Travels with Stuart

Versailles—A Worthy Day Trip from Paris

P1100104The golden main gate at Versailles is closed to the aristocratic ways of the 18th century, but the side entrances welcome you inside this marvelous estate.

What used to be a several-hour carriage ride from Paris is now just a short train trip, and it’s one that everyone should take. Many people think of Versailles as the lavish palace and the reason for the French Revolution in 1789; but it’s more than that, which is why you should schedule it in your next Parisian adventure. For more information about Versailles, visit its website (

Getting out to Versailles is really pretty easy. Take a look at your Metro map and find the most direct route to any RER “C” train connection. For more information about the trains, visit the train system website ( Go the Metro station and buy a round-trip ticket to Versailles-Château that covers both the Metro rides and the train rides. Remember that you want the train that takes you to Versailles-Château, and NOT the one that goes to Versailles-Chantiers! When you get to the train station (the end of the line), just follow the crowd — you can’t get lost!

P1100112The model of Versailles shows the grand scale of the estate that was the envy of all European rulers.

    There are some important logistical details to remember when heading out to Versailles.

  1. The palace and the grounds are closed on Monday, so make sure that you properly plan your visit
  2. Because it’s all closed on Monday, the crowd on Tuesday is almost twice the normal crowd (many of them are those who forgot it was closed on Monday and they’re leaving Paris on Wednesday!)
  3. Main admission is covered by the Paris Museum Pass, but certain exhibits might require a supplemental charge — for more information about the Museum Pass, visit the official website (
  4. Make sure that your camera batteries are fully charged because there are so many photo opportunities that you won’t be able to pass up
  5. Even if you have your admission ticket, museum pass, press card, etc., you still have to stand in the line outside the main entrance — everyone (except tour groups) goes through security from that one line

Unlike other palaces and castles around the world, your visit to Versailles should be built around an entire day. There are fewer crowds in the morning (along with its reduced admission for entrance before 9:45), and that allows you ample time to wander throughout the main Château at your leisure. You’ll want to roam from floor to floor, room to room to room before the tour groups and larger crowds arrive.

P1100120The magnificent pipe in organ in the two-story chapel is framed by massive columns that are more evidence of the palatial scale of the main Château.

The best entrance is on the east side of the courtyard where you’ll see the Hercules Drawing Rooms and the Chapel. If you’re fortunate, you might be able to hear the organist playing the pipe organ in the Chapel where the King’s visitors came to worship, and it was usually to worship him. As you weave your way in and out of each room and hallway, you’re bound to be in awe of the magnificence of each area and the way that the rooms are able to take advantage of sunlight and views to the outside.

P1100148The Hall of Battles is filled with light from above that accentuates the busts of heroes and the enormous paintings of decisive battles.

The one constant as you make your way through the Château is the ceiling height. Higher ceilings naturally evoke a grander feeling, even if the rooms weren’t already large. But it’s the high ceilings that allow for the large paintings, multiple levels of windows, and the grand visual experience of looking through a long series of arched doorways.

One surprising feature of the main Château is the size of the King’s Bedchamber. It appears to be one of the smallest rooms although it was centered right on the palace axis, and it had a marvelous view right out onto the Marble Courtyard. I don’t believe that the King spent a lot of time in his “bedroom” looking out to see who was coming to visit (he usually knew anyway), but the design was done to represent that the King was “at the center” of everything.

P1100142The view out of the King’s Bedchamber was right out onto the central Marble Courtyard.

Although you could spend an entire day absorbing the beauty, the grandeur, and the history inside the main Château, it would be a loss if you didn’t go out to the gardens and groves. Remember when I said that Tuesday crowds were typically quite large compared to the other days? I didn’t give you the entire reason up front.

Each Spring, from April to mid-May, and then from July through October, the groves of the Versailles Château come alive with energetic classical music. Called “The Musical Gardens,” the piped music plays from morning till early evening as do the water displays in the Mirror Fountain. The music’s not in every grove, but when you walk from one fountain or grove to another, and there are twenty-eight of them, you’ll enjoy being surprised when the music comes alive.

P1100166Geometrical patterns adorn The Orangerie where plants are stored and trees are stored during the winter.

The Mirror Fountain is especially delightful as the water fountains are timed to frolic and dance along with the music. There is plenty of grass for seating, and the rhythmic beats bring smiles to all those around the 300-year old fountain. Not to miss out on marketing opportunities, the Château de Versailles sells a CD of the music that’s played, and there’s a new CD each year — how’s that for marketing genius!

The expanse of the groves and fountains covers so much more area than the main château, and you’ll definitely get in your walking steps as you go from one area to another. It’s a little deceptive as you walk through the groves as you move away from the château; there is a slight downhill incline that you don’t notice until you’re ready to head back — back uphill.

P1100191Gardeners use wooden cutouts to precisely trim the bushes into geometrical shapes.

Shapes are abundant, whether they’re whimsical or plain ornamental. Framed cut-outs are used to ensure consistency in the decorative bushes, and the “faces” in the fountains aren’t readily apparent at first glance. But once you see one of them, they all come into focus.

P1100200The shell faces embedded into the water fountains look like South Pacific islanders.

After you make your back up the hill to the château, visit the WC and the gift shop, it’s time to stroll to the train station. There’s no need to be in a rush because the frequency of trains makes it very convenient for returning to Paris. And since all the trains go into Paris, there’s no need to worry about getting on the right train or the wrong train. The short 35-minute ride gives you time to think about the majestic sights you just saw, to organize your digital photos, or maybe it’s just enough time for you to relax so you can head back out into town once you’re back home in Paris, the City of Light.

Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, writes a monthly newsletter, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at

Volun-Tourism — a New Way to Travel

There’s a new way to travel; it’s called volun-tourism. I know; you’re thinking that helping out in another city or country has been around for decades, so how is this new? It’s new because of how you travel along with the well-planned activities once you’re “there.”

Quoting from their website, Fathom Travel ( is “a new kind of cruise that combines your love of travel with your desire to make a difference.” The new company, part of Carnival Corporationi, calls their travel Impact Travel, or Travel with a Purpose. Starting this April, Fathom will begin offering separate 7-day cruises out of Miami to two highly desirable Caribbean destinations: Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Your home on the sea, and while docked in port, will be the newly refurbished 704-passenger Adonia.

Planned activities in the Dominican Republic include working side by side with local residents in existing programs that focus on improving the lives of children, families and communities. Planned activities in Cuba include participating in an ongoing cultural exchange program that gives you the opportunity to interact with the Cuban people, one on one. And as with most cruises, there are optional add-on activities that you can partake in during your spare time.

If helping to make a difference sounds exciting to you, read more about these new opportunities at Not only do you get to go on a cruise, you get to help people, and you are able to visit two very interesting countries. I applaud Carnival for creating this new brand of travel with a do-good emphasis.

Stuart Gustafson is America’s International Travel Expert® who speaks on cruise ships, writes novels, writes a monthly newsletter, and loves everything about travel. Visit his website at

How to Select a Tour

Do you receive emails and brochures on a regular basis from travel companies enticing you to go on one of their tours? I get a lot of them, partly because I’ve taken a tour with them, or I’ve signed up to have information sent to me. They ALL look wonderful; so the question becomes — how do you decide which tour, if any, to select?

I wish there were a simple answer that would work for everyone, but there isn’t. I remember going into the Local Automobile Club office in late 2005 just to pick up some catalogs on Italy. Why? Well, I was going to plan a trip to Italy the next year, one that we would do on our own. The Travel Consultant asked if we’d ever thought about going on a tour? No, was my reply. I travel a lot internationally, so I know how to plan a trip.

She wasn’t going to give up that easily. She told us about a couple tours (notice, she didn’t bombard me with a dozen possibilities), and then she said something that made perfect sense to me. She said we could take the low-end tour but if we didn’t like it, was it the tour itself or that we didn’t like touring? Or we could take the high-end tour. If we didn’t like that tour, it certainly wouldn’t have been the tour; it would be that we didn’t like touring at all.

Would that apply to everyone? Probably not, but I liked the logic. We signed up for the high-end tour (the company is Tauck) and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then, we’ve taken a 21-day tour through Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door, and I’ve taken two tours with The Traveling Professor. We’ve also been on many cruises where we’ve also taken one- and two-day tours.

So let’s get back to the initial question, “How do you decide which tour, if any, to select?”

  1. Where do you want to go? (and don’t say “anywhere”) Don’t even look at THE BEST tour to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam if you have no desire to go to Southeast Asia
  2. How long can you go, instead of how long would you like to go?
  3. What is your realistic budget? (you’ll probably go over budget, but try to focus at tours within “your price range”)
  4. Is airfare included? What extras do you have to pay for?
  5. Is the currency exchange rate favorable to you? (right now, the U.S. Dollar is very strong against most other currencies, meaning it’s a great opportunity to travel internationally)

Try answering those questions as you look at different tours and see if your answers help to narrow down your choices.

Remember, if you have a question about international travel, don’t hesitate to contact me, America’s International Travel Expert® by submitting the simple form on my CONTACT page.

Global Entry, a must-have for international travelers

I don’t consider myself to be a “road warrior,” but I do a lot of travel, especially international travel. The best investment I’ve made for these travels is applying for Global Entry. Quoting the Global entry website, “Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.”

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve zipped right past those long lines with weary travelers holding their Customs form as they return to the USA. I go to the Global Entry kiosk, insert my passport, scan my finger tips, and answer a few questions. That’s it. There’s even a special lane for exiting baggage claim once you have your luggage (of course, if you’re a seasoned traveler, you only have carry-on luggage).

I got a new passport this last year, and I’ve already used Global Entry five times with the new one.

BONUS: Once you have Global Entry, most airlines will allow you to use that as your basis for applying for TSA Pre-Check, those expedited lanes at the airports where you leave your shoes on, etc. It’s totally worth it! What are you waiting for — apply for Global Entry today!

Starting All Over

I know it seems strange that a person who has traveled as much as I have doesn’t have dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of blog posts. Well, I used to.

[the short version] I was speaking on several cruises this past fall when my website came under attack from outside the U.S. I have no idea why, but it was severely impacted, taken down, and I had to start all over. And I mean ALL OVER.

I had to re-build the site starting with a blank canvas, which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it did mean that I lost lots and lots of content. So, here I start all over again with writing posts about travels. With my new website in place, I’ve enhanced its security, and I feel more confident that I won’t have the same issues.

My plans for 2016 don’t include as much travel as I’ve done in the past two years (you can see those numbers on my TRAVEL page). With that in mind, I will post some information about previous travels as well as information that I hope helps you as you make decisions regarding travel. If you have any specific questions about travel, use the form on the CONTACT page to send those questions to me.

It’s great to be back; Au Revoir for now!