Hello family, friends and anyone else who may or may not be reading this blog.
I hope you all are doing well!
Well here it is! My first week in France 🙂
I will do another post with pictures because it is almost 1a.m. here and I have a rather early morning tomorrow. But for now you have a lot of reading to do (see below)
So far everything has been quite exciting and also very tiring. As I mentioned earlier, once I arrived with the 53 other Americans to Paris we were split up and sent in our different directions. The group of students who arrived from districts 1510 and 1650 were escorted to Hotel Ibis to wait upon the arrival of the other exchange students from those districts. I am in district 1510 and I believe there are 31 of us that just arrived and 8 students who have been here since January or so. In total 39 students representing 15 different countries. From what I can tell the majority of students in district 1510 are American and almost, if not every student can speak English. I have a feeling that when we are all together we will just speak English Especially with so many Americans. It is difficult to force yourself to speak a strange langue with someone who has the same maternal language as you. Needless to say, not much French was spoken amongst us students on Wednesday. We ended up waiting in the hotel for about 5 hours. Almost all of us were exhausted and then hungry… bad combination. We did finally get some lunch, which consisted of a sandwich and apple (good enough), and then we finally loaded onto the bus! YAY. I sat next to Emma, a girl from Finland who only had to travel three hours to get the France. We don’t hold it against her though J . I felt bad because as soon as I rested my head against the glass I was out like a light. I am not quite sure how long I was on the bus but I think it was about 2 or 3 hours. I was the second stop at Angers. Sylviane and Jacques were waiting for me and after saying a quick good bye to my new amis we headed to Fontevraud- L’Abbaye. Although I was tired, I managed to speak some French on the short trip. When we got home they showed me their home, which is very beautiful. I absolutely love their yard with the little pond and swimming pool. It is incredibly charming and very different than houses in State College. After dinner I headed up for some much needed sleep.
Thursday I did not wake up until nearly three in the afternoon! A girl needs her sleep but I don’t think I have ever slept until three in the afternoon except after the all night party after prom. I took a shower, which was a bit difficult because the “shower” is a bathtub with a shower-head that you have to hold over your head… I do like it though because it doesn’t waste as much water. After I got all cleaned up Sylviane kindly made me lunch which consisted of a croissant (I missed breakfast) and a tomato salad, yum. We then did some sight seeing. That was awesome. This place is surrounded by history, it seems like everything you see has a story to tell. First we stopped at Jacques garden where he grows his own fresh vegetables and some fruits. He also has a collection of sports cars that he takes to rallies. We went to the small town of Turquant , where the stone was excavated to build the town and surrounding areas. There are little shops there, including a gallery inside a cave where artists can sell their work.
After that we went to an elevated spot with very nice views of the towns around L’Abbaye and the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire. The Loire River is the longest river in France.
Friday we went to lunch at Georges’ house. Georges is an older Rotarien who owns a huge 15th century mansion compete with a three-stall barn and a huge yard. I am afraid I did not capture it’s beauty very well in the photos but let me just say that we have nothing like it in the U.S. at least nothing that I have seen or heard of. Since the property is so big it is a bit much for Georges to manage by himself and Jacques and three other Rotariens, whose names I know but am not sure how to spell, spent the day taking care of the over-grown lawn. We had a nice lunch but it was really tiring! I was a little tired to begin with but then trying to keep up with the conversation was exhausting. Everyone spoke so fast and all at the same time. I could really only understand a few phrases let alone contribute to the conversation. So I only really spoke when spoken to which, if you know me, is not normal! All in all it was a good experience and I enjoyed myself. The last adventure for the day was going grocery shopping. So Sylviane and I went to Espace Cultural. I walk inside expecting to see a grocery store and was a little shocked to see that it is three stories. And as I look around I see that it is more like a mall than a grocery store. There were several clothing stores, even H&M J, shoe stores, and electronic store and finally the grocery store. Well the grocery store was more like Walmart and Wegmans combined. There were clothes in one part of the store and then a Wegman’s quality grocery section. I was quite a tourist and took pictures. But hey I thought it was pretty awesome. OH and did I mention that the cashiers get chairs to sit in and don’t have to bag for the customers? How nice! The rest of the day passed very nicely and it was very laid back.
Saturday we went to the farmers market in Saumur. It is there every Saturday even in winter. The one thing I didn’t like about it was that I saw a dead, skinned rabbit… ew. I looked away. Otherwise I enjoyed the market very much. In the afternoon we went to a wedding, which was held in a huge church built in the 12 century. There were some similarities and some differences with American weddings. They did play “Here Comes The Bride” , there were flower girls and a little ring bearer and, after the ceremony the guests waited outside the church to meet the new couple and through flowers at them. The first difference that I noticed was that the bride and groom waited outside the church before the weeding and greeted all the guests as they arrived. Then, the bridesmaids and groomsmen did not stand at the alter with the bride and groom. The guests had to stand for a LONG time. And finally, there was no “you may kiss the bride” moment! No offense to the couple but I found it a bit anti-climatic. After the “marriage” everyone went to a beautiful outdoor reception at a chateau called Chateau Brezé. It was similar to the American receptions in that there was champagne and some food to munch on but different in that, if I understood correctly, only the family has dinner together afterwards. Another thing that is different is that the families split the cost of the wedding instead of the bride’s family paying for all of it. At the reception I got to meet my second host parents, Eric and Aude. I really enjoyed talking some with them and they are both very nice. After mingling for a little while we went back home and had dinner with two other families, including my third host parents. I found it a little easier to follow the conversation. Dinner went until about 11 and by the end I was completely exhausted! I don’t know how these people do it.
Sunday was a very restful day. I slept in until quarter past 11 (I think I am still recovering from the trip and jet lag). In the afternoon two Rotarians, François and Betty, stopped in for a yummy coconut dessert. And shortly after that, my third host parents came to say bonjour. I really like how it is normal here to just stop by a friend’s house and say hello. They ended up spending a while here chatting and drinking wine. It was rather lovely.
Monday I ventured to the Post Office and then I went on a small trek to find a Fountain, whose name I don’t recall, that it is said has the power to heal damaged eyes. I never found the fountain even though I followed to sign but I could hike so far into the woods, alone, before fearing that I would be eaten by a bear. After that random thought I quickly turned back and checked the other part of the path but to no avail. Oh well, I guess I will still put my contacts and glasses to good use. After lunch Jacques took me in one of his convertibles to the small, medieval town on Chinon. Chinon is best know for the Royal Fortress that overlooks the town and La Vienne, the river that flows through it. It was here that ,in 1427, Jean D’ Arc (Joan of Arc) was received by Charles VII and where she encouraged him to go to Reims to be crowned king. The fortress itself dates back to the tenth century. In 1154 it was also home to Henry II Plantagenet , Count of Anjou and King of England (no big deal) until in 1205 King Philip Augustus of France took possession. In 1308 Jacques de Molay, the grand master of the Nights Templar was imprisoned there before being burned at stake in Paris. It is truly amazing how much history is packed in the stonewalls of the beautiful fortress. After the tour, Jacques and I walked around the town and he explained to me that since it is a touristy area a lot of the shops and restaurants are closed on Mondays because they are open all weekend. It is a little different when you are used to stores being open seven days a week and sometimes 24 hours a day.
Tuesday we went into Saumur and had lunch. In France the menu is not huge like at American restaurants. There were only a three or four platters to choose from and you order an appetizer, an entrée and then dessert all at one time! After lunch I went with a fellow Rotarian, whose name I do not know how to spell but my best guess is Gui, who is the former principal of the high school that I will attend, Duplessis Mornay. Gui gave me a tour of the school and I also met to current principal Mr. Giraud. I talked a little with the secretary who will see if it will be possible for me to study both Italian and Spanish in addition to French and English. Gui also told me that I might not have to take math because I have in fact finished my studies in the U.S. I can tell you that it would be a big plus if I don’t have to take math. I don’t like math in English so I can’t imagine doing it in French! There are a little bit more than 1000 students who attend school there. In addition there is a private high school in the area that seems to be very popular. My host sister and I will not be going to the same high school. She will attend St. Louis (private) and I will attend the public one. Sylviane explained to be that last year the exchange student who was placed here went to St. Louis and because there is a large population of exchange students who go there, she found that the girl spent most of her time with the other exchangers and not with the French teenagers. So this year she is trying public school and she will see how it goes! I guess I will just have to wait and see. I am sure it will be fine. It is also common for both public and private schools here to have students who board at the school. At my school there is a little less than 200 boarders. I found it very interesting that the public schools act as a boarding school too… cool J After a little rest at home we left again for Saumur to attend the Rotary meeting. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. The president introduced me and asked me to say a few words which was somewhat intimidating but with a little encouragement I did it and it wasn’t so bad. The only part I did not like too much was that there was a fixed menu so as soon as we sat down we were each served a huge bowl of seafood. If you know me at all you know that seafood is really not my thing. I tried to be a good sport and I ate a few bites but decided to immerse myself in the conversation instead of clearing my plate. The meeting went until 10:30 pm or so. I will tell you… the French know how to dine!
Wednesday I went to the Royale Abbey in Fontevraud. I met another girl who is my age and has just returned from a year in Mexico and she was my “tour guide” because her mom works at the Abbey. It was really nice to meet someone my age and fun to talk with her about her exchange. I hope I will be seeing more of her but she goes to St. Louis High School. I will put more about the Abbey in another post because there is a lot of history there J
In the evening my first host family was invited for dinner and after a few hours of good conversation and yummy food I left with them to move into my new home. I won’t go into too many details about there house because it is rather private but I can tell you I think I am going to like it here. And in case you were wondering there is a regular shower here 😉 They are all very nice and are patient with me and my French!
Thursday, Richard, Louis, Marie and I traveled to Bretagne, which is the region next to the Loire Valley. We went to the capital, Rennes, which is a truly lovely city of about 250,000 people plus another 50,000 university students. I could totally see myself living there some day. I know I only visited for one day but the pace of life did not seem to be too fast and not too slow. It seems like there is plenty to do and lots and lots of shopping. The only down side is that it rains a lot there and I really don’t like rain too much.
Anyway, tomorrow I will venture where I have never ventured before… to the golf course! I can honestly say that the only golfing I have done in my 18 years is mini and Wii golf. Somehow I really don’t think I am very prepared for real golf but on verra (we’ll see)!
Good night to you all!