20 May 2008

Le weekend des châteaux

Saturday morning the program required us to wake up way too early in order to be on the bus, which left the school parking lot at 8am. I don't care who you are or what time you usually wake up in the morning, 8am is too early. People are supposed to be waking up at 8, not already being somewhere besides their bedrooms.

We all were loaded onto the bus and we sat rather calmly for about two hours before we stopped for a picnic lunch (which really just means that Andrew handed each of us 10 euro and let us go find our own food in whatever little town we were in). We had paninis and quiche. It was cheap enough that we felt good about having money left over. Like we were getting paid back some of the mountain of money that we paid to be here in the first place.

After lunch we drove some more and then we stopped at Ussé (say "oo-say"), which is the château of Sleeping Beauty. It was raining. And I mean RAINING. It wasn't like in Bretagne, where the rain is kind of nice and stops pretty quickly after beginning. Rain in the Loire Valley, on the other hand, gets a good running start and just keeps on going. Of course I had left my umbrella in my room that morning. I remember looking at it thinking, "Of course it won't rain. It's supposed to be 19°C...I'll just leave it here and that way I won't have to bring it with me everywhere."

Well, the good thing was that I didn't have to drag my umbrella all around the château. The bad thing was that I was completely soaked from the moment I stepped off of the bus until some random time about four hours later, after we had seen our second château.

Ussé was really cute. It was rather small, although I'm sure that every American says that after they visit châteaux in France and are confronted with the fact that château doesn't necessarily mean 'Versailles'. Go figure. It was decorated like it was the 20s, complete with mannequins in period costumes. These things scared the crap out of me. I mean, seriously...a smiling mannequin? That's going just a tad overboard.

The upstairs of the château contained rooms set up with the story of Sleeping Beauty. Yes, complete with mannequins dressed up as the fairy tale characters. It was cool and hilarious, especially because I'm pretty sure that the mannequin who was supposed to be the evil witch was wearing a Halloween Maleficent costume. Maleficent is the name given to the evil witch in the Disney version of the story.

The view from the courtyard was fantastic, you could see over the valley and the river, and with the rain and mist it was like we were in one of those sad moments just after the princess pricks her finger and falls asleep for a hundred years.

Just when the rain was letting up we left the château and headed to Azay le Rideau (say "ah-zay luh ree-doe"), another pretty sweet spot. The château is half in the water, and is built with an open air staircase right in the "middle". I put "middle" in parentheses because it's only the middle from a couple perspectives. The guy who built the place totally was going to have everything symetrical, but something went wrong with financing and the king hating him, so in the end it's nearly symmetrical on one side, and on the other...well it works.

One thing I loved is that the château itself was relatively small, and it had it's own tree-lined lane to lead up to it. We had fun with that. Our tour guide was cool too. I don't remember his name because I never heard it. We were standing in the gift shop when we suddenly realised that the entirety of our group had been transfered outside and was listening very intently to the French guy tell them everything about the lovely mansion.

I do, however, remember his beard. Oh man. You know those beards that all 20-something men want to be able to grow but never can? Yeah, it was totally that beard. He of course was slightly balding, and it looked like his salt-and-pepper beard had been electrocuted. It had to have been at least a foot long...

At Azay I frolicked across a field of daisies with Jessica and Johanna. Not even joking. It was pretty much the best thing ever.

That night we ate dinner and stayed in Tours. Most everyone else ended up partying the night away at bars and clubs...I decided to go "home" with my friends after one drink and go to bed. In the morning over half the bus was hung over and a couple people even were hurling, apparently. Fan-tastic. Gotta love those smart ones.

On our way to the first château of the day the driver got lost for an hour. He went the wrong direction, and stopped twice in front of cafés to ask for directions. I didn't really mind this since I was half asleep, but the people who were wishing they could tumble outside and hurl.

We finally got to the château, Chenonceau. It's honestly one of the most beautiful châteaux ever. It's often called "Le Château des Dames" (Castle of Women) because of the women who influenced its design... just plain for living there. Among the famous gardens are the gardens of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Pointiers. It's the most visited castle in France.

After Chenonceau we headed to Amboise, a much smaller but rather cute castle. Those of you fairy tale lovers might recognise the grounds as the ones which were filmed in the movie Ever After. At least, Johanna and Jessica and Sophia and I are all convinced that they are the same. Besides, Amboise was the living place of Leonardo da Vinci for a chunk of his life, so why not film it there? We even saw his house on the neighboring hill!

The visit at Amboise was rather short, even though the guide was really nice; it's just a very small château. Afterwards we gathered up for a group picture and Andrew told us that since the driver had gotten lost that morning we has kinda earned twenty five minutes of wandering on our own. I went up to the "gardens" with Jessica and Sarah (quote because the garden totally turned out to be bushes and gravel...haha oh you Frenchies), where we found Hugo, one of the French moniteurs. We walked down with him and while everyone was hanging out in the area in between the souvenir shop and the bathroom Hugo and I had a great French conversation about why you would or would not want to fry an egg on your head.

Hugo speaks really fantastic English, so he was familiar with frying an egg on the sidewalk when it is really hot outside. But he's also French, so the joke part of me telling Sarah to buy eggs and fry them on her hair (which was really hot) kinda missed him. It was a lot like an hour earlier, when Jessica and I were talking to Nicolas, another French moniteur, and he corrected her on a mistake she made of pronounciation. She thanked him sarcastically and he was halted. "But why are you thanking me?" he asked. We laughed.

The French like to take things seriously, apparently. Even funny stories about myself and my friends don't flow as well in French as they do in English. Sad.

We got home late Sunday night, Staci ended up driving us home, which was just lovely of her to do. Sophia and Jessica and I had actually just been trying to figure out which of us was going to go ask for the ride when Staci got on the bus speaker system and offered the Saint Grégoire girls a ride home. She lives in Betton, a suburb even further north of Rennes, so it was no problem for her. When I got home my parents had actually only been there for about five minutes. Apparently when I'm out of the house for the weekend they go to friends' houses to hang out.

And then I started studying for my finals...haha

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