Bad start to the day. I got up mega early to catch a train to Versailles and miss the crowds. Being an engineer, I’m pretty good at reading maps and timetables – never had a problem with trains or trams anywhere in the world. The Paris Metro is excellent and I was lulled into a false sense of security. To reach Versailles, I had to catch a regional train (RER) rather than the Metro.
The RER stations had no announcements, a spaghetti of railway lines and signage that is confusing or absent. I did get on the right train at the station I was at but needed to change trains later, unbeknown to me. After 1 stop in the wrong direction, I worked out the train was not going where I wanted. It took me roughly an hour to back track and work out the right train to get on. At least every single French speaking person had as many problems as I did – it was chaos!
My research on Versailles said that queueing for absolutely everything was unavoidable. To be honest, I thought if I got there before the chateau opened, I would be fine. I couldn’t have been more wrong!! I arrived dead on 9am (thanks to the train debacle) and had to queue for 1 hour to get in. Let me be clear about this. I had already bought the ticket. The queue was not to buy the ticket, it was simply to get through security. I have never experienced anything like it in my life (but I am a country girl!). I knew I was in trouble when I saw the dozens of tourist coaches in the carpark plus the hoardes of people getting off the train with me.
I can appreciate the arguement against landscape photographers publishing images of country, particularly in the Pilbara which is possibly the least discovered part of Australia. The photos bring tourists. The region will benefit from tourist dollars but there’s a price to pay in the form of environmental and other impacts.
I had invested in a Paris Pass – giving free entry to various attractions. It has a tagline about skipping the queue. What they don’t tell you is that there’s usually 2 queues for any attraction in Paris – one to buy tickets and one for security checks. Many people buy tickets beforehand so the security queue is definitely the long one. When I saw the incredibly long entrace cue I almost went home.
To add insult to injury (or injury to insult in this case), most of the paths and roads are cobblestones. Being an Aussie new to Europe I was new to cobblestones. If you have arthritis or any knee/ankle problems, be careful. I was almost crippled from the walk between the train station and the security queue and also standing for an hour (there’s nowhere to sit). If you have CFS, I’d think twice about going to Versailles (this was my primary reason for coming to Paris and I almost gave up!). You have to stand for the queues, the cobblestones are a killer and the crowds are so bad you are constantly being bumped and trodden on. I couldn’t have done it this time last year. There are lots of disabled entrance signs so I would actually investigate that option if I went again.
I did finally get through security. Word of warning to photographers. Don’t bother bringing a tripod. They are banned and as soon as you pull one out, one of the numerous staff will unceremoniously march you back to Left Luggage. Don’t expect to shoot anything less than 3 metres off the ground without people in the shot. While at Palais Garnier I could wait for my shot to clear of people if I was patient. It simply won’t happen at Versailles. There are millions of signs saying no photography. 100% of people ignore the sign. Don’t know why they cut down the tree to print the sign. And it’s confusing as you’re not sure which rule they will enforce and which one they won’t.
Having listed all fo the drawbacks, the actual progression through the many rooms of the chateau is really well planned. Infact you don’t have a choice – the tide of people sweeps you up giving you no choice. There’s no backtracking possible! There are chairs in most rooms and I took ample advantage of them. Infact I found them invaluable as a photographer. Many of the walls are cordoned off so the chairs are your best stabilisation – there is definitely no room to sit on the floor. I followed the crowd and stopped in a room if there was a chair. Given that I was more interested in the frescoes and gilt than the furniture, this turned out quite well.
How to describe the chateau itself. I was truly speechless. You start in stunning rooms and each successive room gets more and more grandiose and splendid. Infact you do hear a lot of “Oh my god” and “Are you serious” at Versailles (for several reasons). I struggle to remember an individual room as the entire experience was overwhelming. I was in gilt heaven.
I made a conscious decision not to get an audio guide. Almost everyone does. My observation is that people concentrate on listening to the audioguide and shuffle past unimaginable splendours while looking at the floor. I thought they would slow people down. If anything it was the opposite and perhaps that’s a deliberate ploy. Given that I was only looking and not listening to anything, it’s suprising that the average time spent in the chateau would be 6 times less than me. Seriously no-one was slower than me!
I’d like to go again to really see things and also listen to the audio guide. But the problem is there will always be millions of people. When I came out the entrance line was 5 times longer than when I queued. The image below shows the single line snaking 5 times the length of the courtyard before finally reaching the security check point at the rear left.
Overall it was worth it for me but I’m very committed to baroque and glittery stuff and I suspect that most people would NOT have as good a time as me. I didn’t attempt the gardens. I was exhausted and frankly the nubmer of poeple would have resulted in crowd rage on my part. It would be great if there was a photographer’s day where you could use tripods. The public always walk into your shot (unlike in Oz, is it a French thing?) and at least photographers are sensitive to that issue. One part of me thinks it’s disrespectful to have millions of tourists traipsing through such a glorious building. It is truly stupendous if you can ignore the b@@@@ tourists!!