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.
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:)