Seeing as I’m here for the year, I’ve decided that I must adventure outside of Paris and discover the rest of France. My first trip planned was to the Loire Valley in central France, home to the Châteaux de la Loire built during the Renaissance, which form the architectural heritage of the historic towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Nantes, Orléans, Saumur and Tours along the Loire River. With a jam-packed programme planned for the weekend, the rendezvous for the trip was at 7h30 at Porte Maillot, which meant a 5h30 wakeup call for me (ouch !) It was rather depressing to see several groups crawling back home after a Friday night out as leaving mine in the early hours of the morning!
After introducing myself and chatting briefly to the other students on the trip, it was time for a petit dodo on the coach before arriving at the first castle (Chenonceau) at around 11h. Even though I had checked the weather forecast in advance and had prepared myself for rain, I had not anticipated a weekend of non-stop showers (or as the organisers put it – temps de merde!) Despite the weather, everyone got rather excited upon seeing the first castle of the trip, and started snapping away with cameras. All the castles were magnificent, taking me right back to my days of Disney and childhood fairy-tales. Chenonceau had a collection of Flanders tapestries (getting a bit of my Flemish heritage in there) and lots of lavish royal chambres with some rather grand beds. The second, Château d’Azay-Le-Rideau, was also garnished with lots of impressive furniture and paintings from the sixteenth century. Me, Emma and our new Spanish friend Yvonne also had some fun coming up with different poses for a mini photo-shoot outside the castle!
We then all piled back onto the coach to make our way to our stop for the night, the petite ville de Blois, a very charming town which made a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Paris. During the trip and coach journeys between castles, we all learnt a lot of new French argot (slang), which the organisers described as vital knowledge for our year abroad. Whilst they were insistent on teaching us lots of phrases which I will not repeat or translate into English, mine and Emma’s favourite phrase of the weekend was «C’est un bijou!» We were told to put our new vocab to practice right away on the Saturday evening, as we were going out to the one and only night club in Blois. Once arriving at the hotel, we made a speedy trip to the supermarket for some supplies (a bottle of wine for the apéro wasobviously essential) and got ready for the evening. Me and Emma shared a room with our new Argentinian and Spanish friends Yvonne and Giane, whose Hispanic blood meant that they definitely knew how to show us a good time! With our group alone verging on thirty people, the soirée was already in full flow before leaving for the club at around 12h30. As I’ve said before, French nightlife starts much later, stamina is needed (even more so after having woken up at 5h30 in the morning!) The night was great, and it was really good to hear European music from all corners rather than the usual American monopoly that I have often come across when out in Paris. We all began to flag at about 3h30 in the morning and crashed back at the hotel at 4 (what a long day!)
So, understandably it was hard to say the least to prise ourselves out of bed just over 4 hours later to continue our cultural exploration. The included petit déjeuner did slightly numb the pain, where I stocked up on lots of coffee and stuffed some extra bread and croissants in my bag for later. We sped straight on to the next castle, Château Royal de Blois, which had possibly the most majestic décor inside (definitely a good thing as it was yet again chucking it down.)
We then had time to have a proper wander around Blois, as we had only seen it at night after a few glasses of wine. We decided to take shelter in the nearest café which was open (Sundays are rather dead in France, especially when outside of Paris), which turned out to be quite a find. I was so excited to find a café aux Speculoos on the menu, which was a coffee with syrup made from the best biscuits ever (yes – they’re Belgian obviously!) My overexcitement was very much appreciated by the barista, who received some more business from Emma and I who bought some of his gourmand filter coffee.
It was then time to make our way to the final castle, Château de Chambord, which was without doubt the most breath-taking from the outside, showing off a very distinct French Renaissance architecture as well as having extensive gardens and a moat. The rooms inside were rather bare, as we were told that the last king had scarpered with most of the castle’s contents. Me and Emma were starting to struggle after not having much sleep the past two days, and did a quick speed around the hallways and up to the castle’s roof. I’m glad we braved the outside in the pouring rain, as the roof-scape with its towers and chimneys was pretty spectacular, looking almost like the skyline of a small town. We then caved and spent the rest of our time in front of a rather inviting blazing fire being kindled in the entrance, before having a quick browse in the boutiques. We then found a biscuit shop on our way back to the coach which had well over twenty different bowls of tasters which we took full advantage of. So much so that we felt obliged to make a purchase, seeing as we probably did consume at least a box of biscuits each for free!
The weekend was absolutely amazing; I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone on their year abroad in France. As with all other events organized for the Erasmus crowd, I met a lot of really interesting people and hopefully I have made some friends who I will see again! Was absolutely knackered when I got back to mine, but the weekend was definitely worth it. Life goes on in Paris – next entry will follow soon. Bisous!