Friday, November 12, 2010

Toussaint continued...

Thursday, Oct 28th,

I opened the windows in the morning and looked out on...rain. Well, that threw a wrench in my planto bike to the chateau that day. Instead, we took a bus, a cheap one at that to Amboise. Not only is Amboise home to a royal castle with some pretty gory history, it is also Leonardo Da Vinci's final resting place and his home there is now a museum dedicated to his life and his many inventions. The castle itself wasn't all that spectacular. It's chapel houses Da Vinci's tomb, and it does have a nice view of the Loire River, but the most exciting part of the visit was probably getting scolded forcefully and unnecessarily by some museum personnel for eating at a wooden picnic table in the entrance courtyard. Now if we had been spreading out our picnic lunch on the centuries old dining table of Henri III, I could understand. Maybe it was our youth, or our ostentatious amount of packed lunch, but that lady was pissed off, telling us that it was not a restaurant, and just look at all the grease marks we were getting everywhere (though we weren't eating anything remotely greasy). We had fun grumbling about her for days after. Da Vinci's residence and museum, however, were much more exciting and engaging. We had to jostle with mobs of children to try out the full sized replicas of his inventions, earning some admonishing looks from parents along the way, but it's not every day you get to spin around in Da Vinci's "tank" which greatly resembles a wooden Gravitron carnival ride. That night, we wandered around the old part of Tours with the rest of the city's bustling student population until the rain and closing time forced us back to the hotel.

Friday, Oct 29th
The next day, thanks to greves and our own late rising, we missed the train that would have taken us to Chambord, the most extravagant castle in the Loire Valley. We were flexible planners however, and settled for taking the train to the smaller yet more intricate and whimsical castle of Chenonceau. Known as the "ladies' castle" in French, it has been blessed with female ownership and design for centuries. When Henri II purchased the castle, he gifted it to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers....the original cougar. When they met, Henri was only a teenager, but Diane, twenty years his senior was already heading into her late thirties. Needless to say, Henri's wife, the devoutly Catholic Catherine de Medici was displeased not only with his extramarital affairs, but more importantly, since such affairs were commonplace, his uncommon devotion to his mistress. After his death, the Queen decided that she fancied Chenonceau for herself, and displaced Diane to a smaller and less regal castle. Later, the next female owner, and wife of Henri III spent the last twelve years of her life in mourning at the castle. She had her bedchamber painted black, and all of the decorations somber, sparse, and heavy. She passed her days wearing white, queenly mourning attire, and immersed in prayer and quiet contemplation. That for twelve long years? thank you.
I managed to take quite a few photos, but the weather was dull and grey, so they aren't as lovely as those taken in bright sunlight. Overall though, it was a nice visit, and well worth the train and ticket price.
The next day, Saturday the 30th, I bid adieu to my traveling companions and headed over to the apartment of my second couch surfing host. Myriam had set the bar high, but Kevin was just as good, providing me with enough company and alone time as I preferred. He's an excellent cook and hanging out with him and his friends was a lot of fun. I experienced Tours nightlife with a group of real Tours natives and it was a really great time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I do apologize for the lateness of this post. I could make up some excuse about being overwhelmingly busy or something, but that is a boldfaced lie, so I must chaulk it up to laziness instead. I bet you're all dying to hear about my vacation. What? You didn't know that I had one already? Well I did. This is, after all, France.
The first vacation "scolaire" of the school term happens right around Halloween. So, I had a holiday from Oct 23rd - Nov 2nd. Even though the good majority of les francais are non-religious/atheist, they still have enough saints for every day of the year, sometimes even having to double up. And because of all these saints, they need one big communal feast day, and what better day to have All Saint's than right after that devilish of all days, that pagan Halloween - much like Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. Party! then REPENT. What Catholics do best.
Since we were encouraged by the program to stay in France proper during this first holiday, I decided to visit a part of France I had yet to see, the Loire Valley. Home to beautiful scenery, lush countryside, wide, still rivers, and of course, les chateaux. I thought combining two of my favorite things, history and pretty stuff, would make for a great vacation.
And it was, with many adventures...and misadventures along the way.
I left Monday the 25th, boarding a train from Beziers to Montpellier, where I would catch another train to Tours, via Lyon. Too bad the greves (french strikes) had another idea. My train had been cancelled, so I waited patiently in the line for the ticket office that stretched out the glass doors and meters deep into the waiting area. Fortunately, things turned out in my favor. Without any extra cost, I was reassigned a faster train to Tours via Paris. Arriving at Gare du Lyon, however, I realized that I had about 45 minutes to get to a different train station to catch the train to Tours. 45 minutes sounds like enough time, but Paris is large and even if you're like me and are familiar with the Paris metro, you will find yourself scrambling. I ended up running through Gare Montparnasse, barely making it in time. whew.
It was smooth sailing after that. I was picked up at the station in Tours by my couch surfing host, Myriam. She very graciously put me up for two nights in her adorable apartment, feeding me and showing me around the city. She even called a hotel for me, setting up a triple room for my two friends (arriving wed) and I at a fraction of the price of a single room elsewhere. Thanks Myriam!
Wednesday Oct 27th:
Elaine arrived in the late morning and together we got impulse buy hair cuts. Yay! Mine is shorter that it's been in a long time, but I really like it. Then, joined by Colleen, we settled into our cute and cozy hotel room at Hotel Foch, in the heart of the 'old city', and home to the friendliest old man concierege ever.