There is much to say about
France. French was the foreign language I took in school, so I
could communicate. I knew some parts from my studies in those
classes. I knew much more about France than any other country,
and more than my traveling partner.
First stop was the Louvre. Yes,
it is indeed a fantastic museum. You really need to live there a
while, and return every few days. There is so much to see.
I've always been interested in Egypt, so I really enjoyed the exhibits from Egypt. The exhibits are quite extensive. Many are very old, and yet still intact. Some are quite large.
Another interesting part of the Louvre is the Mona Lisa. The painting is behind glass, so you cannot get too close. I took an interesting picture of the Mona Lisa frenzy. The glass reflects, so while you can see the painting behind the glass, you can also see the number of people crammed around it via the reflection. Kind of comic in a way.
Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower
From there we went to Notre Dame
Cathedral. It is quite impressive, and very beautiful. You get
great views of the area from the top, you can really see for
miles. The gargoyles are everywhere.
Then it was off to the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe was being repaired, so we couldn't see much. The Eiffel Tower - there it is - just like you've always seen.
Palace of Versailles
The next thing we went to was the
Palace of Versailles. This was a bit of an adventure. The Palace
is quite a ways from the main city. We took the bus, and it was a
good long bus ride.
We ran into two other college age travelers going to the same place. They told us this is the stop to get off, and so we did. It was not the place to get off. The Palace was still far away. It was raining that day, and raining hard. So, the four of us walked in the heavy rain through the streets to the Palace.
We weren't quite Palace material by the time we got there - soaked to the skin, our packs soaked, cold and wet. But we left our stuff in safety, and toured the place.
The Palace was impressive. I'd read about the Hall of Mirrors, and so was interested to see that in person. I was also interested in the gardens. Today I know that other rich people, even in America, had gardens, but where I came from, this didn't exist.
Chateau means castle. We saw many
castles in France, because I wanted to see them. Chambord was
special. Let me put this in perspective.
Our French teacher offered extra credit for projects. The most famous project was a crepe cart. A few students not many years earlier had built this thing - an attractive, working crepe cart. He'd bring this out for special occasions and we'd make our food from it. That must have been worth a lot of points.
No one had really made a large project until my group. The three of us decided to build a replica of a French castle - specifically, Chambord.
I knew a hobby store which sold tiny bricks. These were real bricks, but miniature - about the size of a key on most modern calculators. I got a bucket of these bricks, and books from the library, and went to work.
This was primarily my project - my idea, my research, my bricks. Together we built, brick by brick, a replica of the Chateau Chambord.
There are lots of chimneys - and I mean a lot. (Think about it - before the days of central heat, these castles got cold). In any picture of Chambord you can see the chimneys. I used toothpicks and cardboard to get the chimneys.
There were also lots of stairs - spiral stair cases everywhere. I couldn't really build stairs, so I put in toothpicks to represent steps. Take of the tops of some parts of my model and you can see the stairs.
You can see that I spent a lot of time with this castle. I studied pictures from all angles. I looked closely at the chimneys. I built the thing brick by brick. So, if I were going to France, there was no way I would not go see this castle.
It was a magnificent castle, by any perspective. It meant much to walk the castle, to climb those stairs, to see up close and to touch that which I had come to know so intimately through my project.
So, this had special meaning for me. I took lots of pictures to capture my experience.
By the way, I got a fair amount of extra credit for my brick model of Chambord, and my model is still at home, although worn a bit through the years. (It's difficult to store a castle...)
Son et Lumiere
I first learned of Son et Lumiere
from school. This means Sound and Light, and is a show done at
I went to see one. There was a theater production with people in costume - including king and queen, court and jester. The jester was a warm-up, and was very funny. There were plenty of fireworks.
One interesting thing was a fire-breathing lizard. The Lizard was the emblem of Francois I. Leonardo Da Vinci gave a gift of a Fire Breathing Lizard to Francois - one of Da Vinci's engineering marvels. Da Vinci lived downtown during the later part of his life.
Getting around - my language abilities
I was very proud of my abilities
to speak French. It was I, no one else, who got us around and
made our days in France effective.
Consider this - only I spoke French, my partner knew nothing of it. This was the first country either of us had been to where the language was not English. Some other countries have people who learn English (and I'm not saying they have to). France is notorious for holding on to it's French culture.
We had to get directions, read maps, find our way around, find shelter, and get food, all with speaking French.
It was I, and no one else, who did all this.
Directions is a big issue. You also have to ask strangers, and be polite. I could also pronounce names well, and read signs and maps. I never had any problems.
More important, you have to not only ask directions, but listen and understand. Even in America, it can be difficult to remember left 3 blocks, right 2 blocks, up the stairs, etc. Compound this with the foreign language - you've got to know your directional words and numbers and pay attention. I never had any problems.
We also had to buy food. I got very good at this. "Un kilo l'orange, s'il vous plait. Et fromage. Merci."
Oranges were good - they carried well, and kept us healthy with vitamin C and juice. Cheese was also good - French were known for cheese so you could buy it anywhere, and best of all, it carried well. Actually, after this trip I realized why cheese became so popular throughout history. The wonderful thing about cheese is that it is transportable and that it does not go bad.
Any language teacher will tell you that the best way to learn language is to go to the country and spend time there. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. My language acquired in school was mediocre. Just to put into perspective - what high school student taking a language thinks he will actually use it? I did my homework, took the tests, but it wasn't like I was focused on mastering the language.
And yet, when I came to France, I was surprised at how many words I did know. Having to survive day by day using the language, it didn't take long for me to become more proficient. I even recall someone back in America who that noted I spoke French even in English - that is, my sentence structure had often changed to the sentence structure of the French language.
I was proud of my ability. Just in our first foreign language country, I was able to take us anywhere, give us shelter, feed us, and never allowed us to get into trouble. I was technically the younger, technically the less experienced - still being in high school - yet I ran the show in that country. For that, I was proud.
Two French Girls
Ooh la la! Mais ouis!
It was due to my French speaking skills that I became friends with two friendly French women - two older, attractive French women. I recall calling one on the phone, and driving around town at night in their car.
You can fill in the rest with your imagination...
Doubt me? I've got photos...
Oh, yes, I am proud of my French speaking skills.