It was a gorgeous Sunday in June and my niece and I were up early to catch the train to Versailles. It was our last day in Paris and I wanted to show her the beauty of Versailles especially the garden fountains. The grand palace and gardens are one of my favorite attractions while the hoards of tourists my least favorite attraction. The lines and crowds are always a bit off putting and despite arriving early, we got stuck in the line, the unbelievable line that snaked through the courtyard into the one (yes one!!!) security entrance. Had I realized this pain point, I would have booked an expedited ticket or private tour to skip the wait.
When I travel solo, I get into a zone and the annoying crowds disappear and I tune out the noise – easy for me to do, for my eleven year old niece not so much. We waited over an hour to get through security (we had tickets!) inside only to hit the waves of groups in the rooms (there is only one way to go through the rooms). My niece’s face lit up and said “look” and I was excited for a moment only to realize she was pointing to the gift shop kiosk in the middle of the room that was more interesting to her than the exhibits.
I then decided it was time to feed my niece to change her mood. I was rushing her meal so that we could catch the end of the fountain display thinking who doesn’t love water fountains? The fountains which are such a highlight and operate at certain times of the day and we had ten minutes left as the next display was in a few hours and my niece was already done with her visit. I had to buy her a separate ticket to the garden (my ticket included access).
When visiting Versailles, it’s always best to have good (very good) walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat and a great amount of patience to deal with the crowds. The gardens are vast with smaller gardens on either side and provide a bit of privacy as the crowds tend to stay in the house. If that’s not enough, you can exit the gardens (you can reenter later) to the public park area and picnic and enjoy the lake.
With each visit, I try to imagine what it would have been like to stroll the gardens back in the days of Marie Antoinette – wearing a fancy dress and getting lost on the grounds. On many past visits, I have “gotten lost” on purpose finding a small garden to sit and enjoy the fountain, flowers and background music, however, with my niece that was not going to happen as she was as bored as a kid can be (sadly). There were moments of happiness when I let her do her cartwheels on the grass (with each one, praying that she landed ok).
I pointed out how amazing this fountain was, how awesome that one was, did you see that?, do you know what that depicts. But I turned into the “teacher” and school had let out just a week prior so I had to just hope that the beauty of the fountains sunk in (or will when she revisits the photos).
Despite rushing down the garden’s main path toward the Apollo fountain, I missed the fountain show and was sad to see the water shut off. The upside was I could really see the detail of the fountain and marvel at the sheer size and power of the fountain that balances the garden with the property of Versailles. My niece was fascinated by the little girl about eight years old taking photos with a grown up camera – she was quite the photographer.
It was a sunny 70 degrees in Paris at Versailles and should have made for a wonderful day out but I learned quickly that this was a misstep in my itinerary planning for my niece. So if you have a tween in Paris, I’d recommend having them watch Kirsten Dunst in the 2006 movie Marie Antoinette first so that they have a bit of connection to the place rather than try to educate them to the history – a history that they really can’t imagine. My niece saw a big house filled with too many pushy people taking selfies, groups of people trying to stick together and a garden full of nothing but shrubs. Where’s the excitement in that for a kid? She didn’t even once ask for my phone to take a selfie for Instagram!
Bummed that she didn’t like the gardens, fountains or even Versailles itself, I did what most folks would do to turn that frown upside down, feed her – ice cream here, Starbucks drink there and macarons later. Those were the highlights of her day and sadly the low point of my day further educating me to traveling with my niece. Versailles is still one of my favorite Paris attractions and I’ll happily get lost in the garden next time.