Here Comes the Sun

It’s officially Spring in France!

Today, I packed my backpack for Amsterdam and then spent several hours reading outside. It was absolutely gorgeous, and warm enough to wear only a tshirt and flannel! I felt practically naked walking around with only two layers on.

Basking in the sun like the lizard I've become. Simon thought I was crazy for just installing myself at the back door all day.


Airing the *clean* laundry. Not having a dryer is slowly losing its novelty.


Quelle belle vue!

I think I could get used to this. Laurent says we’ll move the kitchen table outside within the next few weeks, and eat all our meals out there for the Spring and Summer. Can’t wait!

Roam

What a wonderful day!

I finally got to meet up with an old friend from high school who is currently working in Tours as an elementary school English teacher. What are the chances that two girls from a small school thousands of miles away would end up living in the same town in France?

Meg and a few of her teacher friends met me at the gare, and we took the train to a little village called Chinon, about thirty minutes outside of Tours. The town isn’t much to see, but it is home to one of the oldest châteaux around. The Forteresse Royale de Chinon was first built in 954 AD and was visited by Joan of Arc at the beginning of her fight for the liberation of France in 1429. Since then, of course, extensions have been built and renovated, but the original towers still stand. We had a great time walking through the almost entirely intact buildings, and I enjoyed seeing some of the architectural features that I’ve learned about in my Châteaux class. I still can’t wrap my mind around the age of this place, but it was a beautiful sight and a perfect day to visit it.

There's a reason castles are always on top of hills-you can see anything coming from a long way off!


The main building of the compound, where Joan of Arc stayed during her visit.


My favorite rendering of Joan! Only one painting was made of Joan during her lifetime, so we really have no idea what she looked like. Doesn't stop artists from trying, though!

After our little field trip, we returned to Tours and headed to a nearby café for a little snack of croque monsieurs, pastries, and vin chaud. Literally “hot wine”, this drink is made from red wine, fruit, and mulling spices. It tasted like Christmas morning, and I will definitely be ordering it again!

Dinner tonight was stewed beets, pasta, and chocolate mousse! I’ve finally realized how easy it is to make a nutritious, tasty, fresh meal in about ten minutes. I used to think cooking was such a hassle, but I’ve learned that it really is possible to live without prepackaged food and a microwave. I hope I continue to cook like this when I return to the States.

Perfect

After my morning English lessons with the boys, I went exploring. It was sunny and about 48 degrees here today-absolutely perfect. It seemed like the whole world was outside enjoying the weather.

Le Musée de Compagnonnage is a small but packed museum all about the different artisan guilds of the region, including the Freemasons. To become a member of one of the elite guilds, an artisan had to create a grand chef d’oeuvre (a final representation of one’s life work) as an application. The museum holds the best works of various guild members in France: intricately carved wooden sandals by shoemakers, grand staircases by carpenters, elaborate costumes by tailors, and miniature replicas of nearly every major European monument by architects and pastry chefs alike. Here are a few of my favorites:

This ironwork gate took fourteen years to complete and is only four feet wide.


These plaster creations reminded me of casts my granddad used to make of my hands. He could have been a guild member!


Just a violin? Think again: this life-size instrument is made entirely of sugar.

Laurent had told me to hit up the chocolatier just next door to the museum when I finished, so I, of course, heeded his advice. I bought a tarte aux citron pralines (lemon tart with pralines on the bottom), which was possibly the second-best dessert of my life after dobash cake from Pollman’s Bakery in Mobile, Alabama. Seriously, I could not get over how delicious it was. I will have to find a similar recipe!

Oh, so very good. I can only hope that they ship worldwide.

After dinner, we watched The Day After Tomorrow, a Hollywood blockbuster from 2004 that actually worked out pretty well en français. It’s all about a massive climate change that causes insane weather patterns all over the northern hemisphere. As a person who’s lived through several hurricanes and a few tornadoes, the film hit a little close to home, but was still amazingly well filmed with unbelievable special effects. If you haven’t recently been involved in a natural disaster, I’d recommend it (in whatever language you prefer)!

Castle on a Cloud

After lunch, the whole family crammed in the car for a day in the country. Just a few minutes outside of our neighborhood, the land turns hilly and green, and farms pop up out of nowhere. A few minutes after that, the châteaux appear.

We dropped Laurent off at his parasailing lesson (yes, you read that right) and then the four of us continued on to Chaumont-sur-Loire, a château about an hour away by car. You can read more about it here.The inside of the château is decorated with the original furniture, tapestries, and such of the past owners, dating from 1054 to 1945. The grounds are filled with temporary modern art exhibits across the lush green grass. Martine and I enjoyed ourselves; the boys were slightly less impressed by the old junk, but we all had a good time.

Mathieu being a moody 16-year-old on the banks of the Loire.


Simon makes a grab for the camera.


They secretly like each other.


Cinderella's castle? I think yes.


Beautiful private chapel inside the home.


A lone tower by the stables. Sadly, no horses anymore!

On the drive back, we picked up a couple pizzas for dinner. Only the French would think to put fried eggs on a pepperoni pizza, but it was truly delicious. Add a bottle of wine and some fantastic chestnut bread, and you’ve got yourself a solid meal after a long day of exploring.

Out Tonight

Last night, I went out for the first time since I’ve been in France. Because I live in the suburbs, being downtown at night requires a couple of bus rides to get there and a taxi to return, so I hadn’t bothered to do it before now. One of the other exchange students invited a large group to meet at a bar downtown to celebrate her birthday, though, so I decided it was worth the trouble.
Long story made very short, I waited at the appointed meeting place for about an hour. Just as I had convinced myself that the entire party had been kidnapped/it was all an elaborate ruse to ruin my evening å la Mean Girls, one of the girls called me and told me that they had moved the location to a less crowded restaurant just down the street.
Whew, crisis averted.
After I found the group and reassured myself that I was not the butt of a terrible joke, the rest of the evening was a grand old time. The nightlife in Tours is surprisingly good; I’ll definitely try to go out more regularly now.

Today was a typical relaxing Saturday. For lunch we had a torte of Martine’s invention with leftover onions, corn, rabbit, chicken, rice, carrots, and whatever else was in the fridge. Sounds like an odd mixture, but it was divine!
After lunch, Simon, Martine, and I went on a bike ride to the library and our favorite boulangerie (bakery) for bread.
I hopped on Laurent’s grandmother’s bike for the trip, and we soon found out that the brakes no longer function on the antique cruiser. Thankfully, the ground was flat enough in most places to just put your feet down, and such inconveniences were no match for my natural athleticism. heh, heh. But really, though, I was proud of myself. I only committed one major French traffic violation and ran into two inanimate objects. That might be a record for me.

After a yummy dinner of stir-fried veggies and rice, I decided to try my hand at a movie en français. It turns out, not surprisingly, that Forrest Gump does not translate well into anything other than deep Southern English, but I loved it anyway. Next time, though, I think I’ll pick a French-made movie rather than a dubbed Hollywood make like I’ve been doing lately. Gotta learn the culture, too!

Picture Book

Well, I’m officially on “vacation”…from my semester-long vacation. I’m honestly not sure why it’s necessary to have an official week off from school since I don’t do much studying in the first place, but I’m not complaining!

I was so happy to talk to my mom for a few minutes this evening. Seriously, best part of my day. Always nice to talk with loved ones and not have to think for a while.

The rest of today’s adventures really aren’t worth writing about, so enjoy some photos instead!

Pretty flowers in the neighbor's front yard.


An old shot of the cathedral in Tours.


From a bridge across the Seine-it was so cold, but so beautiful.

No Worries, I’m Going to…

I had two relatively easy classes today and no major stress about anything else. It’s so great to have virtually no day-to-day stress about school or work! While I do miss being busy and having lots of extracurriculars, it’s kind of nice to just do one thing at a time and not have to keep my calendar with me constantly. I hope living here doesn’t completely ruin my already dwindling work ethic when I return to the States!

Mathieu came back from school this afternoon and immediately asked me, “Ave you gone to Arry Potter?” I took this to mean the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, and we continued to have a conversation about all the various amusement parks in Florida. He seems to think that all Americans have an intimate knowledge of every tourist attraction in the US; he was shocked when I told him that wasn’t the case (it’s a rather large country). Hated to burst his bubble, but he needed to know. Incidentally, the French word for “roller coaster” is a montagnes russes, literally “Russian mountains”. Isn’t that fitting?

After my English lesson with Simon this evening, some of our neighbors popped over and talked with Martine and Laurent for a looooong time. It’s grand to have friendly neighbors, but not when they interfere with my feeding schedule. We finally sat down to eat at about 9:30 PM and had a quick supper as it was already past Simon’s bedtime. Quick, of course, does not mean bad. We had couscous with roasted zucchini and tomatoes, unidentified sausages (not my favorite but not bad as far as food goes), and the usual bread, cheese, yogurt, and fruit.

Now, it’s time to watch some French tv and head to bed. Only one more day of school until my vacation starts!