France

Tips for Visiting Versailles

Posted by on 2:24 pm in France Travel, Travel Tips | 2 comments

Tips for Visiting Versailles (Chateau du Versailles)

If you happen to visit Paris, do not forget about visiting Versailles. The Palace and its gardens are spectacular and cannot be ignored. The Chateau was the home of the Kings and Queens of France from Louis XIV in 1662 to the French Revolution and Louis XVI in 1789. Louis XIII loved the area so much that he had a hunting cabin built and his successor turned the cabin into a Palace and every King thereafter would add to it.

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

1. The easiest way to visit Versailles – book your ticket online, print it off and beat the long queue to purchase at the Palace. Of course you will still have to wait in line to enter and that line can get quite long especially during the summer months. You may book a skip the line tour – yes you skip the line and go straight to the front. Or you may wish to visit in the spring or fall. Unfortunately I was in London (Top 10 London Sights) for the Olympics and popped over to Paris (Things to do in Paris) to visit so I could only visit during the summer.

2. If you take a tour, they will provide transportation. Otherwise, you will take the train (C train) from Paris to Versailles-Rive Gauche station which takes under an hour. It is a short walk from the train station to the Palace of Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

3. Arrive at Versailles as soon as it opens at 9 am (or get in the queue before 9 am). The crowds are long almost any time of day but best if you can arrive first thing; otherwise wait until mid-afternoon, or visit the gardens first. Once again, the other option is a skip the line tour. You can a full or half day tour; include the gardens or a view of the fountain at night. There are many options through Viator. Or use a Paris museum pass to help cut the cost.

See the picture above of the Hall of Mirrors? Add five hundred people to it and you’ll understand my experience of visiting Versailles. I LOVED it but I also HATED it. You will encounter so many other tourists who won’t move their ass out-of-the-way. They linger and take up space. You will be tempted to freak out. Take a deep breath and relax. Enjoy the beauty and ignore the idiots surrounding you. They are probably thinking the same about you. Of course they are wrong. 🙂

Visiting Versailles in 2011

Visiting Versailles in 2011 – hot and busy day in July

4. Allow enough time for the gardens; they are extensive. I was only there for half a day so I would love to go back and spend more time wandering through the gardens. Also remember to visit the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate if you have time. You can take a mini-train but it does not run often.

Palace of Versailles' Gardens

Palace of Versailles’ Gardens

Other tips for visiting Versailles:

  1. Versailles is closed on Monday
  2. Buy the passport which covers everything at Versailles including the gardens, Marie Antoinette’s hamlet and Trianon Palaces: 18 euros
  3. Free admission for the following: visitors under 18; European Union residents under 26; teachers in French schools (proof required); disabled people and person accompanying them; French job seekers (upon proof). Here is the complete list!
  4. Click here for information on entry to the gardens; it is occasionally free depending on time of year and if there are no musical events
  5. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March
  6. Arrive at 9 am or wait until later in the day (10-3 is highest volume especially on weekends)
  7. Hours: 9:00 am to 5:30 pm (6:30 pm in high season) for the Palace of Versailles. Trianon and Hamlet are noon to 5:30 (6:30 high); French Gardens are 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (8:30 pm high); park is open 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (7:00 am to 8:30 high season)
  8. Lastly, give yourself LOTS of time to wander through the Palace of Versailles. Visiting Versailles requires patience as you wander through the crowds. The apartments within the Palace are worth the wait.

Have you visited Versailles yet?

Things to Do in Paris

Posted by on 12:16 pm in France Travel, Travel Tips | 6 comments

I always resisted visiting Paris. Why? I thought it was probably overrated and would be a waste of my time and money. I was wrong; the most wrong I’ve ever been. Paris is simply a delightful and beautiful city. It lives up to any and all expectations in its timeless beauty, spectacular landmarks, glamorous streets, iconic cuisine, and exquisite museums. There are many things to do in Paris; hard to pick just a few. I stopped by Paris after a visit to Normandy!

Things to Do in Paris

First place to visit is the most obvious: EIFFEL TOWER! Do not forget to visit during the evening as it is lit up and on the hour, it sparkles for a few minutes. If you wish to enter the Tower, yes you can and yes you should, but I would recommend booking a skip the line tour if you are travelling during peak season as the lines can be long (two hours-long). I booked through Viator and have always had a great experience with them.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

One of my favourite things to do in Paris is a visit to the Louvre. Originally constructed as a fortress in the 12th century then rebuilt as a 16th century royal residence, it was turned into a museum in 1793 following the French Revolution. The most famous piece of work at the Louvre is the lovely Ms Mona Lisa by one of the greatest painters in history, Leonardo da Vinci. However, there are many great pieces of art ranging from Assyrians, Etruscans, Greeks, and from antiquity. There are more than 35,000 pieces on display. It is an overwhelming museum to visit but absolutely breathtaking. 🙂

Louvre, Paris, France

Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Sleeping Hermaphroditus by Bernini (front and back), Empress Eugénie’s Crown, and Michelangelo’s Dying Slave

Other things to do in Paris includes a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to make your way to the Arc de Triomphe which started construction in 1806 by Napoleon to honour his French army that had triumphed over a large portion of Europe by that time. It was completed many years later in 1836, long after Napoleon’s death in 1821.

Speaking of Napoleon, I suggest a visit to Les Invalides is in order to visit the tomb of Napoleon, members of his family and other notables.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Tomb of Napoleon in Les Invalides, Arc de Triomphe, Rodin and a view of Paris from Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral, Tomb of Napoleon in Les Invalides, Arc de Triomphe, Rodin and a view of Paris from Notre Dame

Once you’ve enjoyed the cafes on Avenue des Champs-Élysées, hop the metro to visit Notre Dame Cathedral and its flying buttresses and lovely gargoyles. 🙂 The Cathedral took almost two hundred years to complete (12th-14th centuries) and has gone through several restorations over the centuries. The interior is a delight but do not neglect to visit the exterior to view the flying  buttresses and for the entrance to visit the South Tower. Be prepared for a long trek up the steps (387 steps) to the top of the South Tower to view the gargoyles up close and a panoramic view of Paris. You can see the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

One of my little off the path spots is the Rodin Museum. It is located near Les Invalides and filled with sculptures by Rodin. It was heaven! I wish more people would visit this museum! It was created when Rodin himself donated his works and collections to the French State in 1916. Auguste Rodin created some of the most wonderful modern sculptures.

One last thought on my favourite things to do in Paris – WALKING! You can walk everywhere. I only took the metro once or twice when I was there; I simply walked everywhere. I stayed at a hotel near the Eiffel Tower. I walked to the Tower, Les Invalides, the Louvre, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. I took the metro to Notre Dame since it was further away but I loved walking around Paris especially at night. It was during the busy season of travel but it was relaxing and soothing. I have never been so relaxed. 🙂

So these are just a few of my favourite things to do in Paris. What are your favourites?

D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France

Posted by on 12:05 pm in France Travel | 3 comments

Juno Beach, Normandy, France

Juno Beach, Normandy, France

D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France

When I was planning my trip to the London Olympics, I noted that I had a few days without any Olympic events. I had been to London twice previously (go check out my Top 10 London Sights Here: Part 1 and Part 2) so thought I’d hit up the Chunnel and go to Paris. I got thinking even more, well if I’m in Paris, why not pop into Normandy to do the beaches? So my trip went from London to include Paris and Normandy. I decided to visit the cities of Rouen, Caen and Bayeux and of course visit the D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France.

I was only able to visit three of the beaches due to car trouble on the day I planned for the other two. Sadly I missed out on the British beaches but I was happy to visit the Canadian D-Day beach of Juno and the American Utah and Omaha.

D-Day was a very important day during WWII: it finally opened up a second front. The Russians desperately had needed that second front since they had been holding off the Germans in the East since 1942. British Prime Minster declared, “it is the Russian armies who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army.”

By the end of the first day, around 156,000 troops landed in Normandy. Paris would be liberated by August 25, 1944, less than three months after the Allied Forces landed in France.

[Tiny note about stats in this article: depending on the source, they may differ slightly and I have focused on the beach landings, not including the air units or paratroopers at this time]

Juno Beach

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces, was planned for June 6, 1944 after a delay due to weather. Forces from Canada, Great Britain and the United States planned to land on five beaches (D-Day Beaches), crossing the English Channel. The Canadian forces landed on Juno Beach while Great Britain landed on Gold and Sword, with the United States on Utah and Omaha.

Juno Beach has a lovely centre that was built ten years ago. The Juno Beach Centre displays Canada’s participation during WWII and D-Day invasion. Right in front of the centre, there is a German observation bunker. I was able to go inside since I signed up for the tour (I was the only one signed up – awesome to have a one-on-one guide for an hour). The bunker would have informed and coordinated with the German army during D-Day.

By the end of D-Day, around 20,000 Canadians landed on Juno Beach and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had moved inland further than any other forces that day. Canada’s casualties totaled 1074, including injured and missing.

German Observation Bunker, Juno Beach, D-Day Beaches, Normandy

German Observation Bunker, Juno Beach, Normandy

Omaha

Next up is the American beach of Omaha. This had the strongest German defenses of the five beaches and the casualties were high; it was nicknamed Bloody Omaha. This area is composed of steep cliffs which rise one hundred feet above the sea stretching six miles, the largest of the five beach landings. Roughly 34,000 soldiers landed on Omaha Beach resulting in over 3000 casualties.

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

The American cemetery at the top of the Omaha beach cliff contains over 9000 graves. In fact, this piece of land was given to the United States by France so you are standing on American soil. The grounds are meticulously groomed and it is emotional place to visit.

American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy

American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy

Utah

The last beach I visited was Utah, which is three miles long. The American forces landed with little resistance (due to accidentally landing two miles from their intended target) and roughly 23,000 soldiers landed on Utah.  Due to the light resistance, American forces on Utah saw only a fraction of the casualties as they did on Omaha. Roughly 197 perished on Utah in total, including 60 missing.

Utah Beach, Normandy, France

Utah Beach, Normandy, France

25,000 Brits landed on Gold Beach with 28,000 on Sword while casualties, including injured and missing, totaled around 1000 for Gold and 1000 for Sword. In total, over 156,000 troops landed in Normandy on D-Day – June 6, 1944.

By the end of June 11th, there would be over 300,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles, and 100,000 tons of supplies.

I took a tour for the American beaches which worked out nicely: nice to have transportation and everything already arranged. Plus the tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining! So if you want to tour the US beaches, go check out Overlord Tours.

So have you been to the Normandy beaches? What did you think?

Update June 6, 2014: Today is the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, D-Day. I was lucky enough to visit three of the beaches and a couple cemeteries. It was an overwhelming experience. Many memorials and commemorations are occurring today in Normandy. Take a moment to think what those men went through that day or even the days leading up to the big invasion. It was the beginning of the end of the War and many lost their lives that day.