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Versailles, France - Chateau de Versailles - 21st April 2002

Posted by Edmond on Thursday, June 20, 2002

Early morning arrival to the Chateau de Versailles. Guided tour of the King's Chamber, Private Apartments, the Operal hall and part of the Royal Chapel followed by an unguided tour of the State Apartments and Hall of Mirrors. A stroll through the large garden of Chateau de Versailles and the two smaller Chateaux of Trianon (Petit and Grand Trianon). Tour finishes with the fountain show within the main gardens of Chateau Versailles. Photos utilising the polarising filter are indicated in the photo log.

Domain of Versailles
1. Chateau Versailles - Guided tour
2. Chateau Versailles - Unaccompanied Visit
3. Gardens of Chateau Versailles
4. Grand Trianon
5. Petit Trianon
6. Afternoon Fountain Show
Directions from the station
Official Site

Since Versailles was about a 40 minute train trip from Paris and the trains did not run as frequently on Sundays, I decided to get out as early as possible to get the tickets to attend the guided tour of Chateau de Versailles. The train trip to Versailles started at Gare de Austerlitz where I hopped on the RER C5 suburban train to Versailles - Rive Gauche (since my Paris Visite card did not cover for the trip, I had to buy the RER train ticket from the machines outside the RER ticket office before boarding). Although the trains did not run as frequently on Sunday, at least they came on time and I was soon on my way to the famous Chateau. Also, every weekend, there are fountain shows held in the gardens of the Chateau so I was curious to see what this was like.

The station was surprisingly close to the Chateau - after taking a right out of the station, face the main street and walk left, away from the station. After about five minutes, I could easily spot the main entrance and the grounds of the Chateau. The entrance gates to the different sections to the building are clearly marked outside the building, of these I selected the guided visit as planned - I had to the entrance that was left side of the marble courtyard. The guided visit also includes the non-guided visit to the Chateau. As it was early in the morning, I did not have to wait long to purchase the tickets for the guided visit.

We started the guided tour about 10 am, entering from the right wing of the Chateau in the courtyard. From here, our guide took us through into what use to be the bathroom of the King, only it was stripped bare of the vanity, bathtub and toilet. Apparently these were sold by the state to raise money after the civil war with the monarchy. We then went through the many rooms of the King's Inner Apartment - which is part of the King's Apartment. During the tour, the guide would open the curtains to allow enough light to enter the room so we could take photos which was rather nice. The real highlights include the amazing Passemant Astronomical Clock in the Clock Room which provides the time as well as the date and phases of the room, the delicately guilded medal cabinet in the King's Inner Room and a ebony and mahogany cabinet in the Gold Plate Room. Other significant rooms include the Library of Lous XVI and the large Dining or Porcelain Room built for Louis XV - so called because the King held porcelain exhibitions made by the Sevre's factory.

We left the King's Inner Apartment for the Opera Hall through the staircase outside the Games Room. Along the way, we passed the Royal chapel, where the guide was nice enough to let us onto the top porch to take pictures, but she insisted us to be quick when looking inside (Looks like there are still some very nice french people). After the short photo stop, we walked another few minutes down a spiral staircase to the entrance of the Opera hall. The Opera Hall was poorly lit and was hard to take photos, but it was still painstakingly decorated with paintings and gold carvings and flourishes on the ceilings. It still ceases to amaze me how extravagant and lavish the French were during these times in expressing their wealth and taste for good things. And yet, the Opera hall has gone through many transformations. After being used for many royal functions like weddings, to holdings for the National Assembly in 1871, the hall went through a period of neglect before being restored back to its former glory in the 1950s. The opera hall was our last stop, so the guide kindly bid us farewell at the Chapel Room.

Our group split up and went their own ways to explore the rest of the Chateau. I decided on going through the visitors circuit which included the main apartments and the Hall of Mirrors. My walk first started with the King's State apartments which included the Venus, Diana, Mars, the Mercury Room (State Bedchamber), Apollo and War Room. Of these, the Apollo Room proved the most interesting as it also use to be the King's bedchamber before it became the throne room. But nothing could prepare me for the hall of mirrors - I was literally spellbound by the size and enormity of the area - mirrors on one side of the wall that face symetrically with the windows on the opposite gave the hall greater depth and dimensionality. And the paintings and carvings on the ceiling provided another example of the extravagance and lavishness of the period during the reign of the monarch - if anything, such efforts contribute greatly to the art and history of the world. Afte the hall, I entered into the Queen's State apartments with the Queen's Bedchamber and the Antechamber of the Great Dining Hall proving the real highlights.

Finishing off the Chateau, I bought a roll for lunch from the cafeteria near the main entrance, and entered the grounds of the Chateau gardens. This had to be paid separately from the tour at the garden entrance, but it obviously includes the fountain show. Unfortunately, I had missed the morning session which ended while I was still walking in the Hall of Mirrors, so I had to wait for the afternoon session at 3pm. Looking at the brochure, which was only available in french, I could vaguely make out that there were three sessions running on Saturday and Sunday. These were the Grande Perspective from 11am, Jardin et Bosquets (the same as the Grande Perspective but more fountains) from 3pm and Bassin de Neptune at the Neptune fountain. There is also a night session as well starting at 9:30pm. These sessions occur from March to October. Since it was still 1pm, I decided to explore around Chateau gardens and work my way down the long canal towards the Trianon.

I started from the garden beds of the South Parterre's and the Orangery, taking pictures of the spring blooms in the process, then wormed my way down to the Apollo Basin. With the hot sunny weather around me, it was getting very difficult walking around the gardens. It was particular hard to find a shady place to sit and relax and there are hardly any water taps - the only drink is at the cafe near the Latona Basin. After wandering through the Collonade fountain, I then walked down to the Enceladus Grove, where I spotted a rare Red Squirrel, but it was quickly scared away by a loud, nosy tourist (Hate tourists!). Frustrated, I made my way down to the Apollo basin and then to the Trianon.

The walk towards the Grand Trianon was a long one, approximately about 15-20 minutes from the Apollo Basin. As I walked with my map, one man kindly pointed out that I was walking on the right road - it was not obvious that I was going the right way. About 15 minutes later, I arrived at the Trianon, but I still had to walk up a road towards the building. Since I had only an hour left before the show, I decided to walk outside the Trianon, instead of entering. The Grand Trianon needs to be paid for but it also includes entry to the Petit Trianon and its inner gardens. Since the gardens of the Petit Trianon could only be accesed from the ticket entrance, I decided to pass through the area instead, then proceed back to the Chateau to catch the fountain show. Instead of walking back the way I came from, I decided to walk up the road from the Petit Trianon and meet the Chateau garden near the fountain of Neptune.

I soon realised later that taking the tourist trolley bus from the Petit Trianon back up to the garden would have been a better idea, since the walk was up a hill. By the time I arrived, the show had already started. Orchestra music was playing in the background as the fountains woke from its dull, sleepy dormancy. Everywhere, from the Water Avenue to the Orangery, and from the Water Garden to the Apollo Basin where I had left for the Trianon. However, the best fountain on show was the Latona Basin. This was evidently so with the amount of water splashing out of the mouths of the fountain's frogs around the sculpture of the goddess Latona. Since I was too tired to walk down to the Apollo Basin, I proceeded to join the long queue at the cafe for refreshments instead. Since it was hot and crowded, one had to be careful not to lose their place. In the end, it was well worth the wait, especially when refreshments are hard to find at the Chateau.

By the late evening, I had left the Chateau for home, knowing that I had stumbled across a significant piece of french history in the process. I am also reasuured of the fact that I did the trip myself instead of going along with the tour operators since it takes a one whole day to cover the the Domain of Versailles. And I did not get time to see the rest of the town as well.

Edmond, 2002