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Versailles

The meeting point for the Versailles tour was again at Place St. Michel early the next morning.  Train tickets were included in the price and part of what I really appreciated is that we would all go as a group to Versailles for the tour of the gardens, but we didn’t have to return to Paris as a group.  We were each given our own return ticket for the train, shown where to go and told bon voyage once the tour was over:)

The train was about 40 minutes but honestly it felt much shorter than that!  Along the way I chatted with an older woman from Thailand (I’m going there in less than a week now!!) picking her brain on various bits of information about the Country.  Once we arrived we zoomed past the lines for the castle tour and headed straight to the gardens.  I should note that I only purchased a ticket for a garden tour so never went into the castle.  I did contemplate it but after only watching the lines to get in get longer and longer, there was no way!  Something to go back there for:)

Note to travelers:  If you do plan to visit the castle of the Sun King Louis XIV in Versailles, I would suggest that you get there FIRST in line!!!  I’m not kidding- the lines to get in were at least a couple miles long and they didn’t get any shorter throughout the day!  Also, there are TWO SEPARATE lines… One line is to purchase tickets, the other is to get in line for the tour.  If you get into the wrong line (i.e. the tour line) without a ticket, they will refuse you and send you into the other VERY long line to purchase a ticket.  You’ve been warned!  All this information was provided kindly as a warning to us from our garden tour guide, so I’m passing it along:)

Another brief “warning”… Bring your walking shoes and something to nibble on/drink!!  The gardens are HUGE and while there are some benches here and there to sit on, they are generally always full with other tourists taking a break.  There is the option to rent golf carts (go figure) if needed for those who aren’t that into walking however. Last “warning”: the fountains do NOT run all the time.  They run for a few hours in the morning, then for a few hours in the afternoon.  AND (if memory serves) they only run on Sundays and Mondays… You will have to double check that for sure, but the point is that check before you go whether you will be going during a day/time that the fountains will be running!  It’s just so much nicer when they are active:)  Also on the days that the fountains run they have a grand finale at 5:30 where the largest fountain starts up.  All the others in the garden shut down during this finale.  Also, portions of the garden are closed on some days…  In other words- don’t just show up to this location if on your own.  Do your research first to ensure the best experience:)

Thankfully the guide for this tour was awesome!  She had personality, character and obviously knew her stuff as she was full of great information and history- both new and old on the Gardens!

Louis the XIV was quite the character… He fancied himself a God and named himself the “Sun King”.  He began his reine at the tender age of 5 and reigned for 72 years, which is the longest in European History for a major country and he is often depicted showing off his legs in paintings as he was quite fond of them.  He was a vain man but also very clever.  For example the Hall of Mirrors was constructed to be used as an intimidation trick against those who opposed him.  At that time it was extreemly difficult to get A mirror, let alone an entire hall of them so not many people had ever seen their reflection before.  Side note: the mirrors were first developed and made in Venice:)  If people were invited to see the King, they first had to pass the hall of mirrors.  You could imagine, having never seen your reflection and stepping into a hall full of them that whatever you might have been wanting to say to the King would quickly escape your mind!

There are 50 fountains in the gardens that expand over 1900 acres!!  Each was constructed with the Sun King in mind as there are mythological Gods and symbols throughout.  The Sun King wanted the fountains to run each and every day, all day regardless of whether he was on the grounds or not!  As you might imagine there just wasn’t a large enough source of water to do so all the time, so workers began shutting off the fountains when Louis XIV wasn’t present.  He found out about this however and wasn’t pleased.  As a solution he simply said to funnel water from nearby rivers.  This wasn’t popular among the people as they needed the river water for their vineyards to make wine!  They acquiesced however but it still wasn’t enough water to keep the fountains going non-stop!  So the King simply said to take the water from the River Seine!  Thankfully for the people he passed away before constructions began to funnel water from the Seine to feed his fountains, lol!

This fountain was probably one of my favorites.  It was of the God of the Underworld, Hades.  They play sounds of thunder as you walk around the arches surrounding the fountain to represent the wrath of Hades that in turn creates an earthquake.  The sculpture of him trying desperatly to escape the Underworld with water shooting out of his mouth is just too cool!!

If there was something King Louis XIV wanted, nothing stood in his way to get it.  One of the fountains in the gardens today (mirror fountain) is a tiny version of the fountain outside the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas.  It’s nowhere near as grand or great as that one, just a small simpler one but as our guide said: had such technology existed at the time and had King Louis XIV known about the Bellagio fountain, he would have bought Belgium and turned it into one giant fountain, lol!!  That’s just the kind of King he was.

Mirror Fountain
Mirror Fountain

Quick fun things also told to us by the guide: not long ago the gardens of Versailles were rented out for 4 consecutive days for a whopping $26 million dollars for the wedding for the daughter of a technology (if memory serves) tycoon in India!!  Kim Kardashian and Kanye West apparently could only afford a 45 minute reception, lol!  The history of the “French bath”: it is noted that the King himself in his 77 years of life only showered 38 times… He and others of his time simply perfumed themselves to death to cover their otherwise rank odor.  Hence people who over-perfume themselves today are said to have taken a French bath:)  Yes, that is REAL GOLD on the front gates of the Palace.  Just sayin…

The stories and history spoken to us by our guide was absolutely endless and honestly this was a tour I feel I could have (and should have) taken twice just to be able to soak in all the information properly.  From the history of King Louis XIV, the gardens, the fountains, what each garden bit and fountain represented and even a bit on poor Marie Antoinette, our guide was full of information!!  Though honestly I was expecting the gardens to be more floral in nature as opposed to bushes and trees, it was an awesome experience and place to be!   And one day to revisit of course:)

On to Heidelberg

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Munich

Munich is absolutely lovely!!!  I was very shocked on how green the city is!!  Seriously they have so many parks in the heart of the city!!  I figured it would be much like every other city: drowning in nothing but buildings with a token park here and there.  But not so with Munich!  It is individual, full of history, character and very friendly and welcoming people!  There’s the synopsis, now here are the details;)

Before going to Munich, on a whim and on a promise, I shot off an email to Nikki whom I met and traveled with through the San Blas Islands in Panama.  In fact, she was the clever woman who coined “modern day pirates” to describe our sailboat crew:)

I say on a whim because though we had exchanged a few emails, we really hadn’t kept in touch a whole lot (I don’t Facebook) and since it had been so long since I’d emailed her, I wasn’t sure first whether she even had the same email, and second whether she would respond.  I had made her a promise long ago when we parted in Colombia however that if I ever made it to Munich, I would look her up!  So, about a week or so before going to Munich I wrote her an email to let her know I would be in town for the day.

I was humbled to hear back from her and even more tickled that she too had the day off and was able to meet me!!  The good in people never ceases to amaze me and it’s a blessing to know people who, even after years of no contact, extend a hand of friendship!!

I made it to Munich early in the morning and after calling Nikki agreed to meet her at a coffee shop near the Odeonsplatz underground station.  As I made my way out from the underground I could hear the joyous music of Oktoberfest celebrations and once out on the street was greeted by a lovely parade!!  I made my way along the road trying to get somewhere to take some pictures when a very nice group of people offered me a stool to stand on so I could get above the crowd:)  Thankfully one of them spoke a little broken English and I asked where the coffee shop was (all I could see was Starbucks and we weren’t meeting there!!).  Once directed and all the pictures were taken, I headed to meet Nikki.


Seriously it was as if no time at all had ever passed between us!  She looked just the same as she did before: fabulous!  And we had a great time catching up in each other’s lives and reminiscing on the good times we had during the San Blas trip:)  We hung out for a little catching up, then she proceeded to give me the VIP walking tour of Munich!!

First stop was just nearby, a place called Feldherrnhalle, which is where Hitler began the plotting of his Nazi regime before setting up in Berlin.  What is amazing is that as he began to take on more popularity and power, it was mandatory that people walking in front of this building had to salute to the soldiers standing in front to show that they were with Hitler.  If you walked in front without saluting you would get in serious trouble!!  So, for those who opposed Hitler, they would bypass walking in front of the Feldherrnhalle by walking down the street just behind called Viscardigasse.  Down this street today you will find a golden path laid out in bronze bricks symbolizing the path of freedom.  This path was walked by all who opposed Hitler.  It was their way of rebelling Hitler and what he stood for.

Across from this building is the Residence of Munich (Residenz Munchen) where the Royal Family lives and the lions statues guarding the entrance are rubbed by passersby for good luck!

The Residence of Munich leads onto the Hofgarten where there is a lovely little building topped off with a little monument.  Here they have many musicians who come to practice their skills and even monthly they put on a formal waltz dance event!!

From there we headed past the Art Museum and headed to probably the most interesting or at least shocking part of Munich… Surfers!!!  Yes, I typed correctly: surfers!  Apparently some very clever surfers wanted a way to continue to practice their skills and keep in shape year round without “chasing the waves” so they made their own!!  In the Eisbach river, just at the start of it where it flows under a bridge, several stones were dropped to the river bottom and eventually enough were planted in to create a wave!!  And due to the natural fast current through the river, the wave is large enough to basically simulate an ocean wave!  So darn clever!!!

This little surf spot is in a way the beginning of the English Garden (Englischen Garten).  The English Garden is the largest garden in Munich and it is even LARGER than Central Park in New York City!!

We made our way past the Japanese Teahouse (Japanisches Teehaus Kanshoan)

to an area where if you choose you could sit out nude

English Garden Nude Area
English Garden Nude Area

finally to the Monopteros.  This monument was once overrun by drug addicts but thanks to an increased presence of cops wandering the streets, the momument was abandoned by the addicts and spruced up for locals and tourists to enjoy:)

From the Monopteros it was on to the Chinese Temple (Chinesischer Turm) where a little beer garden was conveniently located, so of course we had to stop for a BEER!!!!!  It was here during a bit of a passing thunderstorm where I learned the history of beer gardens… Long ago when there weren’t any refrigerators, companies cleverly decided to put kegs of produced beer under trees that provided lots of shade (hence natural refrigeration).  So much beer was being made that companies would invite people out to these “gardens “with kegs of beer under each tree to drink the beer while it was fresh and cold!  All they asked was people paid for the beer, but otherwise you could bring your own food, etc.  So these beer gardens began to gain popularity as almost a social or fun day in the park so to speak with cheap, delicious beer, your own picnic and tons of other people to socialize with:)

After a few pints we walked our way to the Siegestor, a triumphal arch that has a statue of Bavaria on top leading 4 lions!  It was originally dedicated to the glory of the Bavarian army but today it is a monument and reminder for peace.  Absolutely love it!!

On we went past the University to perhaps my favorite building of all I had seen that day: St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirche)!!  Just absolutely stunning in my opinion and so playful!!  Notice the dragon climbing up the church and the timekeeper…

I could have spent hours looking at the church just discovering new things about it but alas we were getting a bit hungry, so we headed to a great restaurant, had some delicious local food then headed to Nikki’s where she graciously allowed me to crash for the night:)  However, NOT before helping her to fix her anklet!!  We had both purchased one in the San Blas Islands from the Kuna Indigenous tribe but sadly hers had fallen off.  She kept the beads and the strand however so I helped to affix it back on:)  Good times!!!

Repaired San Blas Anklet, yay!!
Repaired San Blas Anklet, yay!!

 

On to Berlin

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