Tag Archives: backpacking

Versailles Palace

A Tour Inside Versailles

The Palace Interior

Day 3: Day Trip to Versailles (Cont’d)

With our earphones on, we let Rick Steves guide us through the palace, streamlining our sightseeing efforts to maximize our time. We breezed by other tourists taking in every artifact (I confess, that would’ve been me without the assurance of Rick Steves that it was necessary in order to see Versailles in a day). For a visual of our course through the palace, view page 2 of the Rick Steves Versailles Audio Tour Map (PDF).

The Versailles tourism website also has a nice interactive map of the estate and palace interior if you’re looking for more information on the history.

UPDATE: Google Street View allows you to tour inside the Palace of Versailles (and have the place all to yourself)!  How about I drop you right inside The Hercules Drawing Room, near the beginning of my tour?  Then you can walk through the King’s Wing along with me.

Our first exhibit was The Royal Chapel, where Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were married. The Palace of Versailles was built to glorify Louis XIV and celebrates man, not God, so you won’t see much any more of this at Versailles. Rick warned us that exhibits can move, and sure enough we almost blew right by the ground floor view of The Royal Chapel that the audio tour described from the first floor perspective. 

The Royal Chapel of Versailles

The Royal Chapel at The Palace of Versailles

We caught up with the crowds in this hallway of the palace and I was unexpectedly awed by the tunnel of doorways framing each room of a different color. These rooms are the 17th Century Galleries, featuring notables of the palace and the phases of its construction.

Versailles Palace colorful hallway of rooms

The 17th Century Galleries

The Hercules Drawing Room

The palace is absolutely grand in every way – ginormous in size and rich in ornamentation.

Feast in the House of Simon in the Hercules Room at Versailles

Feast in the House of Simon, painting in The Hercules Drawing Room

Apotheosis of Hercules on the ceiling of the Hercules Room at Versailles

Apotheosis of Hercules, ceiling mural in The Hercules Drawing Room at Versailles

Fireplace mantle in the Hercules Room at Versailles

Fireplace mantle in the Hercules Drawing Room at Versailles

King’s Wing

We experienced one lavish room after another while walking through the King’s Wing. More murals filled the ceilings and what wasn’t covered with lavish fabric wallpaper or carved of marble was gilded in gold. One room was even called the Salon of Abundance.

In the Venus Salon, the mural at one end of the room had marble columns painted into the courtyard scene to match those actually in the room’s architecture. They’re done so well (notice the vertical glare line on each column) that I didn’t even notice they weren’t real until the audio tour mentioned it!

Venus Salon at The Palace of Versailles

Venus Salon

In the Mars Room, also known as the Guard Room, a bronze sculpture of a cupid wielding a sword emerges from the corner of the ceiling.

Mars Salon of The Palace of Versailles

Mars Salon

The Apollo room seemed to exude luxuriousness with candelabra sconces lining the red walls and a sparkling chandelier hanging from the ceiling mural.

Apollo Salon of The Palace of Versailles

Apollo Salon

The lighting plus the color of the decor seemed to cast a warm red glow on the faces of those in the room, an appropriate effect for a room dedicated to the Sun god, with whom Louis XIV most identified. I can only imagine what it was like back in the 1700s.

Apollo Salon of The Palace of Versailles

Apollo Salon

The portrait of King Louis XIV in this room captures him showing off his legs in dancing attire, which they often did in this room. About age 63 at the time of this painting, he’s sporting a wig due to his receding hair line. Apparently he’s the one to start the wig trend that even influenced George Washington.

Apollo Salon of The Palace of Versailles

Portrait of King Louis XIV in the Apollo Salon

The Hall of Mirrors

The most well known room in the palace, the Hall of Mirrors, showcases the view of the palace grounds through the arched windows while the matching arched mirrors on the opposite wall reflect the grandor of both the palace interior and the gardens (and allow the guests to catch glimpses of themselves throughout the evening). Mirrors of this size and quantity (17) were kinda like a big deal back then.

UPDATE: View inside the Hall of Mirrors with Google Street View!

Hall of Mirrors at The Palace of Versailles

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors at The Palace of Versailles

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors at The Palace of Versailles

Chandelier in the Hall of Mirrors

The King’s View

The King’s Bedchamber is situated midway down the Hall of Mirrors right at the center of the palace. This is the view through a window in the King’s Bedchamber looking out at the palace gates and toward the rising sun.

View of Versailles gate entrance through a palace window.

Versailles gates through a window in the King’s Bedchamber.

The Queen’s Bedchamber

The Queen’s Bedchamber is decorated as it was for the last queen, Marie Antoinette. I certainly noticed the change in decor including cheery floral wall coverings with touches of pink. This is the summer pattern – the bed, chair, and wall coverings were switched with the seasons (as was most of the decor throughout the apartments)!

You can scarcely see the open door on the left of the photo below. Apparently this is the door (hidden when closed) through which Queen Marie Antoinette escaped in 1789 when the Paris mob stormed Versailles! A private corridor connected her apartment to the king’s.

UPDATE: Take a look around the Queens’s Bedchamber (with the secret door closed) in Google Street View!

The Queen's Bedchamber at The Palace of Versailles

The Queen’s Bedchamber

The Queen's Bedchamber at The Palace of Versailles

The Queen’s Bedchamber

The Queen's Bedchamber at The Palace of Versailles

Ceiling of the Queen’s Bedchamber

The Coronation Room

We exited through the giant Coronation Room with huge paintings, including one of Napoleon crowning himself emperor.

The Coronation of Napoleon

The Coronation of Napoleon

The Coronation of Napoleon detail

Detail of Napoleon’s sisters in the painting, The Coronation of Napoleon

The Coronation Room

The Coronation Room

Versailles Palace Gates

Blinded by Gold at The Palace of Versailles

Versailles, a Royal Château

There are not enough words to describe Versailles. Its boundless grounds and endless extravagance in every detail had me walking around wide-eyed and gaping. Adding to this effect was my lack of knowledge about Versailles going into this experience. Versailles had been recommended to us about a week or two prior to starting the trip by a friend who studied in France for a year. It was in his “Top 3 Must-See” for France. That was enough for me. Done and done. It’s on the list and I’ll figure out the details later! Fast forward to evening #2 on the trip and we were planning what to do the next day. How about a day trip to Versailles?

Day 3: Day Trip to Versailles

We were up at 6:30am and travelling on our 8:45am long distance train to Versailles after hitting up the local grocery mart for breakfast on-the-go and a snack for later.  We finally arrived at the palace gates around 10am, blinded by gold.  

Versailles Palace Entrance

Even approaching from afar, the golden palace glimmered in the sunlight.

Versailles Palace Entrance

The entrance for the entrance.

Versailles Palace Gold Gates

I was already impressed and I hadn’t even set foot inside the palace or explored the grounds.

Versailles Palace Gates

Blinded by the gold gates.

Versailles Palace Gates Versailles Palace

View of Versailles gate entrance through a palace window.

A view of the Versailles palace gates and entrance through a palace window.

View of Versailles gate entrance through a palace window.

A view from the inside looking out to the palace gates and entrance.

More to come of the palace interior and miles and miles of the enchanting grounds, gardens, and additional structures.

The Most Efficient Use of Space in a Paris Hotel

Extremely Efficient Bathrooms

European bathrooms are notoriously compact and efficient, but Paris has a reputation all its own.  I think we scored quite a nice room in Paris on such short notice with a great location, and you can see just how efficient the bathroom is.  The counter top is just large enough for the sink, your knee is in the shower while using the toilet, and for the ladies, shaving your legs requires a bit of flexibility.  Yet, it was all that we needed.  I was thrilled to have a hair dryer provided by the hotel, as I wasn’t going to backpack across Europe for weeks with one on my back.  Although this is the smallest bathroom we came across during our European trip, I came to miss some of it’s features convenient for backpackers.  With the tile walls, we could easily suction cup a laundry line across the bathroom, lowering toward the sink for drips.  The working drain stop made it easy to soak and wash clothes in the sink, although we did come prepared with a suction sink stopper just in case (another Rick Steves tip).

Paris hotel bathroom Paris hotel shower

A Two-Person Elevator

Even the elevator was absolutely no larger than necessary (yet a luxury, as there are always stairs).  When we first arrived at the hotel with our packs on our backs, Mike and I had to ride up individually – there was no room to spare!  But after a romantic day or night out in the city of love, isn’t this is just an extra excuse to get closer to the one you love?

Paris hotel two-person elevator

Conciergerie prison interior arches

Historic Paris Walk (Part 2)

The Historic Paris Walk Continues

Day 2: Paris (Cont’d)

As mentioned in Part 1 of the Historic Paris Walk, if you’re really in the mood to immerse yourself in the tour, put in your earbuds and follow along with the free Rick Steves Audio Tour and Maps just as we did.

St. Severin

St. Severin was next on our stop with Flamboyant Gothic architecture.  I thought the flame-like stone detail over the exterior of the stained glass was really unique (and cool looking).  On the inside, some of the stained glass was painted to achieve such realistic faces.  The more abstract, colorful stained glass also caught my eye – I love the autumn colors!  One side room was also really interesting to me.  It was sort of oval in shape, so the walls were curved with a lip in a few places.  The ceiling was also curved and domed and – well, I’m not an architect, so I don’t know the terminology, but check out the photos!

Courtyard and Metropolitain Metro Stop

I love the painted shadows of the trees on the buildings surrounding this courtyard.  In the third photo here you can see the Metropolitain Metro Stop behind the row of parked motorcycles.  It’s one of the original subway entrances and is preserved as art!


Really beautiful architecture for a prison.  Marie-Antoinette had a cell here.

Coming to a Close

We even caught a movie in production towards the end of our Historic Paris Walk.  Before the sun went down, we snapped a picture in front of the Seine River and headed to dinner.  Afterward we strolled through the Latin Quarter which was officially part of the walk, but didn’t have a chance to do it before hunger set in.  As it turns out, it’s quite lively at night!  One particular establishment (with bras hanging from the chandelier) advertised, “Sexy Bar for Crazy Night!”  We took one more lap by the Notre-Dame, having transformed under the night sky as well.

Notes from the Travel Log – Tues 8.30.11

Slept in til 9:30am. Jet lag. Cafe and “croissant” at cafe near Notre-Dame. Historic Paris Walk. Notre-Dame exterior & interior. Park to right side. Tower climb for another time. Book stores along Seine… etc. Conciergerie. Saint Michel Chapel for another day. Dinner at fondue place. Notre-Dame at night! Crazy Facebook lady movie. Up late planning for next day at Versailles and rest of week.

Notre-Dame from a distance

Historic Paris Walk (Part 1)

Day 2: Paris

Being so jet lagged and still getting used to the time change, it was hard to wake up at a decent hour, but we had a plan.  Today we were going to do Rick Steves’ Historic Paris Walk.  This hits about 15 points of interest over a three-mile walk, beginning at the Notre-Dame Cathedral.  Before beginning our day, we had a laugh ordering croissants at the cafe.

The Historic Paris Walk Begins

If you’re really in the mood to immerse yourself in the tour, put in your earbuds and follow along with the free Rick Steves Audio Tour and Maps just as we did.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

The walk officially began at Point Zero – the very center of France, just outside the Notre-Dame Cathedral.  We admired the architecture and listened to a brief history lesson (via the RS audio tour) while waiting in the queue.  Some of the gargoyles hanging over the edge of the cathedral serve as rain spouts, gushing out water from their mouths.  As we approached the entrance I was wow-ed by the lovely detail on the enormous cathedral door.  The kids nearby were laughing and shouting as they played with a giant bubble maker, but once inside everything fell to a respectful whisper.  The Gothic arches of the ceiling aren’t just beautiful, they serve to push the weight out – to the flying buttresses on the outside of the walls – instead of down.  However, it’s the original rose window of stained glass that really steals the show.

Deportation Memorial

This is a memorial to the French victims of the Nazi concentration camps.  It’s sunken into the earth, so once you descend into the structure you can only see the walls and sky, giving a feeling of imprisonment and isolation.   Inside the memorial room, a lighted crystal shines for each French citizen who died.  The message above the door reads, “Forgive, but never forget.”

Left Bank

As we walked over the bridge to the Left Bank, we noticed the railing fence covered in padlocks! Apparently lovers will initial a lock and secure it to the fencing as a symbol of their love and devotion.  I’ve never seen this in the US, but we spotted it in a few other places as we traveled through Europe.  We continued our stroll along the Left Bank where secondhand booksellers and other merchants displayed their goods in green stalls along the Seine River with the Notre-Dame at their backs.  The bohemian Shakespeare and Company Bookstore and the skinniest house in Paris (two windows wide) were other points of interest on our walk.


Continue reading about our History Paris Walk in Part 2.

Thank you, Rick Steves.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Rick Steves (and our friends who recommended Rick Steves – you know who you are).  With such little time to plan this travel dream suddenly becoming reality and no definite focus, we consulted our friends who had toured Europe just two summers prior.  Besides getting some great first-hand travel advice, we learned of the Rick Steves travel books.  The books have suggested schedules of how to plan your time depending on how many days you can visit a particular destination and a three-point rating scale for sights: “don’t miss”, “try hard to see”, and “worthwhile if you can make it”.  This was invaluable for our flexible schedule and limited knowledge on certain destinations – being able to accurately pencil in destinations on the calendar.  Besides the plethora of information he provides on a specific destination, he also offers great travel advice in general.  We learned a LOT of great travel techniques from the Rick Steves books, particularly “Europe Through the Back Door” for getting a crash course right before the trip.  If you’re thinking about traveling to Europe, I highly suggest picking up some of his books.  I could go on and on about how much I love his books, but I’ll leave it at that for now and will probably touch on more specifics in future posts.

Outside the Notre-Dame with Rick Steves Book

Outside the Notre-Dame on Day 2 of our trip, with the Rick Steves Paris travel book in hand.

Ooh la la, Paris!

Reminiscing of our travels a year ago, I thought I’d chronicle our adventures here.  Everything happened so quickly, we didn’t get a chance to share our experiences with even close family and friends.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy sharing it.  So here it begins, in Paris.

Paris, France.  We.  Had.  Arrived.  Paris would be our home for the next five days.  We had no “home address.”  A month prior we were living our day to day lives in the suburbs of Chicago with our house on the market – trying to sell it so we could finally pursue our dream of living in Portland, OR.  Discovering our association was soon to limit the number of allowed rental units in the neighborhood, we decided renting was a much better option and rushed to rent out our townhouse.  In the matter of a week our 2 bedroom townhouse was packed up in a storage pod and we were now landlords living out of a hotel down the street.  We had two weeks to wrap up our responsibilities at work and plan our move to Portland.  Well, actually, maybe we’ll do some traveling first…

Chicago to Stockholm to Paris flight

Day 1: Paris

This brings us back to Day 1 in Paris.  After our layover in Stockholm, Sweden we arrived in the late afternoon.  Before catching the train to our hotel, we each bought a weekly Passe Navigo pass since we’d be using the public transit system quite a bit during the week.  The Passe Navigo is a chip-embedded smart card which is good on the bus, metro, RER, Ile-de-France (Transilien) trains (Not TGV).  Just swipe and go.

Paris train station

We had booked a room at Hotel de France Invalides before arriving.  There were slim pickin’s with such short notice, especially on a budget – something we’d come to get used to on our trip.  Anxious to check it out and ditch our big packs, we headed straight to the hotel.  I think we fared well with this pick.  It’s walking distance to the Eiffel Tower, the rue Cler neighborhood, and a metro station.  Our 4th floor room had a view of the inner courtyard with spiral staircase that I found charming.  It even had a mini fridge – disguised as a cabinet (we didn’t even realize it until later in our stay) – and a hair dryer!  This was top notch luxury for our backpacker budget.

Hotel de Invalides inner courtyard spiral staircase

Hotel de Invalides inner courtyard spiral staircase

But enough of this hotel room, it’s almost dark, let’s see Paris!  We cleaned up and headed to rue Cler for an evening stroll of this pedestrianopen-air-market street.  Many shops were closed, but it still oozed that Parisian feel.  Some cafes were still open, but we opted for a savory crepe to go from the Creperie and continued our stroll down the blue-hued streets as the sun went down.

Rue Cler in Paris      Le Petit Cler Cafe in Paris

Paris windows

It was getting late, so we relented and headed back toward the hotel when suddenly, there it was – the Eiffel Tower, beaming in the night sky.  We took a moment to take it all in.  We are in Paris, oui.

The Eiffel Tower


Notes from the Travel Log – Mon 8.29.11

Arrived at hotel around 4:30pm.  Cleaned up.  Rue Cler walk around 8pm. Creperie to go & ice cream.  Bed late.  Hard to sleep!