Okay, so this was by far my most anticipated trip. I had my heart set on Mont St. Michel ever since I saw it in The Savy Backpacker’s list. I mean, c’mon! What’s not to like about an abbey built on rocks off the coast in Normandy?!
The thing with MSM is that you need a bit of planning. It is a long and slightly tiring journey if you make this a daytrip, but it is very much doable. The whole trip takes about 3.5 hours. Tickets can be booked at the SNCF centres or online on their website. From Paris to Dol de Bretagne or Rennes is a train journey and from either Dol de Bretagne or Rennes, you have to board a bus that takes you to MSM. The whole journey can be booked together and the connection time is around ten minutes. It isn’t tight because the bus is waiting just for your train. Dol de Bretagne is a tiny terminus, so your train probably is headed to St. Malo.
My train in the morning dropped me off at Dol de Bretagne. It was misty and slightly cold. It didn’t help that I had barely recovered from the nasty bout of flu I had been suffering from. The bus dropped me off (quite literally) in the middle of nowhere – turns out that the bus only plies between the train terminus and the Brittany information office. The information office is quite amazing and you should totally take some time to go through the stuff they have on display – it is quite interesting! There are free shuttles every ten minutes from the information bureau that take you to the base of MSM and there is another Tourist Office there. The climb to the top is not very long despite what the pictures make you believe. It is a ten minute walk and there are a LOT of shops, bakeries, and quick-eat outlets on the way.
I stopped for a panini and some hot chocolate to soothe my sinuses before starting the climb. On the way there was a tiny chapel of St. Eglise. I stopped to sit and pray for a while. It was quite small and peaceful (read that as no influx of selfie-crazed Asians).
The tickets for the abbey are sold at the entrance and you get a discount if you are under 25 / or if you’re booking a family package. The audio guide is available separately and I recommend buying it unless you have read up on the abbey already.
The view from the top wasn’t great because of the fog but the architecture is awe-worthy. Here are some pictures :
Versailles is huge and you absolutely need a full day to take it all in. If you decide to go on a free Sunday, I strongly recommend getting there before the invasion of the masses (read tourist buses). I found a really easy way to get there. Turns out that the T2 tram behind my apartment building (Direction Porte de Versailles) drops you off at Musee de Sevres, and from there you just have to reach the bridge overhead to catch Bus 171 that goes to the chateau. Easy-peasy, right? This saves a lot of money, train changes, and waiting time.
I got there just before 9 to see the masses arrive. The €13 ticket includes the audio guide but unlike Fontainebleau, this one isn’t GPS enabled. So, you will have to search for the number cards and key them in. The tour begins with a glimpse of the Royal Chapel and then progresses to the Grand Apartments. The opera is open only to private tours but you can catch the organ concert in the Royal Chapel in the afternoon during select periods. Check out the Chateau’s website for more details. If you decide to attend the organ concert, approach the Information desk outside the entrance to the Royal Chapel and ask them for “Concert” sticker. Only a limited number of seats are available. I stopped at the gift shop before continuing to the Petit Apartments. The exit from the Petit Apartments leaves you behind the palace and in the grounds facing the fountain and the approach to the Grand and Petit Trianon. If you are not interested in walking, you can take the golf cart trains.
I bumped into a group of boys in the square inside the palace. They asked me to take a picture for them, and conversation ensued. Bombay people always connect. We decided to cover the grounds together. It was drizzling but not enough to dampen our enjoyment. The grounds are huge and require a fairly decent bit of time. I don’t believe all of Versailles can be seen in one day alone. We explored a few trails that Chaitanya Krishna (the photographer) and the other dude (their un-official tour guide) insisted on.
I insisted on going back to the Chapel for the concert. Btw, there is a limit to the number of people who can fit inside. So, make sure you pick up stickers at the information counter before you proceed to the Petit Apartments. Also, once you are in the grounds, the only way to go in is to re-enter the chateau. This also means you need to re-do the security check.
It was almost 5:30 when we were done. And since it was winter, it was already getting dark. The boys were put up in Evry (Paris ka Virar, as Rishi put it) but La Defénse would take longer so I decided to call it a day. Retrace your steps back to the city; it’s quite straightforward.