Friday, July 15, 2011

If I was in Paris... July 15, 2011

I'd definitely enjoy the clean-up from Bastille Day celebrations, which is undoubtedly going on all over the city. And with the temperatures only at 79 degrees and sunny, it would be a beautiful day to take the train to Versailles and enjoy the gardens.

Versailles is a wonderful day trip, but you do have to plan carefully in order to miss the hoardes of tourists who go there every day during warm weather.

A couple of serious pieces of advice:
reserve/buy your ticket on line a day or more ahead of time, including printing it out;
the chateau opens at 9 am: get there before it opens, by taking an early train from Paris and a picnic breakfast; plan to arrive by 8:30, at least;
the gardens open earlier and stay open later... go after you've seen the chateau.

Entrance courtyard

If this is your first visit, buy the ticket for the general chateau (des Grands Appartments,15 euros), which includes all the public rooms in the main building, including the Hall of Mirrors. If you go on a not-so-busy-day that will take you about 90-120 minutes, unless you simply cannot stand the crowds or get caught in them.

After that, you must make a choice.

Map: Chateau at bottom, canal at top

I would suggest the tour of the private rooms including the Chapel/Theatre for an English-language tour (and these ONLY go at 930 am daily) which take you to the royal apartments of Louis XV, the Chapel, and the Opera in a guided tour. If you buy the tickets online, you will also get a ticket for the Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette's theatre: a 2-fer.  I have taken this tour several times and it is very good; you'll have to do it prior to the general tour.

Or--plan to see the gardens. The gardens are extensive--including the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's "farmhouse" and the Grand Trianon. The gardens between the house and the Canal are much, much bigger than they look, and making it to any of these three very interesting constructions, especially on a hot day... enough.

Latona Fountain: looking to canal from back of chateau
Les Grands Eaux are on Saturdays and Sundays only during the summer season: the fountains in the gardens are turned on, and baroque music blasts as well, giving it a certain aspect of "The Sun King" as you promenade. The tickets are extra, unlike the free access during the rest of the week.

You will also want to visit one--or more--of the several shops, which do not duplicate merchandise.

Orangerie: Still holds orange trees from 1660s
In other words, make a plan and work it thoroughly. There are places to eat on site, where you cna grab a sandwich or sit down to a more elaborate (and expensive) meal. It is not worth it to leave the site, eat, and return. (See below for my caveat here.) If you can, bring sandwiches, fruit, a baguette and cheese, and your own water. mostly to avoid the crowds. You can certainly eat in the gardens, and alongside the Canal is a nice spot.

You can also rent a boat and go out onto the canal, andI believe bikes are for rent in town, if you simply want to bike the gardens and do nothing else. Also not a bad way to spend the day.

Right now there is an exhibition on "Le XVIIIe au gout du jour" at the Grand Trianon of the fashions of the most popular era of the early 18th century. It is co-curated with the Musee Galliera, which is the leading fashion museum in Paris (I've written about it before here and in other Friday in Paris posts). The description looks fantastic, if you are a buff of history, fashion, costume, or cultural history.

And closing this weekend--Sunday--is an exhibition "Venise Vivaldi Versailles" about the baroque triad. Yes, I would go go go! This weekend is a performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons played by Fabio Biondi, the violin soloist. Played in the damn Opera! Oh, my goodness!!!!

In other words, Versailles is a huge "French baroque" theme park and it will take you at least a day to see even part of it. Oh, and on the way home stop at Le Potager du Roy for dinner: the vegetarian food expertly prepared there comes from the original gardens of Louis XIV, which are also open for viewing. The Sun King loved vegetables, including asparagus, peas, and enarly everything except the potato, which he found to be common. Expensive but worth it.

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