Château de Versailles

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While visiting Paris, The Palace of Versailles was top on our list of sites to see. I grew up following my mom around from home tour to home tour, and listening to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous playing in the background, so maybe it is in my blood? When I became an adult, I loved attending home tours put on by benefits and charities. To this day, I am fascinated by palaces and mansions.

Plan on taking your time going through Versailles. Don’t plan Versailles and other sites on the same day. Similiar to that of the Lourve, Windsor Castle, or Vatican, it is not something you can rush through.

The Palace of Versailles is located 13 miles outside of Paris which takes approximately 38 minutes by car. It is a World Heritage Site and noted as a great achievement of French 17th century art. To say that this blog post covers a fraction of the Palace would be a gross exaggeration. To put it in perspective, the Palace is capable of holding up to 20,000 people, 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 fireplaces, and 67 staircases, spread over 26,000 acres. Throughout the years, Versailles has undergone many phases of restoration and construction. I won’t dive too deep into the various renovations. I recommend booking a tour to avoid the overwhelming feeling when you step foot onto grounds and ask yourself, “Where do I begin?” We booked a tour which included transportation to and from Paris. The great thing about group tours is that generally, they include free time to explore.

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I love the picture above so much, that it is the screen saver on my laptop to which I view daily. One thing to note, we toured the Palace of Versailles in December and from the pictures it was overcast, gloomy and cold. I always use my own photographs when blogging, which takes me right back to the exact moment, temperature of the day and experience. I travel vicariously through my own memories via photographs.

If planning a trip to Versailles, do research to consider the best time of year, weather and crowds. I loved visiting the Palace in December. While I don’t have any other time of year to compare it to, I can say that it was not crowded. There is something magical about entering the palace, bundled up in heavy coats and boots with gloomy skies. The only disadvantage I can think of, is that we were too cold to spend much time walking about the beautiful gardens.

Background~ When the château was built, Versailles was just a small village in the 11th century. Today, Versailles is a wealthy area outside of Paris. The fascination with the palace is not just its mere grandeur, it is the history of political power, The French Revolution, Louis XIV and the royal family dating back to 1682.

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Gate of Honour

The picture above is the Gate of Honor which can be seen from the three main avenues that meet to form the Place d’Armes. 10 million people walk through this gate annually to tour the estate! The original gate was made of 80m of wrought iron and gold leaf. The picture above is an exact replica which cost £4 million, over two years to contruct and 100,000 gold leaves formed in the shape of crowns, makes of Apollo, and cornucopia. The original Gate of Honour was created in the 1680’s.

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Queen’s bedchamber in the Grand Appartement de la Reine

The grand appartement de la reine was the residence of three queens of France to include Marie Therese d’Autriche, Marie Leszczynska, and Marie-Antoinette. The apartment represented heroines from years past while adding balance to the room’s decor.  The apartment consisted of seven rooms with doorways in line on the left-wing while the right-wing was almost an exact layout of the grand appartement du roi.

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Ministers Courtyard

The palace has a massive cobblestone courtyard, above, which opens up to gorgeous, detailed, architecturally designed buildings to make up the Ministers Courtyard. The name represents the two long ministerial buildings standing on either side. The Versailles chapel, located in the center of the courtyard is assessable from inside the palace. I enjoyed walking through the courtyard and looking up, taking in the size and detail of each structure.

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Bronze Statue of the Rhone River

Fe Brun and Le Nôtre collaborated on the numerous fountains at the palace.

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The Mercury Room

The Mercury Room, also known as the Mercury Salon, is located in the King’s Grand Apartment. The room is fascinating as it houses the original, royal bedchamber in the State Apartments. It is referred to as “the bedroom”. The room is decorated with tables, mirrors, andirons (metal supports that hold wood in a fire-place) and chandeliers made of silver. The nook is separated from the rest of the room by a terrace made of silver. While much of the furniture in the Mercury Room has been recreated, the bed is the original bed that was placed by Louis-Philippe when he transformed Versailles from a royal residence into a museum.

 

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The Palace of Versailles, as we know it today, was completed by the death of Louis XIV in 1715. There are two enormous asymmetrical wings on either side of the Royal Court totaling 1,319 ft in length. 

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Chapels at Versailles~ I love touring cathedrals and chapels throughout Europe, taking in the columns, colored marble, ornate detail throughout, and of course the murals. The ceiling in the chapel is breathtaking.

Since the palace began, five versions of the chapel at Versailles have evolved. The current chapel, located at the south end of the north wing, is The Chapel of the Palace of Versailles, the last major project for Louis XIV. The Chapel represents French Baroque architecture and ministerial decoration. The Chapel was dedicated to Saint Louis, patron saint of the Bourbons.

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Galerie des Glaces

The Hall of Mirrors~ I have to say the most popular room seems to be The Hall of Mirrors, whose construction began in 1678. The picture does not do it justice. Obtaining a picture without anyone in it is nearly an impossible feat! As you can see, I managed between the tours. The official name is ~ The Galerie des Glaces, perhaps the most celebrated room in the château of Versailles. Jules Hardouin-Mansart replaced Le Vau’s large terrace, facing the garden on the west, with the most famous room of the palace, the Hall of Mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors north side displays art work inspired by the Salon of War, depicting the king’s victory against a European coalition.  While the south side of the Hall, displays art work inspired by a Salon of Peace. It is famous for many of the ceremonies of the French Court during the Ancient Regime. There are numerous renditions around the world, but there is only one Hall of Mirrors. Comparable to being in Florence and settling for the replica of the Statue of David.

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Gardens of Versailles

The Gardens of Versailles~ The gardens represent a French formal garden known as jardin à la française. The garden has a specific style in a way of calling nature to order. Notice the symmetric lines, the garden was designed by Andre Le Notre for Louis XIV. We would have loved to have spent more time exploring the gardens but it was so cold in December. Nonetheless, they were very beautiful even in December.

Interesting Facts~ 181 films have been shot at the Palace of Versailles. A television series called Versailles set during the construction of the Palace in Louis XIV’s reign premiered on November 16, 2015 in France and later in Canada, Britain and the U.S. Dior filmed one of the most glamorous commercials in the Hall of Mirrors featuring actress Charlize Theron advertising the fragrance J’Adore at the Palace of Versailles in 2012 to Depeche Mode’s song Enjoy the Silence.

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Versailles is definitely worth the time that it takes to tour the grounds. Make a day of it!

See the world

Eiffel Tower in December

 

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There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris ~ Ernest Hemmingway

When you think of Paris, the Eiffel Tower has to be the first thing that comes to mind. My mom and I planned a trip to Paris and London in 2014 and had an amazing time running all over the place. I truly believe that you will never regret making memories through travel with the ones that you love. First stop, Eiffel Tower!! After all, it is the one of the top recognized structures of the world and the most visited monument with almost 7 million people per year. After touring Paris in the winter, le croissant and French onion soup are a close second! The Eiffel Tower, named after Gustave Eiffel, is built of wrought iron and located on Champs de Mars. The iconic tower was built from 1887-1889 for the World’s Fair.

Upon checking into our hotel, located on George 5th, the Eiffel tower was located to the right a couple of blocks down. We were fortunate enough to be able to walk to the tower during the day and at night, walking anywhere in December can be bone chilling cold.

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A quote from one of my favorite movies, Sabrina~ “La Vie En Rose: It means seeing life through rose colored glasses, but only in Paris where the light is pink”

As you can see, in the picture above, the Eiffel Tower in December is often surrounded by gray clouds, blistery cold wind and rain or mist. The tower stands 1,063 ft tall, which equates to an 81-story building, making it the tallest building in Paris. As the elevator takes passengers to the observation deck, it can be a little scary looking down. If you are afraid of heights as my mom is, close your eyes. At one time, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world and remained such for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York was built in 1930. The Eiffel Tower is the second tallest building in France.

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View from the lift

As we reached the site of the Eiffel Tower, I was taken aback by the number of guards carrying automatic weapons pacing back and forth, of course this was in 2014. I was familiar with high levels of security as well as police in the United States at touristy areas, but couldn’t remember at that time seeing military with semi-automatic weapons. I wasn’t sure if I felt safer or if it made me more aware? The picture above on the left is standing on the observation deck and the picture to the right is standing in line.

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The tower has three levels which visitors can explore. The first & second levels have restaurants while the upper level, also known as the observation deck (906 feet high), is a fantastic place to take pictures. If you love to climb, tickets are available for visitors to access the tower via stairs. Keep in mind it takes 300 steps to reach the first level. No thanks! I could barely climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but then again those stairs are leaning. We opted to take the elevator (lift) complete with large glass, viewing windows.

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View from the top

$$ Saving Tips~ There are several different modes of transportation to/from the Eiffel Tower. Check with the concierge if you are staying at a hotel or preview a map. We walked from our hotel. It is not necessary to book a tour of the Eiffel Tower, but may be convenient if you are traveling with an elderly family member or small children to ensure less walking, waiting and standing. Many of the tour companies pre-pay the tickets to bypass standing in the line. Some of the tours include dinner at the restaurant within the tower. Others tack on sailing the Seine River. If traveling in the winter, there isn’t a need to purchase the fast pass Eiffel Tower tickets because the lines are short. Save your money and purchase the regular ticket. It was a total of 20 minutes from the time we stood in line until we were at the top of the tower.

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The Best Thing About Paris~ le Croissant

“Until I discovered cooking, I was never really interested in anything” ~ Julia Child

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Chocolate Croissant ~ Paris

IMG_5506Blog posts are inspired by so many different things. Sometimes, it’s just a picture that I reflect on. This post was inspired by a picture and then the memory of one food item. Travel is as much about food and aroma as it is sights and sounds. In fact, food is a huge part of traveling for me. When I think of Paris in December, it draws on the memory of freshly baked croissants, hot out of the oven in a small pâtisserie tucked away in an alley. I had visited Europe in May and September but never in the winter. Paris is very cold in December, even snowing the day we went to Reims. As we roamed the streets, nothing sounded better than a hot coffee, croissant and French onion soup. I think we lived off of these three items for a week!! What more do you need? A hot croissant is not complete without a coffee or espresso!

I am going to assume that everyone has enjoyed a hot croissant at one point in time. They are buttery, flakey and well-known for their crescent shape. Viennoiserie are puffy pastries that have been around since before the middle ages, made of a layered yeast with lots and lots of butter. Croissants should be light and airy not heavy and greasy. Everyone has had that hard, store-bought, greasy croissant at a banquet or conference and they are terrible! The key is eating them while they are fresh. Croissants are a popular item featured at Continental breakfasts. I have had the pleasure of dining at many high-end, five star restaurants and hotels and trust me when I say- nothing is better than a fresh croissant from a corner pâtisserie. If you go to Paris, you must try a freshly baked croissants. Rather than purchasing a croissant from the case at the pâtisserie, we chose to wait for the hot ones to come out of the oven, resulting in the picture below. Bliss! It’s equivilent to drinking chianti in Italy or paella in Spain~ a must. While in Rome…..

Interesting facts~ Making croissants are rather labor intensive and time-consuming. In the 1970’s, factories started making frozen, pre-formed dough which can be baked at home or by fast food outlets. This process is called croissanterie, which is completely Americanized. Today, 30–40% of the croissants sold in patisseries are made from frozen dough.

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Best croissant of my life! Paris, France

Usually when I blog about food, I attach a recipe at the bottom. When it comes to croissants I couldn’t find an “easy” recipe from scratch. Most of the recipes involved multiple days and anything over a couple of hours is not defined as “easy” in my book. For those of you who are craving a croissant and are willing to tackle this, I have posted a recipe which claims to only take 45 minutes just for you. Have at it! I will attempt this recipe at some point in time for myself and post a picture. Please feel free to post a picture in the comment section if you are brave enough to try this recipe. I challenge you!

Ingredients

  • 1 package yeast (2 & 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 1cup warm water
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 3 1cups flour, about
  • 1 cup real butter
  • 1 egg white (beaten until frothy)

Directions

Proof the yeast in the warm water and set aside.

Beat egg yolks,stir in warm milk,sugar,salt, yeast mixture,and 2/3 cup of the flour.

Beat until smooth and set aside.

Cut butter into remaining flour until particles are the size of LARGE PEAS.

Pour in yeast mixture.

Mix lightly with a spatula just until flour is moistened.

Cover and chill at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

IT MUST BE COLD.

Turn out onto a floured board and knead lightly.

Divide into thirds.

Roll each into 16 inch diameter circle and cut into 12 pie shaped wedges.

Roll wedges starting at the wide end.

Place point side down on a greased baking sheet.

Cover with towel and let rise at room temperature until doubled.

Brush each with beaten egg white.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Serve warm or re-heat in low oven– not microwave.

Makes 36 small, but you can make as big as you want.

The recipe is courtesy of Barb Gertz at food.com and can be found at http://www.food.com/recipe/too-easy-croissants-72309

Off to Champagne Region- Reims, France

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Reims

“In Success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it,”
Winston Churchill understood the true value of Champagne

My bucket list is long, so I thought I’d start tackling some of the items when I turned 40! Why not? On my 40th birthday I wanted to experience Champagne tasting in France!! So off we went to Paris and planned a day trip to Reims. Reims, Épernay and Ay, are the center of Champagne production and home to some of the largest Champagne-producing houses headquarters in the world such as Mumm, Moet, Pommery, Taittinger and Chandon. It was time to book a day of Champagne tasting and tours. Unbeknownst to a tourist driving through the town, Champagne ages in the many caves and tunnels carved from chalk, spanning 250km under the city forming a maze. People come from all over to press grapes after harvest to get vin de cuvee, the first press. The second press is called vin de taille which is a lower quality but richer in tannins, so depends what your preference is.

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Champagne A. Bergere

Champagne A. Bergere

We booked a tour to Reims, located approximately 2 hours outside of Paris. It was supposed to include a visit to three tasting houses but one of them was closed. It is very interesting how it works. You really don’t know which tasting house you will end up at until you actually get there because it is all regulated.  The tour also included a fabulous lunch with wine, of course. Who knew that Champagne had so many regulations? Champagne is a type of white wine made from only one type of grape- the black grape (AKA red grape). Not just any black grape, the two grapes which are permitted are Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier. 

Champagne Michel Gonet

Champagne Michel Gonet

Dauby

Dauby

It was snowing the day that we went to the town of Champagne which made the drive through the hills, plains, trees and vineyards even more breathtaking. As you drive through the town, you will see Champagne house after Champagne house. I tried to take pictures of as many as I could, especially on Avenue de Champagne. Champagne differs from wine in more ways than the bubbly. To be considered “champagne” it must meet the  French law which states that all champagne must spend at least 15 months aging in cellars, post bottling. At least 12 of the 15 months is spent maturing and this is when the dead yeast cells break apart adding flavor to the wine. Vintage champagnes means that it has been aging in the cellar for at least three years. It is not uncommon to find Champagnes that have been aged nine years or longer. Why do they age the Champagne? Aging causes the Champagne to have a golden color and the bubbles become softer.

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Cheers~ Champagne Dauber

 “If life brings you troubles, drink some Champagne, then your problems will just become bubbles…”~ author unknown

 

Dauby

Dauby

 

First stop, family owned Champagne Dauby!! Family owned wineries are night and day from commercial producers. Typically, at a family owned champagne house, the owner is present and is excited to share their family story with the visitors. They share what their most popular wines are and the meanings behind each name. At Dauby, some of the wines were named after their daughter. The family was very welcoming and communicated quite well in English; however, our guide was present to interpret as needed. We started out by heading down into the cellar. The cellars are naturally cool year round but not freezing. In fact, I was warmer down there than in the house! The owner stopped at each crate of champagne and explained the maturation process from first fermentation to recorking. The bottles are face down to the let the sediments settle in the neck.

Dauby

Dauby

Dauby

Dauby

After all of the sediments have settled Champagne goes through a process called disgorgement where they freeze the neck and a machine removes the particles which have formed a type of solid, frozen cylinder. Then, sugars are added and it is recorked. Absolutely fascinating! We learned that rosé Champagne is pink in color from extracting juice from the grape skins. I have to say the tour was highly educational. I am thankful we went to this winery first because I retained much more information at the beginning of the wine tasting tour than at the end of the day.  

Down she goes

Down she goes

La Cloche Hotel & Restaurant

La Cloche Hotel & Restaurant

Lunch time!!! After all those sips of Champagne, you will be ready for a bite to eat.

Mozzarella Salad

Mozzarella Salad

Not just any bite to eat though, amazing French cuisine at La Cloche Hotel & Restaurant located in Épernay. La Cloche is a modest 3-story inn located near the historic buildings of Avenue de Champagne! It the first time I have ever had fresh mozzarella with herbs on toast salad. Visit with the other guests on the tour from around the world. We were in Reims in December, which is a very cold time of year. It felt beyond cozy ducking into this warm restaurant where we were served hot, fresh bread and baked chicken with a French sauce along with vegetables.

 

 

Mercier

Mercier

Mercier

Mercier

Final stop, Mercier! Mercier is commercial-scale Champagne house. Of course, we had topose for pictures outside upon arrival. Then we were guided into a small theater viewing room where we watched a short film about the history of Mercier. Next we were in an elevator going 30 meters down to an underground cellar. Once we stepped outside of the elevator, we were boarding a train ride through the cellar and caves. It is pretty over the top! It is a cross between Disneyland and Champagne tasting. The guides tell about the story of the giant barrel that took over 10 years to build abd holds 200,000 bottles of wine. The barrel was transported to the Paris Exposition in 1899 and was one of the biggest highlights, with the exception of Gustave Eiffel’s Tower.

All aboard

All aboard

After the champagne tasting, there is an opportunity to purchase champagne and gift sets. They will ship to your destination. Great experience, but very commercial.

Moulin Rouge!!! The Most Famous Cabaret in the World! A Must See

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” ~ Christian, Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge 1900

Moulin Rouge 1900

When I began planning a trip to Paris, people kept telling me that I had to visit Moulin Rouge. Why is Moulin Rouge so famous and intriguing? I became increasingly interested in the Féerie, a French theatrical genre incorporating fantasy, visuals, and lavish scenery. I heard all kinds of things from snakes in tanks to live ponies. Some warned that it was in a bad part of the city. I really wasn’t sure what to expect and was contemplating taking my mom, but still really didn’t quite know what exactly it was. There is a strict rule of no photography inside which simply adds to the mystery. I won’t spoil it for you by recapping the show, but I will say it is a MUST SEE! While the dancers are topless during much of the production, it is very tasteful and entertaining for all adults. Experience 60 artists as they sparkle and perform for 2 hours on stage wearing unbelievable costumes of feathers, rhinestone and sequins. What used to be considered a run down part of town, is now full of restaurants and night clubs offering an array of shows and entertainment. I just got chills thinking of the history and many people who have entered Moulin Rouge such as~ Edward VII, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Jeanne Aubert and many, many more.

Poster by Jules Chéret, 1890

Poster by Jules Chéret, 1890

I can’t tell you how many times I have said “Moulin Rouge” and people respond by saying, “Oh, I saw that movie”. Moulin Rouge is a screenplay which is based on a 1950 novel by Piere La Mure about the life of artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In 1952, Moulin Rouge was made into a film and, more recently, in 2001 starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor which was nominated for 8 Oscars. The story is about an artist and is set in the Bohemian district of Paris in the late 19th century. Moulin Rouge which translates to “Red Mill” was known as a burlesque palace. Moulin Rouge club is famous for it’s red windmill on the roof that lights up at night and the decor exuding romance. Moulin Rouge introduced French can-can to the world which evolved into European cabarets. The Moulin Rouge was created by Joseph Oller who was Spanish and lived in Paris for most of his life.

Fun facts: Moulin Rouge opened it’s doors in the fashionable district of Montmartre the same year that the Eifell Tower was constructed in 1889. This marked a period of peace, rich culture and optimism. Christina Aguilera, Pink, Lil’ Kim and Mýa all filmed music videos at the Moulin Rouge.

Tickets: Buy tickets in advance! The line is ridiculously long year round and the shows sell out. Purchase Moulin Rouge tickettickets from your hotel concierge or even on line before you arrive. We booked our tickets through a company called Paris Trip. The company picks up guests at any central Paris hotel location, drives them to the door of the Moulin Rouge and then picks the guests up and returns them to their hotel immediately after the show. This is the way to go! Our driver even took pictures of us in front of the club. We were there in December and it looked very crowded and would be difficult to find parking. We had first class service as the driver walked us to the front of the line. Our driver’s name was Hervé and he was the best tour guide we had the entire 16 days spent in Europe. Check out their site at http://www.paris-trip.com/index.asp

Moulin Rouge, Dec. 2014

Moulin Rouge, Dec. 2014

“Come what may. I will love you until my dying day.”~ Moulin Rouge

$$ Saving Tips: Moulin Rouge tickets are sold as dinner & show or just the show. You can also find some matinee dates offered. We purchased an evening show which came with a bottle of champagne. After speaking with several guests who paid for the dinner & show, concierge staff and tour companies, we decided to do the show without the dinner. It would be a nice date night to include dinner. We went out to dinner on our own and then enjoyed the fabulous “Féerie”!!

#livelife, #seetheworld, #explore, #global, #getyourtravelon