Sunday, 26 July 2015

Palace of Versailles: Over the Top Opulence!

No doubt, like me, you have heard of the grandeur of the great European palaces, but nothing could prepare me for the unsurpassed opulence of the Palace at Versailles! We had risen early to catch the train, which  delivers you to the township of Versailles about 16 km from Paris. In fact, we were so early, we were first in line for the ticket office. We happily munched on our standard Parisian breakfast of ham, cheese, and baguette while waiting for the hordes of visitors who arrive each day to view this amazing site!

Early morning........empty Palace forecourt usually packed with busloads of tourists!
The grandeur of one of the many hall areas complete with magnificent organ. 

The first impression of this palace is so overwhelming, you can well imagine the peasantry rebelling against this excessive show of wealth. Any servant who worked  at this palace (and the smaller one belonging to Marie Antoinette) would not have basked in the glow of the Sun King, Louis XIV and his eccentricities, like his courtiers! The original palace was built by Louis XIV in 1631-34 and continued to house 2 more royals, King Louis XV and XVI. By the revolution in 1789, the little hamlet of Versailles had grown to 60,000 people!

Luxurious drawing room fittings including finest silk covered cushioned footstools.

Interior of the palace...... drawing room delight!

We marvelled at the paintings and sculptures, bedrooms and art galleries, but the highlight for me was the Hall of Mirrors. This immensely long hall is made to appear even bigger by the clever positioning of 100's of floor to ceiling mirrors. Tall candelabra line the walls with ornate ceilings reminiscent of the works of the famous European artists. This hall was used for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, by Germany and the Allied countries after WW1.

Myself in the amazing Hall of Mirrors, getting up close to some amazing trappings of courtly life!

This palace was at first a royal hunting lodge with wild animals for the King to hunt. Louis XIV gradually added the north and south wings and formal gardens, adding pressurized fountains which today are still in working order and shoot water high into the air. The mile long canal is quite a distance from the main building and was used for naval demonstrations. The King kept gondolas from Venice on it, complete with gondoliers! While we were there, it was being used for rowing practice and competitive teams glided along its length. 

Classic fountain, looking back at the main palace. 

After a lengthy walk, we arrived at the estate area where Marie Antoinette kept her smaller Petit Trianon or palace, for her own amusement. She also had a working farm which provided the palace with fresh produce. There was a small theatre and Temple of Love nearby. This farm area was fascinating, it seemed to have a fantasy aspect with wooden staircases disappearing up into the upper floors of houses, a working water mill and  ducks on lakes, all of which were quite rustic. It was a peaceful spot to ponder the enormity of this vast estate!

By this stage, I was exhausted and only had enough energy to head back to the main palace and its cobbled courtyards and stagger down to the town area and the train home to Paris! Home sweet home to our local bar and provider of all things French. We sat and contemplated the glory of the French royal palaces in between drinks... and dinner... and more drinks! A fitting end to a fine day!
MY TIP: Good walking shoes and take the golf carts rent a bicycle or  catch the mini train! Paying a fee is the best alternative as otherwise, walking the entire estate of 2000 acres is a marathon event!

Splendid geometrically accurate gardens have been recreated outside the palace.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Top Tips For International Travel

I have been travelling overseas for more than 11 years now and my motto is "expect the unexpected"! Here are my top 10 tips for making international travel easier.

1. Firstly and most important: Be super organised!  Arrange your travel insurance - there are always surprises when you are travelling!  Write and distribute copies of your itinerary to your family or friends: it sometimes takes me a year to organise a full itinerary of places to stay and travel between. Also take copies of your travel documents: passport, itinerary and banking details for the inevitable phone home situation when you encounter difficulties with theft, breakages or mislaying items! We were robbed in Greece and broke a mobile phone in a backpack when it fell from a roofrack in a Portuguese bus!

2. Pack lightly, roll tightly. I go by the old ‘pile them on the bed’ method: sort your things, divide them in half, divide them in half again and that’s what you really need! Alright, I sometimes sneak a couple of things back in! I pack smallish items into shoes and wrap any souvenirs in clothing to prevent breakages. I carry a quantity of plastic sealing lunch bags useful for carry on items that have be in clear view for customs checks.

3. Always take a pashmina or scarf and long skirt or pants for those visits where modest dress is necessary. Some of the places I have needed these are the monasteries of Meteroa, the mosques in Arabian countries and temple visits in South East Asia.

4. Keep fit, you will need it for those days exploring through enticing and ancient cities with narrow byways, cobbled pavements and endless stairs to high viewpoints! I try and walk every day but housework or a busy schedule easily qualify!

5. Pack warm weather clothing and an umbrella. I always take a beanie, gloves and warm jacket for those unexpected cold weather changes and situations like we had on board an overnight ferry to Crete where we froze due to being unable to turn the air con down! I always take my hooded jacket on the flight to wear; it can fold up into a small bundle for using as a pillow in desperate situations!

6. Pack reading material for those terribly long waiting times, waiting for a connecting train or bus (5 hours in Greece once!) or waiting at airports with huge inter connecting times for flights. When travelling, I find there are usually second hand bookshops somewhere where I can buy books and donate them at the next hotel or hostel.

7. Organise your carry-on luggage! I take a backpack with my passport, toiletries, a change of clothes, notebook computer or iPad, my charging devices and power converters for the country I'm going to, mobile phone, pen, small pack of tissues, moisturiser and lip balm, a book or Kindle, pocket sized camera, water bottle, (though these sometimes have to be emptied out or abandoned altogether depending on regulations), puzzle book,  cloth bottle holder which fits across the body (I bought this in Myanmar and it’s so useful in hot countries for carrying while walking) and barley sugar (or the like) to chew when ascending and descending in the plane.

8. Make sure your baggage is easily identifiable by putting something colourful on it - I put a bright orange macramé cord on mine: this is guaranteed not to be on anyone else’s! There is always a mad dash for the baggage carousel, so make sure you have a trolley handy first thing.

9. Use wheeled luggage. When we started travelling they were not available! I now have a wheeled weekender sports type bag with an extendable handle. This will save you in big airports where you have to walk miles to the gates. Mine is also backpack convertible, although I haven’t needed to use it.

10. Arrive at your airport early – Virgin Australia is always happy to help you check in! I try to be first in line by arriving well before the regulation time and then you can roam the cafeterias, shopping and duty free area and have a relaxing beverage or two before the flight! Sometimes, you may even bag an exit aisle seat by being early- it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Now celebrate in style, you have earned it and after all, the enjoyment begins the minute you board that flight for destinations and experiences only imagined!

This post is an entry for the Virgin Australia Problogger Event travel tips competition.