Category Archives: France

Exploring the most romantic city in the world: Paris, France

I know this post is long overdue but it was in my draft and I had to publish it. This will be my last post from my Europe trip and I will write about my Thailand and Nepal trip soon.

We had awesome time exploring Paris with the guide and also on our own.

Notre Dame de Paris

This is one of the Parisian icons decorated with gargoyles and gothic touches. Located at the centre of Paris and that of France, Notre Dame had witnessed some of the greatest moments in the city’s history. The graceful and inspiring Catholic church has dominated Paris since the 12th century, survived the Hundred Years War, the French Revolution and two World Wars.

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There was a long queue for the ticket there as well but as we were with our guide we got to go in straight away. As we walked in I was really impressed by the architecture and the stained glass made the place look very colorful.

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The sculptures and the stained glass show the influences of naturalism which cannot be found on earlier romanesque structures.

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The beautiful facade is divided neatly into three levels, with three overwhelmingly carved portals guiding the entrance.

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The cathedral has a narrow climb of 387 steps at the top of several spiral staircases; along the climb it is possible to view its most famous bell and its gargoyles in close quarters, as well as having a spectacular view across Paris when reaching the top. The design of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide, Australia was inspired by Notre Dame de Paris.

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Musee du Louvre

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The Louvre is the world’s largest museum and has one of the world’s greatest art collections in the world. The palace stretches for about half mile between the Seine and Rue de Rivoli. It was originally a fortress built by Philippe-Auguste in the 13th century. 300 years later Francois I replaced it with a Renaissance style building. Many French kings continued to add to the construction and improve it.

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The latest addition to the building is the glass pyramid (also the museum entrance) that sits in the courtyard and was designed by I. M. Pei. The pyramid was unveiled in 1989.

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The Louvre’s collection is overwhelming in size and it includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, antiquities, furniture, coins etc. It is impossible to see everything in one day but most people run to see the two ladies, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the statue of Venus de Milo. They are always surrounded by a crowd of people.

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We spent lots of time outside the Louvre as well admiring the architecture and enjoying sun. Check out some silly photos we took there  🙂

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Cleopatra’s Needle (“L’aiguille de ClĂ©opâtre”)

The Cleopatra’s Needle (“L’aiguille de ClĂ©opâtre”) is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The centre of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphs exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. Along with its twin, it once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple. The ruler of Egypt and Sudan, Muhammad Ali, presented the 3,300-year-old Luxor Obelisk to France in 1826. King Louis-Philippe had it placed in the centre of Place de la Concorde in 1833 near the spot where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had been guillotined in 1793.

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The red granite column rises 23 metres high, including the base, and weighs over 250 tonnes. Missing its original cap, believed stolen in the 6th century BC, in 1998 the government of France added a goldleafed pyramid cap to the top of the obelisk. The obelisk is flanked by two fountains constructed at the time of its erection on the Place.

Arc de Triomphe

We were at Cleopatra’s Needle when we decided the next stop would be Arc de Triomphe. As the Champs-ElysĂ©es is a straight street, I could see the triumph. So when AS suggested to take a tube, I told him “Lets walk”. I didn’t realise that it was more than 2km away and the street was really crowded. It was a hot day so AS was unimpressed that we had to walk for more than 30 minutes to get there. Anyway finally we made it there and we were in front of the beautiful Arc de Triomphe.

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The Arc de Triomphe sits at the western end of Champs-Elysees. It’s the biggest triumphal arch in the world, about 164 meters high. The traffic around the arch is crazy so when accessing the Arc de triomphe we can’t cross the traffic circle but need to take the underground tunnel instead.

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The base of the monument seems even more massive when you’re standing right under the central arch. Along the inside there are names of 660 generals, with a line below the name if they died in battle.

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On the exterior side, on one of the sides there is face of Napoleon looking very much like a Roman emperor and being crowned with a wreath of victory while holding a protective hand over the city of Paris kneeling at his feet.

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The arch was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his victory but wasn’t ready for his bride entrance into Paris, 4 years later. It wasn’t actually completed until 1836, under the reign of Louis-Philippe. Since then it has been used for state funerals and parades.

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 The Arc saw its happiest moments in 1944 when the parade for the liberation of Paris passed under it. You can take an elevator or climb the stairs to the top. There you’ll find a small museum depicting the history of the Arc and from the terrace you’ll get a nice view of Paris.

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Below the Arc de Triomphe lies the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier killed in WWI, which was placed here in 1921. Every evening at 6:30pm the eternal flame at the tomb is rekindled with a ceremony, a tradition that wasn’t even interrupted during Nazi occupation of Paris.

The Champs-Élysées is the widest and the most well-known street of Paris. It’s a boulevard lined with countless restaurants, cafés and stores.

Lunch and chocolate and cookie store

We were so tired walking around all day that we stopped over for lunch at a small café by the side of the road. We had sandwiches and pastries and were really happy to rest our feet.

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Then we went to a chocolate and cookies store a few door down. The cookies and chocolates were freshly made and were yummy. I think we went overboard with our shopping that we had to bring them back to Sydney as we couldn’t finish everything while we were there.

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Opera

The Paris Opera (French: OpĂ©ra de Paris) is the primary opera company of France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the AcadĂ©mie d’OpĂ©ra.

It is an architectural masterpiece of the 19th century, where ballet and opera have been entertaining and evoking overwhelming emotions of a diverse range for years. It took one and a half decades to build the opera house designed by Charles Garnier.

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The Grand Staircase of Palais Garnier, made from different color marbles, links various levels of the auditorium and the foyers. A pair of bronze female statues waving light bouquets welcomes the visitors at the foot of the stairway. The painted ceiling, divided into four sections, features music related allegories. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the library-museum, records opera’s history for three centuries. The permanent gallery exhibits drawings, paintings, scale models and photographs of sets. 

Please click here for more photos.

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Enjoying exotic cuisine in Paris

On the last day of our tour in Paris, we had a farewell dinner in one of the restaurants called L’Escarmouche. It was a five course dinner. The restaurant looked nice like a historical building from the Middle Ages with large tables under a beautiful stone arched roof.

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We were seated in one corner and handed a menu. There were wines already on the table for us to start with.

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While we were deciding on what to eat, we were served French bread to start our dinner.

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The menu was

Entrée

French Onion soup

Snails in garlic butter

Prawn cocktail

Frog’s legs a la Provençale

Duck liver mousse

Main

Filet of Salmon

Beef n Burgundy wine sauce

Filet of Chicken in mushroom sauce

Flambéed prawns

Fine roast duck

Cheese platter

Deserts

Chocolate Mousse

Caramel Crème

Apple Tart

Profiteroles

Peach Melba

Of course me and AS being us, we had to try something we hadn’t tried before so we went for Frog’s legs a la Provençale and Snails in garlic butter. Of course it was our first time eating frog but it was the second time for me eating snail. I had deep fried snails in Malaysia before.

Anyway, when the dishes were served, they looked better than I thought they would.

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The frog looked like a small chicken. Frog legs are one of the better-known delicacies of French cuisine. Frog’s legs have a texture just like chicken, and a taste that is similar but with a little fishy taste and it is somewhat tougher. Believe me if it was serve as chicken, no one could tell the difference.

Snail was a different story.

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The snail I had in Malaysia was a small one whose shells were crisp and deep fried and you could eat it as well. As they were spicy as well it didn’t taste any different than other spicy deep fried stuff but the snail we were served in Paris was a bit bigger. It tasted like a salty, buttery and oversized gummy bear. That is probably the best way to describe it.

I’d say an experience you only do once, but worth doing. They are an acquired taste so not everyone will like it.

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I also tried French Onion soup and Duck liver mousse and they tasted good too. Overall I was very happy with the starters.

It was followed by the main. I had Filet of Chicken in mushroom sauce while AS had Flambéed prawns. Both of the dishes were yummy. I looked around the table and everyone’s main dish looked nice and everyone was happy with what they got.

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When we were done with the main, we were served a chees platter. There were cheese like Aged Cheddar, Goat Gouda, Swiss, Brie, Camembert, Constant Bliss, Gruyere, Jarlesberg, Monterey Jack, Provolone, Blue Cheese to choose from. By this stage I had no room for anything else in my tummy.

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While we were dinning, there were musicians who were singing Australian songs like Waltzing Matilda and Still Call Australia Home for us as there were lots of Aussies in our group.

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During the singing session, the guys asked a few girls including me to come on the floor and dance with them. It was fun to try and do some can can with them J

In that mean time desert was served and they were mouth-watering dishes. I and AS shared our dessert with each other which were Apple Tart and Chocolate Mousse. It was a fantastic way to conclude our dinner.

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It was a great night out and a nice way to farewell our tour friends who were great to travel with around Europe.

Hello from the Top of the Eiffel Tower: Paris

I am sure Eiffel Tower doesn’t need any introduction. It must be one of the most recognized structures in the whole world. It is located on the Champ de Mars in Paris and is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower.

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The tower stands 320 metres (1,050 ft) tall and has three levels for visitors. Tickets can be purchased to ascend, by stairs or lift (elevator), to the first and second levels. The walk from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the walk from the first to the second level. The third and highest level is accessible only by lift, stairs exist but they are not usually open for public use.

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When we were in Paris, one of the things we really wanted to do was to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. After all, we were in the city of love so there was no reason for us to not to go to the top of the iconic structure and see one of the most beautiful city.

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So with that in mind we went to the Eiffel Tower after we finished dinner with our group. By that time we had seen the tower a couple of times form our bus as well as from a view point which is south of Champ de Mars where you can get beautiful photos of the tower. These are some of the wonderful photos AS and I took on those occasions.

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After dinner, our tour bus took us to another location, Jardins de Trocadero from where the view was even better than from the ones before. We took a few photos there and told the guide to leave us there so we can walk to the top of the tower.

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As we were walking, we saw a few cops talking  on the side of the road we were on. When they looked at us, they smiled. One of them started talking to us and asked if I wanted a photo with them. Of course I said yes and here is my photo with a nice French policeman 🙂

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After that we kept walking toward the tower. The first time we saw the tower up close, it was an amazing experience. It is very beautiful and bigger than any movie or any postcards I have ever seen. We just loved it so much. Delicate and graceful when seen from afar, the Eiffel is massive — even a bit scary — from close up. You don’t appreciate the size until you walk toward it; like a mountain, it seems so close but takes forever to reach.

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We knew that there would be a queue to go up so when we were at the foot of the tower; we were not surprised to see a long queue. We were informed that out of 4 lifts in four legs of the tower, only one was working and it would be a long wait.

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We didn’t mind walking the 600+ steps (we did a nice walk in St Paul’s cathedral in London as well) so AS and I decided we would get the ticket for the stairs rather than wait for the lift.  It took a while for us to get the tickets as we were in queue for the lift for over an hour before we realised that we were in the wrong queue. So another 30 minutes in the right queue and finally we got the ticket. While we were in the queue it started to drizzle (after a great day) so we had our umbrella opened while waiting.

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I was really happy when we got our tickets as the wait was finally over. It cost us around 10 euros (5 euro more for the lift) for the trip. I am sure we could have bought tickets online to avoid the queue but it was a good experience to queue and admire Eiffel tower from close up while waiting in the queue.

The sun had set by that time and the lights on the tower were just lit. It is so true when they say that there is something magical about visiting the Eiffel Tower at night. Every evening, the Eiffel Tower is adorned with its golden covering and sparkles for 5 minutes every hour on the hour, while its beacon shines over Paris.

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So we started our first leg of the journey to the First level of the tower.  For the first 100 steps it was exciting as there were lots of information about the tower on the side walls as we went up. Then when we passed 200 steps it was getting a bit tiring and the rain didn’t help.

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I was huffing and puffing at that stage but we had to push ourselves until we finish another 100+ steps get to the first level. It was a great workout and we did bypass the lines for the elevators. But it was windy as we went to the top and even with my warm coat, I was freezing. After 328 steps, I was ready to rest for a while when we finally reached the first level.

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Looking out from the top over the streets of Paris, you’ll see why Paris is known as the “City of Light.” At street level, seeing the spotlight on the top of the Tower zoom across the Paris skyline and the reflection of the Tower in the Seine are sights not to be missed.

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We walked around the floor and were mesmerised by the beautiful city. On the first floor, there is a working post office from where you can send a postcard home with an Eiffel Tower postmark to commemorate your trip. The floor also has a snack bar, WCs (toilets) and souvenir shop.

We have to climb 340 steps more to get to the second floor. This floor was a bit crowed when we got there but it was still worth it. The best views of Paris were from the 2nd level. You are high enough up to see the stunning panorama of the Paris skyline. Yet not too high; so that you can easily recognize most Paris landmarks without using a map. With a panoramic view over Paris, we stopped there for a while to enjoy the amazing view.

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On this level, there is a restaurant, Le Jules Vernes which is remarkable for its breathtaking views of the city and for its kitchen, which is led by celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse.

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After that we decided to take the lift to the top floor. We followed the signs to the elevator line for the ride to the top. There was a queue so we joined it. While in this queue we saw comparisons of Effile tower with land marks around the world including Nepal. It was nice to see Nepali flag there.

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After we caught the lift, we were landed on top level of the tower. It was even more crowded as the area is small. We walked around identifying a few of our favourite Paris landmarks, took a peek through the window at Gustave Eiffel’s office (he has an American visitor!), and snapped a few photos and took the lift back to the second level.

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The journey back was much better. As I climbed down the steps and finished this amazing adventure I wondered how lucky we were to experience such an amazing adventure.

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By that time it was almost midnight. And when we were just on the bridge in front of the tower, we witness the lights. For 5 minutes, the sparkle lights came on, almost equalled by sparkles from all the camera flashes going off below. Very, very nice aseverybody around us were  excited, and having fun. Even though we had been up in other  tower like Burj Khalifa and others before, it was still very special.

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Some interesting facts amount the tower:

  • The American TV show pricing the Priceless speculates that in 2011 the tower would cost about $480,000,000 to build, that the land under the tower is worth $350,000,000, and that the scrap value of the tower is worth $3,500,000. The TV show estimates the tower makes a profit of about $29,000,000 per year, though it is unlikely that the Eiffel Tower is managed so as to maximize profit.
  • The electric bill is $400,000 per year for 7.5 million kilowatt-hours.
  • In hot weather, it’s six inches taller.
  • Annual visitors : almost 7 million, 75% of whom are foreigners
  • Tall : 324 metres (with its antennas)
  • Weight : 7,300 tonnes of metallic framework, and a total weight of 10,100 tonnes
  • Number of metallic parts : 18,000 metallic parts joined by 2,500,000 rivets
  • Height of each floor :1st floor: 57m; 2nd floor: 115m; 3rd floor: 276m
  • Lighting : 336 projectors (sodium lamps)
  • Sparkling lights: 20,000 bulbs (5,000 on each side) glitter for 5 minutes every hour on the hour, from nightfall until 1a.m.
  • Number of antennas : 120 antennas
  • Number of steps on the East staircase until the top : 1,665 steps
  • Number of lifts : From the ground floor up to the 2nd floor: 5 (1 on the eastern pillar, 1 on the western pillar, 1 on the northern pillar, 1 private lift on the southern pillar leading to the “Jules Verne” restaurant, and 1 goods lift on the southern pillar). From the 2nd floor up to the top: 2 sets of 2 Duo-lifts.
  • Kilometers travelled by the lift : The combined distance travelled of the lift cabins is 103,000 km a year (2.5 times the circumference of the Earth).
  • Surface to be painted: 250,000 m2 of surface to be painted during each painting campaign, every 7 years. 60 tonnes of paint are needed.
  • Thanks to restoration on the Eiffel Tower, the engraved names of 72 French scientists and engineers from the original design are visible again. Most of the scientists were active during the French Revolution and the early 19th century.  The engravings were covered over in the early 20th century and restored for the first time in 1986-1987, and again last in 2010.

Please click here for more photos.

Enjoying Paradis Latin Cabaret in Paris: France

Of course one has to go to the Cabaret when you visit Paris for the first time. So it was on our to-do list. We wanted to watch Moulin Rouge as I had heard great reviews about it. When we were there we couldn’t get the ticket for that so instead we went to watch a show called “Paradis à la Folie” in Paradis Latin Cabaret.

The Paradis Latin is a theatre at number 28, rue du Cardinal Lemoine, in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Le Paradis Latin is one of the oldest cabarets in the world and the only cabaret situated on the left bank of Paris in the original, yet very expertly renovated building that was originally constructed by Gustave Eiffel.

Paradis Latin features the famous French Can-Can, there is a friendly atmosphere with a sexy and mischievous for an almost 2 hour revue that is definitely not suitable for children.

We paid 88 euro per person with one glass of champagne included. There was dinner option as well but we didn’t do it.

I was dressed in my long blue dress and AS wore his formal pant and shirt.

When we got there, the hall was full and there was some music going at the background. A waiter escorted to our seats and served us the champagne.

It was interesting to see mixed crowd in the room. It looked like there were people from all over the world. There was a big table full of Indian tourist with families. I was surprised to see grandparents who looked 70+ and also kids who looked 7 years old or younger.

The theatre is two floored and looks liked it fits almost 200 people. The decor is very old style with big chandeliers and wallpapers. The Paradis Latin considers itself to be the most Parisian of the great cabarets and this can be seen in the decoration of the theatre, the world famous French Can-Can and in the ballets, the cosmopolitan dance troupe with their shimmering costumes and the previous shows, or revues as they are known, such as the Paris Paradis, Nuit de Paradis and Champagne

The show is advertised as featuring original music, stunning costumes and dance routines that are sure to take your breath away.

The theatre must aim at tourists because the compere translated everything he said into English so even if you speak no French at all you won’t miss anything.

When the show started, they turned off the lights, and the announcer started his presentation, first in French, then in English. The show is fine for both French and English-speaking clients, however, the announcer does make a few jokes in French .The show at the beginning was very slow but later it became more interesting. There were always half naked dancing girls (disco style, cheerleaders…), male dancers, acrobats and one singer. The costumes and settings varied a lot from one act to the next, and the show is supposed to be a timeline of love in Paris, starting in the early 1900, going all the way to 2089.

The highlight was a man riding a unicycle with his juggling act and a gymnast on a trapeze.  The can-can at the end was great and put everyone in a dancing mood. The show was done with style and it was very entertaining.

As it was my first experience, I found it interesting as I kind of knew what to expect. We had a mother and daughter on our table and they didn’t like it at all. And all the nudity made them uncomfortable.

Over on the big table full of Indian tourist with grandparents and grand kids, they seemed to be stunned.  I am sure whoever asked them to go for this show never explained to them that there would be nude girls so most of them were looking away from the stage or just putting their head down.  I won’t be comfortable to watch that show in front of my parents or kids as well so I can understand what was going on in their heads. What a waste of money for them. Also I am not sure how they allowed kids to attend this.

With incredibly talented artists, a good choreography and a mass of colours showcasing beauty and rhythm through ballet, tap dancing and other attractions, it was one of the most exciting evenings we had in Paris.

Palace of Versailles: France

France was the last stop in our Europe trip.

I realised during the tour that we were lucky we didn’t need to spend any time queuing up for tickets as all our tours were pre booked and we had a local guide. Otherwise there seemed to be hundreds of people waiting for tickets and to get in everywhere we went.

We started our trip with a tour of the Palace of Versailles. Versailles has been the capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. Nowadays it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 17 km away from the French capital, and remains an important administrative and judicial centre.

The first thing you must do is enter the golden gates. Once inside, the sheer size of the complex will leave you speechless.

This splendid and enormous palace was built in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – the Roi Soleil (Sun King) – to project the absolute power of the French monarchy, which was then at the height of its glory. Its scale and decor also reflect Louis XIV’s taste for profligate luxury and his boundless appetite for self-glorification. Some 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled on the structure, the bills for which all but emptied the kingdom’s coffers. The château has undergone relatively few alterations since its construction, though almost all the interior furnishings disappeared during the Revolution and many of the rooms were rebuilt by Louis-Philippe (r 1830–48).

As you enter the Palace from the main entrance, you immediately realize that the Château de Versailles is all about extravagance and luxury. Gold accentuates everything from the gates to the statues ornamenting the exterior of the building, up to furnishings inside. Opulent chandeliers and loads of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries adorn the interiors. Each of the French kings who lived there until the French Revolution, added improvements to make it more beautiful. The major of these, were those by Louis XIV, who devoted many rooms and parts of the gardened to the sun – the monarch’s symbol – or one of the seven planets that revolve around the magical star.

Inside, you will see the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen that include the infamous Hall of Mirrors. It was here that the king crowed his royal power to visitors.

Once we finished with the Chateau, we went outside and start wandering through the garden. The garden is massive; it looked bigger that from Schönbrunn Palace , with flower beds to highlight the castle, statues, vases and busts decorated its paths.

The gardens are stunning and the music coming out from the hidden speakers made the ambience even better.

The section of the vast gardens nearest the palace, laid out between 1661 and 1700 in the formal French style, is famed for its geometrically aligned terraces, flowerbeds, tree-lined paths, ponds and fountains. The 400-odd statues of marble, bronze and lead were made by the most talented sculptors of the era. The English-style Jardins du Petit Trianon are more pastoral and have meandering, sheltered paths.

The gardens’ largest fountains are the 17th-century Bassin de Neptune (Neptune’s Fountain), a dazzling mirage of 99 spouting gushers 300m north of the palace, and the Bassin d’Apollon (Apollo’s Fountain) built in 1688 at the eastern end of the Grand Canal.

We couldn’t get over the size of the garden and the different hidden pathways you can find in it. Although we visited a small fraction of the gardens, you get a sense of their grandeur. While we were enjoying the romantic walk in the garden, out of nowhere it suddenly started raining heavily. There was nowhere to shelter so me and AS ran towards the palace, the way back was long and uphill. By the time we got to the shelter, we both were soaking wet. So we waited in the palace for the rain to stop before going back to our tour bus.

It looked really funny when we got to the bus as the sun was up again and we looked stupid to be soaking wet.

Please click here for more photos.

P&O Cruise from Dover (UK) to Calais (France)

At the end of our stay in London we joined our tour company in London and from there we started our European adventures. From London they took us to Dover where we boarded a P&O Cruise to Calais, France.

A cruise holiday has also been in my list for a long time as there are so many cruise holidays that I can do around the pacific region at a not-too-expensive price. Being on this short cruise gave me a rough idea of what it would be like. The cruise was around 2 hours.

Once we were given a pass for the Cruise in our tour bus, we were told that it would depart in an hour so we waited in the café and had something to eat.

We went out and had a look around for some time. It was a beautiful sunny day with a clear blue sky. Once we boarded the ship, we passed through a casino, a bar and a shop to be escorted into the big open lounge area where there were lots of chairs and tables as well as sofas to rest.

We took a seat by the window and enjoyed the outside view. Once the boat move toward France, we wandered around the ship. We found out that there was a big food court upstairs and we had some food. AS got his beer and we enjoyed the food with a  view of the ocean. It was so relaxing to look at the empty ocean.

After that, we walked around to check out the bar, casino and shopping. It was nice going through different levels and discovering different things in the ship. From there we went to the top deck and the view was great from there. We could see Dover far behind us and in front of us as long as we could see, it was all water. Also a few other P & O cruises were passing us. Even though it was a nice sunny day, it was really windy on the top deck so after a while we decide to go down to the lower deck and enjoy the view from behind the glass window.

I really enjoyed the trip and when we reached Calais, I was so excited to step on the soil of France. Finally my dream of going to (mainland) Europe had come true. There, we were escorted to our tour bus and we were off to our hotel.