Tag Archives: France

Châteaux and Historical Fiction

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction and well, books in general. What does this have to do with travelling you ask?

Because when I walk into a castle that was built in the early 13th century my imagination runs a little wild trying to envision all of the kings and queens of old hosting their fancy shindigs and their world of political intrigue of poisoning and murders.

The Château de Blois. Have fun pronouncing that.
The Château de Blois. Have fun pronouncing that.

Saturday, we visited 2 more châteaux including the Château de Blois, which is probably my favorite château so far because it was continuously added onto, resulting in an extraordinary view:

Thank Wikipedia for this panorama!
Thank Wikipedia for this panorama!

And plenty of ample material for anyone’s imagination to run wild!

French royalty used a fire salamander as their symbol.
The fire salamander of French royalty. It’s pretty much a dragon.
Which in Game of Thrones terms it means that the French royalty are descended from dragons.
Which in Game of Thrones terms, means that French royalty are descended from dragons.
Ghost stories around these gargoyles anyone?
Ghost stories around these gargoyles anyone?
This painting is so Game of Thrones. "You're dying? How sad."
This painting is so Game of Thrones. “You’re dying? How sad.”

In the afternoon we visited the Château de Cheverny:

The Château de Cheverny
Built in the 1600’s and has remained, for the most part, in the hands of the same family ever since.

It also contains one of the creepiest bedrooms I’ve ever seen:

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The Chambre du Roi

Unless you look closely, it’s just a normal (really, really ancient looking) bedroom… until you notice the Medusa heads everywhere…

Babies and Medusa heads should not be in the same picture.
Babies and Medusa heads should not be in the same picture.

Literally everywhere. They were even on the ceiling!

I wouldn’t be able to sleep there.

In other news, I’ve been sick! I think I’ve had a fever for the last 24 hours and have been just overall super tired and achy. Last night at dinner my poor host family had to listen to my mangled, feverish French that lacked all grammar. Then class today wasn’t much better, since we were talking about things that bothered us! I was so worked up about refugees and the deportation of the unaccompanied minors from Central America that I left class dizzy and shaky.

But then I found some ramen at the grocery store and my day got a little bit better. 🙂

 

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I’m in France!

I finally made it back! (And this time it’s a little more permanent than a vacation!)

After flying to Paris in a group with the other students going on the Sweet Briar program, we took a bus to Tours, where we are staying for a 2 week orientation. Basically, the whole trip was like this:

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Then when we got to Tours we met our host families. My host parents have like 4 or 5 kids, but they’re all off on vacation somewhere so currently another girl from Rice, a Japanese student and I are their replacement kids for the next 2 weeks. They also have two adorable dogs.

The only problem is they keep trying to feed me nuts.

Just because the hazelnut powder is only at the bottom of the chocolate mousse does not mean I can eat it.
Definitely mentioned I was allergic

 

Just because the hazelnut powder is only at the bottom of the chocolate mousse does not mean I can eat it! Good thing I always have allergy medicine ready!

On the other hand my host mom makes me coffee every morning, so there’s some points in her favor. Have to ward off those caffeine headaches!

Let's be honest. This will never happen.
Let’s be honest. This will never happen.

Saturday we visited the Château de Chenonceau, which is basically the most fairy tale looking French castle I’ve ever seen:

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Complete with pink bedrooms:

Catherine de Medici either really loved pink or must have really hated the person who picked out the furniture.
Catherine de Medici either really loved pink or must have really hated the person who picked out the furniture!

Then we took the bus to Amboise and passed by another gorgeous castle in favor of Leonardo da Vinci’s final resting place.

Definitely geeked out trying to imagine da Vinci walking the same halls!
Definitely geeked out trying to imagine da Vinci walking the same halls!

Then of course being the American college students that we are, we had to find the playground in the garden full of da Vinci’s inventions. Then this happened:

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Don’t worry though, because school started today at the  Institut de Touraine. The first day consisted of 3 hours of almost non-stop French!

Speaking of school… I should probably start that homework right?

Because I'm definitely going to listen to anything Lucifer tells me to do
Because I’m definitely going to listen to anything Lucifer tells me to do

 

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One day left!

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Last night I dreamed about this trip for the first time. My parents had dropped me off at the airport and I was going to meet up with the rest of the group when I realized I had left all of my chargers at home. ALL of them. Not just the simple iPhone charger that can be purchased all over the world, but laptop chargers and camera chargers. I’ve never been so glad to wake up.

I haven't seen this movie in I don't even know, but it's kind of perfect
I haven’t seen this movie in I don’t even know, but it’s kind of perfect

I think the notion that I’m actually leaving for a year is just hitting me.

My suitcase at this moment is only half packed and I still have a giant list of things I need to do.

If you didn’t already know, I will be spending the next year living in Paris, France with the Sweet Briar Junior Year in France program. I chose this program because not only was it the most recommended program at my university, but it also gives me the opportunity to take classes side by side with French students at the Sorbonne while providing me with an extensive support network that other study abroad programs do not provide. Furthermore, since I am going for the entire year Sweet Briar will help me to find an internship in the spring semester.

Traveling to Giverny, Monet's Home, August 2008
Straight off Sweet Briar’s website. This is going to be me. All smiley and French and stuff.

Now if you know me, you’re probably wondering how I’m going to the “JUNIOR” year in France when it’s only my second year in college. Well since I came into college with so many AP credits, academically speaking I am a junior and apparently that’s all that matters. Going my sophomore year, for me, makes the most sense academically. My French speaking level has hit a plateau (or decreased!) since coming to college because all I ever do anymore is read, write, and listen to my professor lecture. Going my sophomore year means I don’t have to worry as much about academic credit since I will have two more years at college to finish my degree.

I’ve been planning running off to France ever since I went the first time, the summer between 4th and 5th grade, so no amount of begging (I’ve heard plenty!) is going to make me change my mind!

Tomorrow morning I will fly off to Washington D.C. where I will meet up with the rest of the Sweet Briar students and then in the evening we will fly to Paris. From Paris we will leave our luggage, except for our puny carry ons and board a bus for Tours, a smaller town in central France where we will have an intensive 2 week orientation. (Probably to make sure we remember how to speak everyday French instead of spouting lines from Candide or Madame Bovary!)

So I’ll try to update as soon as possible when I get there, WiFi permitting.

Wow. I’m nervous now.

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Wish me luck!

 

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Have any suggestions about what you want to see me blog about? Leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to get back to you!

Macarons, Stupid Pralines, and Raw Fish

If you read my earlier post you’ll know I took a quick jaunt around Europe earlier this summer and went to London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. I’m stating my top 3 favorite and 2 least favorite things about each city and yet I do believe these blog posts are turning out longer than the trip itself!

Paris: ❤ ❤ ❤

+1. It felt like home: An overwhelming wave of nostalgia hit me as our bus took us from the train station to our dinner in the center of Paris. This was the city where I’d shared some of my fondest memories with my family and even adventured by myself as a young teenager. I didn’t feel like a tourist this time around. I felt like I was coming home ❤

It's the obligatory picture every time you go
It’s the obligatory picture every time you go

+2. Macarons: If you have never had a macaroon, (macaron in French) consider yourself a deprived individual and order yourself a box straight away. I hunted down Laduree, the most famous macaron chain in Paris and got a box of them with my family. Worth every centine 😉

Quite possible the most famous macaron vendor in Paris
Quite possible the most famous macaron vendor in Paris
And these are the delightfully delicious aforementioned sweets <3
And these are the delightfully delicious aforementioned sweets ❤

+3. Cinnamon chocolate: I have been dying the last 2 years, deprived of this delicacy I have only every been able to find in France. If you’ve every added cinnamon to your hot chocolate in the winter you have tasted just a fraction of the bliss of what true cinnamon chocolate gives you. If you find a supplier of cinnamon chocolate who ships to the states, please let me know! Thankfully, the chocolate store under the Louvre will serve as my chocolate drug dealer in the upcoming year.

-1. The Lock Bridge: Two years ago it was one of my favorite things about Paris. It’s been my iPhone’s home screen for that long as well. So you can imagine that I was a little distressed to see my favorite bridge go from this:

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June 2012

To this:

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June 2014

Shocking huh? They’ve started locking chains onto the bridge so that even MORE locks can go on!

-2. Tourists: I know I know. Technically I was a tourist, but when I’m in France I want to speak French not English! The tourism industry makes it very difficult to speak French since almost everyone there speaks English.

Brussels:

+1. Chocolate: Not as good as French cinnamon chocolate, but when you have entire streets dedicated to chocolate stores who make everything from  dark chocolate to basil honey chocolate you know you’re in heaven!

+2. Waffles: Belgian Waffles.

No words necessary
No words necessary

If that didn’t convince you:

+3. They speak French! Definitely a plus that they speak my favorite language. Especially handy when you need to yell at your waiter for not telling you that it would take an hour and a half to prepare lunch. Ahh Belgians.

-1. Belgian Pralines: I have the unfortunate malady of being allergic to nuts. So whenever I walk into a chocolate shop I make sure to ask (in 2 different languages) if the chocolate I wish to buy has nuts. (Side story: I almost didn’t get into Rice because of an incident that occurred right before my interview!) I was quite distraught in this one chocolate store because everything was labelled as “Praline.” Now I’ve never eaten a praline for obvious reasons, but I’ve always labelled them in my mind as “chocolate things with nuts.” I told this to the shopkeeper, in French, who assured me that Belgian pralines did not have nuts.

So I bought a TON of chocolate from that store.

Unfortunately as I learned by about my 3rd piece, is that sure enough Belgian pralines do not contain nuts, but that Belgium also likes to make normal pralines as well. So I had a bag full of “Belgian” pralines and “nutty” pralines and no way of knowing which was which unless I wanted to put myself in the hospital.

 

"Good" Praline
“Good” Praline
"Bad" Praline
“Bad” Praline

I feel like this kid:

Blame Tumblr
Blame Tumblr

I think I’ll stick to my French chocolate…

-2. Time: We spent a morning there. Maybe 10 am to 12:30? I know Brussels isn’t famous for much, but I wish I could have toured the European Parliament!

Amsterdam:

+1. Raw Fish: I ate raw fish. I ATE RAW FISH AND I LIKED IT.

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Anyways… It was raw herring to be exact. It was delicious.

Tastes better than it looks I promise!
Tastes better than it looks I promise!

+2. Dutch Country Life: Endless windmills and green rolling hills, tulips of all sorts and life on the waterfront. Plus their outfits were super colorful!

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When my dad came to Amsterdam in 1970 he and his family took a family portrait at one of those “dress-up” places:

Approximately taken in 1970
Approximately taken in 1970

So of course we had to take one all together too!

2014: 44 years later!
2014: 44 years later!

+3. Environmentally Friendly: Don’t have to worry about pollution here, you just have to worry about being run down by the thousands upon thousands of bicyclists.

So many bikes!
So many bikes!

-1. Amsterdam itself: Unfortunately as we were travelling with a group of 14 year olds, the tour guides thought it wise to find a hotel far outside the city limits to make it impossible for anyone to sneak out and sample some of Amsterdam’s more explicit activities. So I didn’t actually see much of the city. Which is even more unfortunate because they have a museum full of Vermeer’s! Girl with a Pearl Earring anyone??

They made a movie based off of this painting!  AKA I missed seeing a movie star in real life
They made a movie based off of this painting! AKA I missed seeing a movie star in real life

-2. Dutch Toilets:

You walk into the bathroom (that you had to pay half a euro for because of course there’s free healthcare in Europe, but no free loos)  and you see that all of the stall doors are made of glass. Not frosty glass oh no, the completely clear glassy glass.

Thank goodness it frosts over when you lock the stall door.

But still, that was a weird experience…

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The End of One Chapter and Into Another

As the school year is drawing to a close, I wanted to post again before finals start and everyone goes home.

If you didn’t already know, next year I will be studying abroad in Paris for the entire year. Not just fall semester, but ALL YEAR. It’s with a program called “Sweet Briar Junior Year in France” and I will be taking all of my classes in French with French students at the Sorbonne. If you have known me previously, you know that I am finally fulfilling my dream because France is my number one favorite subject to talk about ever. (Really. I think some of my friends may get annoyed!) I’ve been planning this trip since high school and I know next year is going to be the best year of my life.

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This will actually be my 5th time going to Paris and my second time going alone so the city is no stranger. When I go to France, it feels like I’m going home. As weird as this sounds, I truly feel that it is the country I belong it.

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Yet, as my first year of college draws to a close, I can’t help but feel anxious and well, heartbroken that I have to leave behind all of the amazing people I have met this year. Nearly every day I leave lunch, my chest tightens up, I feel like crying and it sucks. Most of my friends will still be here after my year abroad and we will all skype regularly, but I will miss so many things: eating lunch with them, dancing crazily together, procrastinating on homework… I could go on and on. I’ve been trying to make the most of my last few days here with them before we all go home for summer and I leave for Paris, but the pain of saying goodbye on that final day will not get any easier. Let’s just say that the plane ride there is going to contain some of the most conflicting emotions of my life.

Me being conflicted in front of the Thinker in 2012.
Me being conflicted in front of the Thinker in 2012.

On the other hand the realization that I’m leaving is rather liberating, yet extremely bad for my impending research paper and exams. I’m leaving for a year, so I have to experience everything here to the fullest before that day comes. Some of my friends may think I’ve gone a little crazy as my moods alternate from the depression of having to leave them, to the crazed intensity of wanting to do everything with them just a few more times. Why study when I could go to the pool or have adventures around campus with my friends?

Unfortunately, with all of these emotions I have realized that there are always two sides to studying abroad. The excitement of going to a foreign country to experience new cultures and meet new people, and the gloom that comes with having to say goodbye to the friends you will leave behind.

Even more frightening is the realization that this will be my entire life. My dream job involves moving to a different country every two years, with no guaranteed return. So this next year won’t just be about stuffing my face with macaroons and learning how to blend in with all of the super fashionable French women. It will be a test to see if I can really stand to pack up my life and move long term to another country and then continue doing so for the rest of my life.

It’ll be the best year of my life, but that doesn’t change the fact that I will be leaving my best friends, not to mention my family for a year.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.” -Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

This quote brings up one final issue. I will be leaving here to spend a year in the country of my dreams. Make sure I come back. I’m really going to miss you guys.

 

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