Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Boating in Versailles

Boats are docked at the side of the lake at the portion of the gardens of Versailles Palace (pronounced as ver-sigh) called Little Venice. The lake, just off the Grand Canal, is part of the 815-hectare garden that serves as the backyard of the majestic Chateau Versailles, which back in the reign of French King Louis XIV was the seat of royalty. As if the views are not yet enough -- the palace itself, the manicured lawns and well-maintained topiaries, the fountains, and the vast expanse of forest and green horizon -- boating at the man-made lake or just sitting on the grass beside it can be quite a different experience.

When we visited in Summer of 2012, we weren't really able to take a boat ride as we were part of Sandeman's walking tour of this place. Sure, we were given an hour's break to try this off, but mom and I just contented ourselves with the view, with mom sitting on the grass while I dipped my feet at the ice cold water. Not a good idea, really, as the walk at the gardens was really tiring, and old people in the Philippines say it's not a good idea to wet tired parts of your body.

But who am I to resist the lake when I sit on the edge alongside parents and their kids who also dip their legs into the water?

Our guide Camille told us that back in the day, these boats were real gondolas given by the Doge of Venice to King Louis XIV, with matching gondoliers in their tenor voices. The creation of these canals and 80 fountains was a major problem back then due to lack of water source in Versailles.

But as Camille said, "what Louis wants, Louis gets." And so the king's subjects had to scramble to devise mechanisms that would lift water from the River Seine.

Thank heavens for Louis' bratiness, that without it, we wouldn't enjoy the beauty of Versailles.

Tip sheet:

- Boat rides cost about 11 euros for a 30-minute ride, 13 euros for 45 minutes, and 15 euros for 1 hour. Biking at Little Venice is also possible, with bikes for rent for 4.50 euros for 30 minutes, 6.50 for 1 hour, 15 euros for 4 hours and 17 euros for 8 hours.

- Boating is impossible from December to February as the lake is closed for annual maintenance.

- Getting to Versailles: Versailles is 45 minutes by high speed, RER train from Paris. Round trip tickets cost about 6.50 euros. They sell tickets with unlimited rides at the tourist office at the airport, which already includes unlimited rides to and from Versailles and other suburbs of Paris. But a local told me that at 20 euros (or 30? I forgot), it is quite expensive.

- Sandeman's guided tour of Versailles costs 30 euros, and that already includes the train ride. Not that I am endorsing them (well, I've joined their tours in Paris, Montmartre and Prague) but the guides have inside stories that are not in Wikipedia. Visiting the place becomes much more meaningful with such information.