Paris in 3 days

How to visit Paris in 3 days


1. Get a Museum Pass– This will save you money and most importantly TIME standing in lines at places such as the Louvre, Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, and Sainte chapelle.
2. Unless you hate walking, you don’t need a metro pass. We were there for 3 days and besides taking the train to Versailles and from the airport, we took the metro/buses 7 times (approx $14 over 3 days)
3. Bakeries are literally the budget way to eat. You can get sandwiches, pizza slices, etc for lunch and dinner, plus need I say anything about breakfast? and literally eat for less that $10/pp/day.
4. Did I mention prepare to walk yet? Bring your serious best walking shoes since this city is SO BEAUTIFUL, you will do a lot of walking.
5. Explore all you options for night stays. I was mostly looking into Airbnb until I realized hotels were cheaper. (This has been the case in other cities like NYC and Venice for me as well) Unless you like hostels, don’t forget to check hotels for a good deal since those might be the cheapest option. (apart from bunk rooms which I don’t fancy, sorry)
Where we stayed -> Hotel le Pavillon
6. We found you can bring a tripod with you ANYWHERE. If you are a photography nut like me, don’t be afraid to haul it around. You will have to open the tripod bag at security and several places won’t let you USE the tripod inside, but you can bring it with you. Same goes for purses. A lot of museums these days require bag check  for backpacks or large bags but we were fine with my travelon purse and tripod.
7. Beware pick pockets and scammers. (Here is a link to the most common scams) I use a Travelon purse and so far it’s served me well. Here’s what I use: Travelon Crossbody Purse *This is an affiliate link- if you make a purchase using this link, I earn a small commission at no cost to you.
8. Rooftops for best views of the city and Eiffel Tower: Arc de Triomphe, Galleries Lafayette, Notre Dame, and Montparnasse tower. I was only able to experience the Arc de Triomphe but it was pretty spectacular.
9. My general travel tip for just about any trip (not just Paris) pay the price to have data/cell service abroad. We pay $10 a day for unlimited data and text plus 100 min calls. It is a DREAM to be able to google maps all your destinations (Google is great at advice on public transport) as well as information about our destination like hours/cost/ stuff near by.
10. Last tip: CHECK museum hours before your trip. They tend to close on odd days and you don’t want to miss any of these spectacular museums because of the days you are there. ie. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, Musee D’Orsay, Versailles, and the Catacombs are closed on Mondays, etc… We were there over a Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.. which is why the below itinerary is laid out like it is. 

Day 1:
1. Find your hotel and check in if late enough or drop your bags off so you don’t have to haul your stuff around with you. 
2. Your first museum: the Musée de l’Armée. (Plan on anywhere from 1.5 hours  if you’re fast to 3 hours if you want to take it all in)

3. Visit the Eiffel tower (if you want to go to the top, times vary depending on queue length and if you take the elevator or stairs.) 
4. Visit the Arc de Triomph- Go to the top!! (Getting the Museum Pass or City Pass will save you loads of time here as you skip the entire line. The Queue can vary, but with the pass plan on at least an hour for all the step climbing and taking in the view at the top and bottom!)

5. Stroll down the Champs-Élysées and do some shopping (or window shopping!)
6. Get an early night, so you can get an early morning! (also to recover from some of the travel exhaustion you’re bound to be feeling!)
Day 1 Budget:
Train from airport to city center: $20 for 2 people
Museum Pass: 4 day pass at a cost of 167 for 2 people divided by 4 days: $42/day for 2 people
Lunch of panini and crepe: $14 for 2 people
Hotel: $120
Day 1 total: $196 for 2 people

Day 2:
1. Get up and out bright and early if you want to take any photos without the crowds. We re-visited the Eiffel Tower (around 7AM since it was Summer) as well as the bridge Pont de Bir-Hakeim for a couples photo shoot. (for which we lug around our tripod all day with us)

2. Get over to the Louvre BEFORE it opens in the Summer. (around 9) It’s a bit of a walk but a beautiful one from Place du Trocadero, passing the Grand Palais and Petite Palais, the stunning bridge Pont Alexandre III (which frames the Musee de l’armee beautifully), and then through the Tulleries Gardens without the crowds. Walking distance= 4 km or around 1 hour

3. Spend a few hours exploring the multiple wings of the Louvre. We visited both the French Sculpture wing which I LOVED as there was almost no one first thing in the morning and it had such an open airy feel. Then make sure you visit the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman wing to see the famous Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory statue, as well as my favorite: Lady Liberty leading the people.

  • We spent approx 2 hours in the Louvre which I felt was enough to hit the big stuff. However if you are an art guru, you could literally spend days exploring.

4. Again more walking, head over to the Île de la Cité. I would HIGHLY recommend walking along the Seine here. The views are beautiful and once you approach Pont du Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris), you get a killer view of the city and your next destination: The Concierge.
Walking distance =1-1.5 km and around 20-30 minutes. 

5. The Concierge for a taste of the original architecture in Paris as well as the bloody revolution since it’s most famous prisoner during the French Revolution was none other than Marie Antoinette. (appox. time here about an hour)
6. Next stop: my favorite building in all of Paris, the Saint Chapelle. This is one of those stops that a museum pass pays off it’s value as you can skip the line and go right in. Enjoy a kaleidoscope of the most brilliant stained glass ANYWHERE.

7. It’s an easy walk now to Notre Dame a few blocks away. It’s free to enter the chapel and there will likely be a queue to get in. Make sure to be respectful since this chapel is still used for worship and dress modestly and speak quietly. After that, exit the building and walk around to the North side to climb the towers and visit with the gargoyles if you wish.

8. Hop the nearest metro to check out Palais Garnier: the Paris Opera house. The queue outside is to get through security but it is easy to buy tickets at kiosks inside. We forgo the extra for audio headsets so explored on our own. This building was AMAZING and GLAMOROUS and I wouldn’t skip it but if you have little interest in opera and short on time, it isn’t a must do. (expect at least 1.5 hours to queue and explore)

9. Right next to the Palais Garnier, is the massive shopping center- Galleries Lafayette. This can be a quick stop to see the incredible stained glass dome ceiling, or a longer stop to shop and grab a snack/drink at the rooftop cafe. Since we toured the opera house, we had less time so this was quick.
10. Again hop on the metro to find your way to the last stop of the day: Montmartre. The metro drops you off at the bottom. There is a train that can take you to the top of the hill, but if you have energy/time, explore the alleys and shops while making your way to the top.

11. Check out the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Like Notre Dame it is free to visit but please be respectful while inside. From the top of the hill you have an amazing view of all of Paris, can photograph the “leaning building” and relax on the steps to what is without a doubt, a beautiful building.

12. With the rest of your day, grab dinner/ explore Montmartre, check out Moulin Rouge, head back to your hotel where ever it may be.
Day 2 Budget:
Hotel: $120 for 2 people
Museum Pass: 4 day pass= $42/ day for 2 people
Breakfast:6 euros for bakery snacks
Lunch: 14 euros for 2 sandwiches and bottle of water from Louvre
Dinner: Panini and quiche from bakery along with a chocolate bread for 11 euros
Opera tickets: 16 euros
Metro tickets throughout the day: 11 euros for 3 trips total
Day 2 total: $220 for 2 people

Day 3:

1. Versailles, like the Louvre, can be an all day event but if you only have 3 days, then you’re probably thinking more of a half day. Either way, get up early and head out to get to Versailles AT LEAST 30 MIN BEFORE OPENING. Versailles is THE MOST visited attraction in Europe and the lines can get hours long to get in. Even in the apex of the tourism season, we got there 30 min before, and waited in line till 30 minutes after opening. (1 hour total) Make sure to have your tickets purchased ahead of time. Plan on at least an hour to tour the inside of the palace, 2 hours if you take the audio tour.

2. If Angelina’s cafe is on your list of things to try, opt for getting it at Versailles as there was next to no wait in the morning. We tried a coffee and a hot chocolate. (The hot chocolate is what they are famous for) Make sure to have a bottle of water handy for after.. you’ll need it!

3. Explore the gardens. The gardens are massive and so fun to explore. I recommend making your way down 1 side of the maze, and then returning up the other. If you have time, the little row boats on the grand canal are affordable and a lot of fun. There’s also bikes to explore the larger grounds.
*Note: You could also visit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s apartments which are a separate admission fee and typically don’t open until the afternoon.

Explore the gardens on foot/ bike/ or boat! 

4. Here you can decide on Trianon, a walking/nap break, or visiting the last major museum in Paris. We opted for the last option: the Musée d’Orsay. Plan on at least an hour to see the highlights, 2 hours to see most of it. In an hour we saw all of 1 side, took pictures with the clocks, reveled in the Impressionist wing, and selfied it up with the “Portrait of himself” by Van Gogh.

5. Last major highlight of any trip to Paris: The CATACOMBS. This will require taking the train out pretty far from the center but is so worth it. If you are going during peak tourism season, BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE. It is an additional  $10 or so but so worth it. We did a 6:00 PM tour which lasted about an hour and when we got there the line was horrendous! (We’d read that evening time is usually shorter too!)

6. Head back to the city center, grab dinner at a Parisian cafe, and enjoy the sites at night. We hauled the tripod again around with us to take photos at the Louvre after closing hours and without crowds. (This was most definitely our favorite night time hangout spot), then did some nighttime shooting at the Arc de Triomphe, and called it a night finishing up at the Eiffel Tower as it sparkled and dazzled.

 The Louvre courtyard is the most romantic peaceful spot in the evenings! 

Day 3 Budget:

Hotel: $120 for 2 people
Museum Pass: $42/ day for 2 people 
Breakfast: from our fav. bakery again 6 euros
RT train tickets to Versailles: $14.50 for 2 people
Angelina Hot Chocolate: 8 euros pp plus another 5 euros for a coffee so 13 at this stop 
Versailles Gardens during Musical fountain show day: 20 euros for 2 people

30 minute row boat adventure: 13 euros

Lunch: quick stop at Mcdonalds for 10 euros
Dinner near the Louvre: 43 euros
Paris Catacombs online tickets: 29 euros/ person so 58 euros for 2
Total other transportation costs for the day: 15 euros
Day 3 total: 354.50 

Budget for all 3 days/ 2 people: $770.50

Day 4: 
Fly home or continue your journey around France. 

A day at Disneyland Paris

  OK the moment any one of my family members or most of my friends have been waiting for… The Disneyland Paris post (and photos)
On our last day I had originally planned to see more of the Loire and slowly make our way back to Paris… but we’d already seen all the chateaux we wanted to see and since our hotel for the night was by the airport… we didn’t really feel like going back into the city. So what to do?
Solution: Disneyland

 I had been playing around with the idea of going for quite some time but wasn’t ready to commit until I knew we weren’t missing out on anything else I had planned but hadn’t time for. Since we stayed the night before in Amboise, we had about a 3 hour drive to Disney to start but we got there right around 12:30 and were ticketed and in by 1. 
 And what more could we ask for?! We got to visit during the 25 year anniversary celebration! (We also got to hit the original Disneyland for diamond days 60 years so I’d say we’re on a roll for anniversaries!) 
  So for those who don’t know, Disneyland Paris has 2 parks. Disneyland, and Hollywood Studios (like Florida). Since we only had like half a day, we opted to visit only 1 park (but were sad to miss out on the Tower of Terror and Rockin Rollercoaster in French) The access to the park is interesting  as the parking lots are MUCH smaller, and there’s no trams! Instead there’s a central covered walkway with some of the moving walkways like at the airport! It got us there in no time.
 We got fast passes for Space Mountain first thing and then noticed it has… a SINGLE RIDER line that was only a 10 minute wait… so our first ride was HYPERspace mountain and not together.. since we rode single rider. lol It was interesting how the line queue briefly goes through the building and then all of the loading/unloading happens outside. (DEF different) The ride is also SO MUCH BETTER than US Space Mountains since it doesn’t just go in figure 8’s. I’d say in coaster terms, it’s more similar to the Rockin’ Rollercoaster and even has a barrel roll. 
*Also the Star Wars parts were cool, but given they were in French… We didn’t garner too much from them. 
 The exit puts you out right by the “Discover the Nautilus” which is under a fountain and had no wait. I figured it would be potentially like the Finding Nemo sub ride at Disneyland Cali, but turns out.. not a ride at all! Just a fun walk through attraction. It was dark, creepy, and did have some cool interactive things for kids. 
  This is the “Discovery Land” which somewhat equates to Tomorrow land except if has a super cool steam punk vibe to it! See the giant blimp coming out of the building on the right? 
 and just check out the outside of the Space Mountain! 
After our first ride and the Nautilus, we headed into the Blimp building for some grub. (considering we’d had next to nothing for breakfast and no lunch yet… we were in need of sustenance) I got a burger meal that was DELISH. Braden got a chicken sandwich…. options here were pretty standard American fare it seemed. 
 Then we headed over to Adventure Land for some Indiana Jones action… couldn’t pass on a castle selfie though as we headed over 
 Or getting a legit better photo with the castle. lol 
I didn’t get a photo of the Indiana Jones ride because it was a LET DOWN. The line queue took forever and wasn’t all that interesting. The ride itself is a small outdoor coaster that I probably still have whip lash from. TERRIBLE coaster. Needless to say, we had no desire to ride again. 
 Then we headed to the more successful “Phantom Manor” which is probably 30% similar to the Haunted Mansion. Similar line queue and entrance (however different portraits in the “stretching room”) and a few similar scenes.. but apart from that, a different story all together and no Ghost Host walking you through. Different music as well, and actually pretty CREEPY at times. I’d say this one was a bit scarier too. 
 Then we went BACK to use our fast passes for Space Mountain and ride it together. haha Braden looks so unhappy in this photo but I swear he was having a good time! 
 Stopping for a photo op with Wall-E and Eva in Discovery land. 
 Next we inadvertently watched some of the parade. haha We were trying to get back through Fantasy Land to Pirates and were following a decent path through the crowd, when it legit just ENDED. like there was no where to go and people who had also been following the path kept trying to squeeze past and I was like “where though?” so we all ended up crammed together and it was stupid… but hey we at least got to check out this cool Maleficent. (again notice the Steampunkness!) 
 Cinderella and Prince Charming in the parade 
 Finally we made it to pirates! Which again was about 30% similar to what we have in the US.. they just moved the familiar scenes around like the classic “jail” scene is right at the beginning. You also get pretty wet on the drops on this ride… the people next to us weren’t feeling the “get wet” part of the ride haha 
 Again a fun walk through and explore area of the park. There were pretty extensive pirate caves to explore. Braden liked this throne in one part of it. 
 A pic in front of the cave area (the Skull rock which you can actually go up in) and the pirate ship which allows people on at certain times.) 
 No Mr. Toad’s wild ride here, but they did give him his credit with a restaurant in Fantasy Land! 
 And because it had a short line, we did the little Fantasy land boat ride. It was actually awesome as they had some different movies they included for sure. Recognize the one above? 😉
 Fantasia?! Awesome that they included this!
 And instead of a whale, we get swallowed up in the Cave of Wonders! 
 Little town… It’s a quiet village 
 And finally…. they had the Emerald city from the Wizard of Oz! How cool is that! 
 And you know I also dragged Braden on my all time favorite ride: It’s a Small World 
 The fun UK spot 
 Love this ride 
  The America tribute 
 And finally, we were able to ride the capstone of the day: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
It was mostly the same, and anything that was different was BETTER. Smoother ride while still being “wild” the seats had slight divider so you didn’t smash into eachother, it was FASTER, had more drops IN THE DARK, and overall felt a bit SCARIER. We LOVED it! But alas… the line was always horrendous and no single rider line here.
TIP: If you visit, get your FASTPASS for this ride 
 Back over to Pirates for one last ride.
We also hit up the Phantom Manor another time before grabbing dinner. This time we ate at a Lion King restaurant that was pretty good. The meal deals were pretty impressive at all of the quick dining spots. For like $13-$15 a meal you got a main entree, a drink, and a dessert. All in all pretty filling and satisfying for not running up an outrageous bill. 
*The Sit down restaurants were OUTRAGEOUSly expensive… like our disney ticket was cheaper than eating there
*A lot of the quick dining spots closed at 7… which we missed by like 20 minutes. So scout a good spot before then. We tried 2-3 dining spots before finding one that stayed open later. 
 It’s A small World lit up at night all pretty 
  We closed out our Disney day by riding Space Mountain another 3-4 times in a row. For some reason Big Thunder remained long, but the line over here was 10-15 min for standby and got shorter the later it got! 
 We left about 10 minutes before the park closed (and the show started) trying to beat the throng of people… But we were in for another surprise. I’m not going to go to in deets here, but for SOME STUPID REASON, they close off the straight shot exit to the parking lot. “For security reasons” and direct you through the small Downtown Disney shopping area where there is an available exit. HOWEVER when we walked by, it was dark and closed off so we weren’t sure that was it and kept going… only to wind up terribly lost in the vast complex of Disney resorts. (one of which was Wild West themed and seemed to go on forever) Long story short, 1 hour later with VERY sore feat, many tears and curse words shed, we found our way BACK to the downtown disney and joined the giant THRONG of people then exiting out the NORMAL entrance/exit. SO DUMB. If we’d known they would re-open it in 10 min when the park closed we would’ve just waited. All they said was it’s closed, and go through the shops turning left at a cafe. UGH Sort of ruined the day at the time as we got to our hotel at close to 1 AM… but we laugh about it now… for the most part. 
Our smiling happy faces as we left before we went on a wild goose chase for the exit.
Final Day, Day 9 costs:
Rental car: $34
Hotel with parking by the airport: $35
Breakfast: 3 euros for croissants 
Lunch: 28.50 for 2 meals 
Dinner: again 28.50 for 2 meals
Disneyland tickets for 1 day: 75 euros pp *
Parking at Disneyland: 20 euros
Day 9 total costs: $300 for 2 people 
*One of the reasons we thought of going was we saw a billboard for Adults get in at child prices.. which would’ve been $10 off…. however you had to buy online at least 1 day before… which means we couldn’t take advantage of the deal.. UGH  so tip here, if you know you’re going at least the day before, buy your tickets online. 

Day 2 in the Loire Valley

As promised, photos from our 2 night stay in the Troglodyte (cave dwelling) which was maybe my favorite part of our Loire Valley trip. We had to walk up a short path to the entrance so we looked out over the rooftops of the town, Nazelles-Negron, which is just across the bridge from Amboise.

The AHmazing bathroom and tub we had. I had myself a candle lit bath both nights! Definitely unique for Europe! 
French breakfast for 2
Our cave cat. There were actually 2 that liked to come hang out with us when we were there
The room had a small kitchenette as well which would be nice if we prepared more food. haha 
A photo of me loving on the cave cat. 
This bathroom was HUGE!
Looking toward the exit. Braden playing with our trip cat. 
We loved them! 
The door into our cave! 
Amazing stay with Airbnb! Maybe one of our favorite spots yet. 
So up first on Day 2 of chateau hunting, the beautiful Château de Chenonceau which is only about 20 minutes from Amboise. We got there first thing as it opened, got our tickets, and walked up the beautiful tree-lined drive. 
*Note this is the 2nd most visited chateau after Versailles, so we expected it to get VERY busy. We got there early for this reason. 
First siting of the chateau! Already in love with it! 

The original chateau dates back to the 11th century however most history accounts start with the Marques family who owned it until 1513. The original chateau burned down in 1412 (as punishment to Marque for an act of sedition) The Margque family rebuilt the chateau with a mill. The tower/keep above is all that remains of what the Marque family built as the new owner, Thomas Bohier, demolished the chateau to build a new one. 
The chapel within the chateau
A very ornate fireplace with a portrait of Catherine de Medici.
Bohier demolished the castle, though its 15th-century keep was left standing, and built an entirely new residence between 1515 and 1521. In 1535 the château was seized from Bohier’s son by King Francis I for unpaid debts to the Crown; after Francis’ death in 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who became fervently attached to the château. Diane added the arched bridge in 1555 (even though she was the mistress of the chateau since 1547, the chateau had belonged to the crown until 1555) as well as oversaw planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens.
Crossing over the bridge which remained open until it fell into the hands of Catherine de Medici. When King Henry II died in 1559, his regent Catherine de’ Medici forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont. Queen Catherine then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens as well as the grand gallery, which extended along the existing bridge to cross the entire river. The gallery was completed in 1577. Catherine also added rooms between the chapel and the library as well as a service wing in order to better accommodate the court when they were all at the chateau. 
The chateau crosses the river Cher. On the other side of the gallery, there is an exit where you collect a token from the worker there. This allows you re-entry when you finish exploring the grounds on the other side. 
The chateau photographs beautifully with the reflection on the calm river 
Braden and I posing in front of the chateau. 
We walked to both sides to explore all the lighting options
At the base of the main part of the chateau is actually where the kitchens are located. There is a small bridge under the smallest archway which allows for food and supplies to be delivered directly into the kitchen. 
Château de Chenonceau in all it’s glory
The kitchens in the basement
The small bridge which connects to the pantry and from which, supplies can be loaded directly from boats on the river
another ornate fireplace in the Chateau
The 3rd woman to be mistress of the chateau was Lousie de Lorraine-Vaudémont. On Catherine’s death in 1589 the château went to her daughter-in-law, Louise wife of King Henry III. At Chenonceau, Louise was told of her husband’s assassination in 1589 and she fell into a state of depression, spending the remainder of her days wandering aimlessly along the château’s corridors dressed in mourning clothes amidst somber black tapestries stitched with skulls and crossbones.
*They are currently renovating the rooms Louise occupied with the dark tapestries. 
A view looking down the river through the decorative windows 
 Louise left the château to her niece, Françoise de Lorraine, at that time six years old and betrothed to the four-year-old César de Bourbon, duc de Vendôme. The château belonged to the Duc de Vendôme and his descendants for more than a hundred years although the Bourbons had little interest in the château, except for hunting. In 1650, Louis XIV was the last king of the ancient régime to visit.
A GIANT portrait of King Louis XIV and frame by John Rigaud
View looking out at the original tower
Amazing flemish tapestries and furniture fill this chateau. It was probably my favorite in way of decor. 
In 1733 the estate was sold for 130,000 pounds to the Dupin family who owned it for some time. Louise Dupin actually saved the château from destruction during the French Revolution, preserving it from being destroyed by the Revolutionary Guard because “it was essential to travel and commerce, being the only bridge across the river for many miles.”
The chateau then passed hands a few times until it was purchased in 1913 by Henri Menier, a member of the Menier family, famous for their chocolates, who still own it to this day.
Another really cool fireplace in the upstairs gallery covering the bridge. 
The upstairs gallery has a lot of interesting reads on the women who owned the chateau, including the very interesting relationship between Henri II and Diane de Pointers, as well as interesting more recent history. 
A photo showing the additions to the chateau and women responsible. 
An interesting plaque on how the chateau was used as a hospital during WW I
And a really interesting read on how the chateau bridge was used to help escaping Jews and villages escape occupied France to the free zone during WWII. 
Braden in front of a beautiful old tapestry of the chateau. 
The staircase in the chateau
The original doors! So beautiful! 
 A photo of the chateau from the front side now. Draw bridge and all. 
Also note the chapel is the first outcrop and then the library is the next one on the left before the bridge. 
 Notice how the old keep (tower) doesn’t match the chateau style? Well It is A LOT older
 Cute little people in row boats messing up my reflection! We almost did that but had too many chateau to see in one day! 
 Modeling in front of the chateau in the Diane de Pointers gardens 
 And the last possible angle I could give you on this chateau, the view from the Catherine de Medici gardens. 
Chateau de Chenceneau Practical Information:
Hours: Open EVERYDAY of the year from 9:30 till… varies anywhere from 5PM to 8 PM in peak season. There is so much variation, writing it down would be chaos, check before you go. 
Cost: Adult €13.00, with audio guide €17.50
Students between 18 and 27 (need student id) €10.00, with audio guide €14.00
Children (7 to 18 years of age) €10.00, with audio guide €14.00
*Children under 7 are free
*Dog friendly but must be on leash when in gardens/ on grounds. Dogs are allowed in chateau only if carried in a bag/carrier. Guide dogs are accepted in all public places. 
 Exploring the larger bordering gardens. There’s a small historic farm on the estate, large hedge maze, the still in operation vegetable gardens, an orangerie with a restaurant, and these beautiful Muses. 
After Chenonceau, we headed an hour away to the incredible CHAMBORD. The largest by far of the chateaux, and architecturally speaking, the coolest. 
Walking around the outer walls/ wings of this MASSIVE chateau. (In fact at this point, I’m more inclined to call this one a castle or palace) 
An aerial photo (not by me- thanks user on Google photos) of the chateau to show its immense size 
Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley; and like Versailles, it was built to serve as a hunting lodge for Francis I, who maintained his royal residences at the châteaux of Blois and Amboise.  It took 28 years to contruct (from 1519- 1547) and received many alterations in design as construction went on. The original design of the Châteauis attributed to Domenico da Cortona although rumor has it Leonardo da Vinci may also have been involved.
This massive château is composed of a central keep with four immense towers at the corners. The keep also forms part of the front wall of a larger compound with two more large towers.The château features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Four rectangular vaulted hallways on each floor form a cross-shape.
The NO DOUBT most intersting piece of this chateau, is the incredible DOUBLE HELIX staircase. 
 To describe the staircase, the two spirals ascend the three main floors without ever meeting, illuminated from above by a sort of light house at the highest point of the chateau. At each landing there are 2 entrances (directly across from each other), each giving access to a different spiral. 
Braden and I put this double spiral to the test and each chose a side to walked down at the end, glimpsing each other through the small windows to the other side. It was honestly MAGICAL and Mindboggling. And probably my favorite aspect of a chateau ever. 
Loving all the details of stonework at the top of this chateau! 
Looking at one of the corner towers at the amazing (single spiral) staircase there. 
A historic ceramic room heater that was used to warm parts of the castle back in the day. 
As this chateau was only designed to be a hunting lodge, it may be considered the most impractical building ever. Not only is the open aired Italian styled loggias and giant rooms anti- heating, but it is also not located near a town or village so all food had to be brought with the arriving party. As a result, the chateau sat largely unfurnished. When the king’s party would come (generally 2,000+ people) they would need to bring food, furniture, wall coverings, eating implements and so forth making this a logistical nightmare to me. 
The chateau is still largely unfurnished in parts, but the rooms that are decorated are very cool. I loved how the beds were set back in alcoves. 
The mind boggling double spiral staircase. Look at this long enough and you’ll pick out that the stairs people are on, is the only part of that spiral you see. And the ceiling and lower stairs are the other spiral. 
Looking out the window at the beautiful grounds and park further out. 
As far as history goes, the chateau was never much of a royal residence, instead mostly used as a hunting lodge and was in fact abandoned for years at a time. Luckily for us, it has been kept up and renovated, because not to sound pun-y but… it’s a National Treasure. 
Looking down the central column of the staircase
The top and end of one of the spirals with beautiful glass windows. On top of the chateau is an outside balcony that gives incredible views of the towers in the chateau and looks in a lot of ways, similar to a city sky line. 
Walking around the high up, outer deck of the chateau
There is also a stable on the grounds that do short dressage shoes as well a birds of prey show. We went and grabbed a snack at the stand here but unfortunately didn’t catch one. 
The backside of the amazing chateau
My fav. piece of history we learned, was that during WW II they moved a lot of the art from the Louvre to this chateau for safe keeping. The most famous pieces were the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. 
Another Chateau for the WIN!
Recognize this design? (again not my photo, thanks google) It’s used on A LOT of different types of merchandise 
Chateau de Chambord Practical Information:
Hours: Open everyday except for 1 January and 25 December. 
Peak Season April 1- Oct 3: 9 A.M. – 6 P.M.
Off season Nov 1-March 30: 9 A.M. – 5 P.M.
Cost: Full rate 13 euros, reduced rate for 25 and under: 11 euros
Parking: 6 euros/ day
*EU citizens are free until 25, and everyone is free until age 18
There are MANY chateaux around the Chambord area and still on my list were potentials like Blois (another double helix staircase!) or Cheverney (the inspiration for the manor in the adventures of Tin Tin!) But both these options were a bit out of the way for our return to the CAVE. In the end, we went with the Chateau Chaumont which historically rang a bell and looked pretty cool from the road we took to head straight back. 
So we settled on this fairy tale beauty. 
Note: you’ll have to pay if you want to get this view of the chateau… the pictures I got from the outside are about all I cared for. The inside and history is not nearly as interesting as the other chateaux we visited. 
You may remember, this is the chateau that Catherine de Medici exchanged with Diane de Pointers for Chenonceau. It was beautiful from the outside, maybe the most fairytale- esque yet. Like Amobise it is set up on a cliff overlooking the Loire and a small town. 
Unfortunately, this chateau threw history to the wind, and went full-scale ART mode on us. Almost none of the rooms were renovated and most instead hosted odd art exhibitions. The only one I thought was cool was this chaos happening in the chapel. 
The really cool stables, yet again.. filled with art 
Ok this art exhibition was pretty cool to. Basically every stone is a sparkly geode with a purple geode at the lowest raised point. (but I’d still rather see horses) 
So considering we didn’t really learn a spot of history while touring this site, I don’t have much info to impart to you. 
The original castle was founded in the 10th century by Odo I, Count of Blois.
After Pierre d’Amboise rebelled against Louis XI, the king ordered the castle’s destruction in 1455. The Château de Chaumont was rebuilt by Charles I d’Amboise (Pierre’s son) between 1465-1475. 
Château de Chaumont Practical Information:
Hours: Open everyday (except Dec 25 and Jan 1) from 10 AM
Closing again is very seasonal anywhere from 5 PM to 7 PM
Cost: Ticket for the Castle, Park and Stables: Adults: 12 €, Reduce rate (students) : 7.00 € , Youth aged 6 to 11 years: 4.00 €  Free for children under 6 years. 
*There is also an International Garden Festival at different times of the year that costs about 5 euros more pp. We didn’t pay for this as the giant park was enough. 
Lastly, we didn’t actually visit this chateau on the same day as it is quite a bit more North than Amboise, so we visited it on our drive back to Paris on our final day in France. 
Another fairy tale spot: Châteaudun
We mostly stopped here to break up our driving as we headed back to Paris so we didn’t actually go in and tour, but from the outside, this place was incredible. (looks like a backdrop RIGHT? unreal) 
And the most unreal part of all, the backside of this chateau where it shows its 12th century start as an incredible fortress. It was definitely a cool short stop on our drive. 

Loire Valley Day 2 Costs:
Rental car: $34
AHmazing cave room: $111
Breakfast from bakery: 4 euros
Chateau de Chenonceau: 13 euros pp
Chateau de Chambord: 11 euros pp (reduced cause we young! ya)
Chambord parking: 6 euros
Another gas stop: 45 euros
Sandwhich/coke/icecream at Chambord: 13 euros
Chateau de Chaumont: 7 for Braden, 12 for me so 19 euros total
McDonalds for dinner: 15 euros
Loire Valley Day 2, day 8 of the trip TOTAL: $295 for 2 people 

Day 1 in the Loire Valley

What better way to start a trip to the Loire Valley than staying IN a chateau yourself? We booked a room in the historic Chateau Bouvet-Ladubay which has 5 rooms/ suites in total and couldn’t have been happier!

Photo above: the wardrobe and a hidden “toilet” closet 

Our pretty room
the coffee/ tea station and door into the bathroom
The huge soaking bathtub
Some of our pink cider (tastes a lot like Martinellis but A LOT better- sweeter) and souvenir cup we picked up to remember Normandy by. 
Details in the room
The Grand staircase
Quirky details in the main entrance hall
the breakfast room that opens into the historic greenhouse and gardens
Inside the beautiful old greenhouse 
Exploring the grounds. We checked in right at 4 PM and were the first so we pretty much had the run of the place. 
The front of the chateau with the greenhouse on the side. There was a small pool off to the right we relaxed by and large park on the rear of the house. 
Chateau Bouvet-Ladubay, with the adjoining winter garden, as well as the ancillary buildings (bog aviary and Bollée windmill) were built in 1878 by architect Piette, a pupil of Joly-Letertre, for the industrialist Etienne Bouvet.
Details on the Winter Garden/ Greenhouse
The historic aviary that sits on the property
details in the winter garden
The base of the old windmill that was SUPER tall. 
More exploring in the winter garden 

and finally the Chateau from the front, outside the gate. 
The Chateau is situated in the quaint little town, Saumur (which consequently has it’s own larger chateau we found out later. lol) 
Exploring Saumur as we went in search of dinner. Love this hotel name 😀
The beautiful Loire river running through Saumur. 
As we walked into the less touristy side of Saumur, we didn’t have much in the restaurant option but this place looked PRETTY cool set back in the caves, so we figured why not? 
Restaurant La Table des Fouées is a troglodyte (cave) restaurant utilizing some of the caves that were originally used to store the Loire Valley’s famously amazing wines. 
Walking into the next set of doors for the cave restaurant. 
Here’s where it gets real. I tried to put my adventurous attitude toward food (something admittedly I am decidedly NOT adventurous with since I am a pretty picky eater) and I had QUITE the interesting dinner as a result. lol On the menu which was only in French, I recognized the two words for beef and Parmesan cheese, so thinking I’d get some sort of steak like thing I ordered that. The above…. is what I got! It was like a prosciutto with salsa and lettuce on top. Overall taste was fine but the texture about killed me. NEVER AGAIN. I’m sticking with pizza from here on out!
SO anyways I’m sure the wait staff here thought I was the most tasteless American they’ve ever met considering I didn’t finish the “beef” but managed to devour all my fries and all the bread they gave us with the meal. lol That combined with both Braden and I not really being into wine and so all we wanted was water….probably cemented our “classless” look. We laughed all the way back to the chateau about my classless ways. 

The main cathedral of Saumur. 
Kissing portrait on our green couch in our suite. Too cute not to include, sorry guys.
ok FIRST non-hotel OFFICIAL Chateau. The Chateau D’Usse
Claim to fame: Inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle
This chateau got it’s start way back in eleventh century, but like most REALLY old buildings, the chateau you now visit, is a bit newer. Most of the current stone is from the mid 1400s rebuilt by a new family who purchased it. 
The chateau does boast a rather beautiful chapel, however it is detached and wasn’t added until the 1600s. 
There are several caves to explore which the chateau families used for making and storing wine. There were a couple (rather creepy) mannequin displays with some of the old fashioned wine making tools in the caves as well as a video. (that was 100% in French with no subtitles)
The stables/ wagon house with descriptions of the various wagon style and use
The donkey and cutest little dog cart. 
The view looking into the little town and toward the entrance to the chateau grounds. 
Part of the chateau courtyard 
Signs for the “Sleeping Beauty” part of the castle. 
The end of the Sleeping Beauty exhibit. Very magical n’est pas? (don’t you agree) lol 
Walking through the attic. They had some spinning wheels throughout and at each stop that told the story of sleeping beauty, there was a small book telling the story. (almost like walking through the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland!) 
Looking out over some of the very steeply pitched roofs. 
Walking along the outer edge of the chateau’s upper floor. 
A model of the chateau
An awesome wooden spiral staircase with no supports apart from the central post
More caves under the chateau. 
A fine yellow dining room
The drawing room. The chateau is currently hosting an exhibit on velvet with themed costume pieces in one wing of the chateau. The dresses would be incredibly hot I image but were very pretty. 
The central courtyard 
Exploring the lower terrace gardens 
The chateau from the lower gardens 
The beautiful river that runs along the front of the chateau and town. 
The only view of the chateau you can get without paying to go in. Still cool to see.
Chateau d’Usse Practical Information:
Cost: Adult Aged 16 and up: € 14
Children from 8 to 16 yrs: € 4
*Children – 8 yrs: Free
Audio guide: additional 3 euro pp if you want it. There was some information placards around the grounds and chateau which was enough for us. 
Hours: From 15th February to 31st March: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
From 1st April to 30th September: 10.00 am – 7.00 pm
From 1st October to 8th November: 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
BONUS: DOG FRIENDLY THROUGHOUT! (Gardens and chateau!)
Free parking in front of the chateau
Next up on the Chateau tour: Langeais!
Above: my adorable yet goofy husband dancing a jig in the banquet hall
Part of the appeal of Langeais was 1. it has A LOT of cool old furniture and settings that depict what life really would’ve been like to live back then. (In fact even without an audio guide, we had the basic layout of chateaux ingrained in our brains by the time we left this one!) 
For example, they explained that back in the time of Langeais, nobility/ the rich actually received their visitor in a bedchamber which is when we see the Antechamber come into play. So each person would have a fancy antechamber like this one above. 
And a separate, yet connected private bedroom. 
The primary claim to fame of this chateau, is that it is where Charles VIII wed Anne of Brittany on Dec 16, 1491 (which made the permanent union of France to Brittany)
The Château de Langeais is a medieval castle, rebuilt as a château. Founded in 992. the castle was beseiged 3 times (largely due to a rivalry between the 2 neighboring counts of Blois and Anjou) before being captured in 1038. After it was destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War, King Louis XI (1461–1483) rebuilt Château de Langeais into what today is one of the best known examples of late medieval architecture. It is especially noted for its monumental and highly decorated chimney pieces.
Looking out one of the windows at the town of Langeais which is quaint and a fun little place to explore. 
You can take pictures with the chateau from the front side for free but to get access to the gardens for this view, or for the fun park behind the chateau, you will have to pay to enter. This was my favorite spot. 
The royal bridge you cross over the Loire on to enter the town of Langeais. 
The ruins of the 10th century keep that are still in tact
The back of the old keep that you can climb up to look at the newer Chateau
Looking out the 10th century keep window at the 15th century chateau
My other favorite view of the chateau and surrounding town from the keep window 
My knight in shining armor! haha there was a fun park bordering the chateau grounds that we went and played around in for a bit 
Epic tree house in the park
Chateau de Langeais Practical Information:
Hours: February – March :9:30 am to 5:30 pm 
April – June, September through Nov 11 9:30 am to 6:30 pm
July – August: 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
November 12 – January 31: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Cost: Adult 9 € 
Youth (aged 18 to 25) 7,50 € 
Child and adolescent (aged 10 to 17) 5 € 
Child under 10 FREE
*No audio guide here, but there’s an introductory video near the entrance that was interesting with English subtitles, and plenty of information throughout to read in multiple languages. 
*Also getting a full priced ticket to Langeais, will make you eligible for reduced tickets to the famous chateaux Asay-Le-Rideau and Villandry. 
Free parking in town and a chateau parking lot that’s a bit out of the way
Next stop as we head East through the Loire Valley: The Chateau D’Asay-Le-Rideau
Built between 1518 and 1527, this château is considered one of the foremost examples of early French renaissance architecture and is set on an island in the middle of the Indre river. It’s claim to fame is definitely the symmetry and reflections. It was SUPER busy but very beautiful and the crowds thin out as you wander around the back of the chateau. 

I took approx 5 photos from every angle as we walked around lol but with the lily pads and various light reflections, it was so pretty from every angle! 
The coolest tree that stood apart from all the other plants in the park. 
The chateau from the side. We wandered around the outside first hoping the tour bus crowds would thin and they did… a little 
The ceiling of the open air stair case 
The banquet room. Various motors were used so that the lavish feast would reveal itself and the figures would spin to music. The Chateau architecture and design reflects the influence of the Italian renaissance. It is made up of several drawing rooms and stately apartments, most of which are decorated in the neo-renaissance style popular during the 19th century. Many of these rooms display 16th- and 17th-century Flemish tapestries. (similar to Langeais which had a room with amazing tapestries on display) 
The attic. I didn’t get a great photo I will admit, but the technique they used in timber supporting the steeply pitched the roof here is actually counted as a UNESCO World Heritage protected process. 
A brief summary of the chateau’s history for those interested. The first castle located on this site is similar to Landreais and was built in the 12th century. And also like Landreais it fell victim to the Hundred Year’s War when in 1418, Charles VII passed through and was insulted by the Burgundian troops occupying the town. He had his own army storm the small castle and executed all 350 soldiers inside and burned the castle down. Thus the castle/ spot was named Asay-le-Brûlé (or Asay the Burnt) which would be the name until the 18th century. In 1518 the castle was acquired by the Mayor of Tours and Treasurer of the King’s finances. He set about reconstructing the building in a way that would incorporate its medieval past alongside the latest architectural styles of the Italian renaissance. The reconstruction was slow going however due to the muddy island they were trying to build on and in 1527, the financial misdemeanors of the treasurer forced him to flee the country leaving it largely unfinished. Francis I confiscated the chateau and gave it to one of his knights-at-arms in 1535, Antoine Raffin, who only undertook minor renovations. Thus the chateau which was supposed to be U shaped, remained the accidental, but distinctive L shape it has today. During the Franco-Prussian War, the château served as the headquarters for the Prussian troops in the area. Apart from during the war, for the better part of the 19th century, the chateau belonged to the Biencourts family. In 1905, it was purchased by the France state and became a Historical Monument. Also notable in its history, the chateau provided a home for the Education Ministry during the early years of WWII. 
One of the many ornate fireplaces in this chateau and this one showing the salamander and motto of King Francis I. Nutrisco et extinguo “I nourish [the good] and extinguish [the bad]”
King Francis I is also notable for his renovation of the Louvre from a medieval fortress to a palace of splendor, as well as Amboise (the next chateau we went to) and Chambord (in my next post)
The château’s most prominent feature is the grand central staircase which is open air similar to Italian Renaissance designs, though its design is thought to have been inspired by the staircase of the Château de Châteaudun. The staircase has three floors, each with a double bay window forming a mezzanine which looks out over the courtyard. The staircase rises in straight flights rather than in a spiral, as was more usual at this time, and is actually the oldest surviving staircase of this kind in France.
After my faux-pas with the first Loire Valley restaurant we went with the cheaper and more familiar delicious pizza at a cafe in Amboise for night 2. We got to Amobise around 4 with plenty of time to check in, eat, and see one more chateau. I had read Amboise was a great town to stay in and it was a pretty good size while still retaining charm. However parking was a nightmare! We spent quite some time driving the narrow streets, all street and parking lots were full! We ended up almost on the other side of town and having to walk but we luckily found a free street spot only 10 min walk from the chateau, and even less from Chateau Clos du Loce. 
We paid our entry fee and then went to visit the chapel on site first to visit Leonardo Da Vinci’s tomb. While Clos Du Loce is where his final residence was and is supposed to be another great chateau to visit in the area, it was really cool to visit his final resting place. 
and in such a pretty chapel too! 
Details over the entry to the small chapel
As previously stated, Francis I also had a hand in finishing the Chateau D’Amboise and was in residence there when he commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci to make a mechanical lion that could walk forward then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies. In 1516, he entered Francis’ service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé where he spent the last three years of his life. (many of his inventions remain at Clos Lucé.)
Looking out over the town from the main terrace of the chateau. 
A side view of the small chapel where Leonard Da Vinci is buried. 
In front of the royal chateau. 
Looking out over the Loire from the main terrace. Our Airbnb is just a little ways over the bridges. (less than a 10 minute drive) 
A view showing how the chateau is set up above the town. 
Major points about the chateau history. The chateau gets its real start in 1434 when the chateau is confiscated by the crown due to treason from the previous owner. Charles VII (1403- 1422-1461) was the first king to really move his court to the Loire Valley. His grandson, Charles VIII was born in Amboise in 1470. His ongoing attachment for the château of his childhood greatly influenced his desire to transform the former medieval stronghold into a palace. Charles VIII was also the château’s great architect, since he ordered the successive construction of the two ceremonial loggias and a chapel on the site of the oratory built by his father. In addition, he ordered the construction of the two exceptionally large cavalry towers that enabled horses and carriages to go back and forth between the town and the château’s terraces 40 meters above it. (these were REALLY cool). You may remember the blurb about Charles VIII marrying Anne of Brittany at Langeais, their emblems are all over the design of this chateau as well. He also prematurely died at this chateau at the young age of 28. The chateau remained a large part of French court until 1560, with the Amoboise conspiracy to kidnap the young King Francis II during the French religious wars. 
Another side view of the chateau standing tall over the town. 
My favorite piece of historical information comes from 1660s when Amboise was used as a prison. A famous prisoner Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s superintendent of finances, who was disgraced in 1661 was accompanied to Amboise by the famous captain of the Musketeers, d’Artagnan. You know.. the 3 musketeers ? Awesome right! 
The inner ring of the cavalry tower. This tower is HUGE with a pretty steep stone ramp that spiraled all the way down to the town for carriages, horses, etc too enter the chateau. 
Some of the gardens of the chateau. 
Posing for a photo with the gardens, chateau, and Loire river in the background
They had these really fun picture frames you could photo op with! 
One of Leonardo DaVinci’s machines in the Amboise gardens 
A bust of the man himself in the gardens. 
All in all Amboise had some of my favorite historical information yet and it was definitely cool to see Leonardo DaVinci’s mark on the place and final resting spot. The architecture was amazing too, making this my favorite chateau of the day. 
The chateau and town from across the river 
Royal Chateau D’Amboise Practical Information:
Hours: The chateau is open every day EXCEPT Christmas and New Years day. Hours vary greatly depending on the month you are there. For the summer months, it was open from 9:00- 7:00 PM
Cost: ADULT 11.50
CHILD AGED 7-18 7.70
*Audioguide was about 4 euros more pp but the information leaflet they include with admission had plenty of history and information in it for us. 
*Children under 7 are free
Day 6 pt 2 costs in Saumur:
Night at Chateau Bouvet-Ladubay: 150 euros 
Dinner in Saumur Cave restaurant: 33 euros
Day 6 pt. 1 costs: 120
Day 6 total costs: $303 for 2 people 
Day 7 costs:
Breakfast: included in room stay
Rental car: $32
Chateau D’Usse- 14 euros 2 people without audio guide
Chateau Landreais- 16 euros (at reduced cost for being under 25)
Chateau Assay Le Rideau- 16 euros (at reduced cost for being under 25) w/out audio guide 
Chateau Amboise- 20.50 euros (for 1 student and 1 full price adult) 
1 road toll around the city of Tours- 2.50 euros
Snack in Landreais from bakery- 2.50 euros 
Pizza dinner- 25 euros
Night 1 at Airbnb Cave (pictures coming)- $111/ night for 2 
Day 7 total costs: $239.50 for 2 people 

Mont St. Michel

Next up on the tour of Normandy: Mont St. Michel! (Basically fairytale land in Amanda’s head) I’m going to be super real here, as we drove the night before past this area to where we spent the night in the neighboring town, I saw this from pretty far off (It’s the tallest thing around) and seriously cried… It had been an emotional day already I admit (understandably so at memorials), but there was something pretty unreal as far as dreams coming true when I saw Mont St. Michel in the distance. Like… this IS the place in France that I had dreamed of seeing since I saw a poster of it surrounded by water lit up at night when I first started taking French… in 7th grade. So while the previous night passed pretty uneventful at the B&B, we were up and out to check out this MUST-SEE of Normandy.

Like is it a fairytale or WHAT?! Anyways There’s a LARGE parking lot for you to park in that costs $12 a day (think of it as an admittance fee) and then there are several buses that will cart you the distance from the parking lot to the island (which ARE FREE). We opted to walk out to it to enjoy this view that much longer, and avoid the line of people waiting to get on the buses. The walk took us probably 20 minutes (with multiple stops to photo OP and is about 2.5 km from the parking lot.
Legit childhood dream coming true here.
Surrounding water and quick sand around the Mont. At high tide, this whole area is under water and the mont becomes a veritable island. During low-tide… there’s sand bars and stuff but considering a lot of it is LEGIT quick sand.. I’d recommend taking the bridge/ road out to it.
If you’re interested in the GEOLOGY of how the Mont was formed, here’s a quick sum up:
“Now a rocky tidal island, the Mont occupied dry land in prehistoric times. As sea levels rose, erosion reshaped the coastal landscape, and several outcrops of granite emerged in the bay, having resisted the wear and tear of the ocean better than the surrounding rocks.” There are actually 2 other “islands” that  are similar to this Mont called: Lillemer, the Mont-Dol and Tombelaine (the island just to the north). Originally Mont Saint-Michel was called Mont Tombe.

  1. The island has a circumference of about 960 metres (3,150 ft) and its highest point is 92 metres (302 ft)
  2. The overall surface makes up about 247 acres 
  3. The island is about 600 meters from land/the coast
  4. Population as of 2009 was 44 residents. 
  5. This site is visited  by more than 3 million people each year
Looking at the sea walls of the mont and the sand that goes right up to it.
Imagine at high tide seeing no sand as the water tide levels can be up to 46 feet high (a very high tide indeed) 
As you first enter the town at the base there are busy toilets and a tourist information center. 
Then you cross the draw bridge and you journey begins! 
We decided to head up onto the battlements first (there’s a few access points that are fairly obvious stairs) HOWEVER I would recommend if you are there early in the day, to enjoy the narrow street with less crowds and exit by way of the battlements. We were wishing we had as the afternoon crowds washed in. 
Tops of the homes as seen from the battlement
Looking down on the narrow street from the wall… like I said it got quite A LOT more packed with people in the afternoon. Enjoy it before noon with less people. 
Our first siting of the abbey as we walked into the entrance. Note the rather large… talons. lol 
So the name of the Mont, comes from the Abbey which was named after Saint Michael. As I’ve previously posted statues of him in the Musee D’Orsay, here’s a quick synopsis on his claim to fame: He slayed the dragon. Saint Michael, the archangel referred to in the Old Testament and in Catholic writings, the chief defender of the Chuch and opponent of Satan. As in he slayed Satan/ the dragon. 
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven” 
(Rev. 12:7)
My favorite story/ legend that we read about how the Mont came to be named AFTER Saint Michael goes like this: (It’s rather long  so skip if short on time)
“To escape from his malicious neighbor Satan, St. Michael built himself a home on an islet in the open ocean (what would eventually be known as Mont Saint Michel). Only a saint like himself could build a residence of such splendor. For protection, he surrounded his island with treacherous quicksand. The devil lived in a humble cottage on the hill across the bay. He owned all the salt marshes and rich lands which produced the finest crops; St. Michael had nothing but sand.
After a few years of poverty, St. Michael became tired and decided to bargain with the devil. One morning, he walked across to the shore and found the devil eating his soup in his garden. When he saw the saint, he warmly invited him in for a drink. St. Michael had a glass of milk and told Satan of his proposition. He asked the devil for all his lands. He would work the land and then they would both share the crops equally. The lazy devil agreed to this, in exchange for some gray mullet fish from the waters around the mount. St. Michael agreed and they shook on it. St. Michael asked Satan whether he would prefer the part of the crops that grew above the ground or the part that grew underground. Satan declared that he would take everything that grew above the ground, St. Michael agreed and the devil was delighted.
Six months later, the lands had produced nothing but carrots, turnips, onions and parsnips, which all grew underground. Satan was furious. He declared St. Michael a trickster and said the deal was off. St. Michael told the devil how sorry he was about this unfortunate turn of events and offered to give him everything that grew in the ground the next year.
The following year, all of Satan’s lands were covered with golden wheat, giant oats, peas, cabbage, artichokes, and everything that thrives above ground. Once again, Satan received nothing, and this time he took back his fields in anger and would not hear another word from his cunning neighbor.
A whole year passed and St. Michael could do nothing but watch in frustration as the devil worked his fertile lands below and reaped his harvest. St. Michael decided he would have his revenge on this smug devil, and he went to invite him to dinner the following week. He told Satan that he regretted what had happened in the past and did not want there to be any hard feelings between them. This dinner was meant as a peace-offering. The greedy Satan eagerly accepted, put on his finest clothes and set out for the castle.
St. Michael had prepared a magnificent meal. They ate some delicious tender lamb from the salt-marshes, vegetables which melted in the mouth and a hot pancake covered with melted butter. They also enjoyed some of Normandy’s best sparkling cider and apple brandy. The devil drank and ate to his heart’s content until he was so drunk and full that he felt quite nauseous.
St. Michael saw his chance and in a fit of anger chased Satan out of the castle with a stick. Satan was sick, and no match for St. Michael. Before long he was cornered at the top of the highest tower. On a fine day, the devil might have stopped to enjoy the breath-taking views over Normandy, but on this occasion, the devil was concerned only with escaping the wrath of St. Michael. However, there was no escape and the saint gave the devil an almighty kick up the rear, launching him across the bay like a cannonball. He landed heavily by the town of Mortain, sinking his claws deep into the rock, leaving his traces there for all eternity.
Looking down toward the Abbey entrance.
Apparently “dragon” is a lose term for eagle monster as there were large portions of the statue throughout the abbey
Looking out of the bay from the Abbey walls
Pretty medieval walls
The last part of the “dragon” decor we saw in the abbey
The main abbey courtyard
Decorative arches in the abbey
One of the chapels within the abbey. They had an art installation of feathers that I thought was very beautiful. 
Stained glass windows 
A lower corridor within the abbey complex
Medieval walls from the abbey’s earlier days
The wheel that works an elevator/ pulley system within the abbey
Fun mirror balls were in some of the larger rooms and outside on the grounds
The exit from the abbey. (which you can only get to this area by walking through it (meaning you have to pay) If you notice the glitter of gold at the top of the steeple, it is a copy of the statue I posted from the Musee D’Orsay of Saint Michael slaying the dragon, but in gold. 
Looking out through a hole in the wall
Brief history of the buildings on the Mont: The original site was founded by an Irish hermit who gathered a following from the local community. Mont Saint-Michel was used in the sixth and seventh centuries. In the 8th century it achieved monastery status and went from being called Mont Tombe, to its forever name: Mont Sainte Michel. According to another legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to Aubert of Avranches, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. The bishop is who founded the monastery. The mont was very briefly under the control of the Bretons, and in 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England. During the Hundred Years’ War, the Kingdom of England made repeated assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey’s improved fortifications.When Louis XI of France founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1469, he intended that the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel become the chapel for the Order, but because of its great distance from Paris, his intention could never be realized and unfortunately by the time of the French Revolution, there were hardly any monks still in residence. 
It was then that the abbey was converted to a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican regime, and remained a prison until it was converted back in 1863 and restored. The mount was declared a historic monument in 1874 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
Mont St. Michel Abbey Practical Information:
Hours: From September 1-April 30th the abbey is open from 9:30-6:00 PM
From May 2- August 31st the abbey is open from 9:00-7:00 PM
Cost: 10 euros for adults
*Reduced price for ages 13-25 for 8 euros
*Audio-guides are an additional 3 euros pp should you desire them
Below are models of the development structurally of the abbey
After we completed the tour of the abbey (which took maybe 1.5 hours?) We headed back down through the town to pick up my souvenir magnet and head out on our way. 
Beautiful stained glass in a church lower in the town (free to enter) The colors reminded me of the Beauty and the Beast stained glass. 
A residential pathway behind some shops. 
The narrow street with A LOT more people in it. I’m tellin ya… get there and enjoy it BEFORE noon.
As the sun came out, we did go for a quick stroll out onto the sand

Overall, an AMAZING stop when exploring the Normandy coast and I can honestly say that while it is small in terms of space to explore, it was one of my favorite things we saw in France. After we concluded our visit, we hopped in the car for a few hours heading south to the start of relaxation in the Loire Valley. 

Day 6 part 1 costs:
Rental car:$32
Breakfast:Free included with our nighttime lodging
Mont St. Michel parking: $12
Abbey entrance fee: 8 euros pp
Gas stop: 31
Tolls on drive down: 18 euros (all at once… for like not that long, it was kind of crazy)
Lunch at McD’s: 11 euros
Total thus far on day 6: 120 for 2 people

Visiting the Normandy Beaches

Day 5: Normandy Beaches Utah, Omaha, and Gold
Starting with stop 1 near Utah Beach: One of the most notable towns from WWII history:
We slept in accidentally until about 10 but fortunately that turned out for the best as it was DUMPING rain as we started out but as we headed for Utah beach, the furthest from Caen, it slowed to a slight drizzle. It took a little over an hour to reach Sainte-Mère-Église which was by afternoon already pretty busy. But luck turned out again in the opening of a parking spot just as we got there so we swooped in and headed out to explore this quaint little town in the light drizzle. 
Note: Exploring the town is obviously free but all the parking was paid parking spots.

As you walk over from the larger parking lots, you will come across this sign which gives a bit of background information on the town and points you in the direction of other information signs which are mostly spread out around the main church square. 
The Sainte-Mère-Église or church that the town is called after. On the night of June 5, 1944, an American paratrooper named John Steele (one of many descending in an aerial attack on Sainte-Mère-Église) became caught on the church tower pinnacle and was suspended there for 2 hours before the Germans who still occupied the town took him prisoner. He later escaped and joined back with the Americans in liberating the town. There is now a cavern named after him and a paratrooper mannequin dedicated to him atop the church. 
Posing in the rain in front of the church. See the parachute? 😉
Inside the church
 Front of the church
The cafe across the street. Since we hadn’t had breakfast yet we went in here for some ham sandwiches and drinks. 
I loved all the stories that came from those 2 decisive days in liberating Normandy. A lot of the signs had photos of what it looked like on that day so for comparison, I took pictures of what those same places look like today. Compare above and below. 

A dedicated memorial to the American paratrooper divisions
Another memorial with both the American and French flags side by side. 

Compare above and below: 

A monument marking the “path of liberty” as this town was the first to be liberated
Fun window shops in the town! It didn’t matter how small the towns were in France, I almost always could pick out a hair dresser shop. lol We couldn’t even find markets half the time so while you may starve, at least you can have a great haircut. 
After exploring the main town square and reading all the plaques (which took maybe an hour) we left for our next Utah beach destination.

But first a quick overview of D-Day facts:
  1. Overall Allied Invasion of Normandy: Code named Operation Overlord. The actual Normandy landing missions were code named Operation Neptune.
  2. Planning for this invasion began in 1943 with several deception plots devised to confuse the Germs into thinking Normandy would be the “deception” and the actual landing site would be at Calais. This deception was code named Operation Bodyguard. (A lot of tactics like this were used during WWII, but a really interesting read about a similar tactic used for the invasion of Sicily and Italy, Operation Micemeat, is an excellent read.)
  3. The amphibious landings were preceded by several aerial bombings (most prevalent at Pointe Du Hoc) and the landing of 24,000 American, British, and Canadian paratroopers shortly after midnight. 
  4. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs.
  5. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five beachheads were not connected until June 12. The other 3 beaches would take more than the first day to overtake.
  6. The parties responsible for the landings at each beach: Utah and Omaha Beaches: United States Military, Gold and Sword beaches: Great Britatin, Juno: Canada. All working with the French Resistance. 
  7. The 5 beaches make up a coastline of about 50 miles or 80 km!
  8. German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.

It was VERY Surreal to walk in the places we did and understand what a huge part of history the land we walked had as well as the mass destruction and loss of lives during a turning point for WWII.
Next stop:

The Crisbecq battery museum
Out of all the D-Day sites we visited, the Crisbecq Battery museum was honestly my favorite. You learn a lot about what the military site would’ve looked like back in those days, see multiple large guns, walk through underground tunnels, and mostly have the place to yourself. 
Here’s a bit of background info on the Crisbecq battery. The Germans began construction of the battery mid 1941 as part of the “Atlantic Sea-Wall” using mostly Russian and Polish prisoners of war. The site had 3 Navy 210 mm guns (2 of which were held in large concrete casements like the one above)  and several 75 mm anti-aircraft machine guns, and 1 open 150 mm gun firing pit. On D-Day, the site fired upon Utah beach up to the Point Du Hoc (that separates Utah from Omaha Beach) and the US Navy battleships. The site successfully sunk the destroyer USS Corry. 
Above: The 210 mm gun casement (formally  a Type R 683 casement) has an impressive dimension of 21×16 meters and 8 meters tall. It is compared of 2000 m3 of concrete and 100 tons of steel. The casement would be covered with camouflage and nets to hide it from aerial view. Unfortunately an accidental explosion within the bunker, caused its collapse killing a dozen American soldiers. The 210 mm canon has a max range of 33 km. (The Utah beach landing site is appox 14 Km from this battery) 
As this site is considered a museum, it does dost to enter however the set up and information provided are excellent and I wouldn’t hesitate to pay to visit again. 
Above: Braden emerging from a Type 134 Storage room used to store Artillery shells. There was a little track and carts to haul the large shells from storage to the gun casements. 
Crisbecq Battery Museum Practical Information:
Hours: Everyday 10-6 PM
Cost: Adults are 8 euros
*Spend anywhere from an hour to 2 hours exploring the battery. At the ticket counter you get a map with detailed explanations of all the different bunkers and guns still at the site. 
The back of the first casement. 
Descending into one of the shelter bunkers. 
A type 622 shelter meant to house two combat squads (2 dozen men) 
See Braden? haha You could walk around each bunker going under ground or in some cases… climbing some stairs to the lookout post. 

The whole museum has a walking path that you follow in a trench that connects each of the shelters. This one is a type 502 shelter that was equipped with a water tank and ammunition storage.

Inside the ammunition storage room of the type 502 shelter. 
A hole in the storage room shelter caused by a 105 mm shell on June 8 (likely coming from the Azeville battery close by)
Inside a type 622 shelter, mannequins were set up to display the German command Ohmsen interrogating an American officer. (There are multiple displays in the room discussing the interrogation but long story short: the American officer was carrying plans for the Crisbecq battery that were actually more accurate than their own plans.) The 2nd room in this battery also has a scene displaying daily life in a shelter with men using a stove, beds, tables, and electricity. 
Braden exiting a 134 storage room that was used for a kitchen and food storage as well as storage for various non-artillery equipment. 
Date etched into the floor of one of the Artillery pits. 
Braden at the ready with an anti-aircraft gun. 
Posing with a 130 mm canon that was originally taken from a French destroyer that was sunk in 1940 (and outfitted by the Germans for land coastal defense) 
The museum next door for another battery. We just walked over to snap a photo of the entrance. lol Still had too many more sites to visit. 
Up next we headed 14 km down to Utah Beach. The site has free parking and access. There is a museum here also that looks good (we didn’t have time and I was hoping to make it to another museum that I read “was the best of the bunch”) but if you have time, it does look good. Here is a description: “Built at the very place where the American troops landed on June 6, 1944 in Normandy in the department of La Manche, the Utah Beach Museum tells in ten sequences the events of the D-Day , from its preparation until its completion and its success. Thanks to this complete chronological journey, immerse yourself in the History of D-Day and come to discover a collection rich in objects, vehicles, materials and testimonies.” Notable things in the museum are an authentic B26 bomber plane and the “Beach of Victory” film. 
Utah Beach Museum Practical Information:
Hours:From 1 October to 31 May: 10 am – 6 pm

From 1 June to 30 September: 9.30 am – 7 pm

Cost: 8 euros for adults, 4 euros children age 7-15

*For a guided tour of the site, rates are 12 euros adults, and 8 euros kids

As we didn’t go in the museum, here’s some photos from the various memorials on the beach. Photo above is of the Higgins Boat Monument which you are free to climb around on and explore the actual boat. There is a small plague nearby in resemblance of Andrew Higgins whose key boat design “won the war.” (-President Eisenhower in interview)
Taking a photo with the Utah Beach sign. 
So the Utah beach was HUGE. It seemed to go for miles in both directions and it actually blew our expectations for a beach out of the water. As far as recreation goes, this would be a stellar “vacation” beach so it was amazing to see how respected the site is by visitors. It was very melancholy as there was definitely a somber atmosphere and yet families were still out flying kites. It was definitely a memorable beach for us. 
The US Navy Monument at Utah Beach: “Built by the Naval Order, the US Navy Monument is the only monument dedicated to the US Navy outside the United States. It is comprised of three powerful symbols: leadership, sailors, and combat units. The names of the American ships that took part in Operation Overlord are inscribed on the base and are organized by the type of vessel.”
Another view of the Navy monument under both countries’ flags. 
The 1st Special Engineer Special Brigade Monument: “This monument was erected with the contributions of the men from the Brigade themselves. The monument reflects Caffey’s insistence that the Brigade must leave a permanent reminder of their work before departing Utah Beach.
The monument was initially inaugurated on November 11, 1944.”
At the beach there are a couple cafe’s and accessible toilets. There is also the remains of a bunker. (although it wasn’t as good as the Cristecq Battery as you could barely go in it.)
The last monument we saw at Utah beach: The milestone 00 marker for the Route de liberty. (Similar to the one that is further along the route de liberty in St. Mere Eglise.)
Next stop on our way to Omaha Beach was Pointe Du Hoc which is the highest point in the Atlantic Sea Wall defense. It was pretty heavily fortified by the Germans with 6 155 mm Gun casements, a large observation bunker, and several open anti-aircraft gun pits. The most distinguishable thing about visiting Pointe du Hoc is not the battery, but the landscape. Behind Braden is one of MANY large craters created by Allied bombing of the area pre D-Day. (This pre-bombing was actually key in the success of taking over this site as the Germans had previously moved the big guns out of position and tried to hide them on the actual day making them un-usable in the defense of the site) 
A map of all the D-day beaches at Pointe Du Hoc. 
The Pointe has a free museum and is free to visit. It was transferred to American control in 1979 so it is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. 
Looking out at all of the artillery craters. 
The other most notable landscape information: The battlement sits atop 100 foot cliffs which were scaled by the courageous US Army Ranger Assault Group in a ground attack. (about 250 men with 8 landing crafts) They ascended using grappling hooks, rope, and ladders (that weren’t quite tall enough) all while under enemy fire. There were 2 US Navy ships off the coast offering counter fire to aid. 
I apologize for the somewhat less exciting photo, but it is actually a photo of the USS TEXAS battleship which was there to offer fire power at the surrounding German battery defenses, as well as medical support for wounded rangers. This was especially cool to us because just last year both Braden and I had WALKED on the USS TEXAS battleship which is in Houston. It was pretty amazing to know we had stood in both places that were so important in the Normandy invasion. 
Looking down the coast of Pointe du Hoc. 
One of the 6 large gun casements at the site. 
Braden in front of the Ranger Monument at Pointe du Hoc
This monument is situated on top of the large observation bunker. It was cool that you could go insides this bunker and look around but it was PACKED with people so for the claustrophobic.. you may not want to venture down there on a busy day as we had to wait in queues to move about anywhere. 
Braden inside the observation bunker 
Going down the steps into the observation bunker main room
Looking about at some other old battery ruins at Pointe Du Hoc 
After that were made the error of stopping for lunch/dinner at 5:15 (but we were starving) so we had a nice lunch a creperie with cider to drink. Normandy is FAMOUS for its cider which is served in earthenware cups. (apparently because it is a peasants drink… but hey I still felt fancy lol) The cider was excellent so I definitely recommend stopping for lunch at a ciderie? (is that a word? lol) 
But it was an error as we were only 5 minutes away from the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach which closes at 6. We got there… at 5:50 but they stop letting people in at 5:45.. So that was a bit of bummer as you can’t see any of it from outside the grounds. So pro tip: If you’re cutting it close to 6, go to the cemetery FIRST, then eat. 
So we parked and just headed down to Omaha Beach instead. Parking in the area again was free and access was free. Above: The 1st Infantry Division monument at Omaha Beach
The 5th Engineer Special Brigade Monument at Omaha Beach
Looking down the West side of Omaha beach (with Pointe Du Hoc the point in the distance)
Above: Piece of the floating ROADWAY system used in the artificial Mulberry Harbor
Last stop of the day: Gold Beach or more specifically the Arromanche-les-bains which is about the halfway point of what is considered Gold Beach. This area is most famous for the artificial harbor that was constructed just off the beach, ruins of which are still clearly visible. 
“The artificial, temporary harbour was key to allow the unloading of heavy equipment without waiting for the conquest of deep water ports such as Le Havre or Cherbourg. The port was commissioned on 14 June 1944.

In order to achieve this incredible feat, the British built huge floating concrete caissons which, after being towed from England, then had to be assembled to form walls and piers forming and defining the artificial port called the Mulberry harbour. These comprised pontoons were linked to the land by floating roadways. During 100 days of operation of the port, 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of material were landed. Average that and it is about 9,000 Tons of material being disembarked per day. The best performance of the port was in the last week of July 1944: during those seven days the traffic through Arromanches exceeded 136,000 tons or 20,000 tons per day in that last week.”

Kids playing the surf next to the old concrete pontoons that were abandoned. I was a little disappointed to get there so late as during low tide, you can walk right out to these concrete pieces without even getting your feet wet. 
Out on the beach looking East. In the right side of the photo, those objects left on the horizon are some of the pontoons. 
Looking East with the pontoons that are sitting on the surf, but also several out on the horizon.  
Cool pieces of history left for us to appreciate!
Arromanches-les-bains Practical Information:
Cost:Beach access and public toilets are free. HOWEVER the car park is like Etretat and does cost a few coints. If you get there after 7 PM, parking is free! (We got there just before 7 so snagged a spot and then didn’t have to pay as we left!) 
*Note apparently people don’t need to use the toilet after 7 PM as they CLOSE them. lol We went to 2-3 different public WC’s in the town all of which were closed and couldn’t find another bathroom altenative within the town (without paying to eat at a restaurant) lol luckily there was a Mcdonald’s 15 minutes away! McD’s to the rescue! 
*There is also a small museum at this beach with the usual information of events of D-Day and also more details on the Artificial Harbor construction. It closes at 7 so we were unable to go.

Other notable stops that WERE on my list had we more hours in the day:
  • Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – I recommend visiting this tranquil 172.5 acre memorial place. It overlooks Omaha Beach with graves of 9,387 American soldiers. As one of the 14 permanent American World War II military cemeteries on foreign soil, the government of France have granted this land as a perpetual and permanent burial ground (without charge nor taxation) to honor the American soldiers who died during the war.
  • Batterie de Longues at Longues-sur-Mer – situated between the landing beaches of Omaha and Gold. It housed 4 152-mm navy guns with a 20km range; today, it is the only battery in Normandy that has most of its original heavy guns still in place.
  • Musée des épaves sous-marines – (Underwater Wrecks Museum) showcases recovered wrecks and artifacts after 25 years of underwater exploration in the D-Day beaches
  • Musée Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie – (Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum) shows a chronoligical presentation of the events during D-Day complete with exhibitions of equipment, weapons, arms, large artillery, and more. It is said to be one of the best D-Day museums.
  • And then of course making it down to pay our respects at Sword and Juno Beach. 

Day 5 Costs:
Airbnb B&B : $85
Rental car: $32
Parking in Sainte-Mère-Église: 2 euros (not timed)
Breakfast at cafe: 14 euros
Mussee de Crisbecq battery: 8 euros pp
Utah Beach: Free parking and access
Point du Hoc: Free parking and access
Lunch/dinner at a creperie: 20 euros
Gold Beach: Free parking after 7 PM
Gas first time fill up: 36 euros
3 bottles of cider and a souvenir ceramic cup: 15 euros
Day 5 total: $220 for 2 people

Hiking around Étretat

Day 4 continued: So after we left the general vicinity of Paris it became farmland and some of the prettiest farmland I’ve seen. For our entire first day, google maps took us on back country highways! Not one toll road in site which was a plus but the downside was there was an astonishing lack of gas stations! Which is how we came to the photo above. We both needed a snack and I needed a toilet so we stopped in a little town at a market where I was informed the public W.C. was right across the road. Awesome! That was it guys. haha Just little stalls with a hole in the ground that neither had toilet paper nor flushing capabilities and the urinals were open air even more so. Quite exciting let me tell you. (needless to say napkins were also purchased at said market haha)

Country side and this was probably the more mediocre stuff. I’m talking rolling hills and loads of tree-lined roads in the best areas. 
And these little country roads bring us to stop 3: The town of Fécamp (which is just about to the sea, so pretty far north)
Main reason for stopping here? We were just passing through and saw this cool structure and signs posted about so figured we’d stop and stretch our legs. As the sign designates, Fécamp’s claim to fame is for the great celebration that was had on Easter 1066 by William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings (battle that united Normandy and England under one hat.)  
The ruins of Fécamp castle which was built in the 10th century. This is the main site, which you can walk around the perimeter of but not much in the way of exploring.
Another view of the castle ruins
We walked around Fécamp, explored a little park, and grabbed a few croissants from a bakery to snack on when we hit the road again. All in all it’s a great little spot to stop and stretch your legs on your journey to the North. (I didn’t know it at the time, but the abbey in Fécamp looks really beautiful. I wish we’d had time to visit it so if you go, consider adding the abbey to your to-do list and let me know what you think!)
20 more minutes on the road and we’d reached my ultimate, favorite destination: Étretat. Not only does it have WWII history ties (which I always enjoy learning about) but… well you’re about to see the landscape is spectacular. The sign above reads:”
First Étretat tip: plan on parking being a bit nuts in the summer. We circled through the town once finding NOTHING on the street until we made our way into the actual main parking lot for the beach where we lucked out as a spot had JUST become free. We saw several other lucky ducks after us too so probably late afternoon, early evening is your best bet to find an open spot. Parking in the car park was funny as it cost 1 euro for an hour or 3 euros for 2 hours… We guessed this was a strategy to get people to pay more since they figured you wouldn’t want to keep coming back to the car to pay. lol After we parked we headed straight for the cliffs on the right (or the East). Just follow the “board walk” to the end and you’ll see these stairs (above.) It’s only paved the first bit, then it’s sort of a “dirt stair/trail mix” which was fine with me! 
The view from the East cliffs, properly known as the Falaise d’Etretat looking West at the cliffs we’d hike up next. 
The climb only took us maybe 5-10 minutes to get to this spot but I’d allow an hour to climb and explore this area. 
The beautiful church: Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Guarde. The original church on this site was built back in 1854 however it was destroyed by the Germans in 1942. The current construction was completed in 1950. Still while they may have had more modern approaches to building this chapel in 1950, I can only imagine the work it took to haul up all the stone and building supplies for the original chapel. 
A view of the church, the beach, and the Chemin des Dounaiers on the other side. 
I can never resist going out on points, especially when they connect to a staircase leading to a solitary beach. Braden grumbled about going down steps we’d potentially have to climb back up, to go back down but I persisted in convincing him. By making him take a picture of me and then bring my camera to me. hahaha! 
A lucky thing I convinced him to0, otherwise he would’ve missed out on this incredible view looking further East. 
Looking down from the stairs to the area we’d end up at. 
Proof he came with! 
Awesome adventure stairs! 
And lucky for Braden, we wouldn’t have to go back up since there was a tunnel leading back to the beach! Score! 
Small (inaccessible) beach at the base of the cliff stairs. 
Braden exploring on the rocks. 
The tunnel is actually super long! And at first it seems like it isn’t very tall but don’t worry, both Braden and I walked through the whole thing barely ducking our heads so you’ll fit! 
The exit of the tunnel on the other side. Much taller! 
Climbing down the rickety ladder from the tunnel to the beach. 
And we were down! We decided to take a break and lay out on the pebble beach for a while. For anyone who hasn’t experienced a pebble beach.. you’ll want water shoes. lol There were people swimming so I expect earlier in the afternoon, this makes for an idyllic swimming spot! 
Looking back toward the hidden access point of the tunnel. You’d never guess it was over there!
A view from the West cliffs looking even further West at Chemin des Dounaiers. (This is why if you don’t have time to hike both and have to pick, I’d say go west as you get a view of an even more monster arch out on the ocean and more views in the long run.) 
The hike up the West side starts on the opposite side of the boardwalk by these cool old military bunkers. 

After reading the short plaques of WWII history we started the ascent. This side definitely took a bit longer to climb but was less steep overall. 
Standing out over the point you CAN see from the beach, looking at the arch you CAN’T see from the beach. 
Cool rock towers to explore! 
It took me all of 5 seconds from seeing these things till I was racing down to go check them out. 
It was just a small room inside the rock but still cool and the drop off from the bridge a little scary! 
Braden in front of the bridge and drop off! 
A view looking East this time back toward the town, beach, and Falaise d’Etretat. Can you make out the church up on the hill? 
More poses as we hiked along

Dramatic white cliffs. 
Another point, this time right over on top of the main arch (and no secret stair case.) 
Looking further west from on top of the arch. You can barely make out the lighthouse down there. (The walking paths actually seemed to go out to it but we were losing daylight fast so missed out on potentially checking it out.) 
And another favorite view of mine. This time looking East from on top of the main arch. On the other side of that cliff is the main beach/ town. See the church in the background? 
Family photo with one of my favorite views 
Coming back down the view of the town and part of the golf course. (Seriously best golf course views ever or what?!) 
The sun setting on Étretat
Another look at the bunker in the previous photos. 
And with that, we were on our way leaving a much emptier parking lot behind and with still a 90 minute drive to our apartment for the night. We ended up at a McDonald’s for dinner (don’t judge) as we got lost while my phone spazzed out and were honestly starving after eating next to nothing all day. My favorite part of the later drive was this incredible bridge as we drove to Caen. It spanned probably the widest part of the Seine river, consequently costing almost 6 euros to cross once… but still cool to think we were crossing the Seine near where the river meets ocean, when we’d previously crossed it X amount of times while in Paris. 
Day 4, part 2 costs costs:
3 croissants in Fecap: 2.50 euros
Étretat car park: 3,50 for 2.5 hours
Mcdonalds Dinner: 14 euros
Expensive bridge crossing 5.40
Other tolls on the road to Caen: 3.40
Night 4 Airbnb apartment lodging: $47
Part 1 costs from previous post: $92 
Day 4 total: $168 for 2 people

The Royal Abbey Chaalis & Chateau de Chantilly

Day 4 Itinerary: Royal Abbey Chaalis, Chateau de Chantilly, small city of Fecamps, Etretat, Caen 
Ok I’m again splitting day 4 up into 2 posts. The first 2 stops are less than 30 minutes outside of Paris so consequently totally doable if you are staying in Paris. The other places were along the coast of Normandy and let’s be honest I took a million pics in Etretat so it needed its own post. 
So to start with, another early morning at 6:30 AM to catch a shuttle organized through the hotel (wasn’t attempting the train again) to the airport to pick up our rental car. We grabbed a quick mcdonalds breakfast at the airport and our rental car then were on our way out of the city around 8:45. First stop: The Royal Abbeye Chaalis which I mistakenly thought opened at 9… ya it opens at 10 so we had like 30 minutes to kill when we got there.

So to kill time, we went and explored the adorable little town Ermononville (only 10 minutes away from the abbey) The first picture is of the Grand Chateau Ermononville which is a hotel/restaurant and the photo just above is of the beautiful little park space across from the chateau. Despite it being almost 10 AM, NOWHERE was open yet and the town was pretty deserted. 
I definitely found myself wandering around singing “Little town… It’s a quiet village.” (You know the rest) 
A picturesque little Dam in the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. There were also loads of sheep and geese out there with pretty little bridges and the waterway. 
Wandering through the town. It took us a while to get the hang of the French roads, better recognized as obstacle courses. (see those random little barriers that act as speed bumps… as in you have to slow down to weave in between them) The sign on my right indicates who has the right of way should 2 cars get to this same spot at the same time. (In my case, I’d have to wait since I have the smaller RED arrow) 
Cute little entrance to the town of Ermononville
Finally. It was 10. And the gates had opened. And we were legit the only ones there. lol 
So a little history on the Royal Abbeye de Chaalis: Louis VI founded the monastery of Chaalis on 10th January 1137 in memory of Charles the Good, Count of Flanders who had been massacred at Bruges.
This abbey’s church was consecrated in 1219. Almost immediately after its foundation, the abbey became incontestably renowned largely due to the quality of its priors or abbots. ( as in… it was a pretty wealthy abbey) The old part of the abbey (above) fell into ruin a long time ago but its fate was sealed in ruin with the French Revolution. The top pic however it of the more modern Abbey which is now housing an art museum.  
Wandering around the ruined abbey
Feeling small in the huge world that is history

Posing in the old Abbey church with the new abbey/art museum in the background

The coolest gargoyles ever. They were so random! Like at least one animal representation of each kingdom. This is the smaller Abbot’s chapel which is one of the Medieval buildings so it’s amazing it has stood the test of time so well! 
A mermaid and a lizard/ dragon thing?
Looking at the backside of the old church ruins
Let’s see a turtle, a snail, something else, and then an alligator in this one
The art museum aspect of the grounds didn’t open until 11 and we still had a lot of stops to make on our drive so unfortunately we didn’t get to see the inside of any of the buildings. I bet this smaller chapel was beautiful since it had a lot of stained glass. 
Picturesque rose garden beyond the Abbot’s chapel and mansion
Rose garden 
The front side of the old Abbey. In this perspective you can see the original building was quite huge as the left side was not even the make up for the larger chapel. 
Pretty path of trees on the Abbey de Chaalis grounds
Abbeye de Chaalis Practical Information:
Hours: Park, Rose Garden, and Medieval Abbey are open everyday from 10-6PM
Castle Museum is open everyday from 11-6PM in the summer? season however in the Winter season (Nov 12-Feb 28) it is only open Sundays 10:30-5:30
Cost: For all parts of the grounds and museum full price is 8 euros, for just the outdoor grounds (what we did) it would be 4 euros. 
*Reduced rate of students is 6 euros or 3 euros respectively
*The Abbey is included in the Museum Pass
*Dogs are allowed on leash in the park 🙂 
Then it was a short 15-20 minute drive to our next stop: The Chateau de Chantilly 
Chateau de Chantilly Practical Information:
Hours: High season (March 25-Nov 1):everyday from 10-6 (8PM for the park)
Low season (Nov-March 25) everyday EXCEPT TUESDAY from 10:30-5 (6 PM for the park) 
Cost: For the entire park, chateau, stables, horse museum it is 17 euros full rate, 10 euros reduced
There is an Equestrian spectacle show mutliple times during the day so for the entire park and the show it is 30 euros or 24 euros for reduced fair
Car Park costs: 4 euros for the day, accepts credit card
*Equestrian spectacular shows go from April 2 to November 5
* The standard domain ticket still includes a 30 min dressage demonstration given by stable riders (check program for times)
*Reduced fair: for children aged 3-17, students, people with disabilities 
*Chateau domain is included in Museum Pass, however the horse spectacle is not
*The Audio guide is included in all domain tickets
Between the fact they had equestrian shows AND DOG STATUES everywhere. I could just tell this chateau and I were going to hit it off
Dog statue 1
The main entrance to the Chateau/ Conde Museum
Dog statue number 2 (my favorite one)
Awesome moat/ reflection pool surrounding the chateau! 
OK so a bit of history: The Grand Chateau was actually destroyed in the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s (so it is relatively new construction compared to some other Chateaux we will be visiting) The museum of Conde (housed within the Chateau) is considered one of the finest art galleries in France (after the Louvre) and specializes in French paintings and book illuminations from teh 15th and 16th centuries. The original mansion was built in 1528-1531 for the Montmorency family. In 1632 following the death of Henri II, it was passed to the Grand Conde (his mother was Charlotte de Montmorency) 
*Also this is more modern history but James Bond fans should recognize this chateau from the movie “A View to Kill.” 
The inside of the chapel ceiling… We love ceilings

The incredible library that houses over 1500 manuscripts, 17,500 printed volumes, and some 300 Medieval manuscripts. Some of the most notable are on display to look at down the center. It was certainly amazing to look at such old documents and see how colorful and fun they made them. lol

The tour takes you through the grand apartments, library, and several art gallery halls before spitting you out in a gift shop (typical lol) and to the rear of the chateau. The reflection photos are always a favorite of mine 🙂 
The gardens were pretty extensive however after doing Versailles… well let’s just say no gardens would satisfy again so we did a quick round about tour before heading out. Places to be and all that…. We didn’t make it down to the stables or the museum of horse but there is a small train/ tram that takes you around the grounds (so if you would likes to see those things, look for the small train!)  There were many paintings and statues of dogs throughout and the stable/ race track is supposedly like the Versailles of stables. According to legend, Louis, Duc de Bourbon and Prince of Conde, believed he would be reincarnated as a horse after his death so in 1719 he asked the architect to build stables suitable for his rank…. as a horse.
Day 4 costs to this point:
Shuttle from hotel to airport: 36 euros for 2 people
Mcdonalds breakfast in airport: $10 euros 
Rental Car: Total cost for 10 days is $324 so just about $32/ day 
Abbey de Chaalis: Free with Museum pass/ free parking
Chateau de Chantilly: Free with Museum pass/ 4 euros for parking
Hotdogs and a coke to drink from a stand outside the chateau: 10 euros
Total for day 4 THUS FAR: $92 for 2 people

Exploring Paris museums day 3

Day 3 continued: So we got back to our hotel around 2:30 and decided (after 2 nights of passing out by 8 PM) that a little mid-day rest may be in order. After that (roughly around 4) we headed out to the Musee D’Orsay for a quick adventure before our tour of the catacombs. (at 6) We walked since it was only about 10 minutes and came across this sign on our way. It may not quite be LillIe but it’s close 😉 so I took it as my name anyways.

Above: The “party” room in the Musee D’Orsay
Like the Louvre we faced a security line (seperate for ticket holds and non ticket holders) that moved decently quick but still took 20ish minutes. (much longer than I thought it would) which left us with just over an hour to explore a fairly massive museum! The layout of this museum is also tricky as elevators on one end only go up, the stairs are usually safest. 
The museum was once a train station so architecture wise.. it was really cool!
Musee D’Orsay Practical Information:
Hours: CLOSED MONDAYS, open from 9:30-6 PM Tuesday-Sunday with late nights on Thursdays until 9:45 PM.
Cost: 12 euros for full rate
*Included in Museum Pass
*Like other museums in Paris, this one is FREE for everyone under 18 or FREE for EU citizens aged 18-25
Passport/ Combined ticket options:
Orsay and Rodin: 18 euors
Orsay and Musee de l’Orangerie: 16 euros
*Keep your ticket, in the week following your visit you can get discounted tickets for Palais Garnier, Gustave Moreau National Museum, and Jean-Jacques Henner National Museum
I had 2 things I wanted to see on my mind: 1st the clock. 2nd the Impressionist painters wing. For some reason in my AP French class we covered a section on the French Impressionist movement in painting so out of all the art we would see in Paris, I knew none as well as I did the painters Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, and Cezanne. I was pretty thrilled to see so many of their works presented in one place. The wing is HUGE! 
A large Renoir painting. (next to Monet’s lily pad ponds, his paintings were my favorite)
Another Renoir
Said clock that still resides from the days of being a train station. You can look out at the Louvre across the Seine river which is pretty cool. 
My favorite! The picture I had to get! Despite the crowd of people standing around to take pictures of the clock.
Tip: There are 2 clocks, 1 is in a cafe(the first one you’ll come across) and the other is through the Impressionist painting wing. Don’t disturb the diners… just make your way to the 2nd clock for this pic. 
Looking down the line of the museum towards the entrance. See the train station now? 🙂

Selfie at one of my favorite spots in D’Orsay

GIANT PAINTING! I took this from up on the balcony across. This painting was like the size of a house. haha
My favorite statue in the Musee D’Orsay
A sculpture of St. Michael slaying the dragon. These things were evyerwhere but this one was a pretty cool representation I think. 
A model of the Paris opera house. From right- left: The Grand Loggia (balcony), The Grand Foyer, the Grand staircase, the auditorium, and the behind the scenes (which looks SO awesome and now I wish we’d been able to see it haha) 
Look how cute my favorite room in all of Paris is in mini form. 
Another cool statue in the Musee D’Orsay
The largest Monet in the museum. Braden wasn’t with me otherwise I would’ve had my picture taken with this one for scale. But with the last 15 minutes before we had to leave Braden caught sight of a banner proclaiming the wondrously famous Vangogh portrait of himself somewhere in the museum ( in the half that we hadn’t covered yet) so he dashed off in search of it while I explored the last little bit on the ground floor. 
Braden in front of the Museum sign
Posing with the Museum sign
From here things go real. We had to make it to the Catacombs in 20 minutes for our 6:00 tour. GMaps said the bus would be the fastest and the stop we needed was RIGHT in front of the museum. AWESOME! But we got there and it said 20 minutes until the next bus… HUH? I hate buses. haha so we dashed off to the metro station about 10 minutes walk away and got to the station 5 minutes away from the entrance like right at 6… Luckily they were lenient. lol 
I’ve read online that if you go to the catacombs after 5:30 the line will be a lot shorter… Well I can’t speak for what the line looked like earlier in the day but it was still VERY LONG when we got there. Luckily I paid the premium bought our tickets online for the 6:00 time slot so we got to skip THE ENTIRE LINE! hehe so worth it. Like fastpasses at Disneyland. 
The interesting thing about the catacombs I think most people don’t know about is that they started off as a mining Quarry. (Where do you think all the gorgeous stone (lutetian limestone) in the buildings came from?!) Post 12th century, common mining practices were to drill wells, enter through the well, and then expand horizontally from there. Most of the mines from the medieval period were uncharted and at the time under “suburbs” outside of Paris where there was less concern in controlling the mines. Come the year 1774, there were many series of cave-ins of homes, streets, etc that caused the current sovereign, Kind Louis XVI to commission the inspection Générale des Carrières (of Inspection of mines) service. The actual ossuary (catacomb) section is rather small in comparison to the massive tunnel system extending under the streets of Paris. 
Above: As mines were inspected and reinforced as needed to avoid cave-ins, inscriptions were put into the walls to indicate how far along that tunnel they were in inspection (65) the inspector in charge of the reinforcement designs (G.) and the year reinforcements were completed. (1781) 
At least half of the tour of the catacombs is actually about the quarry practices back then and the subsequent reinforcement of the walls. Our premium, skip the line- online, tickets did include the audio tour which I highly recommend. There were a few rooms with large plagues that gave similar information but it was much more interesting to learn about as you moved through the dark passages. 
Braden walking through a section of quarry that was reinforced with pillars. 
Enter then the Ossuary section of the tunnels: The Catacombs
The Paris Catacombs hold the remains of more than six million people in only a small part of the ancient Mines of Paris tunnel network. The creation idea came just after the cave-ins began and the cemeteries were over-flowing. In 1763, an edict was issued by Louis XV banning all burials from the capital. The Church, however, did not wish to disturb or move the cemeteries, and opposed the edict. As a result, nothing was done. The situation persisted until 1780, when an unusually long period of spring rain caused a wall around the Les Innocents (largest cemetery in Paris) to collapse, resulting in the spilling of rotting corpses into a neighboring property. By this time, the French authorities were forced to take action.The transfer of bones from cemeteries to this Ossuary went nightly from the years 1786-1788 and following the French Revolution, the practice began to actual dump fresh corpses within the catacombs rather than bury then only to have to dig up the bones later. The bones were not then arranged how they are now. For the first few years of bone dumping, the catacombs were just that… bone dumping. It wasn’t until 1810, that the mine inspector director,  Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, the renovation to organize the bones was done. In addition to the very interesting arrangement of bones (mostly skulls and femurs) artifacts from previous cemeteries, inscriptions, archways, and other ornamental features were added) The last official additon of bones to the catacombs was in 1859.  It would remain then, relatively forgotten until 1874 when it was opened to the public as a “museum.” The bones to this day still remain in their original arrangement, however once a year, cleanings and methods to preserve the bones are completed. 
Loads of bones. So surreal. 
A heart of skulls… 
Cemetery decoration within the catacombs 
An interesting arrangement of bones
Markers showing which church this section of bones came from. 
More markers and inscriptions
Cool? design in the catacombs 
A super giant “barrel” of bones that you can walk around. 
Paris Catacombs Practical Information:
Hours: CLOSED MONDAYS. Open from 10 AM to 8:30 with the last ticket entrance available at 7:30.
Cost: Full price: 17 euros
Reduced price: 14 euros (for those aged 18-26 or with the Family Paris Pass card)
Audio guides: 5 euros
TIP: BUY YOUR TICKET AHEAD OF TIME. The cost to buy online on the Catacombs website is 29 euros and INCLUDES the audio guide. So for 7 euros more you easily skip an hour or more line.
*Be prepared to wander 1.5 km through dark passages. The tour will likely take around 45 min to 1 hour and the temperature remains a constant 14 C or 57 F
*There are approximately 130 steps down and 83 steps to go up so not recommended for those with fear of confined spaces, those with heart or respiratory issues, or those with reduced mobility
*If you carry a purse or small bag with you, they will ask to check your bag both at the entrance (for security purposes) and at the end.. to make sure you aren’t bringing home any contraband souvenirs. 😛 
The plan for the rest of the evening was to check out all the lights at night so I could try my hand at nighttime photography (and since we previously fell asleep before it even got dark haha) so we took the bus over to the Louvre area for some dinner. (finally a Parisian dinner! lol) I got boeuf bourguignon which was so good! Then we spent about an hour getting all our souvenir shopping out of the way for the Christmas gifts this year. 
*The best souvenir shopping sites we saw were shops near the Louvre, Notre Dame, and in Montmartre. 
Super cool clouds rolling in as night time settled over the Louvre. 
Cool clouds as it got dark over the Louvre
The amazing Louvre courtyard at night
Then we set up the tripod and got started with the fun nighttime photography! 
Unlike the other famous tourist spots in Paris the Louvre courtyard really empties out at night. It may just have been my favorite site to chill at if we stayed in Paris longer. So peaceful and relaxing! 

So many couple photos! 😛
So peaceful! 

Couldn’t leave without snagging one of these photos 
From there we took the metro over to the Arc De Triomphe to play around with long exposures. This area was SO busy, it became a challenge to find a spot we could set up the tripod without having a million people walk in front of it during a 1 minute exposure. 

So we were akwardly under a street light which somewhat skewed a lot of the photos. Oh well. haha the traffic lights still look cool! 
And from there, one last bus to the Eiffel Tower to watch it “sparkle” Again another VERY busy area but I can’t say that I blame them. Tons of vendors walking around with beer, wine, champagne and other beverages that probably make a killing. lol smart entrepreneurs right there! 

Then it was a quick 10 minute walk back to the apartment where we definitely collapsed exhausted at the late hour of midnight! EEEh Our last day in Paris was exceptional though! 
Stay tuned for the next post of cool places just outside the Paris area and then onto Normandy! 
Goodnight from Paris!
Day 3 costs:
Hotel: $120 for 2 people
Museum Pass: $42/ day for 2 people 
Breakfast: from our fav. bakery again 6 euros
RT train tickets to Versailles: $14.50 for 2 people
Angelina Hot Chocolate: 8 euros pp plus another 5 euros for a coffee so 13 at this stop 
Versailles Gardens during Musical fountain show day: 20 euros for 2 people

30 minute row boat adventure: 13 euros

Lunch: quick stop at Mcdonalds for 10 euros
Dinner: 43 euros
Paris Catacombs online tickets: 29 euros/ person so 58 euros for 2
Total other transportation costs for the day: 15 euros
Day 3 total: 354.50 

Visiting Versailles

Day 3: Versailles, Musee D’Orsay, the Catacombs, and Paris lights 
Although for post length’s sake, I’ve split our last day up so this post will only cover Versailles
But first a few photos of our addorable and eclectic hotel room we had for 3 nights in Paris! We stayed right around the block from the Musee de l’armee and only a 10 minute walk (or less) to the Eiffel Tower. All in all I thought it was pretty well situated and the cost really couldn’t be beat. The hotel is called Hotel Le Pavillon and is considered a “boutique hotel” due to only having 15 rooms, each of which is unique, and in such a great neighborhood!

The feel of the hotel was overall green with auto- lights and green practices. It had the tiniest elevator I’ve ever been in (barely fits 2 people) and had the cutest artwork. I especially appreciated the adorable animals with crowns on the walls and the bird cages affixed to all the lights. 
But my favorite feature, was by far the toilet seat art. lol All in all the service was great, the room SO comfortable quiet, that I can’t imagine staying anywhere else. 
So as I said we would be writing up about Versailles. I knew that the line to get in would be bonkers by mid-day so once again we dragged ourselves out of bed by 7 to start the train journey to Versailles. We had to take 2 metro lines to get to a train station for RER C and then it was a straight shot to the Versailles- RG (River Gauche) station which is the closest to the palace. We got there right about 8:30 (30 minutes before opening) and this is what it looked like ALREADY. It would take us approximately 30 minutes from this spot to gain entrance once the palace opened at 9 AM. (There are 2 entrances for the palace, marked A, on the left, and B on the right. A is for all individuals who have tickets or free admission. B is reserved for groups. 
Just for comparison purposes… this is what it looked like just before 9… The line switchbacks up and down the courtyard. It’s for real insane how big this line got. 
Getting my first glimpse of the palace through the gate (while still in line haha)
A look through the bars 
Versailles Palace practical information:
Open everyday EXCEPT MONDAYS from 9-6:30
Admission: Included in Museum Pass otherwise 18 euros for JUST the palace and audioguide
Trianon Estates Practical Information:
Open everyday EXCEPT Mondays from 12:00-6:30
Admission: NOT included in Museum Pass. 12 euros for adults
*Admission to the palace and Trianon estates are free for EU citizens under 26, and free for everyone under the age of 18
Musical Gardens and Musical Garden Shows:
Ordinarily the gardens are free however on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 April to 29 October 2017, and on Tuesdays from 23 May to 27 June 2017, the gardens have music playing as well as musical fountain shows that occur. This will cost you 9.50 for an adult and is only free for children under the age of 6. It is also NOT INCLUDED IN THE MUSEUM PASS
Versailles Passport:
If you don’t have a Museum Pass and are going in the summer, you will likely want the Passport which grants access to the Palace, Trianon Estates, and Coach Gallery with option for Musical Gardens (and shows)
Cost for 1 day: 20 euros without gardens, 27 euros with
Cost for 2 days: 25 euros without gardens, 30 euros with
There are multiple tours available for both the Palace and Trianon Estates however there are only a few offered in English. 
Finally we were in! and without too many people yet!

I loved the golden accents on the outside of the palace. These doors lead straight into the first floor Mesdame’s Apartments. We went there first and had the place to ourselves. 
Corridor in the Mesdames Apartments. 
A beautiful bedroom is the Mesdames apartments. 
This set of apartments gets its name from the Mesdames of France, otherwise known as the six daughters of Louis XV who lived here from 1752. However only two of them, Adélaïde and Victoire, remained until the Revolution, since neither princess married and both lived to an old age.
The history of the apartments is rather complex in that their use and layout have changed over time. The rooms were originally designed by Louis XIV to be a series of bathrooms until gradually being converted into private rooms. 
My favorite room in the Mesdames Apartments: the library. I want glass enclosed shelves to hold my books ones day! haha 
Back out of the Mesdames apartments and onto the Royal Apartments. This goes to show everyone was headed to the Royal Apartments as I actually snagged a photo without ANYONE in it from whence we came. 
A stunning corridor in the Royal Apartments. Just at the entrance here you can pick up a free audio guide. We passed again as the building already looked crowded.. I kind of wanted to get in and out. 
The upper level of the Chapel in the Royal Apartments. 
The Palace of Versailles actually started out as a hunting lodge of brick and stone by Louis XIII in 1624. There were several phases of expansion of the original buildings, most notably done by Louis XIV when he moved his court there in 1682. Versailles would then remain the seat of power for French monarchs until 1789 with the onslaught of the French Revolution. To put things one way, Versailles was all about control. Nobles were pressured to spend vasts amounts of time there proving their fealty to the monarchy. 
A very large, beautiful door in the Royal Apartments. Also to note is the array of different colored marbles in the floor and wall. 
Ladies and gents, the vastly famous Hall of Mirrors. 

While very crowded, I will admit this room was pretty spectacular (though the mirrors for me aren’t the main attaction) The ceiling and 3 rows of Chandeliers are what made this hall special for me.

Posing in the hall of mirrors
The King’s Bedchamber (for show) where they followed the ornate procedure of getting the king ready for bed each day. It was considered quite the privilege to witness the “de-robing” of the king. 
Admittedly, we breezed through most of the rooms in the palace, completing the tour in probably under an hour. Each room was just so busy and only a few had actual write-ups/ plaques on what they were. (and fewer still had English translations) Still we preserved most of our time for the gardens so we got in and got out and will watch a documentary later. 😉 
The gallery of Great Battles is where you conclude the self-guided tour. 
This gallery was created when the palace was turned into a museum (beginning around 1833-1837) and largely done by the same painter. (You can tell by the style) All the paintings are HUGE and there are a lot of them. My favorites were those of Joan of Arc. 
The awesome ceiling in the Gallery of Great Battles. 
After that the day was still a bit gray outside so we made a foodie pit stop! There are a couple Angelina cafes in Paris (most of which I hear can get very busy) so we made use of the little extra time to enjoy the famous African Hot Chocolate at the Angelina on site in the Palace of Versailles. Being the food blogger that I am (hah!) I captured a video pouring the hot chocolate which can only be equated to pouring syrup or soup. It comes in a small pitcher and with an adorable pot of homemade marshmallow (which is essential to dilute it at least a little bit!) 
Me drinking my hot chocolate. Word to the wise: Share one. lol It is much to MUCH for one person haha. I had to down like a bottle of water afterward it was so rich but hey, it was also delicious! Glad I got to try this over-priced Parisian delicacy. 
Then it was out to the gardens we went, where we learned that the musical fountains were still happening! YAY! but that we’d have to pay… Wahh. haha Either free or not, the gardens were by far our favorite part of our visit so definitely worth the money. And I’ll even add the music really added a fun touch to exploring the maze of shrubs, flowers, and fountains I really wouldn’t trade our experience for a free one anyways!

A pano of the smaller side garden and pond. 

In front of the palace and fountains. 
Versailles is HUGE. 
And the gardens are giant! From this vantage you can see right down the middle to the canal. On either side of the walkway are giant “mazes” or a sort with tall shrubs and hidden fountains at little clearings.

Selfie with the main fountain looking out to the canal and forest

Wandering down one of the clearings. I just loved the music they played throughout the gardens. I was glad I wore a dress but it seriously felt like we were in some type of movie or something. Braden got a photo of me curtsying while I was dancing around. 
A fountain in one of the many clearings. There’s a few maps posted about and you have a paper map with you that names each spot but still, it’s fun to aimlessly wander and lose yourself amidst the shrubs. 
Looking down an aisle of trees that had a straight shot to the palace. 
My favorite fountain, any guesses why? 😉
Because HORSES! haha 
This fountain marks the end of the gardens and the beginning of the park, which stretches on for miles (and is free all the time)
The gardens cover 800 hectares and border the Satory Forest to the south (park with many walking trails) plains on one side and urban areas on the other. They were designed and developed over approximately 40 years and remain to this day, the same as they had been in the time of Louis XIV, who approved every detail of development. The fountains are even still using the old hydraulic system that was developed in that time. You could spend hours enjoying the gardens, in fact we spent at least twice as long there than we did in the palace. 
Some fun facts about the gardens:
Size: 800 Hectacres 
Plants/flowers: 200,000 trees. 210,000 flowers that are planted annually 
Features: 50 fountains with 620 water jets that are fed by 25 km of piping
The Grand canal is 5.57 km in circumference (if you were to run around the entire thing… that would make for an awesome 5k!!!) 
Selfie with my favorite fountain
I had toyed with the idea of renting bikes (not in the gardens but in the park beyond) but when I saw row boats for rent I couldn’t pass on the opportunity! So we paid 13 euros for 30 minutes of row boat perfection with the best backdrop anyone could ask for. 
We made it pretty far in 15ish minutes though we still didn’t make it to the end. We mostly wanted to see what was beyond those perfectly manicured trees. You can see Versailles off in the distance. 
And don’t worry I rowed part of the time too. (though admittedly I had us going in circles so to get back in 30 minutes I wasn’t allowed to row for very long ) 
My handsome man rowing us back as fast as he could to turn in the boat.

Rowing back to the palace

My favorite fountain from the front and without water so you can appreciate the details more. The fountain is of Apollo and I just love the details of the buglers and fish in the front and on the sides. 
As we saw most of the secret clearings of the one side before, we took the other side back.
And we happened upon a fountain show! In the program/ map they hand out at the entrance there are times and places for when the fountains will be going but we sort of wanted to meander without a schedule but I was happy we happened upon one going so we could at least see it once! Again the fountains and gardens are the same as they were so the fountain show may not be Bellagio Las Vegas grand, but it was cool to think of the generations before us enjoying these same fountain shows. 
Looking back from where we came with the first fountain shut off. It was quite a bit of walking to cover as much gardens as we did and if you look at the canal, we rowed ourselves to the first t break. 
Cool statue in front of the palace (without the fountains going) 
And another crazy snap shot of the line as we were leaving. This looks easily like a 2 hour line based on how we waited 30 minutes from the spot we had. so.. recommend going early for sure! 
The statue of Louis XIV that graces the front of the palace and grounds. 
We headed out around 1 after spending roughly 4 hours exploring the palace and gardens (the minimum to see both those things) We did not see the Trianon estates since the tickets weren’t included and we had so much more to see in Paris on our last day but I’ve heard great things about them so definitely recommend if you can get tickets! I also heard there is a night time fireworks show that is cool to see! (again similar to what they would’ve watched in the time of Louis XIV) so you could definitely make a whole day trip out of Versailles!
We instead picked up McDonalds to go (we were starving since we’d hardly eaten much for breakfast at the bakery again) and hopped on the train back to the city. 
See the next post for the continuation of the list at the top: Musee D’Orsay, the Catacombs, and the incredible Paris sites lit up at night.