Thursday, August 6, 2009

Back in Paris - August 6, 2009

Howdy! Just a quick note. Since my last post, I've been to Brive-la-Gaillarde, Les Eyzies de Tayac, Marseilles, Avignon, and Nice. All of which were absolutely beautiful. Last night I took the night train from Nice to Paris and arrived in Paris @ 7:46 this morning. I don't know why, but I can sleep on every other train in France, but last night I just couldn't seem to sleep on the night train....bizarre. Well, my paid internet acces is running out. Time to go explore Paris I guess. See you soon. I can't believe, only 4 more days.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Hi Guys!

Hey everyone! I just wanted to touch base and let you know that I haven't forgotten about you. I haven't had great access to the internet lately, so I haven't been able to post. But don't worry, I'm writing everything down and at some point I'll be able to post it all for you. Just to give you a quick update..... since my last post, I've been to Nantes, St.Nazaire, Carnac, Quiberon, Belle Ile en Mer, Brest, St Malo, Mont St Michel, Caen, the D-Day beaches, Rouen, Amiens, Reims, Strasbourg, Colmar, Geneva, Annecy, Lyon, Nimes, Chamonix, Annecy (for the Tour de France time trials), Clermont Ferrand, and today I'm in Le Puy en Velay. Today I climbed to the top of 2 different extinct volcanoes. On the top of one is the Chappelle de St Michel, and on the top of the other is a humongous statue of Notre Dame de France. Part of me was a little scared that I wouldn't be able to make it all the way to the top. It was 268 steps to reach the Chappelle and even more than that to the top of the other. BUT I totally did it, and it was much easier than I had imagined. I must say, I am quite proud of myself at this moment.

Tomorrow I leave to go to Brive la Gaillarde for 2 nights. While I am there I will be exploring prehistoric cave art in the caves of Lascaux, along with several other prehistoric sites.

Well I have to go get a train ticket now, so I'll have to chatter at you later. Miss y'all!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Three Hours in Angers—June 20, 2009

On the way to Nantes, I stopped in Angers for a few hours. When I was in college, I spent my sophomore year abroad studying French in Angers. The program was called CIDEF (Centre International d’Etudes Francaises) at the Universite Catholique de l’Ouest. It was an excellent program. I would recommend it to anyone. We studied French language, Conversation, French history, French literature, Art history, and Music. It was very interdisciplinary, for example… when we studied the Renaissance, we studied, the history, literature, , art, and music of the Renaissance. It was the first time that I truly understood the interconnectedness (is that a word?) of it all—instead of just memorizing a jumble of random facts.
I returned to Angers with the intention of revisiting some of my old haunts, and finishing some unfinished business. You see, even though I lived right down the road from the chateau and passed it several times a day, I never went inside and I never saw the medieval tapestries displayed at the museum within. I always regretted that. So, this visit, it was top on my list.
First of all, BOY HAS ANGERS CHANGED in the last 18 years! Well, I guess it would, huh? For starters, there’s a whole new train station—big and clean and covered in glass windows. AND, most importantly, there was a baggage area with lockers, so I didn’t have to lug my backpack all over town. That was definitely a relief.
I stepped out of the train station and didn’t recognize a darn thing. Luckily, I had a map. I found the right road and headed directly for the chateau. The chateau still looked the same, but everything around it was completely different. The roads were wider and some buildings had been cleared. There was a new traffic circle with a new monument in the middle of it. AND, the most surprising change was that our favorite café, across from the chateau was now replaced by a humongous Tourist Bureau. What!?! Oh la la! That was a blow to my sweet memories of sitting at night across from an illuminated castle having a drink with friends. Oh well, I still have my memories.
While I was at the chateau, they did a little medieval theatrical show. I walked around the caslte a bit, then I went to see the tapestries. They were beautiful, amazing, and huge. I can’t even imagine how much work went into creating them. The tapestries tell the story of the Apocalypse. They are over 700 years old and very delicate. They are kept behind glass in a very dimly lit, but very large L-shaped room. I took some pictures, but please keep in mind that flashes are definitely not allowed.
After the tapestry museum, I left the chateau and made my way through the winding streets until I got to a street that I actually recognized—Rue St. Aubin, the pedestrian shopping street…. Although most of the stores and restaurants had changed. I remembered that at the end of the street was another favorite café—Varietes. So, I walked up the street and—lo and behold—IT WAS STILL THERE! Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop in though. I walked a little further, but everything had changed. I looked down at the time. Uh oh1 I only had 20 minutes left to catch my train. SO... I hauled tush back to the train station, got my bags from the locker, and remarkably still managed to catch my train. And on to Nantes we go!

One Night in Quiet Little Tours

When I got back from my chateau tour, I fixed myself the rest of my veggies and sat down in the common room to eat. There were 2 guys there from Africa that I had already met, but this time there other people there too - Hannah (from Australia), Anna (from Spain), and Steven(from Wales). Hannah and Anna (and the two guys from Africa)are reproductive scientists working in Tours. Steven was doing a bike tour through Europe. (Yes, I'm kinda jealous.) We got to talking...and laughing....and decided to continue the fun,by going out to have a drink at a local cafe. Actually where we went was a square full of cafes, bars, brasseries, and restaurants. It was definitely THE place to be in Tours. We had a blast; we had dessert; we had a drink, or two....OK maybe more... and we laughed at everything. We teased Hannah about the waiter boy on the corner. Hannah tried repeatedly to convince me (and Steven) to stay another day (but I couldn't because I was already behind schedule).BUT.... It was definitely the best time I had had since arriving in France. Here you see a picture of me, Hannah, and in the elevator. We laughing because Anna was trying to take a picture of us and the elevator closed in her face. (Picture to be added soon.) Big shout out to my peeps in Tours! Miss you guys! - GAB

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tours the Sequel - June 18-19

Tours—the sequel - June 18-19
The next day I took a whirlwind tour of 5 chateaux: Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, Clos-Luce, Amboise, and Chenonceau. The tour was divided into 2 parts (morning and afternoon) and consisted of 6 or 7 tourists (Canadian, Australian, British, Russian, Columbian, and of course American) in a yellow minivan with a chauffeur. He would drive us right up to the entrance, then come with us to buy the tickets to make sure that we got our group discount. We left @ 9:30am and arrived first at Azay-le-Rideau. Azay-le-Rideau is built right in the middle of a lake. It was built in 1515 by Gilles Berthelot, a former Treasurer of France, though he was soon accused of corruption and fled the country leaving his wife alone with an unfinished chateau. After that the chateau changed hands several times before finally becoming property of the state in 1905. Inside the chateau was an exhibit dedicated to the mythological tale of Psyche and Cupid.
The next chateau was Villandry. Built in 1536 by Jean le Breton, Finance Minister to Francois Ier, (who also supervised the construction of Chambord), Villandry is most known for its gardens. In fact, most people choose only to see the gardens, like me. The gardens are amazing geometric and architectural masterpieces. There are ornamental gardens, water gardens, herb gardens, vegetable gardens, a sun garden, woods, and a labyrinth. After seeing all of the gardens, it was nice to just sit on a bench and relax in the peace of the gardens. After a short lunch break (a sandwich in the Tours train station) we continued to Clos-Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life. In 1516 at the age of 64, Leonardo was invited to join the French court at Amboise. He was given Cos-Luce and a salary of 700 gold crowns. He spent his time there painting, drawing, designing, and teaching. The chateau is filled with DaVinci’s thoughts and quotes, art and designs, machines and inventions.

Outside are gardens and studios where school children can come to learn about art, dance, and design. There were at least 150 kids there that day (which made it a little difficult to take pictures.
From there we went to Amboise, where Leonardo was buried in the chateau’s chapel in 1519. It was also the location of the first Order of French Knights, l’Ordre de St Michel, in 1469. The chateau is architecturally incredible and still has impeccably preserved period furniture (and some replicas, I’m sure). It was beautiful...check out the pictures.
The last chateau was Chenonceau, which was the most impressive chateau of the day. It was home to kings like Francois I and Louis XIV and queens like Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. Chenonceau is actually built across a river. The part of the chateau that stretches across the river is a grand ball room on the first floor and a museum on the second floor. The rest of the chateau served as the family’s residence, including the black bedroom on the 3rd floor where Louise of Lorraine retreated after her husband Henri III was assassinated. Always dressed in white, the protocol for royal mourning, she surrounded herself by nuns and spent her days in prayer and meditation. She earned the nickname “the White Queen.”
After the last chateau, the driver brought us to a CAVE (wine cellar/producer) for a wine tasting. It was an actual cave dug into the side of the mountain, though impeccably designed inside. We first took a tour of the lower caves were they stored the wine for aging. Then we tasted 3 different wines produced there. They were very good.
Finally, we returned to the train station about 7pm and I walked back to the hostel, eager to dine on the rest of my vegetables. They were almost as good as the wine. But, that wasn’t the end of the night…..

Sunday, June 28, 2009

TOURS—June 17-18, 2009

I arrived in Tours late in the afternoon and I was so tired that I splurged for a taxi to the hostel. I’m glad that I did because it’s a good mile and a half to two miles from the train station. On the way there, we passed a whole slew of media trucks. I asked the taxi driver what was going on and he told me that they were trying a very famous case in tours. A mother killed 3 of her children shortly after birth: she burned one and put the other two in the freezer. The verdict was to be announce the next day. I watched the news… she was found guilty and sentenced to 8 more years in jail.
I arrived at the hostel, signed in and got my room key. The hostel also serves as a dorm for the universities across the street. My room is on the 4th floor and is pretty standard: bed, dresser, closet, desk, chair. The restrooms and showers are down the hall, but I have my own room. I called my parents as I do every night to let them know that I’m safe. Then I was soooooo tired that I went to bed @ 8pm and slept until 7 the next morning. My room is across from the kitchen which is a pretty hopping place
In the evening, so I had to wear my earplugs to sleep. Fortunately, they lock the kitchen at 11pm.
The next morning I woke up @ 7am and went downstairs for my typical free hostel breakfast. Then, I asked about a washeteria. I had worn the same pair of pants 3 days in a row and was desperately in need of a Laundromat. Afterwards, I felt like singing “CLEAN CLOTHES, CLEAN CLOTHES, I HAVE CLEAN CLOTHES!” I returned to the dorm, took a shower, and put on my nice clean clothes. I addressed a few postcards, then headed out to see the world.

A COMEDY OF ERRORS (though not very funny at the time)

Whenever you ask someone how long it takes to walk somewhere in France, the answer is always the same…. “un petit quart d’heure” (a short 15 minutes). That’s how long I was told it would take to walk to the train station. I wanted totake a tour of 3 chateaux that left @ 1:45. So, I gave myself a half hour to get there. I left the dorm @ 1:15 and arrived at the train station @ 1:50 (15 min., eh?). I missed the bus (error #1). I was walking so fast to get there that I missed the curb and twisted my ankle (error #2). I did have a plan B. I could take a train to Chinon to see the chateau, which was not included on any of the tours. I waited in line to buy a ticket, and by the time I got, I had only 9 minutes to board the train. (Plenty of As I’m approaching the train, the conductor blows the whistle and closes the doors. WHAT!?! I still have 7 minutes. I wave my arms and shout “ATTENDEZ!” Then I rush forward….my ankle gives way again, and you guessed it….I fell flat on my face (error #3). A female conductor asked if I was OK. I said “Oui, mais c’est mon train!’ She asked again if I was OK. I again answered “Yes, but that’s my train!” I picked myself up (luckily, I wasn’t wearing my big backpack) and found a button to open the train door. I found a place to sit, checked myself over, no major damage. Then, you know what… that darn train didn’t leave for another 5 minutes and several people boarded after I did (error #4).
Chinon is a sweet little town and the chateau is located on a cliff, high above the city (and, of course, about as far away from the train station as you can get.) I walk about 1 1/2 miles to a giant elevator which takes you up the side of the cliff, then another 3/4 mile to the chateau. The chateau of Chinon is where Jeanne d’Arc met with Charles VII to petition an army to fight in Orleans. Because the chateau was under construction ( to restore it to its former beauty), I had to enter the chateau through an underground passage (through the moat) that kings used to leave discreetly to visit their mistresses. Shame, shame, shame! (but COOL!) From the secret passage you enter one of the towers of the outer wall, then you climb the stairs to reach the upper level and the royal residence itself. Unfortunately, the royal residence was inaccessible because of construction. Still, it was surreal to know that I was walking in the footsteps of Jeanne d’Arc.
On the way back to the train station, I passed an outdoor market with clothes, jewelry, plants, etc. I bought a new shirt and a pair of pants. I needed a new pair of pants, because that morning, I had mistakenly put a pair of pants in the super hot laundromat dryers that should be line dried. They are still wearable, but the lining is kind of “crunchy” now (error #5).
Across from the train station in Chinon was a farmer’s market—VEGETABLES! I took advantage of the opportunity. I bought 6 tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 2 big carrots, 4 bananas, strawberries, cheese, and a mixture of dried fruits and nuts—NO BREAD! I couldn’t wait to get back to the hostel and eat a bread free, nutritious meal. I must say—it was absolutely delicious. BON APPETIT!

A Little More Blois

I completely forgot to mention that when I got back from the chateau, I went to the Museum of the French Resistance in Blois. Blois played an important role in the French Resistance because of its proximity to the the line of demarcation (the Cher river) between occupied and unoccupied France during World War II. Citizens rode bikes to deliver messages and supplies back and forth across the line of demarcation. One quote in the museum saiys that if you didn't ride a bike, you weren't part of the Resistance.If caught, members of the French Resistance were killed or places in deportation (concentration) camps and were subject to the same horrible fate as the Jews.
So many cities in France and Europe were completely destroyed during the war, and so many people killed. And we're still fighting wars? I ask myself everyday, WHY? I wish I knew the answer.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 16-17, 2009 - Blois
Upon arrival in Blois, I walked the half a mile or so up the hill to the Office de Tourisme which was across the street from the chateau. I inquired about a hostel, but found out that it was located about 20 km out of town and that I’d have to take a bus to go back and forth. So, instead I had them help me find a cheap hotel near the center of town. I can tell you now that cheap certainly does not equal glamorous. I had my own bathroom with a shower, commode, and sink. The bed and mattress were kind of old and saggy. I had a window…. that opened on to a staircase!?! Strange! Some how I knew that this hotel did not have wi-fi. I didn’t even bother to ask. I could barely get phone service, much less internet. I spent most of the evening watching a Doris Day movie in French and addressing post cards.
At 10 pm I headed back to the chateau for a sound and light show (Sons et Lumieres). It was very awesome. We sat inside the courtyard of the chateau on the cobblestones. Not only did they project murals on the walls of the chateau, but they also played music and told the history of the chateau. Basically, the chateau is comprised of 4 chateaux, because each of the 4 kings who lived there had to add a new wing to the chateau, each in a different style. The chateau was one of the places Jeanne d’Arc stopped to pray on her way to Chinon. AND, the chateau was once host to many poetry contests. After the show, I walked back to the hotel, and tried to go to sleep. Unfortunately, the walls were very thin and I could hear every word of the woman next door. Thank goodness I brought ear plugs. Bonne nuit.
The next morning, I got up and took a bus tour of a couple of the chateaux around Blois. I went to Cheverny, which is a beautiful castle, still inhabited by a descendants of royalty. They have over a hundred hounds there for hunting, I suppose. They also have a carriage house, gardens, a park, and boats. They are very, very picky about their grass. DO NOT WALK ON TTHE GRASS. No, I didn’t walk on the grass, but there were signs posted everywhere the said “Respectez la Pelouse!” After Cheverny the bus went to Chambord. My train was leaving soon and I have already been to Chambord. So, I did not get off the bus there…. Sorry guys! =0(
When I got back to Blois, I went to they hotel to get my things. Then I went to the post office to mail some more things home, mostly books and brochures I had collected for my classroom. Then I walked with all my stuff back up to the train station and took a train to Tours. See you in Tours!

June 16, 2009 - Orleans Redeemed (Day 2)

The next day I got up early. I checked out of the hotel and left my bags in the baggage room of the hotel. First I went to “La Maison de Jeanne d’Arc” (Joan of Arc’s house)which is a very old roman style cross timber house. In side is a small museum dedicated to who else….Jeanne d’Arc. From there I went to the cathedral. I wanted to take more pictures, but absent-mindedly, I forot my SD card in my netbook. So, I was limited by the memory on my camera. I took a few pictures of the cathedral, then I went to the park behind the cathedral. Today was the first day of the Orleans Jazz Festival and everyday there are show at noon and at night. Since I was leaving that afternoon, I went to the noon show. It was fun, very jazzy. They even played some funny, quirky, avant-garde kind of pieces. I took some sound bites for you….but, later had to erase them because I had no more memory. After the concert, I went to the Office de Tourisme and the Musee des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). The display of art was very eclectic. You would have a room or a wall full of Renaissance paintings, then right in the middle would be some random modern art piece. It was just a little disconcerting somehow, but cool at the same time.
After that, I rushed back to the hotel, grabbed my bags, and walked back to the train station to catch my train to Blois. Au revoir.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

June 14-15, 2009 - Orleans (Day 1)

I must say that when I first arrived in Orleans, I wasn't impressed. The area around the train station seemed dark and dismal and there wasn't a taxi to be found. I found a very nice chain hotel not far from the station and checked-in for 2 nights or so I thought. I went upstairs and took a nice cool bath in my pretty tub. Then after spending a good few minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the TV, I snuggled up in my nice, comfy bed and watched TV until I fell asleep.
The next morning, I slept until 9am, then decided to do a little work on my blo while I had internet access. At 12:15, I get a phone call..."Il est midi et quart et nous avons besoin de notre chambre." ("It's 12:15 and we need the room.") WHAT!?! But I asked for 2 nights. He said that was impossible because they were booked solid for tonight. I reiterated that I had requested 2 nights and that the woman who checked me in had said nothing about being "complet." He assured me that he would find me another hotel room, and indeed he did. The hotel was a chain and they had a room at a slightly discounted price down the road. SO, I had to quickly pack up my things - no time for another bath =0( - and walk a half a mile or so down the road. The new room was similar, but no bathtub - DARN!
That afternoon I explored the town a little. I tried to find a grocery store or a washeteria, but alas I found none. Since I arrived in France, my diet has consisted mostly of bread - bread for breakfast and some type of sandwich for lunch or dinner. I generally eat 2 meals a day. Anyway, my body is craving vegetables and fruits, but they are proving difficult to find. So instead, I bought a SANDWICH (imagine that) and ate at a cafe at La Place du Martroi (Martyr Square) across from the Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc) statue. In 1429, Joan of Arc, dressed as a male soldier, went to Chinon to petition Charles VII for an army to fight the English in Orleans. They won and it was the turning point of the Hundred Year's War. Eventually, France won back all of the lands that had been occupied by England. For that reason Joan of Arc, though burned at the stake for heresy, is considered as a saint and a national heroine of France, and especially a heroine of Orleans.
During that first outing into Orleans, my first perception was that the people in Orleans were not as warm and welcoming as they had been in Chartres or Chateaudun. I said "Bonsoir" to a woman I passed in the street ( standard southern girl courtesy.) She replied "On se connait?" ("Do we know each other?) I said "Non?" And then she was like "No really, do we know each other?". I didn't realize that in Orleans, I have to know you to greet you. The warmest conversations I had on that first outing were with the two (Bob Marleyesque) African guys who were flirting with me at the cafe, and the dirty (both literally and figuratively) old man who asked me to marry him on the way back to the hotel. After I turned him down, he offered to give me a massage. Yeah - I THINK NOT!!!!!

Day 2 - to follow shortly....=0)