Friday, August 22, 2008

Camping Jour 3

We were up again at 8 a.m. sharp! Luckily I was up because the kids camping next door were super loud and also up early. We had a quick breakfast then hit the road for some castles!

The first stop was Azay-le-Rideau! A-W-E-S-O-M-E.

This was the first castle we went inside and toured. It was beautiful! There is a huge open staircase with amazing detail all over the walls and ceilings. You can only tour two of the three floors which are filled with beautiful furniture and artwork.

We ate lunch at a nearby river and watched a huge flock of ducks stalk us for our bread crumbs. There was also a crazy duck man who sat beside us and talked to the ducks. I'm pretty sure he thought they were talking back to him, and he understood them. Who knows. Maybe he did.

Driving around the countryside is mesmerizing. All the forests are completely different than back home. They are all in neatly planted rows! There are also thousands upon thousands of neatly planted vinyards.

Our next stop was Chinon. Unfortunately, it was closed. The town of Chinon was pretty cute, but the trek uphill was not. It also happens that everything was closed on Lundi, which of course is the day we visited! There were still plenty of tourists wandering around the small streets.

I finally got them to pull over the car so I could get a picture of the amazing sunflower fields!

There was live music at the campground entertainment this evening. It was some sort of international/french/folk-ish band. Boring. I did recognize the tune from "The Bear necessities" from the jungle book, but they were obviously singing in french so I didn't understand it.

I was pretty excited that people thought I was Dominque and Nathalie's daughter. That means I'm fitting in and look French! Too bad I mess it up when I speak!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

camping jour 2

We woke up bright and early to go exploring. During breakfast, and subsequently at every meal, we played 'who's french and who's not' while watching people walk past our porch. I lost. Apparently it's easy to tell who isn't French by looking at them. I think it was harder for me since we don't have a specific look at home. At least that is what I claim. The French also don't walk around the campsite in their sweats either, like I'm used to seeing back home. You know? Like when you have to walk across the campsite to the porta-potty you don't wear your regular nice clothes. Well they do here, but they also don't use porta-potties. They have nice indoor bathrooms and showers for those not lucky enough to have their own private bathrooms.

Oh, and my 'parents' are superb petanque players. I figured it would be an easy enough game, I mean, I've played it once or twice down at Boulevard Park at Western Wa University, but it's pretty serious here. I think I won two out of the lots of games we played. Lesson learned. Don't overestimate Silly French games that traditionally only old men play. Got it.

The campground is located in the city of Loches. Right above us is also a huge castle, cathedral, donjon and medieval city. It's pretty fun to explore, but instead we took the day to go find other chateaux. I sat happily watching the countryside while my parents got lost a bunch. It's nice to know i'm not the only person on the planet who desperately needs gps. Nat would read the map, sometimes wrong then Dom would ignore her and go his own way, thus getting us lost and getting to see lots of little French Villages. It was a happy accident. Nestled in between all the sunflowers are cute little towns with lots of old architecture. It was awesome. I was seriously in awe to be able to run my hand along all of these old castles and town walls. History makes me all bubbly inside. I love that I finally was able to see and smell and touch all of the places I had to spend hours studying in art history class. It makes it all worth while, especially since that minor is useless.

The weather wasn't that great today so castle seeing was light. We headed back to the base and relaxed for a while before dinner. I found it interesting to watch the kids more my age (okay a lot younger). They act the exact same as like young campers back home. Flirty. It was kind of fun to watch who "hooked up" with who, and by hook up I mean who was holding hands with who by the end of the week. All the 'cool' boys had their Louis Vuitton man purses and all the 'cool' girls had their ridiculously short skirts despite the fact it was freezing cold. I suppose some behaviors are internationally the same.

The nightly entertainment looks like it won't be that bad. Dancing. Karaoke. A magician? Whatevs. It beats playing card games like war under the lantern light, right?

Camping - jour 1

My 'parents' decided since they were on vacay that we should take a camping trip to the Loire Valley to hunt for Castles! How terrific is that? Plus, I love camping, so let's do it, right?

First off, camping in France isn't really how I think of camping back home in the Pacific Northwest. When we camp we pack up the tents (some of which may or may not be waterproof), tarps because inevitably it will rain, sleeping bags and blankets because it gets damn cold at night, marshmallows and wieners for the fire, lantern and deck of cards. I would assume anybody else's camping list follows suit basically (unless you are an RV camper. Bah.) Camping in the Pacific Northwest is in the hard core forest. It makes me think of Bear Grylls biting off the heads of snakes and eating raw fish straight from the river. Not that I myself camp like this, but it gives a good visual. The french don't camp like that. We reserved a chalet, which is a fancy french name for a cabin. At least at home we don't call them chalets, I can't speak for the east coast. Our chalet came with two bedrooms, comfy beds, wc, bathroom with hot water shower, kitchen, microwave and all the other daily conveniences camping is supposed to be without. I can't say I didn't mind, especially since it rained a few nights we were there. The 'campground' which I refuse to call it by because it was actually like a 4 star resort did however have some sites where people could pitch tents. I looked at those spots and every single one of them was occupied by some family that wasn't french. Quite a few were Belgian or English. Nope. You didn't see the French in tents. The resort also boasted a heated pool, sauna and nightly entertainment outside the restaurant/lounge. Some camp-ground.

So we hit the road early saturday morning for a some 400 km drive. I slept basically the whole way again. I woke up in time for a pit stop lunch at this cute park with a river view. There were some ducks in the water, but Dominque called them water chickens instead. They looked like ducks to me, but he insisted it was different. There was also a beaver looking creature that he called a river rat. It was too far away to actually see what it was. Then back on the road. Another weird thing in France is that the free-ways aren't free. You have to pay to drive on many of the bigger highways. Luckily our exit was the close so our toll wasn't that expensive. But the further you drive, the more you pay. I'm used to the toll bridge at home, but a toll road? Ew. I'm not a fan and I wasn't even driving.

When we checked in I read the book in the office where people could leave comments when they were checking out. It was interesting to see all of the different countries people came from. There was a note from a couple from California. I don't know if I was from Cali that I would come to France to camp. I realize i'm not from far from california, but I've been living here. They were on vacay. Strange.

I realized that when I unpacked I totally forgot my adapter. Naturally. We went to the grocery store to get some stuff for the week and of course the store had every adapter possible except American. They were out. So was every other store in the general area. I had to be really careful with my cameras and selective when taking pictures so my batteries wouldn't die. Luckily the spares were fully charged. That helped. My ipod died the first night. Excellent.

When we were making the grocery list for the above mentioned trip, they dictated and I wrote. They made fun of me the whole trip because I spelled pastis wrong. They made it sound like pastiche. Whatever.

What blew my mind the most, the first day when we went castle hunting was the acres and acres of sunflower fields. I'm used to seeing corn everywhere with all the farmland around, but the sunflowers are amazing. Just fields of pure yellow. All over. I never got bored staring out at the country side.

Oh, and they don't have campfires. Weird.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 58 *I think* Carnac & Quiberon

It is a gorgeous day today so we decided to take a little day trip to Carnac and Quiberon. Carnac is world famous (well, I didn't really know about it before I saw it so it shows how much I payed attention in ancient history - if I ever learned this) for its Megaliths. I linked what looks to be some kind of informational site if you want to learn more about them. They are pretty fascinating. There are thousands of huge rocks standing tall in perfect rows. There are also, scattered around, many burial formations which I think were called dolmens. You could walk down inside some of them and see carvings in the stones. The amazing thing from these is that they have been there since 3500 BC! That's a pretty long time if you ask me. Then again, I'm into the historical stuff. If you're not then you'd probably think (like many) that they are just a bunch of rocks lined up. Whoopie.

We also drove down further, towards the end of the peninsula, to Quiberon. We stopped along the way on the "savage coast" to look down the cliffs at the raging ocean below.

There were miles and miles like this, and it was pretty windy. But I had fun. Quiberon is at the bottom of the peninsula and basically a summer town. It was a fun day trip, though.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

family is tiring!

We gathered again at Chez Mami and Papi Gaston with about 20 or so other family members for a big lunch. Once again, in french style, we drank more. I played with my little 'cousin' Lucas who was super cute and the only word he knows is tractor. He didn't mind that I wasn't french since he doesn't understand a whole lot anyways, so that was okay. After lunch, and after most people departed, we headed over to one of the aunts house for more drinks/dinner. She made a few small pizzas and some home made booze concoction. I wrote down the recipe because it was pretty tasty. I played with lucas some more, but my allergies decided to ruin my evening so all I wanted to do was go home. The night couldn't end fast enough for me.

Their house was an "english" style house, which looked like a regular house to me, but not to the french. The inside was decorated very african and it was really cool. Lots of muted browns and african art and outside a little oasis of a garden with lots of palm trees. I love the way the french decorate. It's always very colorful and bright and cheery.

I slept in the car ride home.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Happy Birthday!

We drove to Nantes today to celebrate the combined birthday of my host dad's parents - mami adrienne and papi gaston. It was a huge party with tons of friends and family, which I think is typical for the French. They all have huge families. These events are always a little scary for me since my French isn't that great (still) and it's a bunch of people I don't know. They were all very nice and treated me like part of the family. The dinner was catered and at least 5 courses long! Truly delicious. I tried foie gras for the first time. Yum! There was also the fish course, and the meat and potato course and the dessert course and the cheese course. I was definitely full by the end of the meal. Then of course, drinking and dancing after wards. This is an amazingly fun family.

Everybody wanted to sit down with me and speak some English. I think this had a lot to do with the large amounts of wine everybody was consuming because out of all the English I heard, that was mostly just repeated to me over and over again. I thought it was funny. There was also some joke about roosters and people crowing over the microphone that I didn't understand, but they came to find me and wanted to know what an American Coq sounds like. I demonstrated, shyly and they thought it was hilarious and then wanted me to do this on the microphone. I am super duper shy. That was really hard for me to crow like a rooster over the microphone, but most of the people in the room were drunk anyways, so I guess it didn't matter. I just kept giggling because they said 'american coq' a lot and yes, that makes me giggle. You would too.

There was also a nice, portly, short gentleman named, I think, Emille who asked me to dance. I politely told him I don't know this dance, but he didn't take no for an answer and pulled me onto the dance floor. I'm only 5'4'' and I could almost see over his head. He kept pulling me all close but his big belly thankfully made it hard to get his face close to mine! He kept trying to stare into my eyes and make kissy noises. It took literally all of my inner strength not to bust up in hysterical laughter! The whole family was watching and also busting up laughing at me behind his back. I couldn't take it after like 3 dances so I retired, thanked him, and turned my face when he tried to kiss me so he ended up just kissing my cheek. I ran for the bathroom to hide for a little bit, but no! He followed me in! He tried to trap me in a corner for more kisses so I ran into the stall and locked him out. He gave up easily and I sat there for a few moments trying not to cry from laughing so hard. French men are hilarious.

Other than my avoiding Emille, the night was great. The family is great.

We headed back to Chez Mami margarite to sleep since she also lives close by (that's my host mom's mom).

Friday, August 1, 2008

Puy Du Fou

We went to Puy Du Fou with some friends of my host parents. Puy Du Fou which I might just abbreviate now as PDF since I'm that lazy, is a sweet theme park of sorts. It's way cooler than disney because it doesn't have any lame rides to wait in line for. Instead, it's this huge park themed around the PDF through the ages. They have shows nestled all around that you trot yourself to back to back. There is a show about vikings, musketeers, falconry, gladiators, and other medieval things all while walking through very pretty grounds. At first I thought this might be kind of lame, but I was going with 4 adults, so that means it couldn't be that bad. There were kids all over the place, which isn't really my favorite thing in the world, but the shows weren't totally directed at a young audience. They also used tons of horses and equestrian exercises which I'm always a fan to watch since I did that for so long. I also opted out of the 5 euro, used, headset that translates the shows. So, yeah, I missed a little, but since there are live actors playing out the story I think I kept up okay. If anything most of them had either horses or fireworks or something else to entertain, making the dialogue not important anyways. I'm sorry I don't have pictures up, my computer isn't dealing well with all the memory I have stored on it already, so they may have to wait until I get home. My external hard drive isn't working with the Mac computer in my room, and yes, I'm so cool I only have one converter/adapter thingy so I can't hook it up to my laptop since the laptop won't work w/out ac power. Lovely, eh?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gay 'ol Paris

I was so excited for my trip back to Paris, although a little frightened to make the journey alone. But I'm a big girl and therefore I think I can ride a train alone. I mean, I had my ipod. Plus I was meeting a friend from back home who was stopping in Paris with her family for the week. The plan was to meet her at their hotel, crash with them and see the sights and experience Parisian life when I hadn't just stepped off an airplane and was seriously lacking in sleep.

The best laid plans of mice and men..

I hated Paris.

There. I said it. Paris is a wonderful city. Except when you wear the wrong shoes. Or your pack is heavy. Or the person you are there to meet isn't there! This wouldn't have been so bad, except that the few plans I made were in accordance with her and I had no back-up plan. Did I mention it was Bastille Day?

I went, first, to the address she gave me and of course the concierge spoke zero English and didn't understand my meager French. We finally came to the conclusion that the family I was meeting wasn't there, however on the other side of Montparnasse there is a hotel with the same name just reversed. So I trekked over there and already cursing myself for wearing flip flops. Yes! I wore flip-flops. I realized my mistake the next day and subsequently bought tennis shoes. Anyway, I found the other hotel and they weren't booked there either. The much nicer concierge who also spoke English called 4 or 5 other hotels in the area to help me find them. No luck. I wanted to cry. All the hotels in Montparnasse are 2 or 3 stars which means expensive. He offered me a room at a cheaper price, probably because I looked Like I was about to cry. I declined and tried instead to find an internet cafe so I could see if she sent me an email. This is where the no cell phone thing really made me sad. Just my luck, being the holiday, nothing was open. No internet. My excited adventurer spirit is beginning to be crushed and I kind of just want to go home. On my rounds looking for a computer I walk past the first hotel and mr. no english is out having a smoke break. He asked if I found them and I said no and asked him if he knew an open internet cafe around. He kindly looked up hotels on his own computer. How funny is that? I got the concierge for a hotel to look for other places for me! He found nothing and I think I got that really sad, teary look again because he offered me a room for more than half off (the rooms were flipping 130 euros a night). I took it since it was getting late and my hopes of finding something cheaper wouldn't have been that great. Plus, it was a 3 star hotel so that means i'd have a real shower - to myself. I did end up finding an internet cafe and sure enough my friend had e-mailed me, but it was after I had already left. I sent her the room number and phone number in hopes she would find me when she got to the area.

She did!

That was like the biggest relief ever. Although I was mentally almost prepared to do the city alone. i went to dinner with her family and acted as translator for the menu and server. No big deal. I think this upset my friends sister who, until I showed up, was the French master. Oddly enough I never heard her speak a word of French and she mispronounced everything. I even said up front my French sucks, but I get by. It knocked her idea of French out of the park. After dinner we walked around looking for a club or somewhere fun that night but the place we looked up was no longer there. We went to bed instead. The next day I got a room key for her hotel and packed up and moved camp while they were out on some lame tour. That afternoon we tackled the metro. I swear to god my metro and city map were my best friends. Since I don't come from a city with a subway it was a little confusing and naturally we ended up going the wrong way a few times. We also didn't realize that you can use the same ticket for several trips even if you have to go through the gate. I think I wasted like 5 bucks buying new tickets until we figured it out. I'm passing this onto you. Since I'm retarded. My friend missed her next tour with her family because of our metro folly.

The trip couldn't get any better after that. This made my friends mother so mad, she blamed me and kicked me out of the room! It was midnight! She said it was my fault, called me a slut, and alcoholic and a thief and wouldn't let me stay in the room with my friend. Where was I supposed to go? It was a flipping holiday, super late at night and no cheap hotels in the area. This lady is the worst mother on the planet. I only hope nobody does something like that to her daughter and I really wanted my friend to tell her the next day I had to sleep on the street and was killed or all my shit was stolen. I hold grudges.

Instead, I went to the desk and had to drop 300 bucks for a room for the rest of my stay. Stupid biotch.

The next day I did the metro alone, since I'm just growing up so fast. I went to the Champs-Elysee (freaking sweet it's my name..kind of) walked along there, through the gardens du tuleries and then to the louvre. I spent a little over 3 hours in the museum, did the whole french painters wing, la jocund (mona lisa) and davids slaves. I saw some other stuff along the way, but after 3 hours I needed a nap. On the walk there I met a fun pair of security guards (things were blocked off for some big-wig political gathering) who entertained me and then wanted to get coffee later when the shift was over. I told them maybe. After my friend finished a tour with her family we went and saw l'arc de triumphe up close and walked around that area of the city.

I couldn't have been happier for my train home the next morning. Maybe someday I'll go back to Paris when I have a plan for myself. But since I wasn't in a good mood, the trip just didn't do it for me.

Here are the album links:

Yeah, yeah. I took a lot of pictures. At least that was good. It made me happy.

Fair Warning..

Before I left for Paris I saw this little gem in my inbox:

US Embassy Paris - Worldwide Caution

Well doesn't that make me just want to run to Paris all by myself.

"This Worldwide Caution updates information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against Americans and interests throughout the world. In some countries, the rise in oil and food prices has caused political and economic instability and social unrest. American citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This supersedes the Worldwide Caution dated January 17, 2008.
The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings and bombings.
Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas and locales where Americans gather in large numbers, including during holidays. A July 9, 2008 terrorist attack on Turkish police guarding the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul killed three police officers and wounded other police personnel. On March 15, a bomb was detonated at an Italian restaurant in Islamabad, killing two and injuring twelve, including five Americans. Also on March 15, two bombs exploded at the CS Pattani Hotel in southern Thailand killing two and injuring thirteen. In January, a bomb in a disco pub in the Philippines killed one and injured eight.
Americans are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems. Recent examples include multiple anti-personnel mine detonations on passenger buses in June 2008 in Sri Lanka, multiple terrorist attacks on trains in India in 2006, the July 2005 London Underground bombings, and the March 2004 train attacks in Madrid. Extremists may also select aviation and maritime services as possible targets, such as the August 2006 plot against aircraft in London, or the December 2006 bomb at Madrid's Barajas International Airport. In June 2007, a vehicle was driven into the main terminal at Glasgow International Airport and burst into flames, but the bomb failed to detonate."

Alright. So I guess it was a good idea I didn't wear my American flag unitard around town on the 4th of July.

Got to love the government.

bon voyage

I think this is officially day 60. I'm not sure. I think I am going to bag the counting of the days. I was an art major therefore math automatically gives me a headache. Today my host brother Simon headed back to my home land for a month. Bon Voyage, little brother. Tell my country hello for me.