Paris: Versailles, Moulin Rouge, and Catacombs

November 23, 2018 – November 25, 2018

I’ll take any excuse I can for a trip to Paris, so when Tyler told me he had a training during the week, we decided to go up early and spend the weekend in the city. It’s a bonus that we can easily and cheaply get to Paris with the 3 hour high speed train. Especially since I work right by the airport, it’s super convenient to travel on Fridays right after work. We made it to Paris by about 21:30, in time to check out a cocktail bar next to our hotel called Sherry Butt. The ambiance and cocktails at this place were superb and I would recommend a trip if you’re in the area.

Because we’ve both been to Paris a few times and have done most of the typical touristy things, we spent our Saturday visiting the Palace of Versailles. It was relatively easy to get to from Paris, we just had to take a 30 minute train and then the Palace itself is about a 15 minute walk from the train station. After doing a lot of research about how busy the place can get, we decided to buy tickets online in advance and tried to get there before 10 am. We almost made our goal time and luckily the security line wasn’t too intense by the time we arrived. We only had to wait maybe 15 minutes to enter the grounds.

My first impression of the palace was that it is enormous and the huge golden fence and gates surrounding it are impressively ornate.

There’s probably a better way to structure your visit to Versailles than we did, but I was hangry, and our first stop had to be the restaurant. We kind of bypassed all of the exhibits while I was in search for food. We ended up going back through the museum to see all of the floors, but I think we should have started with the Hall of Mirrors and the King’s Apartment, because by the time we got to those main attractions the crowds were almost unbearable.

The museum was filled with floor to ceiling paintings depicting events across the centuries and statues commemorating famous Frenchmen (I did not see one single statue of a famous French woman, but maybe I missed it). As we wound our way through the halls and rooms I stood in awe of the massive scenes and was intrigued that many of the scenes depicted were that of battle. It seemed that only battles were worth commemorating in the 1600s.

I can only see so many paintings and sculptures without losing interest, so we continued on to the next area of the palace, the rooms of the King’s daughters. We were able to walk through the apartments of Victoire and Adelaide. The sheer opulence was stunning. Everything was delicately detailed and covered in gold. Only the finest materials were used in everything including the bedding, chairs, and carpets. Each apartment consisted of at least 5 rooms where the girls would sit and read, play cards with visitors, or sleep. I especially enjoyed seeing their bedrooms which were very ornate. We had audio guides during our tour and I learned that the girls were 37 and 38 when they were exiled to Italy after the French Revolution.

After we toured the daughter’s apartments, we headed to the Hall of Mirrors and King’s Apartment. Although they were, in fact, pretty cool things to see, it was such crowded chaos that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could’ve. The Hall of Mirrors is basically a ton of mirrors and chandeliers.

The King’s apartment was even more extravagant than that of his daughters. Unfortunately the Queen’s apartment was closed for renovations.

The history of France is something that I haven’t studied in much detail, but after visiting Versailles, I was very interested in the family that lived there and also the French revolution. 

Not only can you tour the palace, but the grounds of Versailles have so much to offer. Although it was a blustery November day when we visited, we still walked around the now dead gardens. I imagine in the spring it is really incredible to see (and twice as busy). You can rent golf carts to get you around the premises, but we decided to use foot power and headed towards the Grand Trianon.

Once again, I had to stop for some food and there was a little café along the way where I got an amazing cup of French onion soup (I guess there it is just called onion soup) and we rested our feet.

When we made it to the Grand Trianon, I thought it was honestly a little boring. Not as splendid as the  big palace and really nothing new to see. The part I did enjoy was a room that had about 20 paintings of the fountains on the grounds with different interpretations. Most of the paintings had gods and angels in the sky. One of the paintings was of the angry gods.

By the time we left, it was already almost 2pm and we had seen so much. I was kind of ready to head back to Paris, but Tyler enticed me with seeing the Queen’s Hamlet, basically a little “play” village that Marie Antoinette set up to pretend like she was a peasant. She would bring her girlfriends, children, and lovers to this village. It was actually also a working farm and had several animals. The quaint thatch roof buildings were quite a contrast from the opulence of Versailles, but it felt peaceful and like we were in the countryside. I imagined Marie Antoinette there several years before playing house. I especially enjoyed that each house had a garden outback and there were several huge greens and purples thriving. Again, probably even cooler in the spring. The village also had a lot of walking paths around it and a big pond that you could take a stroll around.

Having seen most of what the grounds had to offer, we made our way back to the chateau via a little train/bus because our feet were wiped. We exited the grounds and headed back to the train station where we got on a train with a guy barking and had to change cars to keep our sanity. We ended up back at the hotel around 5pm which was a full day, having left at 8:30!

But the night was just beginning as we had 11pm reservations for Moulin Rouge! Tyler did a lot of research about restaurants for dinner and he really picked a winner. We headed to Clamato to put our names on the waiting list and then went over to Septime The Cave to have a glass of wine while we waited. The wine bar was very cozy and we even made friends with a Dutch / American couple. I always love when we meet interesting people on our travels.

But back to Clamato, this place seriously should be on your Paris list! It was reasonably priced for Paris standards and the food was incredible. It is owned by the same people as the wine bar and the group also owns a Michelin star place that is not open on the weekends (we know this because we got online a month before our trip to try to make reservations only to learn it was not possible. What kind of restaurant isn’t open on the weekend?? Lots of Paris ones apparently).

Clamato is a seafood place, which normally wouldn’t be my top pick in Paris, but everything was so fresh. The dishes were meant to be shared, so we started outwith some thinly sliced raw scallops in a lemon sauce and sourdough bread. The dishes also included tuna sashimi and pomegranate, the best ceviche I have ever had with a Mexican flare, mushrooms, and deviled eggs with caviar. We were sitting at the bar, so we watched the chefs cooking all of the food and noticed these little cakes that everyone seemed to be ordering. We were anxious that they would run out before we had a chance to order, but luckily another tray came out while we were still finishing our food. The maple tart was basically maple syrup in a tart. It was seriously one of the BEST desserts I have ever had, even rivaling the cheese foam in Lisbon. We downed the whole thing and seriously debated ordering another, but needed to get moving to the Moulin Rouge.

In the cab on the way to the show I fell asleep, so we decided to down a quick espresso before heading into the show. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we entered the theater 30 minutes before showtime and immediately saw a line of hundreds of people. We went through this line into a huge type of holding room where everyone was pushing to get to the front. Once we got through to the next room, a waiter takes you to your seats. Apparently you can’t choose your seats, they’re kind of randomly assigned. We had seats literally in the front row. This was nice because we could see everything super close up, but maybe not as good to see the show as a whole.

The show basically consisted of topless women and men dancing in vibrant and intricate costumes for an hour and a half. It was actually very entertaining and made me want to start practicing so I could kick myself in the head when doing a high kick. In between costume changes there were a few different acrobatics acts. These two guys were doing crazy handstands on top of each other and we could see their veins popping out of their arms as well as the sweat flying off their faces.

The craziest thing by far was when the floor opened up and a tank of water started rising up. We were about 3 feet away from this tank and I was excited to see what was in it. Much to my dismay, there were about 6 boa constrictors each more than 5 feet in length swimming around. I literally screamed. One of the topless dancers dove into the water and swam with these creatures while twirling them around her body. It was ridiculous and I will definitely have nightmares about it. As the tank was descending back into the floor, one of the snakes was able to get part of its body out of the tank and almost make an escape. The girl quickly swam over and pulled it back in. I was horrified.Worst part of the show.

It was such a different experience to see the Moulin Rouge, but I really enjoyed it. If nudity isn’t your thing, then you should probably stay away, but I thought it was done as tastefully as possible.

The show let out around 1:30am and instead of going back to the hotel to get some sleep, we headed to a tiki bar. I am not sure why. Luckily we could only stay for one drink because the bar was closing at 2am and we needed to go back to the hotel.

On Sunday we obviously were not up early. We had reservations for the catacombs at noon and were able to make it on time. We got out of the metro and saw a huge line of maybe 400 people wrapping around the block. I was so glad that a few weeks before I had thought to buy tickets in advance. The line for people who already had tickets was significantly shorter. Apparently, only 200 people are allowed in at a time, so if you don’t have tickets, you basically have to wait until there are less than 200 people in the catacombs and there are not anymore people with tickets in line. I imagine the line would take several hours to get through. All to see some bones.

Don’t touch the skulls

We got audio guides with our tour and headed down the 150ish steps into the depths of the caves. They were originally built to harvest limestone, but were reinvented for another purpose when the graveyards in Paris started to fill up. Millions of bodies were moved from graves into the depths of the catacombs. It’s really creepy how the bones are arranged on top of each other. Some of the sections even had what looked like designs with the skulls.

Scientists have been able to figure out a lot about the old bones by studying them. When there were large amounts of bones from the same time frame, it was likely from plague. Some bone diseases could also be identified as well as the age of the person when they died with some certainty.

We wandered through the different crypts and it was kind of an eerie place. My favorite story was about someone who in the late 1800s had a concert down in the catacombs. He invited about 100 people to join and it was a kind of secret society having a private show.

After the catacombs we kind of wandered around aimlessly through the Luxembourg Gardens and up to Saint Michel area. Then we headed towards the Le Marais are of town which I really loved. I wish we would have spent our whole afternoon in the cute little shops. Everywhere you looked, French fashion was in full force and I was drooling over many of the necklaces and jackets. We didn’t really have much time to shop before I had to catch my train, so we grabbed a quick, but amazing (and seriously drippy) falafel and headed towards the train station. My fourth trip to the city, and I still find new things to do and love. Til next time Paris!

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