In a previous post, I had written about our wonderful stroll around Paris and our visit to Louvre.
After that awesome tour, our itinerary took us to the grand palace of Versailles. After scouring through multiple travel forums, we decided to reserve tickets in advance. Following the “tips”, we packed our lunches and our bottles of water and were all set to arrive early in the morning and beat the queues. Oh, how wrong were we!
The quickest and the easiest way to reach Versailles is definitely the train – RER C. For us the nearest RER station was Invalides, from where we took the train to Versailles Château Rive Gauche. The train journey was unremarkable with sleepy-eyed tourists dozing in their seats all over the carriage. From Versailles Château Rive Gauche RER station, the Palace is a straightforward 15 minutes walk and we had no problem finding our way, partly due to signage and mostly due to the throng of tourists already making their way to the Palace. As instructed in the forums, we made our way to Entrance A, hoping to be ushered into the gates with minimal wait times by regally dressed French security guards.
However, our dreams were soon shattered when we realised that the longest queues were actually for Entrance A. Apparently, unbeknownst to us, the Festival of Pentecost was on full swing and the Palace was extremely crowded. Like us, all the other tourists had followed the recommendations on the forums and had arrived early to beat the queues, resulting in exceptional crowding this early in the morning. Furthermore, the authorities at Versailles managed the queues extremely badly. Unlike Louvre or the Vatican where the queues were organised using barriers and temporary partitions, at Versailles, there were no such organisation. As a result, the queues were 5 people wide and people were jumping them all over. It took us well over 2 hours to enter and tempers were flaring by then.
Once inside, there were very few staff to guide the throngs of tourists pouring in through the gates. The sole lady trying to help was literally overwhelmed and quite visibly upset with the number of requests she was fielding. Seeing the formidable queues for the audioguide section, we decided to skip it. However, in hindsight, that was not a wise decision. Although everything inside the Palace was signed and properly captioned, due to the overcrowding, it was extremely difficult to read what was written. An audioguide would have been much more convenient.
Apart from the mis-management, the Palace of Versailles itself was just amazing. Grand in all respects, it commands the respect that a Palace built to inspire awe deserves. It has good presentations highlighting the history of the palace and there are videos showing the many stages of development of the estate. Among the hundreds of rooms, the all-glass Hall of mirrors is truly magnificent. Along with the King’s apartments and the garden, it is the one of the most visited areas in the entire Palace. Moreover, the Palace is truly a testament to the French 17th century art, with its halls decked with masterpieces from artists from all over France from that era. I doubt one can do justice by visiting the Palace for just a day or two.
People had recommended the Versailles garden to us and we were looking forward to visiting it, but our visit was again plagued by the over-crowding. For some reason, we hadn’t realised that there were separate tickets for the gardens. Queuing up again to purchase tickets was a big commitment that neither I nor my wife were willing to make.
So, we ended our trip very impressed by what is a truly magnificent creation, but very disappointed by the management skills of the organisers.
Check out the Google Culture Institute’s presentation on the Palace.