Castles, Crêpes, and Conversation in Nantes

Genevieve Winn
January 18, 2019

What a week it has been! As of yesterday, we’ve lived in France for over 200 hours speaking French, meeting new people, and learning a lot about the Loire Valley and Nantes.

This past weekend we went on our first excursion of the semester to a number of châteaus in the Loire Valley. Saturday’s trip was to d’Amboise and the Clos Lucé, and Sunday’s trip was to Chambord and Chenonceau.

Early Saturday morning we all convened at the IES Abroad Center to depart in a fancy coach bus. We drove for about two hours to Amboise, where we ate lunch at a nice restaurant before walking to the castle. Le Château d’Amboise is elaborate and ornate, complete with a chapel on the premises, a view over the Loire River, and plenty of turrets and towers. It was created for the French kings from the 15th to 19th centuries. Most of the structure that exists today was constructed by Charles VIII, as he expanded liberally on the previous castle. Throughout the castle you can find personalized items that indicate Charles VIII and his wife, Anne of Brittany’s, influence on the construction, such as their crests. Throughout the castle, imagine high-ceilinged rooms with red satin walls, matching satin canopy beds, and life-sized portraits in gold frames. At the height of the Renaissance, the Château d’Amboise was a very happening place, as Leonardo da Vinci was frequently invited here by François 1er (and even lived in the castle from 1516-1519!). It is also where Leonardo da Vinci was buried.

Just down the street from the Château d’Amboise, you’ll find Close Lucé. This is the name of Leonardo da Vinci’s home, the last place he resided. It contains many of his projects, writings, and inventions, and we had the opportunity to walk around both the house and grounds to view these.

Saturday evening we had a delicious dinner at the hotel, followed by some icebreaker games led by one of our Teaching Assistants, Elise. Our hotel rooms, which were separate buildings arranged in a quad behind the main hotel hall, were a great place to decompress after an educational and historical day. Sunday morning, in a small attempt to balance out my croissant-consumption, I woke up early for a run around the hotel. But, I was also reminded that the sun rises later here! It was a bit chilly, but it was a good run. The croissants found me yet again at Sunday’s breakfast, but I was happy to oblige.

Sunday, we visited two beautiful castles, Chambord and Chenonceau. Chambord is quite possibly the largest structure I’ve ever been in. We had two hours to explore it and I still didn’t see all the rooms. This tour was self-directed with iPads called “histopads” and the opportunity to complete a virtual-reality treasure hunt, which was pretty awesome.

This week, I found that I was able to create a consistent routine. I typically rise before my host mother (ma mère d’accueil) and make some breakfast before heading out for the day. The first morning, I learned that it is pretty common to drink instant coffee here, when you’re at home. When I think about it, it is quite versatile to boil water in an electric kettle, and then add whatever you choose (coffee or tea). With two generous teaspoons of Nescafé coffee, it is delicious. I’ll also make toast with some butter and jam on it, bien sûr.

Orientation was this week, comprised of information sessions, language classes, and tours of important places. On Monday, we started three hours of grammar, language, and conversation in the morning. Then, we had an hour and a half for lunch, which is something I wish existed in the United States. Some of my friends and I decided to buy food at Monoprix (an affordable chain store) and stash it in the IES fridge for later lunches this week. In the afternoon, we had a session about classes at Université de Nantes (as well as the university education system in France generally) and a session about the IES Abroad courses offered. Both got me excited for choosing these courses tomorrow, Friday.

Tuesday evening, my host mother made galettes for us! She went to the market that day and bought a number of galettes as well as some crêpes. For dinner, we had the galettes with cheese, some lemon juice, and smoked salmon (or just cheese, if you wished). Galettes are very similar to a crêpe but my host mother explained to me that they are made with a different type of flour than crêpes (thus creating a darker color) and they are savory. For dessert, we had the crêpes with maple syrup from the U.S.! Très délicieux.

Wednesday was a fantastic day of new discoveries. In the morning, we took the TAN (bus/train system) to the Université de Nantes for a tour of the academic buildings. We split into three groups for tours of campus, visiting SUAPS (Service Universitaire des Activités Physiques et Sportives-- university sports), the history building, language building, and economics buildings. We ate lunch at one of the University Restaurants (RU), and received our student cards. I loved eating there as we got to see other university students on their lunch break, many of whom look just like us and seemed like your regular college student: socializing, studying, maybe stressing a bit, and enjoying some good eats.

Wednesday afternoon, my group (called ‘Normandie’) used the afternoon to explore Trentemoult, which is just a short walk and “Navibus” ride away. This quaint place used to be a fishing town. All the homes are painted vibrant colors with hints of its fishing history, such as nets and tools. There were many beautiful details within these homes that made it so special to view, and made it one of the highlights of the week for me. Understandably, we could only admire from the outside the homes as they’re inhabited by families, but we got to spend time in a coffee shop before departing where we could sit down and take it all in. Most of us ordered the “chocolate viennois” which is hot chocolate with a generous amount of whipped cream. On our way out of the cafe, we made sure to pet the cat, who was lounging happily on the counter in the sun.

Next time, I look forward to talking about my classes that start next week.

Jusqu’à la prochaine fois, I’m Genevieve in Nantes. À bientôt!

Genevieve Winn

<p>I remember creating things from a very young age. What began as duct tape figurines and short stories as a child have transformed into projects of scale today. One of my favorite activities is to sew, but I also love to write. Self-expression through art and writing has always been a strong part of my identity. My hope for the future is to bring my creativity into the world in new ways by creating relationships with people and helping to create solutions to real-world problems. Learning another language is, I think, an important piece to understanding the world a little better, and to knowing how to better serve the people in it. As an IES Correspondent, I hope my writing can help other students to understand study abroad, me, and the beautiful world around us through my daily adventures!</p>

2019 Spring
Home University:
University of Vermont
Natick, MA
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