Impressed by Versailles

Water babies at Versailles

Water babies at Versailles

As the sea of humanity surged past me up the platform, I had to wonder just how much I was going to enjoy the experience of Versailles .  The 7 million yearly visitors couldn’t all be wrong, but I’d had the impression that at least half of them had been on the train with me!

I had crisscrossed Paris to join the RER train to Versailles-Rive Gauche on line C5, at Javel Metro station.  Standing on the platform, with a twitch of anticipation, I could see the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance as I watched for the approach of my double decker train.  This was to have been a first- a ride upstairs on a train- but it was not to be!  When the train pulled in, it was already full to sufficiency, and I had to spend the journey leaning up against a swaying wall.  Just a little deflated, I had 30 minutes in which to wonder whether Versailles could possibly hold this volume of people.

Arriving at the palace gates, I felt hugely relieved that I ‘d had the foresight to book tickets for the gardens online.  The queues were immense, but following the signs to the right, I slipped peacefully past the ticket barrier and into the empty gardens.  No queue!  This might not be so bad, after all.  The day was rather overcast, but I had 20 minutes to explore before the fountains were turned on at 11.00am.

There wasn’t any question that this place was built to impress, and impress it did!  I felt a thrill of excitement as the fountains began to trickle.  In a few moments my cherubs were magically clothed in a veil of water.

Holding hands!

Holding hands!

A gentleman with a large ‘key’ made his way around the gardens, in an unhurried fashion, turning on the fountains in sequence.  The race was on to visit as many of the garden rooms as possible before the fountains stopped again at 12.00.

Here we go!

Here we go!

Laying down on the job!

Laying down on the job?

Note the hooves

Note the hooves

Taking aim!

Taking aim!

Fountain of Apollo's Chariot with the Grand Canal in the background

Fountain of Apollo’s Chariot with the Grand Canal in the background

You might have noticed the odd umbrella in the background.  A light drizzle had started to fall.  With just a few minutes till the fountains ceased playing, it was time to consider food and shelter.  As the skies suddenly opened, instant decision was required and ‘La Flotille’ was the nearest port in a storm.  With my back to the burners and the rain pouring off the awning, a Grand Marnier crepe and a pichet of Bordeaux helped to pass the time rather nicely.

Half an hour later, the sun made a welcome appearance.  A  couple of rowers were out on the Grand Canal, but a gentle stroll to the Grand Trianon seemed a better bet.  Dappled sunshine and puddles- such a nice combination!

There were still more garden rooms to visit and I had my favourites.  The Ballroom was landscaped by Le Notre in 1680 and is decorated with millstones and shells brought back from the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea by the French Navy of that time.

The Mirror Fountain was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1702.  It currently performs to music at 10 minute intervals all day long- the only fountain to do so.

And the Mirror Fountain twirled all day long

Dancing to the music of Rameau and Lully

Climbing the steps back up to the Water Parterres, I could look down on the Orangerie in all its magnificence.  The clouds came and went but the beauty was endless.

The Orangerie, beautifully laid out

The Orangerie, beautifully laid out

And seen from above

Seen from above

And with moody skies

And with moody skies

850 hectares of parks and gardens means little to me, but I can tell you that it was huge, and absorbed all those people from my train with ease.  And many more!  The fountains play again from 15.30 to 17.00 and at 17.20 the grand finale of the Neptune Fountain.

On Saturday evenings throughout the Summer there is a Fountains Night Show.  What a spectacle that must be!  The Versailles website is a wealth of information and I could recommend a visit to anyone.  Because of the scale of the place a little disruption from renovation is inevitable and on my visit the Latona Parterre and Water Theatre Grove were unavailable.

The incomparable chateau

The incomparable chateau

Are you wondering about the Chateau?  I had made a conscious decision to limit my visit to the grounds.  I did not want to share the Hall of Mirrors and in August there would have been little choice.  Another day, maybe!

Versailles is chalk and cheese with my lovely Giverny, but there’s room for both in this world.  Don’t you think?

Six word Saturday


A red Eiffel Tower? How strange!

Look closely- you'll see it's made of chairs!

I have to admit, I was surprised!

If you look closely you can see it's made up of chairs

If you look closely, you can see it’s made up of stacked chairs.  So clever!

It was built to celebrate the Eiffel Tower’s 125th birthday and is made up of 324 garden chairs. Our 25 years seemed almost insignificant by comparison.

It's currently down on Paris Plage

The red tower is currently down on Paris Plage

While the 'real' tower sparkles distantly

While the ‘real’ tower sparkles in the distance

It can still look quite small, depending where you stand

It can still look quite small, depending on where you stand

But my favourite images are watery ones

But my favourite images are watery ones

The fountains playing bring out the child in me

The fountains playing bring out the child in me

And I want to play in all that water

And I want to play with all that water!

Thank you for all the kind and wonderful wishes we received last weekend.  As you can see from the dramatic skies, we had a mix of weather, but Paris sparkled for us.  And on our return home, a huge bouquet arrived from my lovely lady friends.

I hope this weekend brings a little sparkle into your lives.  Please don’t forget to share it with Cate at Show My Face.


A Grand Day Out!

Looking out from the Cascade

Looking out from the Cascade

I suspect that whatever your criteria for grand might be, Chatsworth House could fulfil it.  I honeymooned in the Peak District almost 25 years ago, and the memory of its grandeur and the beauty of the surroundings remains with me. The house sits in extensive grounds, with a wooded hill rising up behind it.  I returned, with my daughter Lisa, on a day unbelievably lovely for December.

I noted from Wikipedia that during World War II the house was occupied by 300 schoolgirls, for six years.  The Duke felt that they might be easier on his home than the soldiers who would otherwise be billeted there.  I’m not so sure!  In any event, they grew vegetables in the Kitchen garden to contribute to the war effort, and skated on the Canal Pond when it froze over.

Eventually you arrive at the top of the Cascade

Eventually you arrive at the top of the Cascade

Bewitched by the dancing fountains

To be bewitched by the dancing fountains

And the suitably disguised Pump house

And the suitably disguised Pump house

Onwards and upwards to the Grotto next, where you can sit in the bandstand, mistress of all you survey.  A lady visitor was obviously much pleased with her surroundings, and I tried, in my halting French, to exchange a few words.

And if you’re very good, you just might try

A cream tea!

A cream tea!

I don’t feel that I’ve really done the gardens justice.  Maybe it’s because I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the house.  The “Narnia” Christmas theme made it very special.  I’ll be writing more about the house and its occupants later this week.

In the meantime, I hope you feel you’ve had a grand day out? (yes, I quite like Wallace and Gromit too)  I’m linking this post to Cheri’s Weekly Photo Challenge. Join me there?

F is for Fonte (fountain or spring)

Fonte in Largo do Carmo, Lisbon- from Wikipedia, by Rui Pedro Carvalho

There is an astonishing array of beautiful fountains adorning Portuguese towns and villages. Here are just a few I can’t resist sharing.

Fonte de Toural, Guimaraes- from Wikipedia,

Fonte do Idolo, Braga- Nabia, goddess of rivers and water- from Wikipedia

Fonte de Agua Ferreas, Braga- from Wikipedia

Fonte da Rua de Bonjoia- from Wikipedia, by Antonio Amen

Fonte de Leoes (lions), Porto- from Wikipedia, by da Sousa

Fonte de Sao Bento, Corticeiro de Carapelhos, Mira- from Wikipedia, by Jose Olgon

Azulejo, Fonte de Sao Bento

Fonte do Rossio, Lisbon- Creative Commons

Varied aren’t they?  There are hundreds I could have shared.  Do you have a favourite?  I think probably the last one’s mine, but I love Nabia too.  I also came across the term “chafariz” in relation to fountains and am not sure if this refers to a specific type.  Maybe my Portuguese friends can help me out with this?

The word “fonte” appears in many place names in Portugal.  In fact, when we’re directing people to our home in Tavira, we tell them to turn off the E125 at the roundabout signed Fonte Salgada.  In this sense it relates to a natural spring.

Fonte Pequena, Alte

My first sighting of natural springs here in Portugal was in the village of Alte.  Fonte Pequena (little spring) and then Fonte Grande (large spring) and the surrounding lush greenery came as a complete surprise.  It seemed a world away from the Algarve to which I was used.  Alte is described in detail in my Personal A-Z of Portugal, but I came across a lovely snippet of the poetry of Cândido Guerreiro, born in the village in 1871 and commemorated at the fontes:

“As the place where I was born lies encircled by four hills

Through which waters run singing

The songs of fountains and mills,

Waters taught me to speak.”

(Porque nasci ao pé de quatro montes

Por onde as águas passam a cantar

As canções dos moinhos e das fontes,

Ensinaram-me as águas a falar.)

I often go out with a walking group in the Algarve, or rely on a map and my husband, to find local beauty spots.  We found Fonte de Benemola, the Eternal Spring, one February day with the help of Julie Statham’s book, “Algarve-Let’s walk”.   The white faced cistus I love wasn’t yet in bloom and the valley was peaceful as can be, the fonte rippling silently in its depths.  On our way back to the car we spotted the solitary basket weaver, his wares strung along a reed fence.  He rather charmingly demonstrated his whistles and we purchased a small bowl.  A slightly wonky fruit bowl now sits on top of my fridge!

Fonte de Benemola, near Querenca

There is a wealth of natural springs in Portugal, some of which have been developed into health resorts.  The term “caldas” refers to thermal springs, as in Caldas de Monchique in the Algarve.  Further north, Caldas da Rainha (Queen’s hot springs) has had a thermal hospital since 1488, when Queen Leonor discovered the curative power of the waters.  Beautiful Sintra was also a spa.

Fonte in the back streets of Sintra

Spring water is a popular source for drinking water because of its relative purity and high mineral content, believed by many to have health benefits.  Just north of Coimbra, the small town of Luso is home to one of the most famous bottled waters in Portugal.  I seldom go walking without a bottle.

This post is part of my Personal A-Z of Portugal.  I’ve been following Julie Dawn Fox’s challenge for a while now.  If you’d like a look at what’s gone before, and maybe to join in with an A-Z of your own, please follow the links.  I need to catch up with my personal A-Z of Poland next.  See you next time.