Thursday, July 28, 2011

Paris Day Trips: Versailles & Giverny

I have rebelled, and left the office at five o'clock today!  Take that!  Rosie was totally asleep when I got home, and a bit confused when I walked in the door.  I gave her a big ol' hug and told her that I've missed her, too.

Anyway, I'm going to use my extra hours to re-visit Paris with you.

Aside from the Louvre (and lots of food), the other big item on Miss Chef's to-do list in Paris was the Chateau of Versailles.

For those who may not know the history of it, this was the palace constructed in the 17th century by Louis XIV, otherwise known as the Sun King.  His political strategy was to get all the courtiers outside of Paris and so obsessed by petty court intrigues that they were too busy to interfere with his governance.  Part of this strategy was to make attending the King's every rising, meal and other daily routines the must-see event of the day.  In other words, he made attending the King's bathroom visits more desirable than seeking an ambassadorship.

So, of course, the palace became a ridiculously overdone residence, filled in every corner by gilded art, furniture and tapestries.  Today, it is equally filled by sweaty, pushy tourists from around the globe.  This is why I generally avoid touring the chateau, and when forced to (by chaperoning student groups), I usually left them at the door and went to enjoy the gardens until they were done!

I warned Miss Chef she wouldn't last 15 minutes without wanting to punch someone, but she said she'd deal with it, just so she could see what the chateau was all about.  And she did well!  It was at least 20 minutes before I had to start talking her down from an irrational rage.

Anyway, I'm sorry to say I never stopped to take pictures inside the chateau.  Really, there were too too many people around to get any nice photos (go to Google images and type in Versailles and you will get plenty of beautiful photos).  And I should remind you that it was in the high 90s that week and that 17th century chateaus were not built with air conditioning, so I was focused more on keeping hydrated and just enjoying the views.  They did have a lovely flow of air, though, from strategically open windows.

Actually, most of the visit wasn't too crowded.  It wasn't until the Queen's chambers that we were forced to squeeze like sheep through a gate, and there was really no way out but through.  Other than that, it was bearable.  But Miss Chef had had enough, so once out of the Hall of Sardines, we headed out to the gardens.

Central part of the gardens, from near the chateau

view of the chateau from the far end....
You can see the chapel over the trees on the left.

I had scheduled this visit for a Tuesday, one of the few days when the fountains are actually running.  Unfortunately, we got there later than I expected, and we only got to enjoy them for about 20 minutes.  But I was glad Miss Chef got to see them in all their rushing glory.  We then wandered around the side groves, seeking out shade, all the way down to this fountain.

I think this is Apollo in his chariot...get it?  Sun King?
Or maybe it's Poseidon.

Then we were both done.  Oh lordy, it was HOT!  Can you tell from the pictures?  All in all, Miss Chef stated quite clearly that she much preferred Hampton Court.  And I've got to agree, the English style of garden is much more to my liking than the uber-formal classical French style.

However, two days later, we made up for it.

This was the one site I'd never made it to during my year living in Paris.  I was considering it an optional outing, until several people--including Alison in New Zealand--raved about it being the highlight of their trips.  I figured they must be on to something, so I scheduled it into our one remaining open day.

And of course I'm glad I did!  I'm also glad I took the advice of several folks on the TripAdvisor forum, and made sure to take the very first train out to Vernon.  It meant dragging our butts out of bed at 6:30 in the morning and hustling our way to St. Lazare train station.  We barely made the train, due to standing in line for 20 minutes to buy tickets.  The automated kiosks wouldn't take American credit cards.  I'd advise buying your train ticket ahead!

All aboard!

Once in Vernon, we had about five minutes to get onto the bus out to the village of Giverny--actually, since everyone had to buy their tickets as they boarded, we had plenty of time to spare there.  It was kind of nice to drive out through the country and small villages; I was glad to show Miss Chef another side of France than Big City Paris.  My first stay in France was in a tiny village of about 500 people, so it was a nice reminder that France is quite diverse, too.

In spite of the bleary-eyed hustle and stressful wait for our train ticket, my planning paid off.  Although there were plenty of folks in the gardens with us, it wasn't very crowded, for a summer day.  There are sort of three parts to the visit: the upper gardens by the house, which are the more planned (though nothing like Versailles, as you shall see).  There is the house itself, in which photography is not allowed, so you'll have to go visit yourselves someday.  And then there is the lower garden, the famous water-lily ponds that featured in decades of Monet's work.

Here are a couple of examples of his paintings:

This was my favorite part of the visit, as is the case with most tourists, I'd bet!  Miss Chef was as inspired as I was.  As a result, we spent some time in the fourth part of the visit--the gift shop.

Then we added part five; lunch!  We saw signs for a crêperie about a quarter mile down the road, and since we were barely in Normandy, I figured it was a good place to try.  Turns out La Musardière is also the only hotel in town...and someday, maybe, a good place for us to stay when we make our way back to Giverny.

Since we took so many pictures that day, I've once again whipped up another Smilebox slideshow.  This time I made sure to pick one with a larger display size.  So now, please enjoy our visit to Giverny.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow


  1. Flartus, the Smilebox didn't work for me, and I really wanted to see it. It just brought up a bunch of ads - a baby photo contest, etc.
    I would love to see Giverny!

    Back to your comment about the roof - as you noted, it is finally fixed! However, it took one solid year of a combination of begging and threatening to get it done right. Grrrrrrr.

  2. The slide show was wonderful, even on an iPhone! I was trying to figure out which was my favorite and then the ice cream appeared. A wonder you didn't lose your passport and move into that hotel!

  3. Ok, now it's working. Lovely.

  4. Great slideshow! Paris is familiar to me, but I never made it to Giverny. Next time - you've inspired me!


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