Paris 2014 – Day 3 – Versailles & My Dad’s Birthday

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a history buff. In my circle, that title is specifically reserved for one of my best friends, Jen. Unfortunately, this often means that the historical significance of most tourist landmarks flies right over my head while I’m busy admiring other things like design, architecture, and generally anything I find aesthetically pleasing (case in point: my biggest fixation at the Buckingham Palace later in London was its electrifying hot pink brocade sofas).

Day 3 of our time in Paris was spent in Versailles, followed by a birthday dinner celebration for my dad back in the city. And while we discovered a lot with the audio guided tour at the château, this post will not be a very good regurgitation of the facts that I learned and subsequently forgot. Instead, what you will find is that the Château de Versailles is an absolutely stunning palace with gold everything and the gardens are bursting with perfectly manicured greenery that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine and gone back to the 1700s. And despite the hordes of people that will congregate, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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We started off our day with a quick breakfast at the café just outside of our hotel. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: there’s nothing quite like enjoying a croissant and tea on a café patio in Paris. Somehow, being able to breathe in the city while eating makes the food a thousand times better.

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The easiest way to get to Versailles by public transit is to take the RER C, with the final destination of Versailles Rive-Gauche. The train ride is smooth and not unlike my daily commute into the city for work. You also get a glimpse of the towns outside of the downtown core.

If you haven’t pre-bought tickets for the château, just across the street from the train station is the official ticket dealer, where you must purchase your passes before approaching the palace. Try to make your way into that line as fast as possible, as it grows long very easily as everyone rushes towards it from the station, and the service representatives there don’t typically move very quickly. To save us time lining up here, and to give us priority access into the château, we splurged for the VIP tickets that cost about ten euros more per person. We would definitely recommend this as a Good Move if you are arriving after the gates are first opened, because the line-up to get inside the palace can take hours.

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All of the reviews of Versailles told me that it was best to get there early to avoid the crowds. But there are no morning people in my family. And my philosophy on travel is that if you are lucky enough to take time away from work, you should be able to enjoy the simple luxuries like getting enough sleep. We arrived considerably early by my standards, but all the reviews were right – we could spy a ton of people as we made our way towards the palace, but we were pretty distracted by the sheer impressiveness of its facade.

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Welcoming you to the château is this statue of Louis XIV, who was responsible for the expansion of the château into one of the largest palaces in the world and turning it into the center of political power in France in the late 1600s before the French Revolution.

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As you enter the main gates, you can begin to appreciate all of the ornate design elements of this place. And all the gold.

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The above picture is the exact reason why it’s worth getting the VIP tickets. These are all of the people that were waiting to enter the palace, and it was only about 11am.

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As part of our VIP package, we had some time to explore the gardens (which has free admission) behind the palace before entering to tour the Grand Apartments. What we found was absolutely breathtaking. The garden stretches over 800 hectares – and if I’m doing the math correctly – that’s over 86 million square feet. The garden is landscaped in the classic French garden style, with beautifully trimmed trees and bushes, a wild assortment of flowers, numerous fountains, and gorgeous manicured lawns. We were grateful for the warm weather that allowed us to admire it in all its glory.

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We were also lucky to catch the minimalist art installations by Lee Ufan, such as the 98-foot-long, 39-foot-high arch of curved steel behind the palace. Named “L’Arche de Versailles”, the piece was a thing of beauty, and if you stood directly beneath it and spoke, it was as if your voice took on a strange steely vibration. Very cool.

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One of the bronze sculptures found at the back of the palace facing the garden.

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Beautiful work and detail on the golden fences, as well. Fun fact: they are cool to the touch even under the blazing sun.

Finally, it was time for our group to meet at the side entrance of the palace for our VIP entry. The indoor tour of the palace is of the Grand Apartments – rooms of elaborate design meant to host and entertain guests of the palace, including the bedchambers of the king and queen. Each room is massive in its own right, though the ventilation was very poor, so it was always very hot and stuffy (not much has changed since then). This served to be an issue, as some odd 3,000 – 10,000 people crowded there at the château every day.

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Some of the greatest artwork was on the ceilings of these apartments. Each of the masterpieces in the grand appartement du roi section of apartments were meant to depict the heroic actions of Louis XIV as allegories from historical events of the Roman gods. Similarly, the artwork in the grand appartement de la reine, inhabited by the royal women of the palace, depicted heroines of the past.

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More gold, more detail. In a place as big as this palace, it’s easy to miss some of the finer details, but even pieces like this took time and effort to craft.

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A crowd favourite here is walking through The Hall of Mirrors, which served as a beautiful passageway and meeting place in the palace.

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A glimpse at Marie-Antoinette’s bedchambers with more floral patterns than I can count.

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The Hall of the Battles houses painting and sculptures depicting the milestone battles of French history. As you can probably tell, these works of art were absolutely massive.

Overall, we enjoyed exploring all of the apartments and were able to take our time. The place is truly massive, and we probably could have spent a couple of more hours poring over each piece of artwork, but we were anxious to go out and explore the exterior of the palace more.

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Before exiting the courtyard of the palace, we had to take a bit of time to admire the beautiful golden gate.

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My Outfit of the Day:
Dress – Forever 21, Purse – H&M, Sandals – Topshop, Sunglasses – Ardene

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This gate was easily my favourite thing about the entire palace.

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Some more beautiful details to note about the palace.

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After exiting the palace, we made our way back to the garden for more exploring. To the northwest of the palace (through the gardens) are the Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s estate, which were built as private retreats for the king and queen. For those that choose not to walk all the way there (as it is a bit of a distance), you can take the mini train or rent a golf cart. The lines for both were overwhelmingly long, so we decided to trek around the pathways by foot and see if we could make it there on our own.

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Wandering between the hedges, it felt like you were in the maze of the Triwizard Tournament (though not as claustrophobic).

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As the afternoon had become blazing hot and our feet grew sore from spending quite a bit of time walking already, we decided to save The Trianon for our next visit. Instead, we took our time admiring the main garden and made our way back to the château.

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More impressive statues standing guard along the perimeter of the building. This palace is truly a massive work of art and it was a pleasure to be able to experience it.

Since it was my dad’s birthday, we headed back into the city to celebrate with a nice dinner. One of my aunts had recommended a restaurant just west of the Arc de Triomphe, so we decided to go there and try it out.

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We decided to splurge on a cab ride there and saw the familiar sight of the Eiffel Tower on our way. Tired and hungry from our long day, we were anxious to get to a delicious meal… only to find that the restaurant was closed for renovations!

Luckily, we wandered down the street to another restaurant nearby and I’m happy to say that Le Congrès Maillot did not disappoint. We were drawn to it by the to-go seafood counter open to the sidewalk and were ushered in by a very friendly maître d’. The restaurant was fairly quiet, but we got more and more excited for our food as we reviewed the menu. A seafood restaurant at its core, we couldn’t wait to try all of the different varieties offered.

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When in France, have escargots. And these may have been the most delicious escargots I’ve ever had.

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When in France, you also must have oysters. These were so incredibly fresh and succulent. My mouth is watering just thinking about them now. My dad got this array to accompany his fish entrée.

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But the real victory of choosing this restaurant was the Congrès platter that my brother and I opted to share. Allegedly portioned for a single person, this came with oysters, clams, mussels, crab, prawns, langoustines, whelks, and shrimps. Yes. It was amazing. And my stomach just growled.

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And for dessert, the three of us split a traditional millefeuille, another French classic. All in all, it was an incredible meal with great food and great wine to help celebrate my dad’s birthday.

Coming up next… we go back to say hello to the Eiffel Tower during daytime, admire a grand view of the city atop the Arc de Triomphe, and walk all along Champs-Élysées until our feet fall off.


Follow along on my 2014 trip to Paris & London!
Day 1: {Paris} Notre Dame, Île de la Cité, Eiffel Tower
Day 2: {Paris} South of La Seine, Jardin du Luxembourg, Arc de Triomphe at Night

6 thoughts on “Paris 2014 – Day 3 – Versailles & My Dad’s Birthday

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