Our third day in Paris can be summed up in one word: opulent. It started with a day trip to Versailles and ended with dinner and champagne on a Seine river cruise. I mean. It doesn’t get much fancier than that, does it?
I fully intend on writing detailed posts on both of these experiences. Versailles cannot be fully experienced in a day, much less a recap, so it needs its own post. The cruise, meanwhile, remains one of the most magical experiences we had while in Paris, and I’m dying to share more photos and talk about some of the things we saw while cruising in wonderland.
In the meantime, I wanted to give a peek at our third day in Paris, and chat a little bit about why I just didn’t love Versailles.
We decided to take the RER C train from the center of Paris into Versailles, catching the train from the station at Les Invalides. There seemed to be two different trains to Versailles. A longer route with multiple stops, and a route that clocked in around 20 minutes, presumably a direct train. The next arriving train was the shorter route, so we settled in at the platform and waited for it to arrive.
And waited. And waited.
Announcements were made over the speakers, which we suspected had to do with our late train, but they were in French and spoken too rapidly for us to understand what was going on. Eventually we pulled out Ye Olde Google Translate to find out if the answer could be found on the “arriving trains” monitors around the platform. Our train was cancelled, as was the next one. At this point, we’d been standing around the platform for over an hour, unwilling to leave the station and waste our freshly-used train tickets.
We finally got onto a train, the longer route of course, and we were on our way to Versailles! The train ride was amusing, as a band of some sort was making their way through the cars seeking tips.
That sort of thing, where someone performs an unwanted “favor” and expects money for it, usually annoys me to no end, but this group seemed fun and harmless. You have to hand it to them, performing on a crowded tourist line is probably a lot more profitable and comfortable than seeking an audience in the station or on the street.
We pulled into Versailles, walked a short distance, and we were at the famous gates to the chateau and grounds.
Man, was it crowded! Our Paris Museum Passes were supposed to grant us access to a shorter entry queue, but after walking around for a few minutes with no Museum Pass line in sight, we resigned ourselves to joining the line snaking around the courtyard.
Once we got in, the people were packed even more closely together, the entry rooms uncomfortably stuffy from all that shared air. And if I’m being honest, it kind of stayed that way the entire time we were in the Chateau de Versailles. The chateau was gorgeous, no question, but not my favorite experience from our trip to Paris.
Every room was crammed full of people, making it difficult to get a good look at anything. We only had a few hours to spend at Versailles, thanks to multiple cancelled trains and a prepaid dinner reservation back in Paris, so we opted to skip the audio guides and move at our own pace. The only problem was, the few informational plaques were very brief in summary, and were only accessible after swimming through the sea of people. Large tour groups dominated each room, the guides adding to the noise of the room and the guests following along like lost puppies.
I thought that a visit to Versailles would transport me back in time and give me a real glimpse of what life was like for the royalty who lived here. What I got was a lot of gorgeous art and architecture and not a whole lot of backstory. Sure, I knew we were in, say, the King’s bedroom, but that’s where it stopped. I’d say, “Wow, look at that!” and move right along without knowing what I’d just seen. I didn’t connect with the place because I didn’t understand it. Add in the massive tour groups and the visitors holding audio guides up to their ears like cell phones, and the whole place seemed less like a trip back in time and more a reminder of how over-commercialized these places can be. (Not that there is anything wrong with tours and audio guides; in fact, I wish we had splurged on a tour ourselves.)
You might think that I hated Versailles. I want to emphasize that this is not true. I gawked at the stunning chateau and grounds like everyone else; I took hundreds of photos and even a few selfies; and really enjoyed the grounds and gardens. I liked Versailles, but I didn’t connect with it the way I did with, say, Notre Dame.
And despite all my moaning about the crowds, the lack of information, and the overall disorganization, I do want to go back. I want to give Versailles a second chance, because armed with a better knowledge of the chateau, I think it has great potential.
One part that I really did enjoy was the grounds. The sculptures, fountains, landscaping and more combined to make something truly breathtaking, and when I return in the future, I plan to spend a great deal of time here.
Catching the train back to Paris was a little confusing. Our train was supposed to be at a specific platform, headed to a specific destination, but the train in the platform was relatively empty, and had no destination displayed. We tried to make sense of the route map, crossed our fingers, and got on a train going who knows where.
Our gamble paid off, and we were back in Paris with a little over an hour to get to our apartment, change and freshen up, and catch a metro train to the docks of the famous Bateaux Mouches.
Check in was simple, and I was amused to see a wall of menus in at least ten different languages. It reminded me of the theme park maps here in Orlando, and that’s when I realized just how tourist-oriented this kind of activity is. Not that I really minded. Attempting to speak the local language is an important part of travel, but I was secretly relieved by how simple the entire experience was. Removing the language barrier helped me to focus more on relaxing and taking the experience in. I think I liked it so much because I felt like my normal, assured, and polite self, rather than the bumbling idiot who was too scared to ask, “Is this the train back to Paris?”
We loved our dinner experience, from the food, to the wait staff, to the live music, and of course, the views. The cruise was about two hours long, and included food options from a prix fixe menu. In addition to a shared starter plate, bottle of wine, and bottle of water, we each got to choose one appetizer, an entree, and dessert. Don’t forget the included champagne, cheese plate and espresso! The food was tasty, but I lived for the views and just knowing I was floating on the Seine with Dan.
Between plates, diners got out of their seats and went up above deck to drink in the views…and also the wine, in my case. Wine in a boat in the middle of Paris, at sunset, with Dan!? It just keeps getting better. I was feeling all kinds of gooey and nostalgic by the time the desserts were delivered to our table, and when we passed by the Eiffel Tower, sparkling now that the sun had set, I actually felt like the luckiest person alive. I cannot wait to write about this in more detail, as it was one of the definite highlights of an already-incredible trip.
I think it’s funny that the most and least impressive experiences happened to fall on the same day, but most of all, I’m grateful for all we got to see. Good or bad, it’s all part of the experience, and I feel lucky that I got the chance to see it at all.
And we’re not done yet! Coming up on day four: we finally visit Sainte-Chapelle, get lost in the Louvre, and toast our final night in Paris with…what else? Bread, cheese, and sparkling wine under the glow of the Eiffel Tower. See you there!