Château de Versailles – Part One

Finally. Something I have been working on (or, really, not working so much on) for weeks now: the long-awaited post on Versailles. I’ve been “talking” this one up for so long now that I am at risk for letting you all down; after all my hype and your reading it, I’m worried that you will think, “That’s not such a great post! What was her problem in getting it done?”

Well, in my own defense of imaginary and (likely) unfounded criticisms (my Internal Critic must be set on “High” today), it has been the sheer massiveness of all that is the Château and grounds at Versailles, and trying to capture an essence of it, just a portion of my experience there, that has kept me in a perfectionistic bind of feeling I am not going to write about it adequately or to share accurately what it was I found there. This has become my bête noire of posts.

But, I have forged on. Herewith I present to you: My Visit to Versailles.

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Marie-Antoinette and her three children by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1788

Photo source: ParisKarin (moi); information source: Mary Ann Sullivan, Bluffton University

In fact, with all the hooplah around writing this up, I have decided to write this piece in three parts. You are reading Part One. This post includes an introduction about the Château,  information about who should and who should not visit, and preparations and recommendations about planning a trip there (including how to get there).

Part Two, What To See While You Are There is here.

Part Three I have yet to begin, but will also be coming soon, and will be about some of the things I learned and discovered from my experience. UPDATE: It is now COMPLETED (finally). There are also sources for additional reading at the end of the post.

Introduction

On December 12, 2009, my friend Tess drove us to Versailles to visit the palace and estate of three of the former kings of France, Louis XIV (Louis Quatorze, Le Roi Soleil, The Sun King), Louis XV (Louis Quinze), and Louis XVI (Louis Seize), the king deposed by the French Revolution of 1789.  One of the largest palaces in the world (source), the château existed before it became the residence of Louis XIV (it was a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII in 1623). Before it was developed into the massive and opulent palace at it was to become, however,

[I]t had been a simple brick and stone structure of three wings built around a courtyard. See the original building. This building was left standing, perhaps for sentimental or political reasons, and the new palace enveloped the old château so that the original court fronts are still intact. (Source)

From simplicity, to grandeur, to a modern-day museum that is still grand, even as a shadow of it former glory, the château and estate grounds at Versailles is one of the top tourist destinations in (and near) Paris. This is not without reason. I have one thing to say about the estate at Versailles above all: I found it to be amazingly and incredibly overwhelming, and my visit there impressed upon me the weight of history in all that is France. From my visit I have come to understand that a lot of my struggle in coming to terms with my life in Paris is in part because the momentum of her historical roots still very much influences culture and the way of life in what is now modern France.

This may be a bit Woo-Woo for some, but in my astrological profile, my moon is governed by Pisces. If one is (such as I) am  inclined to think that there is a possibility that the cosmos might have a bit of influence on our personality and character, at least in its bent, if not in its overall makeup as our day-to-day experiences and environment has an impact on us, then a having a moon in Pisces means that I have a propensity to be creative, sensitive, empathic, affectionate, intuitive, caring, and imaginative. The flip-side of having a moon in Pisces is that I can be overwhelmed, self-indulgent, melancholic, evasive, and dependent.  This is an accurate description of me, I feel. In addition, Pisces moonchildren,

…have an oceanic emotional life whose waves shape their perceptions about life. They’re constantly picking up the feelings of others, along with the mood of the atmosphere around them. Their exquisite emotionality may lead them into the Arts, and this helps them find a focus for all the images, thoughts and feelings passing through their sensitive souls. (Source)

What does this have to do with Versailles? It means that when thinking about writing a post on Versailles, I have been confounded by where to begin, by where to start to explain and show what it is I found there. Emotionally, visiting Versailles was overwhelming to me as I felt on an intuitive level with my Pisces moon sensitivity the hundreds (if not thousands) of people who were a part of its creation and sustenance over time, not to mention the extremely powerful and charismatic leaders who lived and visited there. I found it to be a very compelling, magnetic place.

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The inner, central courtyard of the palace, and the original building. Photo by me.

Who Should Visit and Who Should Not

Now, before I get too carried away with my glowing descriptions, I must write that seeing the palace and grounds at Versailles is not everyone’s tasse de thé.

(Aside: Hey! A quick Google Search to make sure I was using the correct words in French yields a comprehensive website on lesbianism in French. Huh. It never ceases to amaze me what all is on the Interwebz.)

Paul (PJ) has been to Versailles probably four times in the nearly 20 years he has lived here and he has said that the place bores him to tears. I can understand why. I think that Versailles (which is the name of the city about 20 miles to the southwest of Paris, but has become synonymous with the palace and estate) would appeal most to people who are interested in the following things:

  • history
  • the historical roots of modern France and the modern Western world
  • serious Francophilia (sounds like something catching, or something creepy, but I mean the Love of All Things French)
  • art and art history in Western Civilization
  • architecture
  • gardening and landscaping
  • high culture
  • monarchy, royalty, and politics of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries

If one is not really into this kind of stuff, then Versailles is not really going to be very fun. It’s enormous (GINORMOUS, in fact), involves a ton of walking, and in its size and scope rivals the Louvre in all there is to see. It is very overwhelming and I cannot imagine bringing small children, teenage boys, very elderly people (or others who are not very mobile), or anyone who is not impressed by at least one of the bullet points above. If you are someone who is not very mobile or who has special needs in regards to transportation and so on, I would seriously recommend signing up with a tour service or guide (for example, I found this on the web: Versailles Tours) who could assist you with those needs. I, personally, cannot imagine trying to visit a place like Paris or Versailles wheelchair-bound, but I also know where there is a will, there is a way, and there are people who do just that. I wish you luck!

Versailles does lean (of course) to a Royalist and frou-frou side of life. I think it is a little more friendly to those whose interests lie in architecture, art, and interiors — dare I say a more feminine side of life? So, for teen boys and men who may be into history, but not so much into art, furniture, and interior design, send them to the Musée de l’Armée at Invalides in Paris while you go to Versailles. Seriously. That museum is a dude’s wet dream of weaponry dating from pre-history on through the Second World War. My RPG-loving, D&D-playing almost 13-year-old son (at the time) thought he had died and gone to heaven in that museum, and, while I found it interesting and all, I was a bit like, “OMG, another sword!” while he was in conniptions about a two-handed Damascus steel rapier from the 17th century**.

(**I made that last part up, all you weaponry people “out there,” to be hyperbolic. I have no idea if there is such a thing. I was just trying to make a point.)

I also have to say that I am not hardcore about any of the above bullet points, either. What I do love that attracted me so to Versailles, however, are the human stories I felt so palpably about the place, most of all the story of Marie Antoinette.

Preparations and Recommendations

At Least Watch the Movie

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette

Photo Source: IMDB

The extent of my background knowledge about Versailles before visiting was limited to two things:

  • the happenings in the movie “Marie Antoinette” directed by Sofia Coppola
  • reading a little about Versailles on Wikipedia in connection with wanting to know more about Marie Antoinette after watching the movie directed by Sofia Coppola.

I did not know very much about it, obviously. I was vaguely aware that kings before Louis XVI had lived there, I knew there was a king called “The Sun King” but could not have told you which king it was, and all other conceptions I had of the time and place of the peak of the courts at Versailles had come from reading Regency historical romance novels between the ages of 11 and 17 in which the French influenced fashion, mores, and culture.

If your level of information is about where mine is at, do yourself a favor and at the least watch the movie by Sofia Coppola and starring Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman. It is appropriate for young people, probably especially girls from the age of 12 or so (it’s PG-13. If I had a very intellectually mature 10 or 11 year old daughter, I would let her watch it. I swing to the more liberal and open side of things, though, so watch it for yourself and see what you think before showing it to your own kids). Based on the book by Antonia Fraser, it shows a sympathetic yet well-rounded picture of the Austrian princess turned Queen of France. It gives possible explanations and psychological basis for what many French still resent about Marie-Antoinette: her excess in spending and creating a world for herself, her friends and her children that rivals any luxury of the billionaires alive today. Filmed in part at Versailles itself, production was given “unprecedented access” to the palace and grounds (Source).

This film will give you a bit of context to all that you will see at Versailles.

Also of note for background information (in addition to the official site):

  • Blogger Peter of Peter’s Paris has written about the film and the book on which it was based at a post on his former blog, Marie Antoinette.
  • I also discovered a blog dedicated to All Things Marie-Antoinette and Versailles here: Madame Guillotine. It’s not a blog exclusively about M-A and Versailles, but the bulk of the blog is dedicated to information and images about the life and times of the Versailles of M-A. Here is the link to one of blogger Melanie’s posts about Versailles.
  • Here at Travelpod.com is a cute account of a young couple’s winter visit to the palace and grounds: Chris and Katie’s Visit to Versailles.

Budget a Lot of Time

Plan to spend an entire day at Versailles. Get there really early.

First of all, it is about 20 km southwest of Paris (source: Wiki Travel Guide – Versailles), and you are going to need time to get there as well as time to see a lot of what is there. In order to see the Château/Palace and parts of the grounds as well as the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet (other homes on the estate, and all of which I highly recommend), you are going to want a minimum of three hours (and really, you probably can only see the Palace with that amount of time). An adequate visit of all of the listed items, in my opinion, is going to be more like 5-6 hours, minimum, from the time you arrive. Yup. THAT big, THAT large in scope.

I recommend starting at the opening time of the Château (depending on the time of year), beginning at the Palace itself, and then branching out to other areas from there. The official website, in English, is here. The hours, which are listed at this page, range depending on the time of year you are visiting.

The official site has a wealth of information about how to visit Versailles, as does the Wiki Travel link on the city of Versailles above. I did not read any information before arriving, and I wished I had at least made myself a little bit familiar with what I was seeing beforehand.

Getting Tickets

There is a ticket called the Passport, which gives you access to admission to all the tours of the Palace, the grounds (which are accessible for free year-round – check for times at this link), the Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate as well as an audio tour. As of the writing of this post,  the website says it is 18 € for the Passport (however, I purchased my ticket at an automated ticketing kiosk with a French Carte Bleue Visa “smart card” for only 16 €. I don’t know if this is because I purchased it at the kiosk or if it was because it was Low Season when we went). More information is at the official website here: Tickets and Rates.

The Wiki Travel Guide says that it is also possible to order tickets online at the Château de Versailles ticketing website.

Getting There

I am lucky in that my friend Tess has a car, so we hopped on the A13 from the Périphérique towards Rouen/Versailles, and then Exit 5 to the city center and to the parking lot off of the Avenue de Paris. Or at least I think that is what we did as I was the passenger who was chatting with her and not really paying much attention to precisely where we were headed. I read on the Wiki Travel Guide that you can take the

RER C line, direction Versailles Rive Gauche, get off at Versailles Rive Gauche station. Be careful not to get off at Viroflay Rive Gauche! The name looks somewhat the same, but this is not the same station! Another branch of the RER C, direction Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, stops at Versailles Chantiers.

(Source) The line number at the RATP site is labelled Line C5. Remember: this stop is outside of the zone where regular Métro tickets will get you, so you have to purchase the RER ticket specifically to Versailles Rive Gauche at a ticket window. Get a return ticket while you are at it.

Versailles - RER C

Screen shot from the RATP site showing the Versailles Rive Gauche stop as well as the Versailles Chantiers stop on line C8. Make sure to get the right train going to Versailles Rive Gauche!

Versailles Parking - Train Station

Here is the Google Maps screen shot of the parking area off of the Avenue de Paris as well as the RER C stop at Versailles Rive Gauche. The RER stop is also very close to the entrance of the Château.

There are also instructions on how to get to the Château de Versailles at the official website on this page: How to Get to the Palace.

A Site Worth Looking At – info about where to eat, shop, and pee

I have explored the official website for the Château de Versailles carefully since visiting. It is a very helpful and informative site. One of the most helpful pages in the very comprehensive and therefore a little overwhelming site is the facilities and services page here. It explains where there are bathrooms, shops, places to eat, and what kinds of things are available at the shops and places to eat.

A note here about gluten-free or allergen-free travel:

Honestly, I did not eat while I was there. Here’s why. After over seven months of drinking hardly a drop of alcohol (except for thimblefulls here and wee drams there), I had three glasses of white wine (okay, maybe even four or five — I lost count) the night before while out with my French girlfriends, Karine, Priscilla, and Elena. I got schnockered and was pretty well hungover as a result. It was a night to remind me about why I basically do not drink any alcohol anymore, heh! I figured it was my punishment to walk it all off at Versailles. Another added benefit of visiting the Château and grounds — its a great hangover treatment! 😉  So, I was not in a mood to eat or drink. I basically went for several hours without doing either. I was also concerned that there was not going to be food or drink that I could have, so I did not even explore the possibility. Stupid, perhaps, and yeah, I got really worn out by doing this and probably stressed my system a little, but after I got home, I got rehydrated, ate a good dinner and was set to rights with a good night’s sleep.

I noted at the museum entrance that small bottles of water were allowed in the Palace museum and on the grounds, but no food could be brought in. However, there is a coat check, for free, at the Palace entrance. If you wanted to pack a small bag with snacks, you could check the bag, spend the beginning of the day at the Palace, and then go to have  a picnic on the grounds outside before heading to the Trianon in the afternoon. If I return, especially in warmer weather, I may try to do this. Also, a person may very well be able to have some gluten-free fare at the places listed to eat on the facilities and services pages.

For more information about eating and ordering gluten and/or allergen-free in Paris, see David Lebovitz’s post here about it: Gluten-Free Eating and Dining in Paris.

To help you make your travel preparations, you may also want to check this site out: Virtual Tourist Versailles Travel Guide.

Continued in Part Two.

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16 thoughts on “Château de Versailles – Part One

  1. WOW, thanks for all the info. I definitely want to go when I visit Paris, but it sounds like I need to bring my mother-in-law with me…lol! I’m not sure that my husband would be interested. I did see the movies, which I loved, but maybe I will do some more research on it. Love the pic of the courtyard. Marie Antoinette fascinates me because her story is always rewritten, due to so many misconceptions. Thanks for the post, I think you did a great job on Part 1!!! 🙂

    • Thanks Corine! Part Two is mostly pictures, and I should be posting it really soon (perhaps tomorrow!). So stay tuned. Yes, I think a MIL would be better company than a husband, lol! It really is a lot more of a Chick Place. I think a lot of women, in general, are a lot more interested in princesses and royalty and how they used to live than the average dude. A very patient man, or one really interested in history, will do just fine here, though. Or a man who likes photography. I forgot to say that, too. Lots of good photo ops here!

  2. This is very nice peace good job Karin

  3. Ken

    I thought you were simply living a real life, but happy you pressed through. When I become overambitious about a blog it first becomes a book covering way more then I intended and by the time I’ve pared it down, it is old news and no longer relevant to anything I want to say anymore and dies before it is published.

    I read the discription of a piscis moon and thought about all of the sensitive souls that have been and still are drawn to Paris and think it must be like Dianna on ST-TNG, to be sensitive to those who are sensitive and then find yourself in the capitol of sensitive people…
    overwhelming?

    Inner courtyard (and much of) of the Palace looks like a Faberge egg. Wouldn’t take young children not only because of the walking but they cannot touch. I remember going on a seventh grade field trip to Monterey and on stop was the Robert Lewis Stevenson House where we were constantly reminded by the tour guide not to touch anything. Come on, we were twelve, I think we could figure that out. Speaking of not very mobile, I seem to remember your saying that France itself is not really handicap accessable.

    Art, furnature, architecture and all of those acutriaments have reflect and drip with history. One has to learn how to use the scientific eye for detail and not be influenced by social expectations. While I would be fascinated by the contents of Versaailles and period movies are my favorite (A Lion in Winter, A Man For All Seasons, Lady Jane, Becket), Marie Antoinette seemed a little to Jane Ausin for me from the commercials (am I the only one bored to tears by “Les Liaisons dangereuses”?)

    I am at a loss because from the photos on your Flickr, I assumed that the palace was in a countryside setting and yet from the google map it seems snuggled into a major metropolitain setting. Am I to assume that “the king’s hunting grounds” have been paved over? I am thinking that, from the sum total of your blogs so far, that one will have to have a clear idea of what they want to expirience if they were to visit you from afar as nothing major could really be absorbed in an hour or so.

    • “I thought you were simply living a real life…”Hahaha! Yeah, well, a little of that, too. I really did want to get this one going, finally, though. Part 2 goes up as soon as I finish comments here. 🙂

      “Dianna on ST-TNG, to be sensitive to those who are sensitive and then find yourself in the capitol of sensitive people…
      overwhelming?”

      It’s interesting to think of Paris as being populated by sensitive people. At first I was all, “NO WAY” to thinking about it. Then I began to think maybe there is something to it. I will say this, in the land of Descartes, most people seem to be unflinching rationalists. But then I got to thinking in terms of The Princess and the Pea kind-of-sensitive — sensitivities around ambiance and atmosphere — and thought, “Yeah. It’s why there is an emphasis on The Good Life – la bonne vie – the things with which I struggle some here.” A case could be made for *how* the French or Parisians are sensitive. I think it is mostly overwhelming because it is somewhere foreign. But you may be on to something there. I will give it a good think.

      “Inner courtyard (and much of) of the Palace looks like a Faberge egg. Wouldn’t take young children not only because of the walking but they cannot touch.” Good points! Yup, like one fancy egg it is. Just bigger. 🙂 It is true that most of Paris and France are not really accessible. But I also know people have been brave and try. It’s improving, just slowly.

      Honestly, I think that M-A is less Jane Austen and more Jackie Collins! 😀 Seriously Ken, I am pretty sure you would like the Sofia Coppola movie a lot if you liked those other movies. The soundtrack, which features a lot of cool 80s (oxymoron?) tunes, is worth it, too, IMHO. I bet the public library has it! Check it out!

      “I assumed that the palace was in a countryside setting and yet from the google map it seems snuggled into a major metropolitain setting. Am I to assume that “the king’s hunting grounds” have been paved over?” I do not know a ton about the history of the town itself, but I know that Versailles as a larger town exists because of the Palace and its being the residence of kings. The city has grown up around the estate.

      I am glad you came by, Ken! (Part Two soon…)

  4. Carole

    Wow! Ghetto living at its finest. 😉

    Finding the words to describe something that speaks to and/or moves one is not an easy thing to do, but you have made a good start. Can’t wait to read and see the rest.

    • Hahahaha!! No kidding! They REALLY put the GET in ghetto, lol. Lots of bling, too. You know they were sporting a lot of that. 🙂 As were their walls and floors and furnishings. Bling City. LOL.

      As I replied to Ken there, Two is on its way as soon as I finish here. Thanks for reading!

  5. joeyscorner

    If we ever make it to Paris, you can take Jeff to Versailles and I’ll stay home and watch the movie. Who should go and who shouldn’t is a great section to include on something like this!

    • Hey Wendy! I thought it was cute you miss-logged-in. 🙂 I am glad that you appreciated the who should go and who should not section. I think it is important to share these things!

      You can visit via the next blog, as well as through another blog I discovered which is well-written! (link will be in the post)

      Thanks for coming by. 🙂

  6. Oops, that comment from Joey’s corner is really me. I’d forgotten that I’d signed into her site earlier.

  7. Lauri

    I know I will enjoy all 3 parts of your Versailles blog, Karin. I’ve been to Versailles twice – I love the place! I do enjoy History, Art, and Architecture, so Versailles is very appealing to me. I’ve taken the train to Versailles – so easy. Looking forward to reading parts 2 & 3. Have a great day (evening)!

    • I’d love to go back with you. 🙂 *hint hint* 😉 Keep thinking about a trip here, okay? Hope you are having a good week, too, Lauri. Thanks so much for keeping in touch with me here!

  8. Hi Karin, Love your great posts on Versailles. When we visited Paris last, we were unable to go there due to time constraints, but reading your post has allowed me to visualize what it is really like. You have also inspired me to go out and rent the movie Marie Antoinette. I really enjoy your writing, your humor and insights and especially your ability to allow me a new introspective into the ‘Parisienne’ experience, even though from afar. I am looking forward to more posts. 🙂 Inge

    • Hi Inge! I am sorry it took me a couple of days to reply to your comment. I am in Antibes now visiting a friend, so I am not online as much. We are, however, having a blast coming up with GFCF and egg-free baked stuff. She has food intolerances, too. So far I have had some lovely cookies and some blueberry coffee cake with flax seed egg substitute and millet and sorghum flours. I’m hoping she starts a food blog soon. 🙂 If not, I may post them here for starters with credit to her.

      I am so glad that you enjoyed the posts on Versailles. I really did want them to be a bit like a tiny visit there as well as inform people who might want to visit so I am glad they fit the bill. I hope you enjoy the movie with all of the caveats that folks had commented here! It really is a lot of fun and it inspires to learn more about M-A’s true story, I think. Thank you so much for the compliments and as soon as I am home from Antibes, I will post more! Take care — Karin

  9. Pingback: The Little Post That Could « An Alien Parisienne

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