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Jill McCracken’s Travel Diary

Friday, 14 Jan 2011

Location: Paris, France

MapVersailles

On Friday Kas, Emily and I hopped on the RER train and rode to the nearby Palace of Versailles. Aiming to beat the crowds, we left at the very early hour of 8am. Not only do most attractions refrain from opening until 10am, they often take a two hour lunch at noon. The French have 'interesting' schedules. The path to Versailles is quite simple from the Cite Universitaire, you just take the tram as far west as you can (Port Garigliano) then take the outbound train to Versailles. We were serenaded by an accordion player who was definitely deserving of a 50 centime contribution for his time. Sometimes I feel like we live in a movie.....

Arriving in the village around 840 or 9am, a breakfast nibble was completely necessary. We had heard that the McDonald's "restaurants" in France are quite different than from home so we stopped off and discovered quite a few differences! A cashier came through the queue and asked patrons for their orders while recording them on a small machine that looked like a debit machine from a store. There were also "speed-thru" machines where you could order and pay for your food and then just pick it up...I don't think we have those in Canada. Then the food! Of course there were fancy espressos and lattes, but I was flabergasted by the number of desserts available at McDonald's! I would say there were 6 or 7 creamy pudding-like options on the menu. I quickly found out that lait froid et blanc (cold, white milk) is not available. They have a machine to pump out warm milk, but no cold milk. My dairy obsession is waning in France, but I promise that I WILL find a proper serving of milk somewhere....a quest!

Rounding the corner from the tourist-trap cafes, we walked up a beautiful cobblestone back-road up to the palace gates. The view is breath-taking because the golden gate basically blinds you. We walked around the square and I was most intrigued by the magnitude of the chapel - I had to get inside! We wandered over to the information desk and explained that we were students at the University of Paris. I'm so glad we asked about the discount because students get FREE admission! (Do you know how many things are free in Paris? Not many.) It was pretty sweet knowing that we saved 18 euros just by practicing our French and not blindly paying the admission fee. We only had to show our student cards from the Maison des Etudiants Canadiens and we were basically waved through security...which is a little sketchy.

There is so much to see in the palace, everywhere you turn there is another beautiful fresco or a gold-gilded piece of furniture. We toured each salon (devoted to certain gods like Hercules and Apollo), the Hall of Mirrors, and the King and Queen's rooms (separate). We made a quick stop at the gift shop and the candy store for home-made strawberry marshmallows and then started the trek through the maze of gardens. Some of the statues were still covered up due to the season but I did like the 17th c. depiction of "America" (see photos). The fountains were massive and beautiful! Check out the photos of the fish and god statues in the fountains. At one of the fountains I was scared by an encroaching swan who was well aware that tourists normally have food, but I just hid behind tiny Kaslyne. Damn birds.

Lessons from Versailles: haggle for admission prices and don't feed the swans.