Even though Paris is filled with a never-ending array of shops, monuments and activities for tourists, there's plenty to see in other parts of France too. So I ventured outside the city twice to get a different taste of French history and life.
The first stop was a pretty "typical" place for a first-time visitor to check out. Yes, I'm talking about...
Château de Versailles
The Palace at Versailles is legendary. I've been wanting to visit it ever since I was about nine or ten-years-old, the age when I read (and reread) an adaptation of The Three Musketeers. A few years ago, my desire to visit Versailles came back full force after I read a biography on Marie Antoinette. While the palace does not have the happiest history, it has an amazing history — especially considering it was really only used for about a century, a relatively short period of time compared to other historical places in France.
All I can say is, visiting Versailles was definitely worth it. Yes, it was extremely crowded (and even a bit stuffy), but if you're the least bit interested in the history, it's most worthwhile. And even if you aren't that into it, you might learn something from it! I had the opportunity to visit the King and Queen's respective apartments, saw certain portraits I read about in the previously-mentioned Marie Antoinette biography in person, and also visited the Hall of Mirrors. I also had the chance to look into part of the chapel that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI got married in. This was neat, not only because of the royal connection, but also because of its connection to the arts. Apparently, Mozart once played the organ that still lies within that chapel!
We wound up seeing Versailles with a tour group, which I would recommend because it will help you get through the massive lines to enter the palace a lot faster. The only regret I have is that our tour ended up being a half-day tour, not a full-day tour (we weren't made aware that two options existed since a travel agency booked the tour for us). If I'd had more time, I would have been able to explore the gardens more extensively, and would have also visited the neighboring estates. I'll have to go back someday, since I'd really like to see Marie Antoinette's little "hamlet." But I'm still glad I had a chance to see the palace at least once so far.
Claude Monet's House at Giverny
We ventured even further away from Paris during our last full-day in France. This time we decided to go somewhere a little less decadent, so we wound up making a trip to Giverny, which is also home to Claude Monet's house and gardens. (Monet and several members of his family are also buried in the local church's graveyard). The village itself is a lovely, quaint area that happens to be approximately 50 miles away from Paris. I personally found it a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Meanwhile, visiting Monet's house and gardens seriously make you feel like you're walking through a life-size painting. The Japanese Garden is the instantly-recognizable one. It still houses the beautiful water lilies and mini bridges that became famous in Monet's paintings. And each bit of wildlife is simultaneously tranquil and vibrant, even while other people are trekking all over the property.
The garden outside Monet's actual house is a little more haphazard and European in nature, but also very colorful due to the flowers that are everywhere. And then there's the house itself — a beautiful, charming, cozy place with cheerfully painted walls and matching furniture. Being inside that house and walking through the gardens, I could see why Monet was so content to live there for so long.
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