an old person. Apart from that, seeing the fountains going was pretty cool as you get more of an idea of what it was like when old Louis was wandering around. When the fountains were off you felt more like a servant during the periods when the king was away from home, no luxuries for you then!

I think the best thing about the gardens was the Marie Antoinette part, definitely visit this section if you are up to the 2km hike to get there after strolling through the massive main gardens of Versailles. This section is also quite large, encompassing a little make-believe village the queen had built where she could come to escape from the rigours of palace life, poor dear, and play dress-ups as milkmaids and the like. Marie Antoinette's section certainly felt a bit more natural, though I imagine an awful lot of planning goes into making something look "natural". It was funny seeing this queen's vision of how the peasants lived as she really didn't have any idea how the vast majority of people struggled, hence the revolution I suppose. In fact she would milk hand-picked docile cows, but her milk pail was made of porcelain and was painted to make it look like wood, ahh rich people and the funny things they do.

One thing I found funny in this section is that they had all these different parts to the gardens and they each had names. So they had a French garden which was all manicured hedges and flowers planted in rows, looking like a typical English garden. But then they also had a section called an English garden but all it turned out to be was a field of waist-high weeds. I don't know if that was a subtle dig at the English or whether the French really believe that's how English gardens look. The guys at work didn't seem to be at all surprised when I described it to them, so perhaps they think the English are incompetent gardeners.

Marie Antoinette's billiard room in her little pretend village. Nice setting though.

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