WORD OF THE DAY: marécage-swamp
Here we are, at the end of week 2, and I can’t help but think how familiar this all is to orientation for Brown in Bologna. I’ve been in Paris for 2 weeks now, and so much has happened in this short amount of time. That’s how study abroad orientation works though; you have to hit the ground running or else risk drowning in the sea of information needed to live in and adapt to a new culture.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? I arrived in Paris on January 13th, and the IES Abroad French Studies Program officially started on January 14th. This meant hauling a packed suitcase from my hotel onto the metro to go and meet my host family. My host family lives in the 12th arrondissement, which is what the neighborhoods are called here in Paris. IES students live all over the city; you could be a ten-minute walk away from the French Studies Center, or a 40-minute train ride away, depending on where you live. Paris is a very large city, so the majority of us spend a lot of time taking the metro every day. My host parents are so nice! They have two grown-up children who live elsewhere now, so they’ve been hosting American students ever since the youngest moved out. What was really important for me when making my homestay requests was for my host family to not speak english. I know that the fact that neither of my homestay parents speak any english will end up frustrating me at some point over the next three months, but I also know that my french will improve drastically because of it.
Unlike with Brown in Bologna, we’ve already had our first overnight trip. For the past two days we’ve been exploring the Loire Valley. Located about 2.5 hours south of Paris, the Loire Valley is famous for its numerous chateaux. On Thursday morning, all 60-something IES students boarded a bus for the Chateau de Chambord. When we arrived, we were treated to a lavish, three-course meal in the chateau. Let me repeat, IN THE CHATEAU! We got to eat a delicious french meal in a CASTLE! After lunch, we split into groups for guided tours of the castle. Despite how gorgeous the architecture was, I personally felt that it was a bit too grand, especially since the guide told us that King François I only used it as a summer home. It was cool to see the religious symbolism worked into the design of the castle, since the French monarchy was considered to have been chosen by God to rule France. In exploring the castle with our guide, it was easy to see the care taken to show King François I’s apparent proximity to God. For example, the interior of the main building was built in the shape of a cross, and the chapel in the chateau had very little religious imagery in it, but was littered with the King’s crest.
Day 2 of this trip was my personal favorite, as we got to visit the Chateau d’Amboise. Apart from this chateau being, in my opinion, more aesthetically pleasing than Chambord, Amboise was my favorite because it is the resting place of Leonardo da Vinci. You can imagine my surprise when one of my friends came out of this beautiful little chapel on the grounds of the castle and said: “Elizabeth, Leonardo da Vinci’s buried in there!” These are the type of moments on a semester abroad that I simply adore; exploring a beautiful place only to stumble upon, entirely “par hasard,” as they say here, a piece of history.
After exploring da Vinci’s resting place a bit more, I and a few of my new friends wandered through the quaint town of Amboise to another chateau, Clos Luce. While Leonardo da Vinci is buried at the Chateau d’Amboise, it was here, at Clos Luce, that he spent the last three years of his life from 1516-1519. Clos Luce was certainly a beautiful building, but the real allure of the place that made it worth the 10.50 euro entrance fee was the museum dedicated to one of the greatest minds mankind has ever known. Wandering through the mansion, my new friends and I were simply stunned at the vast list of inventions that da Vinci created. Did you know that da Vinci invented the paddle boat? Or the water wheel? Or the cross bow? Or the tank? Or the parachute? Or the catapult? Or that he discovered that plants were nourished by the sun two centuries before a parade of scientists began researching it and calling it photosynthesis? All of his achievements, both great and small, are displayed through his final home.
Reluctantly, we had to leave Clos Luce at noon to get back on the bus to go to lunch. This lunch was special because we ate it in a restaurant built into a cave! The food, wine and atmosphere were great, and I had a lot of fun trying everything and discussing everything we’d seen that day over a good glass of wine.
Finally, we took the bus down the street to another cave for a tour and a wine tasting. We saw videos of influential historical events and smelled different scents to understand that more goes into a glass of wine than just taste. At the end of the tour, we tried three different glasses of white wine, of differing ages and brands. While I didn’t quite care for the goat cheese that was paired with it, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the wines. I bought two bottles there: one for my host family and one for my mom. After we bought our goodies, we got back on the bus and made it back to Paris just in time for me to enjoy a tasty supper with my host family.
Our real classes start on Monday. I’m apprehensive to take five academic classes, as opposed to the two I took last semester, but I’m so excited for the semester to come. This trip to the Loire Valley was so much fun; it reminded me just how much more fun there is to be had in the next three months, both in Paris and outside of it. This week, I hope to throw myself headfirst into what should be a handful of very interesting classes, explore more of Paris, and have the time of my life with some of my new friends when we travel to Brussels next weekend.
À tout à l’heure!
P.S: If you ever find yourself at a tourist site in Europe and you don’t want to pay for an audioguide, I highly recommend you download Rick Steves’ audioguides. I used his Loire Valley audio guide yesterday and it was extremely helpful.