What is more French than bring late, visiting châteaus and castles, and doing a wine and cheese tastings?
Last week was midterms for a lot of my classes, but unlike at home where that means every class is having an exam, here it just meant that we are officially halfway through the semester. Only 2 of my classes even mentioned it. In my International Contract Law class, we didn’t have class this week, but we took our midterm exam the week before. I also had a quiz in French, but that was just a regular quiz, rather than a midterm. I knew that midterms were not a big deal here, but I didn’t realize before now exactly how little they meant.
Over the weekend, though, MELT and Polo Marco organized a trip the Loire Valley which has several famous and beautiful châteaus. This weekend was one of the “reserved” weekends, which meant that you couldn’t plan trips for those weekends (in advance) because if a class gets canceled, that’s when they get made up. I decided to go on the Loire Valley trip because it meant that I got to go somewhere without doing any planning. Sounds great, right? Turns out French people are not very good at organization.
The itinerary said we were supposed to depart from the ESSEC parking lot at 9am on Saturday. There were 22 people going on the trip, and at 9:15, 18 of us were still standing in the parking lot with no sign of either the bus we were supposed to be taking, or the people that actually organized the trip. At 9:20 the organizers showed up with other people going, and the bus. The bus ride was about the same length, and the same amount of interesting as a bus from the Twin Cities to Ames, or Chicago to Urbana-Champaign. In other words, a 3.5 hour ride through farmland.
The first thing we did when we got to the Loire Valley was head to the castle that supposedly inspired the one in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: the Château de Chambord. Personally, I don’t think it looks anything like the one in Beauty and the Beast, but judge for yourself.
The first thing we did when we got there was eat our lunches picnic-style, sitting on the lawn. One of the people who came with us was from the area and had been to the château many times, so he gave us our own private tour. Château de Chambord was where most of the French kings lived before Versailles was built. Château de Chambord was made for King Francis I, but, unusually, nobody really knows who designed it. Other than the views from the balconies, the best part of the Château de Chambord is the central staircase. It is actually 2 spiral staircases, but they never intersect, which is why many people think that the Château was designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
After a few hours wandering the castle, we got back in the bus and headed to Domaine du Croc du Merle for our wine and cheese tasting. It was a lovely, local place where we got a explination and demonstration of how they make their cheese and wines. Then we went into their warehouse, where they had bread, blackcurrant jam, cheese, and several kinds of wine. Before we left, almost everyone bought a bottle or two, and most of those people bought the first white wine we tasted.
It was almost dinner time by the time we left, so we took our bus to our hotel in Blois. The hotel was interesting because we didn’t have a set number of rooms for us, and each of the rooms, regardless of how many people were staying in them, had 3 beds. On bed was a queen, one was a twin, and one was a day bed. Once we had all dropped our stuff off in our rooms, we headed out to get dinner. It was already 8 o’clock before we left the hotel, but we spent a long time wandering around the city. I’m not sure what happened, but there was a specific restaurant on the itinerary and we ended up eating somewhere else. I don’t know if the problem was that we couldn’t find the restaurant we were supposed to go to, or if they just didn’t have room for us. All I know is that we ended up eating somewhere else, and we had to eat outside because we were such a big group. I ended up getting a classic French dish: moules-frites (aka mussels and fries). They were quite good, but they got cold pretty fast because we were outside in 40° weather. After dinner we split up into 2 groups. One group went straight back to the hotel, the other (my group) went out to a bar. We only stayed until shortly after midnight because we had to get up early the next day.
I got up much earlier than everyone else on Sunday because I wanted to catch the second half of the Cubs game. I couldn’t stay up for the whole thing because the games run from 2am to 6am my time, and I needed to get some sleep. After breakfast we headed to Château Royal de Blois. Right near the entrance was an overlook area with a great view of the city of Blois, and the Loire River.
I was not impressed by the Château itself. It was much more like a large house that was being used as a museum than a castle, in my opinion. However it did have a throne that you could sit on, and we had lots of fun posing on it.
Afterwards, we headed to Chenonceau. This was easily my favorite château of the weekend, and probably my favorite one in France. If you want to see a beautiful, classic, French château, go to Chenonceau! There were absolutely no bad views! The grounds are beautiful, the river is beautiful, the building itself is beautiful. You really can’t go wrong. I was not the only one who thought we could’ve used more time. Having never seen it at any other time of the year, this is probably biased, but I think that autumn is the best time to see it because there were trees changing color all around the Château.