Tag Archives: place st. michel

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

Back to Europe

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Paris

Paris, the city for lovers!  It is quite a beautiful place with the old structures jutting up next to new ones.  Before I met up with the walking tour I walked all the “TV” areas (and more) of Paris so I could get some pictures without being rushed and I must admit that when I came upon the Louvre, I got chills.  Maybe it was the idea of what it represents as given to us by “The DaVinci Code”; the final resting place of Mary Magdalene.  I just don’t know, but it was a bit emotional for me, seeing it for the first time.  I made it to the Louvre, the Obelisque and onward to the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile roundabout (which has 14 streets that merge into it and not surprisingly has the highest rate of accidents than any other part of the city) to see the Arc de Triomphe (which I believe there is an Arc in New York City that was modeled after the Arc in Paris) before heading to Place St. Michel for the guided walking tour.

Unlike free walking tours I’ve taken elsewhere, this one was sadly not very memorable.  The guide I believe was new, or rather for her sake I hope she’s new.  She seemed to make more of an effort in acting dramatically and putting on some sort of theatrical show than telling interesting stories.  There were little facts from each place that were interesting of course, but nothing that really stuck in the memory bank as being “really cool” or “oh wow!”.  It is really a shame given the rich history Paris has.  Bummer!  But at least I did get some more exercise during the tour, was shown a few places I probably would not have found on my own and most importantly, learned about the Versailles tour which I signed up for once the walking tour was over.

Pictures taken on the way to the walking tour meeting spot:

Fashion week was in town while I was in Paris and there were many temporary constructions going up to accommodate the event.  I never did notice any models or supermodels and what not however, but it was cool knowing it was going on.

The Louvre: home of the Mona Lisa (which apparently is disappointingly small and more famous for it having been stolen for 2 years than for any other reason); there are over 35,000 pieces of art in this museum!!  If one spent 8 hours a day looking at each painting for one minute after 2 months they still wouldn’t get through all the artwork!  Lesson for visitors: have a plan before you go of what you want to see!

Jardin des Tuileries & the Obelisque: the obelisque is an egyptian obelisk that was originally located at the entrance of the Luxor Temple in Egypt!  It is over 3,000 years old and has a twin that is still at the Luxor Temple in Egypt.  This particular one was moved to Paris in 1833.  Cool stuff! Thanks Wikipedia!

For 80 Euro you can drive one of these babies for a whopping 8 kilometers!!!

Arc de Triomphe: It does have a sister Arc in New York City!  I looked it up:)

Eiffel Tower: Not surprisingly when this was first erected the Parisians despised the very sight of it and thought it a scar on the face of Paris.  They didn’t see the use for it so the artist, thinking on his feet, said “of course it’s useful!  It can be used as a radio antenna!”.  It did function as such and apparently did work, as it warned Parisians of Hitler’s approach.  I went back to the tower the following day in the evening to snap the other picts as it got dark:)

Walking tour bits: Place St. Michel– a fountain depicting Saint Michael battling demons and keeping Paris safe; Pont des Arts– stop with the freaking love locks already!!!  There are apparently so many locks on this bridge that it is making the bridge unstable.  There is a movement in Paris to get people to stop adding locks, lol!!  So much for true love!  Though the bridge is getting unstable, it certainly didn’t stop anyone from walking over it; Notre Dame– Famous church actually located on a teeny island in the River Seine!  The gargoyles are there to scare away evil spirits and also function as drains to funnel rain off the roof.  Love the double function!

I know I haven’t provided as much information at this location about all the spectacular places in the city, but again, I write from what I’ve learned while there.  I could cheat and look things up, but then I wouldn’t be giving you an accurate account of my experiences.  Granted I do look up little things here and there such as I did for the Obelisk above (I was personally interested in what it was all about) but I don’t make a habit of it for sure.

On to Versailles

Back to Europe

Montmartre

Montmartre is a vibrant city with so much movement and character it’s sometimes hard to know where to look.  Fresh open street markets, stores spilling out contents for sale onto the street for people to rifle through and street performers entertaining crowds on the lawn of the Sacre-Coeur are very common sights.  Yes, Montmartre is alive!  You can feel the culture and inspiration that grew Montmartre into a popular destination to visit.  The home of the Moulin Rouge as well as countless artists (Van Gogh, Renoir and Picasso to name a few) Montmartre became home to the Bohemian Revolution long ago, yet today you can still feel its individuality and funkiness in the air.  It does have an odd nature to it that wouldn’t appeal to everyone and some “squirrley” characters, but for all except one minor episode, I enjoyed my time there.

I stayed in the Le Regent Montmartre hostel just down the road from the World Famous Moulin Rouge.  I must admit I love that movie (Ewan McGregor & Nicole Kidman) and ever since seeing it for the first time, I’ve wanted to get to Montmartre!  Well because of that and a favorite black and white poster I had back in College that I just adored of a couple kissing on the steps of Sacre-Coeur with Paris in the background.

The hostel was actually quite nice.  The location was ideal, the staff (while not overly friendly in person) were very helpful over email in getting me exact information on which trains to take to get there from downtown Paris and the rooms were cozy too.  The hostel used to be a hotel and they have converted each room into a hostel room.  The room I booked was only a 3-person room and each room had its own bathroom (a HUGE plus in my book)!!  The only negative was the breakfast.  It was lackluster and the brioche were a disappointment.  Other than that it was a pleasant stay.

Another thing I enjoyed about the hostel (though it has nothing to do with the hostel, really) was my roommates.  I stayed there 3 nights and it overlapped with each of my other two roommates’ stay as well.  So for the nights I was there I got to get to know my roommates a bit instead of getting new batches of roommates each night of a stay.  Both were young guys who were there for different reasons.  The first was there because he was about to start film school at the University.  He was from Egypt and very kindly gave me a coin from Egypt that I carry around with me.  Unfortunately when I was getting ready to leave he wasn’t around so I wasn’t able to get his info to keep in contact, but I’m sure I will be seeing his name on some films not too far into the future:)  The other young man was in Europe because he had won a photography competition and his work was being featured in a show in Brussels!!!  How exciting is that??  So he was in Paris, well because, why not??  He is incredibly talented and for anyone who loves photography, I would recommend to check out his website at ameasureofmadness.wordpress.com 🙂

My time in Montmartre consisted first of getting to the Moulin Rouge to check out prices and show information, etc.  Unfortunately the tickets were WAY out of my budget, but again it gives me something to go back there for!  I walked all over town checking out the various nooks and crannies, getting lost every now and again or simply stopping for a seat and to watch life go on around me.  I explored Sacre-Coeur and watched the sun set from the hilltop.  And of course I took a walking tour of Paris:)

The only adverse experience I had there was my first morning in Montmartre.  Before walking into Paris to the meeting point location for the walking tour (Place St. Michel) I wanted to get some pictures first thing of the Moulin Rouge.  So I headed in that direction first, finding a little place to stop and get a yummy breakfast along the way.  I sat on a park bench between the streets sipping on my coffee when along came a guy (creep) holding a beer in his hand.  Mind you it’s 8am… He spotted me and came right over and sat next to me.  So I got up and started walking away.  Apparently he thought I was trying to be cutsy/coy because he proceeded to follow me.  When I looked behind me and noticed this I immediately turned left to see if he was actually following me or not.  And when he mimicked my motions, it was time to set him straight.

I stopped to face him and quite forcefully warned him to stop following me.  I was speaking all in English but he got the point as his smile suddenly turned to a frown and he crossed the street away from me:)  I went back to my original bench keeping a keen eye on the guy and once I finished my breakfast I spotted a very tall man who was going in the direction I wanted to go.  So I walked up to him and asked first if he spoke English (thankfully YES!) and then asked if he would mind walking with me for a bit.  He was really nice to agree and we chatted for the next several blocks until it was time for him to turn off.

The area around the Moulin Rouge is somewhat like a Red Light District, but very “in your face” and not at all classy (I hate to say) as the District in Amsterdam.  Every shop turned into one type of sex shop or another the closer you got to the Moulin Rouge.  It literally was like crossing an invisible line which on one side was very obviously the Red Light District and the other very obviously regular life.  I found that interesting…

My favorite random experience while in Montmartre once again happened at the Moulin Rouge.  I had pictures of it in the daylight, but now needed pictures of it at night all lit up!  So after my day in Versailles, I stayed in Paris until it got dark to get pictures of the tower lit up, then headed back to Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge to get night pictures.

So there I was snapping away a ton of pictures.  I was just about to leave when all of a sudden a horse trailer rounded the corner and parked in front of the Moulin Rouge… Two large men in black (bodyguards) then put up a little barricade behind the horse trailer.  On the side of the trailer was painted “Les Petits Chevaux du Moulin Rouge”… Now I don’t speak French or know many words in French, but this phrase I understood!  “Little horses of the Moulin Rouge”!!  Oh this I had to see up close!  I crossed the street and sure enough out came 6 little miniature horses who were promptly escorted from the trailer to a side entrance of the Moulin Rouge by the trainers and over the watchful eye of the bodyguards, LOL!!!  The first thought that went though my mind was “What in the world goes on in there?????”  🙂

On to Paris

Back to Europe