When I was planning my time in Paris, I was waffling on whether to make the trek out to Versailles or not. It sounded like an all-day affair, and with so much to do in Paris proper, I wasn’t sure if it was worth my time. Good thing I ignored that thought because Versailles was definitely a memorable stop.
What I love about Paris is that there is always a boulangerie around the corner from wherever you are. And I love my carbs. Particularly les pâtisseries. So it seems fitting that just up the block from the hotel – with a commanding view of the Palais de Chaillot and the Tour Eiffel beyond – is an outstanding bakery called Carette. Research revealed that even the chef to le président recommended this place, so of course I had to stop by.
A Parisian morning.
The outside seating was quite crowded, and as I didn’t want to dally for too long, I just sat inside where I had tea with some pastries.
Thé avec les patisseries.
After scarfing down this 10 euro breakfast (yikes!), it was a short Métro ride to the Bir-Hakeim stop to transfer to the RER train.
Sur le train.
The RER primarily services les banlieues (aka suburbs) of Paris and therefore the seating is more like Caltrain/Metra than typical subways. After about 30 minutes we arrived at the Versailles-Château Rive Gauche stop and a 5-minute walk later was greeted by this guy:
Louis XIV sur son cheval.
I had bought my tickets beforehand, but even the line for prepaid tickets snaked back and forth across the entrance courtyard.
Les files devant le château.
It appears that the Old Continent is not immune to the phenomenon of white boys wearing pink/salmon shorts.
The gilded gates.
A statue on the inner gate.
After passing through a security check (the real culprit of the long lines), you cross the inner courtyard and enter the Royal Chapel.
La chapelle royale.
Un modèle! I love models.
A hallway in the north wing.
Versailles truly is an orgy for the eyes. Each room is full of intricate details that sometimes borders on the ridiculous.
Heroic statue no. 1.
And heroic statue no. 2.
Look at all the gold leaf on the ceiling of the Salon de Diane.
The famous bust of Louis XIV.
My god this estate is huge.
Louis’ official bed in the Salon de Mercure. People would gather in front to watch him rising and eat breakfast.
Such ornateness everywhere.
Le Salon de la Guerre…
…i.e. the War Room en anglais.
And now the world-famous Galerie des Glaces!
Imagine having THAT as your backyard.
Some sort of large tassel dangling from the roof of the King’s Bedroom.
The queen’s bedchamber.
A grand chandelier in the Chambre de la Reine.
A chest that once held Marie-Antoinette’s jewels. I like the shade of blue on that vase though.
A preserved dining set-up in the queen’s antechamber.
Yes, those velvet cushions are for people to sit on and observe the royalty eating their meals.
Done with the living chambers, I wandered through the remaining hallways that presented various works of art.
La Galerie des Batailles housed paintings that depicted various battles that the French gloriously won.
A hallway housed a bunch of statues of famous artists and thinkers. Here is Laplace (transforms, anyone?)
The painter Delacroix.
Baroque composer Rameau.
And finally Descartes. Je pense, donc je suis!
View from the Cour de Marbre.
With the main building done, off to les jardins!
The intricate lawn patterns of the Orangerie, so named because exotic oranges were planted here.
Such finely manicured shrubbery.
An empty Bassin de Latone behind me.
Looking down the vast Tapis Vert.
Which ends at the Bassin d’Apollon.
I had lunch at one of the restaurants near the Apollo Fountain, and much like establishments in amusement parks, the food was overpriced and mediocre. Plus, the waiter was quite rude, but I attribute that mainly to the fact that he was way too overworked.
My banal croque-monsieur.
Le Grand Canal is truly stunning. It’s so large that you could easily have a sailboat run down the center.
The trees lining the canal remind me of a Seurat painting.
So Versailles mainly served as a place for royalty to get away from the “real world,” but even queens tire of the grandiosity of palaces like Versailles. Sometimes they need a break from the frivolities, so what to they do? Well, build a retreat from the retreat! Hence the birth of the Grand Trianon, a 5-minute walk from the Grand Canal.
Le Grand Trianon, a place to get away from it all.
Le Salon des Glaces.
La chamber de l’impératrice. Let’s just have a public lounging in front of the bed, shall we?
Even the Grand Trianon has to have its own grand jardin.
Bedroom of the Queen of Belgians. Does that come with les moules-frites?
The family drawing-room of Louis-Philippe. I totally want to be a part of his family.
Le Salon de Malachites, so named because of the malachite furniture gifted by Tsar Alexander of Russia to Napoleon.
Outside the Salon des Jardins.
As if it weren’t frivolous enough, She-who-was-beheaded decided to build a retreat from the retreat from the retreat, naming it Le Petit Trianon. Along the way from the Grand to Petit Trianon, you come across more diversions that only the rich could afford.
The Pavillon français where Marie-Antoinette would spend her summer evenings playing games, listening to music – you know, all the frivolous things one normally partakes in as a royal.
A fake waterfall through a fake stone formation. Must be very good feng shui!
A path through the woods.
The octagonal Belvédère where musicians would serenade those frolicking in the lake below.
Instead of heading straight to the Petit Trianon, I made a detour to the Hamlet. Apparently, Marie-Antoinette wanted to appreciate the simple lives of peasants out in nature, and so decided to build a replica of a hamlet not far from the Petit Trianon. It has everything from a functioning grain mill to hen houses and etc. Except it’s incredibly sanitized as I’m sure she would shudder at actually working as a peasant and soiling her pristine “peasant” attire. The more I wander through Versailles, the more I think French royalty was absolutely delusional.
The peaceful “Hamlet” by yet another lake.
The grain mill.
Idealized peasant housing.
The lake was absolutely teeming with les poissons!
The “humble” lodge that Marie-Antoinette probably stayed in.
It was more like a bed-and-breakfast than actual peasant living.
The romantically named “Temple d’Amour.”
Cupid ready to shoot an arrow into the heart of an unsuspecting passerby.
We finally arrive at the Petit Trianon, except there’s nothing petit about. It’s still rather majestic and palatial.
Le Petit Trianon.
I wonder if that’s a harpsichord or an early piano.
So with Marie-Antoinette’s fantasy land tour completed, it was time for the 15-minute hike back to the front of the grounds for the grand finale – the fountain show at the Bassin de Neptune.
Fountain no. 1.
Fountain no. 2, i.e. le Bassin du Dragon.
Et finalement, le grand spectacle – le Bassin du Neptune.
After the show ended, the stampede to the RER station began. I had thought my carnet of tickets would work, but after multiple attempts I had to muscle my way to a ticket machine to purchase a separate RER ticket. I was so tired that I passed out on the train even with the lack of A/C and woke up shortly before the Bir-Hakeim stop.
Now Bir-Hakeim is located right at the foot of the Tour Eiffel, so I figured it would be convenient to visit the tower. I had tried to pre-book tickets beforehand, but the website said everything was sold out. Since it was already past 6 when I got back from Versailles, I decided to try my luck and prepared myself to walk the stairs up to the second platform.
For those who know me, it shouldn’t be surprising that I sort of have an obsession with the Eiffel Tower. Not because of its romantic connotation and etc. but because it is one of the world’s purest expression of structural form. Gustav Eiffel built upon his knowledge of tall bridge pylons to derive the shape of his eponymous tower. In fact, the primary design consideration was wind resistance and the tower’s shape is such that there is equilibrium at any point along the height of the tower when the wind blows. For those who are mathematically inclined, I highly suggest searching for the paper that actually prescribes a mathematical equation to the tower’s profile.
Under La Dame de Fer.
The ticket office at the base of the east pylon.
Le Champ de Mars rolls out in front of the Tour Eiffel.
The arches that frame the four pylons at the base are actually purely architectural. They have no structural function. Eiffel only put them there to give the public the impression that the tower was structurally sound.
The north pylon had the most people in line because it was the closest to the Metro station, so I checked out the line at the east pylon which wasn’t too bad. Even though the screen said that the top was closed due to crowd control, the box office said it was still accessible, so I plunked down 15 euros and headed for the inclined elevators.
Up up up we go!
Look at all the gusset connections!
After a rather confusing transfer at the second platform, I ended up nearly 300 meters up in the air with all the splendor of Paris spreading out beneath me.
Les Invalides and part of the Champ de Mars.
Looking west down the Seine.
The Trocadéro with La Défense in the background.
L’Arc de Triomphe at the center.
Le Grand Palais and the 8e arrondissement.
Rivets! You don’t see those too often these days.
Paris’s tallest structure…until Tours Hermitage are completed.
I descended back down to the second platform for a slightly different perspective.
Le Champ de Mars with the controversial Tour Montparnasse in the back.
A fellow American tourist helping out another.
La Tour at twilight.
Une tour et un pont.
From the steps of the Trocadéro.
While I was taking photos at the Trocadéro, a Chinese couple spotted me asked if I could take their photo. I obliged, and I figured a Chinese can help another Chinese right? So I asked them take my photo which they agreed. Now this is when you could tell the standards of mainland tourists were simply nonexistent.
WHY WOULD YOU TAKE A PHOTO OF ME BLOCKING A PART OF THE EIFFEL TOWER??? To this day, it still boggles my mind that they did not use common sense and get the WHOLE tower.
For all the travelling I did today, the most difficult part arrived – where to eat for dinner? Before arriving in Paris I had tried to do some research on somewhat affordable and non-pretentious establishments, but there were so many that I just gave up. Instead, I fired up Yelp on my phone and discovered a highly rated family restaurant in the Trocadéro district.
Le Scheffer is located appropriately on Rue Scheffer.
There was a good mix of locals and visitors in the restaurant, and the service was very friendly and warm. I think it sort of helped that I spoke French as well. The safe route would be to order a steak-frites as you would expect at these neighborhood bistros, but the specials of the day intrigued me and I ended up getting the espadon. Except I didn’t know what was an espadon. My phone was almost dead at this point, so I couldn’t look up what it was. Rather than worrying about what it was, I just decided to go with the flow and be surprised.
Today’s special was an espadon (swordfish) in a pepper sauce with a side of rice.
There was absolutely nothing fancy about this dish, but I think its simplicity is what made it so delicious. The fish wasn’t too dry and the pepper sauce was quite flavorful. The rice had also been seasoned with some butter and other spices, so it wasn’t your typical white rice or rice pilaf. After polishing off everything, I decided to indulge in a dessert.
Dessert was a Mont Blanc, which is a chestnut-cream meringue topped with some crème fraiche and paired with some delicate gavottes.
The Mont Blanc had an interesting consistency – somewhere between a jelly and a cream – and the crème fraiche offered a tart counterbalance to the sweetness of the chestnut base. And the gavottes were basically paper-thin crepes. Delicieux!
And so the day ended. From royal stomping grounds to a towering steel lattice and finally the comforts of a neighborhood bistro, I had covered a lot of ground today and only looked forward to what else Paris would offer.