Gardens at Versailles

I visit the Château de Versailles every time I travel to Paris – both destinations are close to my heart, and as a long-standing member of Les Amis de Versailles, I also “own” a tree in the Trianon Gardens.  The newly decorated RER train (photos here) provides a beautiful first glance for newcomers to the castle.

The Gardens of Versailles occupy part of what was once the Domaine royal de Versailles, the Château of Versailles.  The gardens cover some 1760 acres/800 hectares (see below statistics)

In French:

Size: 800 ha.
Number of trees: 200,000
Flowers planted annually: 210,000
Number of fountains: 50
Number of jets of water: 620
Surface area of the Grand Canal: 23 ha.
Perimeter of the Grand Canal: 5.57 km
Amount of piping to feed the fountains: 35 km.
Amount of water consumed by the fountains
during the ‘‘Grandes Eaux’’:
3,600 m3
Source: Wikipedia/Official site of the Château de Versailles

Paris – An Unplanned Post

In reading emails this morning, I came across this video on “tongue in cheek” and so, decided to postpone my planned post for this one. I hope it puts a smile on your face, as well – made me “homesick” for Paris.

Let’s all strike a pose !

Fontainebleau & Hotel Recommendation

I recently stayed at the 4-star hotel, Aigle Noir, due to a off-season, reduced rate and its great location across the street from the Chateau de Fontainebleau.  When I checked in, my designated room was not yet ready; however, the very friendly young man at the front desk offered to upgrade my reservation to a suite (at no extra charge).  Why not?  I really just expected a larger room at any rate (pardon the pun).  I also noticed the charming lounge with a fireplace, just off the lobby and mentally noted to have a drink there later that evening.

The “suite” was indeed “sweet” and comprised two full bathrooms, very large bedroom with table/sitting area and desk, a separate living room, and a complimentary beverage area along the corridor – Wow – I was impressed!

First important test, though, was connecting to Internet via the hotel’s free wifi:  my netbook connected fine to wifi but “no Internet access.”  So, I took my netbook to the lobby to ask for help (ok, really to complain).  Fabian, the same young Frenchman at the reception desk, kindly spent about 20 minutes checking out my netbook settings, etc. (all in English) to solve the access problem, while chatting and with my translating in French (although he understood a little computer English)  Eh, voila!  OK, now I was doubly impressed – the customer service was great.

Although I only stayed one night here, Aigle Noir provided royal service and was well worth splurging a little — after all I was just across from a royal chateau!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Paris et Ses Alentours – My ‘Like’ List

From my most recent trip to Paris, here are my ‘likes’ / personal recommendations:

Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee

Soupe a l’Oignon in Montmartreâ

This can be tricky! Some brasseries and typical restaurants will take a boxed oignon soup, add onions, bread, and cheese and pass it off as the “real” thing. You can sometimes tell, as it will be very salty and have a more gravy-like texture. I always order (authentic) onion soup, as the entrée on the fixed menu, at the Cadet de Gascogne restaurant in Montmartre – you would think the food here would be just average, since this is a very touristy area of Paris, but I have been more than satisfied each time. I love to sit by the front window to people watch, as I enjoy a delicious meal there.

Sauerkraut

Since I usually travel outside of Paris to the Château of Versailles, I usually eat lunch at the nearby Taverne de Maitre Kanter. The entrance to this very large, Parisienne-like brasserie was theatrical: entering through a pair of red velvet drapes as if arriving on stage. It’s amusing to watch the lively hustling and bustling of the friendly and efficient staff, while enjoying “les delices.”

Chocolat chaud

This trip, I went to Angelina’s on Rue de Rivoli to take in the wonderful hot chocolate, decoration, and atmosphere of this well-known establishment. Their reputation precedes them, so expect to wait in line (yes, even in off season). During a previous trip, I had hot chocolate at Le Grand Colbert, featured in the 2003 movie “Somethings Gotta Give.”  You can also stroll through the nearby, covered galleries on Rue Vivienne to walk off the calories.

Château on the side

Photo: Official website

At the Chateau in Fontainebleau, I inquired about the horsedrawn carriage rides and was told that they only take place during the summer – WRONG!  I had spoken by phone, about a month prior,  to the carriage driver so knew he operated in November.  As I walked around the chateau, I happened to see a sign for the “calèches” and that one was running every 30 minutes or so.  It was a two-horse carriage taking riders around the grounds with a short narrative by the driver; ride lasted about 20 minutes and involved the horses both walking and trotting – very amusing and enjoyable.

Paris Walks

This well-known and highly recommended company provides 2 hour, guided thematic walks, which I always try to do while in Paris. The group walks are amusing and informative, taking you through back streets and areas off the beaten path. I first met the owners, during one of their walks, back in 1997, while I was living and working in Paris, and I still enjoy them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fairies of the Forest: A Royal Ballet

Seeing that the Le Ballet des Fees de la Foret de Saint-Germain was being held at the Versailles Royal Opera during my recent trip to the area, I thought it might be fun to attend and watch a little classic ballet (read Baryshnikov).  I love baroque style decor, and this is the place where Queen Marie Antoinette performed – I was very excited!

The Opera was dimly lit and bigger than I imagined, although not huge, as I was escorted to my ground floor seat.

Stage curtain

The orchestra music began, with works right out of the time of Louis XIV and Molière, and I felt transported back in time.  The cast acted out a theatrical play, including Cirque de Soleil-type acrobatics and entertaining feats. What an absolutely delightful surprise – it was so well done and truly entertaining! (videos below)

Video clips:


A Wifi Rip-off

Isn’t it only logical that the higher the hotel rating, the more amenities and services are provided and included in the upward prices to match? You would think, right?

Well, I recently traveled to Paris and the surrounding area, staying in a variety of hotels, from 2 to luxury 4-star, chosen for their central locations, breakfast included in the price, and my must-have requirement of wifi.   I benefited from off-season rates, being November, and all was going well, until I refused one hotel’s wifi, as a matter of principle  (sorry, dear readers, for any lapse of regular posts during this time).

Here’s my list:

1.  Lutèce Royal Hotel in the 13th arrondissement of Paris = four star hotel which had a nice size room, friendly staff and free wifi.  Not as central as I would have liked, but good breakfast buffet.

2.  Hotel de France in the 5th arrondissement of Paris = three star hotel with nice room, friendly staff, and free wifi.

3.  Hotel Aigle Noir, located across from the Chateau of Fontainebleau = four star hotel with free wifi (blogging a separate post about this hotel)

4.  Familia Hotel in the 5th  arondissement of Paris = two star hotel with friendly staff, and free wifi.  The room was small and average, but chosen for its easy access to my departure train station.

5.  Trianon Palace Waldorf Astoria about 1 km from the Chateau of Versailles = four star luxury hotel with wifi, spa and pool, elegant restaurant and bar/lounge area (a glass of champagne cost 17 Euros), and formal and professional/polite staff.

Oh yes, they had wifi alright, but every service was à la carte – this meant that they charged 4,50 Euros for 15 minutes of Internet access at the concierge desk, or if I was only going to be “two minutes”, I wouldn’t be charged.  Two minutes, really? They charge 25 Euros for room Internet access (not sure if this is per day) or 14 Euros to rent a plugin access cable (not sure if this is per day) – at this point, I was so annoyed, I stopped listening to the details.  How absurd, I thought, to charge extra for wifi, especially at a luxury hotel, not to mention that it’s free at lesser rated hotels – how can they even justify charging for it?

I guess if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it came into play for this hotel, although I did get a end-of-summer room rate.  I wrote my critique and handed it into reception, stating that I would not stay at their hotel again…..as a matter of principle!

Go figure: this morning I received an email for submitting an electronic survey for my stay, so I guess my letter went into “la poubelle”!