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?