Comme les châteaux sont beau!!!

Trip Start Jan 20, 2008
Trip End Jun 05, 2008

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Flag of France  , Centre,
Monday, May 19, 2008

"Oh, mon week-end au Val de Loire, c'était trop bien!"

This was my response to my host family's question on how my weekend was.

I spent this last weekend in the Loire Valley with my program. We almost didn't luck out on weather, Bretagne almost followed us, but the weather turned out to be pretty awesome. It's been about four years since I was last in the Loire Valley. I was really excited that I was going to see three new châteaux and one of my personal favorite, le château Chenonceau. The agenda for the weekend was: Saturday- Ussé and Azay le Rideau, stay the night in Tours and the Sunday- Chenonceau and Amboise. We did successfully achieve each and every castle. I've had one previous occasion where we missed a castle due to a mix-up in rendez-vous times and I am really happy that we had somewhat sufficient amounts of time in each castle. D'accord, on commence!

My weekend began, sadly, at 640. I had to catch the 729 bus from my house to get to campus by 800. We made it and climbed aboard. Two hours later, we arrived at a small town called Samour( I might be wrong on the name). We had an hour for lunch and we found this pretty reasonably priced bistro where I had a quiche Lorraine, apple tart and an orangina for only 3 euros. Thus, the large consummation of food begins. You always eat on road trips.

Our first castle was Ussé. All of us were fairly confident with the weather and that we had escaped the rain. Sadly, our bus driver got a little lost and what we had of sun was soon covered by some of the most ominous looking clouds that I have seen...outside of Brittany. You know your in Brittany when it rains three or four times within a day, you know you are outside when it rains once...but for a really long time. It poured while we were in Ussé. Which was a bummer because it had a lot to see outside of the castle. Inside, was pretty decent. This is the castle that inspired the fairy tale: Sleeping Beauty and up in the tower, not only were you serenaded by the Sleeping Beauty Soundtrack, you had the chance to walk up to rooms, look inside and see mannequins telling you the story. We all were laughing and singing along with the soundtrack, the rain wasn't hampering our spirits all they way. I think this is where all my friends and I went crazy. We proceeded to sing Disney songs throughout the weekend. The best was at Chenonceau, but I'll fill you in on that later. They had mannequins set up all over the castle and, apparently, each year, they are changed. This year was the 1920s. All of the mannequins, which were mostly female, had on crazy dresses. Michelle and I wanted to steal a few of them but had a better time laughing at the makeup. There was a church, the cellar and the stables to follow the castle. By the time we left the church the rain had stopped. Of course, when we had to leave. We took a few last photos and headed of again.

Two hours later, we arrived at Azay le Rideau, the last castle for the day. Here, we had a guided tour AND sunshine. I really like the castle. It is a lot smaller than I expected but perfect in its own way. It is built right next to a small lake and you can walk around the garden and get some great views. Our tour guide was really good, he had an enormous beard...of course, most of my friends turned to look at me with a smile and they all said " Jess, you know who that reminds me of?" If anyone reading has an are probably right. :) Anyway, he filled us in the structure of the castle and the architecture of the century when it was constructed. That was really fun to kind of now the terms already and to learn new terms at the same time. He was very impressed by our group and was very happy to have been the lucky man to have given us a tour. He wasn't French either. I want to say that he was Spanish, but I don't remember but he spoke flawless French, or at least I thought that. We didn't actually sing songs at this castle but Michelle, Johanna and I did skip through the daisies. I swear...I don't act like this all the time. We left the castle and headed to Tours. We found our hostel and had to turn around 10 minutes later to go to dinner. We had a chicken breast (cuisse) with rice. I haven't had rice in about two months, so I was quite content. We thought we had wine to drink but it turns out that it was flat diet coke...not so tasty. For dessert, we had chocolate mousse. It wasn't too rich and had little chocolate chips. Yum! After dinner, I headed back to the hostel with my friends and we hung out and relaxed a little before heading out to explore Tours. Luckily, one of my friends had just spent fall semester in Tours and was able to show us around. We saw a very small portion of the city but had a fun time hanging out in one of her favorite bars. I tried my first demi-pêche. Its beer with peach syrup and yes its kind of a girl's drink, but it is really popular in the spring and summer in France. I really liked it because it had a refreshing flavor from the peach and it just tasted good. I headed back to the hostel with half of our group while the other half joined up with the true party kids to go dancing. Sadly, I was woken up around 4 am but I didn't mind being one of the first to hear about the night. It wasn't too eventful but apparently a friend of mine danced...and he doesn't dance. All right, I will move on to day two.

After a rather large petit-dejeuner, by French standards, we left the hostel at 830 to make our way to Chenonceau. Now, I have had the chance to see this castle twice. I really like it and I was really excited to get back...there is just something about its character and its history that draws me in. Sadly, our bus driver got lost again and this time it took about an extra hour to find it. But, we still had about an hour and 10 minutes to walk around and explore. We had fun inside the castle, I told my friends the very small pieces of history that I remembered about my past tours and then we went outside to take some pictures. It was in Diane de Poitier's garden that the singing of Disney songs began. First, it was Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, then, after we had met up with our group to head to lunch, Michelle, Sophia and Johanna started singing Beauty and the Beast. Here, I somehow forgot how to walk and found myself 10 feet behind them...haha, they were loud and we were getting looks. I was too busy laughing with Colin to care, but oh man, it was great. Our director, Andrew, actually joined in when they started singing "Be Our Guest" which is translated in French to "C'est la Fête!" (It's the party). A good time nonetheless and one of our best tourist moments yet. I guess that seeing castles just brings out the princess or prince in you.

We had lunch just up the road in a pretty large restaurant. We had baked chicken with peas and bread. I was a little surprised at the portion size because normally, lunch is really big but it wasn't here. They actually brought out serving dishes and the waiters even served us the chicken but they didn't leave it on the table after they had finished serving. A little weird, but it was fine. We were all going to snack later regardless of how much we actually ate. I sat with Sarah, Colin and then our pedagogy professor and our assistant director, Staci. I really like Staci. She has been living in France for about 15 years and just started working with CIEE about 3 years ago. She has two children, who she speaks to in English and lives in a town right next to Saint Gregoire. We had a really good conversation about our futures and the possibility of living abroad either as a student or permanently. She loves her life here but she admitted that she missed her family from time to time. She also said that the first 5 years are the hardest when you actually move abroad but she has no regrets.

OK, so, our next adventure began on full bellies after our dessert course of ice cream. We headed off to discover Amboise. It took about an hour to get there and I remember crashing about 20 minutes before arriving. The bus was warm and everyone fell asleep. I remember waking up with Andrew waving his arms asking "Does anyone want to see the castle?!" Amboise might just be one of my favorite castles after Chenonceau and Chambord. When we got on the grounds, I immediately turned to Michelle and asked her if this was the castle where they filmed "Ever After" and if it was, that I wanted to be in a carriage or fly a kite. We had a guided tour again that was amazing. Our tour guide spoke French, English, German and Spanish. Impressive. She was really good and made the tour quite fun. She pointed out the brick house about 10 minutes away where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life. His remains are actually buried in the church. Inside the castle, there was a fair amount of furniture from the middle ages. One funny discovery, our English words for chair and curtain actually derive from the ancient French language. Gasp, I know! What we call an 'arm chair' comes from 'chaire avec bras' (chair with arms) and 'curtain' comes from 'curtaine'. I may have forgotten the exact spelling of the old French but in today's French, chair is "la chaise" and curtain is "rideau or volée" Of course, each word depends on where it is placed in the window. I enjoyed this little tidbit of knowledge. Oh and the word 'mobile'. In French, furniture is 'meubles' because it was easy to move and was moved around quite often in the castle. Wow, that whole section just reminded me of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" but I didn't seeing any apples or oranges in Amboise.

We walked around the smaller garden of Amboise, took some pictures of the beautiful day from the towers and headed back to the bus. Three hours or more later, we found ourselves back in Rennes. Andrew took the opportunity of the long bus ride to give us "Reverse Culture Shock" handouts. I've seen some like them before, but I was glad that Andrew did this. Because it isn't a joke, I really feel like I am going to have more of an adjustment than I think when I get back home. I've acquired a lot of new habits and ways of passing my day in France and I see a good portion of them going away, but I can see some of the smaller ones staying longer.

We had our end of the year party last Tuesday and Staci invited us all to write a few words about our experience and our host families. I wrote it in French and have translated some of it. I am planning on dedicating my next blog on this paragraph and what I feel like I've gone through in France, what changes I have made and what has changed me. I know that this is one you will all look forward to reading, hopefully hearing and it is one that I will enjoy writing. Although, it will be in the middle of all my studying for final exams, last minute gift shopping, traveling and goodbyes. I don't even want to think about goodbyes. I have made some good friends here and its going to be hard to leave because even though our friendships will continue, what we have, the family we've made together in France (really the support system) it is all going to be different when we actually don't have to speak French. We'll see what happens. I'm confident that it will be in a good direction.

Alright, I will you leave you on that note. I hope you all enjoyed this blog. I had a lot of fun writing it. Just to fill you in, I just helped my host sister with her English homework of descriptions and have the most delicious smell of dinner wafting into my room. We are eating ratatouille like quiche with goat cheese and salad. I love summer. In France especially because that is when Brittany starts eating more than just potatoes.

Also, the countdown begins, I now have less than two weeks left in France, 7 final exams to take and who knows how many words left to say.

All of my love. I'm excited to see all of you soon!


P.S. It might be evident that French has now taken over my style of writing in English. I'm cracking up at this fact but my sentences are more so constructed in a French manner than English. Oh it hits me. I also wrote a lot of words in French before pounding on the backspace key to fix it. Oh, ma vie en France.
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