Despite some wrangling on the RER (regional train) in the morning, and despite worries about the weather, we visited the Palace of Versailles and gardens and had a wonderful day. (To be honest, Versailles is such a wonderful place - it's hard not to have a wonderful day.)
The gardens of Versailles are probably one of my favorite spots in the entire world, but they make you go through the palace tour first. (Pshaw!) Not that the palace is too shabby in itself - everything is plated in gold and covered in crystal. We went through the king's art collection, the royal apartments, and, of course, the fabulous Hall of Mirrors:
The Hall of Mirrors, lined with windows and mirrors that were extravagant and advanced for the age, has been home to various important state affairs of France, including the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, as well as the establishment of the Second German Empire (and coronation of the German Emperor William I) at the end of the Franco-Prussian War.
After we visited all the royal apartments, we were turned loose into the gardens, which charged a fee due to the classical music playing in them that day. (I think that was kind of a sly move, considering that they didn't even have the fountains running.)
Yes, the water that extends seemingly to the horizon is still part of the gardens. Talk about being the ruler of all you can see. Louis XIV really knew how to impress his guests.
The gardens are just so overwhelming in their symmetry, grandness, and beauty. Check out this picture of the Apollo Fountain, with the beautifully trimmed trees in the background.
We had a quick lunch, strolled through the gardens, and visited the royal estate on the far end of the gardens, including the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon, and Marie Antoinette's personal hameau. Each of these was decorated impressively and could have been sight-seeing destinations in their own right, but unfortunately we had just visited the Palace of Versailles, so they seemed like guest shacks.
Then we walked back up the Grand Canal and picked up some Magnums, which are delicious European chocolate ice cream bars. This seemed like a good time for a break:
We hung out with some swans and ducks, then decided that it was about time to head back to Paris for some Eiffel Tower action.
Diane and I tried to visit the fashion museum, but unfortunately it was closed temporarily for construction. Ugh! It was the second museum in Paris that we'd tried to visit and been thwarted.
We declared defeat and went to the Trocadéro gardens for a view of the Eiffel Tower. We met up with the boys and got some good shots:
We were pretty hungry and wanted to let night fall before we went up the tower, so we headed for lunch in the 16th arrondissement. Allegedly this neighborhood contained a lot of ethnic fare, but by our estimation, this meant "Italian food." Nonetheless, we ordered delicious pasta courses at a small Jewish-Italian bistro, and I even got a nice helping of chocolate mousse. Mmm.
After that, it was a short walk back to the Trocadéro for some beautiful night shots of the Eiffel Tower. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the light show at 8 p.m., but it was worth it. And besides, we had entertainment: some young men were putting on a flame throwing show a few dozen feet away.
On our way over to the tower, we found some bizarre Michelin men statues, which Rob befriended. We took the elevator up the north pillar and got some lovely views of Paris at night from the top. This is why I like to go up the Eiffel Tower at night, rather than during the day:
After we had had our fill of dizzying heights and sparkling night shots of Paris, we took the elevator back down to the second level and walked down the stairs of the east pillar from the second level to the first, and then down to the ground.
I love walking down the Eiffel Tower because you really get a feel for the inner workings of the tower, and even at night it is quite beautiful from inside. The light show even occurred while we were inside the east pillar.
It was a very epic day filled with some of France's most important national landmarks. I'm already looking forward to my next visit so I can see them again!