As I wrote in my earlier post, some specifics of our trip have evaded me. I no longer remember exactly what I ate at each meal (much to my foodie father’s chagrin) and I do not remember every single one of the MANY historical facts that were thrown our way. But here are a few of the many things I will never forget from this trip:
- While Versailles was magnificent, I was particularly fond of the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Much subtler and smaller than Versailles (but definitely not less beautiful), Chenonceau was rich with history that really interested me. The beautiful estate and gardens have been home to many important figures in history (ex. Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers who are both shown on the CW show Reign). Also, the château was used as a hospital for soldiers during WWI. A common thread I noticed at these once-royal chateaus and castles is that while the buildings were once for the elite they are definitely now the people’s. This is actually the main reason why Versailles holds so many ballets, concerts, and firework shows on their grounds because unlike during the time of kings and queens, they want to be open for all of France to utilize.
- Christian, the bus driver of our 53-seater bus, was a gem. Even when we were boarding the bus and seeing him for the first time that day, he would give us a hearty “buh-bye.” His driving skills were incredible though. He lead our bus through the narrowest of streets, the bumpiest of paths, and the highest of mountains. Parents: your children were 100% safe on the road when Christian was behind the wheel.
- La Grotte du Mas d’Azil was naturally quite spectacular. But for some reason, the people who run it decided that the cave would be a prime place for a light show. Well, I’ve got news for you, Ariège’s department of tourism, it is not. The natural splendor and history of the cave does not need a (rather subpar) lightshow with medieval chamber music.
- Similar to many others on the trip my perception of pre-historic people has changed. It’s easy to think of those people like the Geico Caveman ads portray them but they cultivated beauty in their lives. One of the brochures at a Cave asked the question if the paintings in caves should be considered art and my answer is YES! Paleolithic people were so thoughtful and resilient about their creations. Seeing the 2-foot crevices in which they would lay for hours painting really blew my mind. So few people nowadays would be so hard working. One interesting fact is that they would see movement in their paintings because of the flicker of their lamps! Kind of like a really early film!! (also, friendly travel trip to anyone embarking on a cave visit, bring a jacket… you can thank me later)
- Last but definitely not least… Each year in France they celebrate the Fête de la Musique. Everyone across the nation gathers in the streets playing music and generally having a good time. We happened to be in Downtown Sarlat on this night and while eating dinner we heard rock music coming in through the window. It sounded relatively good so after dinner our group ventured out to find the music and found a band of teenagers playing… and not very well even though everyone around us seemed to think they were the next Beatles. Despite this, we ended up enjoying our night because of each other’s company. It was definitely my no. 1 favorite part of the trip.
Lastly, I am so glad to have embarked on this trip for the opportunity to see so many beautiful parts of France and to meet so many kind people. At first I was not looking forward to some of our long bus rides but I soon appreciated them for the views that they provided. I also cherished our free time at sites when I wander by myself, taking in the beauty of our surroundings in silence. Without this trip I never would have been able to see those sights or meet the kind (definitely-not-rude-like-the-stereotype-says) French people who mentored and taught us throughout the trip. I promised myself in the last few days of our trip that I would return to France to experience the beauty and kindness again. Thank you, Piette program, for exposing me to these two things.
I found this short video on my phone and thought I would share because not only does it shows the beauty of where we were in the Ariège but it also shows Christian’s driving skills. In the video we are driving down a mountain after visiting a cave (the same cave with the vampire-lady… the people on the trip will definielty remember her) and the roads were way too windy and narrow for our bus but Christian managed to get us down without a scratch.