Sunday, 31 March 2013

Paris Day 3 - Palace of Versailles and the Great Tourist Crowd

The Great Queue of Versailles. Nature Calls Put on Hold. Garçon, A Side Order of 2nd Hand Smoke Please!

 5 °C

Taking a train to Château de Versailles from Paris could be tricky because there're a few alternatives. This is what our Fraser staff's suggested. We took a train from Esplanade de la Défense to La Défense metro station on the 1st carriage and left at the closest exit. By the way, La Défense station is the 1st station on Line 1. As soon as we got through La Défense metro station's turnstile, we spotted a ticket counter for the Transilien ticket counter. The entrance to the train is just located right behind the ticket counter.

Versailles-Rive-Droite station
Versailles-Rive-Droite station
We got off at the Versailles-Rive-Droite station. We turned left after leaving station, passed a open-air food market, and arrived at the palace after some 5 mins walk.

Open air food market, Versailles, Paris
Open air food market

For readers who had read my Paris Day 2 diary got a dose of my highlights of how bad the crowd was during this Easter weekend. But this holiday season isn't over yet. None of the long queues outside the Louvre, or Notre-Dame prepared what we going to see in the Palace.

tourist crowd at Versailles at Easter weekend
Tourist crowd at the forecourt of the Palace of Versailles at Easter weekend
Let me just do a quick reckoning of the queue length for the Palace of Versailles. I counted that there were 8 ranks in the queue spans the length of the forecourt of the Palace between the 2 gates (I had to make some use of my queueing time somehow). Using google maps, the distance between the 2 gates is about 150m.

Therefore, the queue  = 8 x 150m = 1.2km = The Great Queue of Versailles.

Of course, this only shows crowd waiting to get in. This was afternoon, so there were already a lot of tourists got inside. You do the maths.

I guess it's true what people saying about how few European going to churches anymore.

I did warn Etta about the crowd in this Palace after what we saw in the last 2 days. She wanted to see the fountain show, which only staged on the weekend. She further added that with the Paris Pass that we bought yesterday (read the Paris Day 2 diary), we could skip the queue for the entry ticket. There was a queue of about 20 people lining at the ticket office just outside the Palace's gate. We certainly skipped that queue to jump straight to the 1.2km long queue for people who already got the Paris Pass. We the lucky lots lots!

Warning: The rest of this article is rated CGR (Children Guidance Recommended). It contains some mild offensive language, whinging sarcasm, bad puns and toilet humour. It's suitable only for person of age 21 and under (ok, 30 and under. I'm feeling generous). For the mature readers, childish guidance is recommended. Please consult your child if pain persists.

Here's interesting little trivia: do you know that the Palace didn't provide any toilet in the area between the gates where the tourists formed a history-making queue? Considering that Paris is the most visited city, and this is the most popular attraction in Paris (more crowded than Eiffel Tower), shouldn't they provide at least one toilet in this area? I also saw some nice long tourist queues for public toilets in Paris streets in the last 2 days.

I chanted to myself as I waited in the queue to avoid nature calls getting louder, "don't think about the fountain show!" Apparently, this theory don't hold water (don't wince, I did warn you).

When I finally got into the Palace after more than 2 hours, we went through 2 security gates. There was enough space to put in 5 such gates. Even with only 4 gates, it would half the waiting time. Ok, I could see that they may use this bottleneck to control the flow of traffic into the Palace. After all, the visitors already inside the Palace couldn't or wouldn't want to move as fast as the traffic at the security gates. I'll let this one slide (like water off a duck's back). "Don't think about water", I chanted to myself.

I haven't done with talking about the toilets just yet. Yes, my head is still in the gutter. After a movie, you usually see a rush of movie goers hitting the cinema toilets with that natural accumulation of nature calls that need to be answered urgently (they were put on hold - as well as on silent - during the movies). Well, our wait is longer than an average movie, and it was cold and windy. As soon as I passed through the security check point, I headed straight for the loo.

You've guessed it, there was a long queue for the toilets. You may think here's another good reason to be a man. Well, to some extent. I found out the reason why even men had to queue so long for toilets. There're only cubicles in this toilet. If it wasn't for the line of men, I thought I was queuing for the wrong toilet. No urinals for quickies. When I finally got inside and successful in holding my valve closed, I saw a couple of men watering the toilet wall with their garden hoses. Speaking of gutter, I thought it must be one of those toilets with shallow gutter that I may have missed. On 2nd thought, this is Palace of Versailles. So I looked as closely as I had never looked at men peeing in toilets before. Nope, there's no gutters. They were just doing their business at the wall. They couldn't hold the (nature) calls anymore. Can we blame them?

In short, coming to Paris during this silly season of Easter, you'll get the worst of both worlds: the cold weather of low season, and the crowd of peak season (ok, it's normally not this cold in April. I suspect it was specially arranged for me). With the concentration of tourists, especially indoor, the virus would thank you for providing a thriving environment for them to multiply and mutate their genetic materials. You don't want to get sick while travelling. I did come down with it. So avoid it like a Black Plague.

Ok, now that I have taken a piss out of Paris, let's make peace by saying something positive about Paris since my last visit a decade ago.

The government had banned indoor smoking in public venues. Yay! Many restaurants are typically quite crammed. Before the indoor smoking ban, I wasn't sure if I had French food or 2nd hand smoking. I was pretty sure I didn't order a 2nd hand smoking on the side (nor it was on the menu. I didn't look at the wine (or whine) menu, maybe it's in there). I was pretty fed up (while being fed).

Many countries had already done so more than 10 years ago. I don't know when the French government had started the ban, it certainly less than 10 years ago. Parisian love their smokes (tabac shops are everywhere). So it isn't surprising that they were later than many counties in introducing the ban. Most Parisian restaurants have outdoor area (they're famous for it) where smoking is allowed, so the smokers aren't robbed of their rights to have heart diseases.

While the government had banned outdoor public smoking, they're again slow in the introduction of smoke prevention measure. For example, no disgusting graphic images to turn off smokers have been printed on cigarette boxes yet like many other countries already have done so for many years.

Another thing I noticed is how friendlier the Parisian have become compared to my experience in my previous visit 10 years ago (I refer to Parisian working in the hospitality industry. What other Parisians we're going to meet?). Well, we said how rude the New Yorker were some 30 years ago, and Parisian 20 years ago, (and Beijingers today ? Maybe just the Beijing cabbies who are understandably very stressful with long working hours and bad traffic jams). While Aussies were being thought of as a friendly lot don't deserve that reputation anymore (maybe the survey was done in Sydney - an indication that Sydney has turned into a mega-city). That last conclusion comes from a Reader Digest's survey (so don't sue me).  Some might argue that being name called is better than being ignored.

When the whole world keeps telling the people of a city that they're rude, I guess they would like to prove the world wrong. I suspect the same logic applies to friendliness!

Ok, to be fair, I shouldn't be too critical about their toilets. They have came a long way. Once upon a time, there wasn't a single toilet in the Palace. The king, the queen and his relos simply did their beeswax into chamberpots.

The advice is simple, don't visit Paris (or Rome, or any European city for that matter during Easter weekend). Visit your local churches instead. You would find peace there. But if you're a masochist, travel Europe during Easter will get your kicks fulfilled. Well, go there 1 day after the Easter holiday would be more sensible.

It's needed to be said. I don't like to hold my peace or piss. Amen or Ay Man!

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