Friday, July 19, 2013

C'est fini

July 9, 2013

It is hard to believe that I have been home for over 2 months already. It didn't take long for it to feel like I never left and that my time in France was far in the past, if not a dream. I always intended to write a conclusion, like the obligatory reflection on how I've changed. In fact, I started putting together outlines of ideas while I was still in France, but this entry has been sitting unfinished ever since. I have not been able to force myself to finish it. Ending this blog is really the very last thing in my French journey and while I'm thrilled to be home, I am also struggling to be patient and content as I search for a full-time job and continue to re-adjust. Looking back on the simplicity and security (even though it was always temporary!) of my life in France is tempting and firmly closing that chapter of my life is turning out to much harder than I ever thought.

But today, I mustered up the courage. I could write about my amazing final days in Paris, or how I lucked out and got a deluxe first class seat. which was essentially a private bed, on my flight back. Or even how I have extended my experience by staying in contact with some students and teachers, as well as continuing working with the French language here in the the US. But that's wimping out. So instead, here are some of the biggest challenges that I faced while in France.

By far, the hardest thing for me to do was to let go of perfection. My life was completely new. I was in an immersive language and culture experience, teaching at a level I never have before, traveling to countries where I didn't speak the language, and living with roommates. Everything was new to me, but at first I still kept that benchmark of perfection for myself. Obviously, that proved to be impossible. Within the first month, I realized that while I was telling my students that it was okay to make mistakes, I wasn't allowing myself that grace. That fear of messing up was keeping me from talking in French with others, and trying new ideas in the classroom. I was missing out on opportunities to improve my language skills, see new places, and connect with people. As soon as I allowed myself to not take my mistake personally, my French got better because I used it more. I planned some new, more creative lessons. A few were flops, but others were great!!

In addition, I had to stop caring what other people thought about me. At first I was so concerned with sticking out, that I didn't want to draw attention to myself by having different opinions or wearing "weird" clothes, which all sounds really silly now. But then I realized it was okay that I looked or acted like I didn't belong...because I didn't!! It seemed so revolutionary at the time, but once I let go of that, I was able to have great conversations with students and colleagues about American fashion, political ideas, historical perspectives, and pop culture. Of course we talked about these ideas and differences in a structured way in class, but by my doing or saying something different, we were able to have those conversations spontaneously. And those conversations were often much better and meaningful than the ones I had planned.

Born out of these challenges was a new sense of confidence in trying new things.  My life and travels were all new and I needed that confidence to make the most of my time. But, I have carried the confidence back to the US as well. Here's ridiculous, but concrete, example. Previously, I did not like going to restaurants I had never been to before unless I had someone who had been there before with me to explain how this particular establishment did things, where you order, pay, specials, etc. It wouldn't stop me from going somewhere new, but it was a conscious preference I had. Now, I don't worry about it because I have navigated totally new restaurants in places where I didn't speak the language, and having that new experience in my native tongue is no longer intimidating. I will simply ask the questions because I'm not afraid of sticking out like I don't belong. I take my own bags to the grocery store because I don't care if the cashier things I'm weird. I don't mind waiting until 8 or 9 to eat dinner. Sometimes, I wish I could safely walk the 2 miles to the grocery store. I know these little things sound silly, but I believe that the confidence to do these little things builds into confidence for the larger, more daunting, and more important tasks.

Enfin, that concludes the vulnerable self-reflection. I couldn't visit Versailles and Giverny without sharing at at least a few photos. :)

The castle of Versailles

The water garden at Giverny, Monet's home


The memorial in Marie-Antoinette's prison cell in the Conceirge

Looking down on Notre Dame from the tower

So that's it. C'est fini. La fin. My time in France is officially over, and I have returned a more confident version of myself, more certain of my values and goals, and more willing to branch out in to the unknown and try new things. And because of that, I will never forget this adventure.

From Indiana with love

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Madame Bettner goes to York!

I was lucky enough to have not just 1, but 2, travel opportunities with my schools this year. The first was to London back in February, and last week I went with a group to York. Even though the travel time was much longer (24 hours one direction) and the students were younger (12-14), the trip itself was much calmer and, for me, more enjoyable than the trip to London. York is a much smaller city, so the likelihood of them getting hit by a bus or taxi while not paying attention was also a lot lower. I  believer there was an inverse correlation between that factor and my personal enjoyment during the 2 trips.

Although this was not my first trip to England, it was so different from my trip to London, that everything was new. Instead of taking the Eurotunnel on the bus, we took a ferry across the North Sea from the Netherlands. When I say a ferry, I mean a really big boat. Not a Carnival cruise ship (thankfully!), but multiple levels of cabins, shops, restaurants, and bars. Choosing to take the boat instead of driving greatly increased the travel time, but it allowed us to relax a little. On both legs of the journey, we took the ferry at night. We had cabins, so everyone was able to sleep in a bed instead of on the bus, take showers, walk a little, and we also got 2 hot, good meals on the boat. As a plus for me, leaving the Netherlands and returning through Belgium meant that I got extra stamps in my passport!!

The boat was run by an English company, so as soon as we got on the boat, we switched to English culture, food, and language. The students' reactions to everything, the food especially, were so varied. Some kids would not touch the meat filled English breakfast or the curries for supper. But we had 2 boys that ate everything. One boy, who actually has a mysterious allergy to something but he doesn't know what, literally tried every single food in each buffet. He was so curious and liked most of it. And thankfully no allergic reactions. The other, was just a growing teenage boy. He was always the last to leave the restaurant, at which point we always saw him eating alone, with his multiple desserts and a big smile.

English sheep! How do they baaaa with an English accent?
York, as I mentioned, is much smaller than London and in the northern countryside. It was nice to see all of the small farms and sheep that I didn't see in my previous trip. And spring is just starting, so everything was green and beautiful! The city was founded by the Romans, fortified by William the Conqueror, and then became an important center of the wool trade and textiles. All of these pieces of history can be found somewhere in the city, and we had a lot of free time to just explore the historical downtown area. We also visited some other structured attractions in the city. The York Castle Museum is built were York Castle once stood and is housed in the old female prison and debtors prison. The museum displays recreated period rooms, a full-size Victorian street, as well as the history of the debtors prison. We visited the Railway Museum, which has multiple engines on display to show changes in engine mechanics and construction, but also more cultural things, like the royal railcars. Honestly, I wished we could have spent more time in this museum, because it was the end of the first day and everyone was exhausted. We didn't spend much time there and I didn't have the energy to fully see and appreciate everything.

Who knew?!
The other major attraction in York itself was York Minister. The cathedral is beautiful, with an incredible amount of detail, like other Gothic cathedrals I've seen. There is a chapel devoted to St. Nicholas, multiple sets of celebrated stained glass, an ornate choir and a chapter house. The whole church is beautiful and we spent a lot time going through each section and discussing its history. We also got to climb the 275 steps up to the top of the central tower. The panoramic view of the city and countryside was beautiful. Unfortunately, the day we went, there  were wind gusts over 60 mph, so we didn't stay at the top long. But the kids really enjoyed it and I always like seeing an aerial view of the cities I visit.

York Minster

The choir

View from the top

Two of the days we spent at locations outside of York. We spent one day in the seaside city of Whitby. An hour north of York, on the North Sea, Whitby is small former fishing/sea faring. It also happens to be where James Cook, the famous explorer, used to live. In the morning, we had a guided tour of the James Cook Museum, which is housed in the house where he lived, although he only rented 1 room. The museum mostly focuses on his voyages and life, but has some general information about ship travel during the 16th and 17th centuries. We ate lunch in an old-cemetery, up on a cliff overlooking the sea. It was beautiful!! We had free time all afternoon in the town. Since Whitby is mostly a tourist town now, there were all kinds of small boutiques and gift shops that the kids loved. But we could also walk along the pier and watch the sea, which is what I opted to do. On the way home, we drove through the Yorkshire moors, and I was really excited to see a real English moor. I've read too many Romantic English novels not to appreciate the vastness and possible supernatural and emotional effects of a moor.


Where we had lunch

The moors. Thankfully, we missed seeing a glowing hound 
from hell or the spirit of Catherine Earnshaw.

My favorite visit was to Fountains Abbey. Fountains Abbey operated for about 400 years, opening in 1132 but closed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries after he separated England from the Catholic church. The Abbey fell into ruins, but is fairly well preserved and is amazingly beautiful. The ruins are in a huge park, so we toured the ruins of the abbey and then walked through the park for the rest of the day. The Abbey is breathtaking, and the park was so peaceful and relaxing. There were multiple small lakes and a deer park, although we didn't see any deer. That evening, I got to visit my first English pub, though we didn't stay long. It was a nice country pub called The Dormouse. It was, by far, the best day! 

The trip was long and tiring with the students, but was really wonderful. It was great to get to know the students outside of the classroom. Here are just a few anecdotes that why explain why they are fun. 1) Just like in London, they were enamored with the squirrels in the parks. As we were relaxing the first day, one of the boys came sprinting up to me and yelled, "Courtney, there's a squirrel! Come see it!!!!" They were obsessed with getting a good video of them and chased these poor squirrels all over the park for 30 minutes. 2) It was really funny in Whitby because a group of students actually bought the same sunglasses as me. They had them in yellow, like me, but also green, pink, white, and orange. They were all wearing them together, being funny, and then saw me and were surprised I had bought some too. They were even more surprised when I explained that I had had my for over a year already and that they just bought the same sunglasses as their teacher. 3) Another boy listened to a kids song about a little pony incessantly, driving the people around him crazy. So naturally, I taught him the pony dance from the 60s to go along with his song. It was so funny watching him and his friends try and do it. They really struggled, which just made it funnier. Someone, somewhere, has a video of me doing it with them in front of York Minster. Update: For anyone even remotely interested, a student has kindly posted a link to the little pony song on my facebook wall. AND, he made a very good attempt at translating the lyrics into English. See, doing silly things with my students is actually a teaching strategy, not just me being ridiculous.

It was really hard to say goodbye at the end. This trip was my last official action as an English assistant. When we arrived back at the school, it was the start of a 2 week vacation and I will be back in the US before they start classes again. This group of kids (2 of classes) were awesome all year and so much fun to work with. Going on this trip with them was really a fantastic way to end my time here in France.

From York with love

(extra love if you get the 2 explicit literature references)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Things I'm going to miss...

I leave France soon, in less than 3 weeks, which seems so weird!! I am super excited to come home (which I hope is a given), but there are still things here that I am going to miss. I have been asked by a few people what I'm going to miss the most, which is impossible to answer. So here is a small list, which is by no means comprehensive. It contains small, unimportant things, as well as things that have really touched me, but all are things I will fondly remember about my time in France.

~ Watching the mail get delivered by a mailman on a moped, riding on the sidewalk
~ Baguettes and croissants
~ Cheap, good cheese
~ My roommates, who have been so great to have during these 7 months!
~ Speaking French regularly
~ Catching up on old TV shows  on French TV that I can't watch in the US. Is the A-Team still on any American channel? Because you can watch 6 hours of it every Saturday in France!  Also: Little House on the Prairie, MacGyver, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Zorro, all of the old Simpsons, Xena: Warrior Princess, Walker, Texas Ranger, The Wild Thornberries, Malcom in the Middle and Bewitched.
~ the ease of walking to the store, and the expectation that it's normal. If I willingly walked a 1.5 miles one way to the store, people in the US would think I was crazy. Here, it's ok, or at least not as weird.
~ the ease of travel to experience other countries, languages, and cultures
~ Baguettes
~ The cheap, but still good, wine
~ French pharmaceutics and cold medicine. I'm convinced it's a bajillion times more effective than anything I have ever bought at CVS, and the pharmacists are super helpful and can do more than in the US.
~Taking my own bags to the grocery store and it being normal. Guess I will just be going to Aldi's!
~Having a Medieval church and a Renaissance castle just up the road.
~A view of the mountains! (I know I can get that in the US, just not in Indiana)
~the price of health care. Going to the doctor, even without insurance, costs about 30 euros.
~Trains and the extensive public transportation system
~ My students, even the tough ones, because they taught me about teaching and how to deal with difficult children.
~seeing everyone's  Doppelgangers  or at least what they would like as a kid. It really is crazy how exactly alike so many people look.
~how TV shows only have 1 commercial break during the average episode. You watch 12 minutes, have 3 minutes of commercial, and then the rest of the episode. It's so much better than commercials ever 3 minutes. 
~teaching regularly, although hopefully that will be remedied soon
~the small, specialized food shops (butcher, bakery, etc.) which are classically French
~the tiny cars

I'm sure there a hundreds of other things that I will think of, especially once I get back. But in the mean time, I'm trying to savor these things now, before I leave.

From Roussillon with love

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The United Nations and Nuclear Fission

Even though my crazy busy vacation was only 3 weeks ago, I have already done some neat things that I want to share.

On the first weekend back, I was able to spend all day Saturday in Geneva, Switzerland. It is only about 3 hours by train, so we were able to do a day trip. It is, by far, one of the most beautiful places that I have visited. Nestled up in the mountains and on the shore of a large lake with huge fountain (Jet d'Eau), the surroundings make even just being outside a pleasure. Plus we had nice, mostly sunny weather. It is also a relatively small city for its international importance, and did not feel like a big city at all. In fact, walking along the shore of lake, watching the sailboats with the mountains in the distance, was one of the most calm and tranquil afternoons that I have had in a long time.

Jet d'Eau with Mont Blanc hiding in the distance

We spent the day just walking around the city and there are 2 distinct sections: the Old Town, and the newer international area. The historic section of Geneva is like most old European cities: small cobblestone streets or a pedestrian zone, old buildings, churches, etc. The architectural details were a little different that some other places I've visited, but that's to be expected. One of the biggest differences is that the churches are protestant, not catholic (except for the 1 Russian Orthodox church we saw. We walked in accidentally in the middle of baptism!). Because the city as whole adopted and played an important role in the Protestant Reformation, the churches (including the former catholic cathedral) are protestant and there are multiple monuments to the Reformation. One of the neatest was the Reformation Wall, which is a long wall with statues of the some of the most prominent reformers, including John Calvin, John Knox, Roger Williams, Oliver Cromwell, and Theodore Beza. The city also offers homage to watchmaking. There are clocks everywhere in the city, including sun dials on the sides of buildings. There are also multiple high-end watch shops, each with their own clock hanging from the awning. And I can't forget the large flower clock!

The center of the Reformation Wall

The flower clock

The other part of Geneva is the newer, international area, called the Place of Nations. The Geneva headquarters of the UN are there, along with the Red Cross, and the Human Rights Commission. There was not anyone there because it was Saturday, but it was still neat to see the building, with all the flags out front. There is also the sculpture, Broken Chair, which was erected in 1997 as a symbol against the use of land mines. As a city that has a significant international presence, there was a large diversity in the other tourists* and the city inhabitants, which is always fun for me. It was like being Brussels all over again. But prettier. 

The United Nations!

On the other end of the spectrum, I was able to do something really cool right here near Roussillon. I accompanied a school trip to the nearby nuclear power plant! It was not really any different than visiting any other power plant because we only got to see the warehouse where the turbine and alternator are. It is a pressurized steam system, like what can be used with coal too (I think), but they use a nuclear fission reaction to heat the water. I wish I could explain better, but I don't know the English equivalents for all of the more technical words I learned. The visit as a whole was really awesome. The site is set-up for public visits, so there was an hour presentation before the tour, where they explained how electricity is made in general, nuclear energy in France, and then about this specific site. The guides did a wonderful job keeping the 15 year-olds engaged and they explained everything simply enough that even I was able to understand, despite the potential language barrier, because I don't know scientific words in French. 

The other cool thing was the amount of security. We had to register our party with the site ahead of time and provide photocopies of our ID cards/passports, bring our ID cards to the site, and then we were each assigned a badge and a personalized code to use. From the time we got the codes to when we actually entered the site, I had used the code 3 times and gotten searched. Then we used it another 3 or 4 times simply walking through the site. They take all kinds of other precautions, such as cameras everywhere, and strictly controlled access to the main control room. The 8 people that work there each shift are locked in the control room and are no one is allowed to enter or leave during the shift. It all makes sense because it is a nuclear site with uranium and a live fission reaction. Also, I was scanned to make sure I wasn't radioactive before I left. So no super powers, unfortunately, 

The most memorable part of the trip was really just being with the students outside of English class. I got to see first hand their studies in science and how interested some of them were. I don't know if this applies to other people, but I've discovered that since I teach only one subject, it becomes so easy to pigeon hole a student based on his or her performance in my class. When in reality, I have a lot students that either just don't like English or struggle in it, but do well and work hard in other subjects. It's nice to be reminded of that and see it first hand as they were asking questions and explaining what they already know. 

I also got into a debate with one of the girls on the bus ride back to the school. 3 girls were listening to music and they offered to let me hear what it was, and it was, sadly, My Heart Will Go On. They started telling my how much they liked Titanic, and I explained that I laughed at the end and was mad because there was totally room for Jack on the door. They agreed with me. Then one of the girls said that it was so sweet that it was a true story. I quickly told her that, of course the Titanic is real, but the story of Jack and Rose isn't. She didn't believe me. I tried to explain how it's just a story, and she kept saying, "But the old woman at the end is telling the story. It's her story." I finally got her to understand that it was just made up and she was kind of disappointed. It wasn't serious or mean  but since we were not in English class, I spoke French, and so we had this discussion back and forth in French. It was good to have an opportunity for a more personal connection with them outside of class.

From Switzerland with love.

*Although I suppose my group itself with an American, a German, and an Italian, is pretty diverse. 

And as a separate note, I wanted to share with you my struggles with English. Rather often, I can't think of the right English words, or I speak the way my students do. While writing this, I had to think for a long time how to explain my visit to le centre nucléaire. I finally settled on electric nuclear plant, but I knew that didn't sound right. It took googling it to discover and remember that I normally call a plant that generates electricity, a power plant. I can no longer speak English. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Playing princess 1.2

Here are all of the other castles that I visited. They get increasingly cooler, so keep reading! You can also read about the first castles I visited here

The castle of Langeais was one of the oldest castle. A castle on this site were originally built in the 10th century, but was destroyed during the Hundred Years War. It was rebuilt in 1465 and bridges the Medieval and Renaissance styles. It looks like a Medieval fortress, complete with ramparts and a drawbridge. However, it does not have the functional aspects of a fortress. It's built in the middle of a city, has large windows, and, most importantly, was never meant to be a fortress. The castle is famous for hosting the wedding of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany in 1491, which paved the way for Brittany to become a part of France. The furnishings inside are from the 15th to 16th century and were excellently done. There is also a large garden behind the castle, along with some ruins from a tower built in 994.

Langeais from the gardens
Walking through the ramparts
Looking down on the drawbridge. It is still raised and lowered every day

The flooring in the castle was really cool! It had multiple different tiles and wood designs.
The next set of castles were in the same city. The first wasn't really a castle, more of a large house. It's the Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci lived out the last few years of his life and died. Invited to live at the castle of Amboise by François I, da Vinci replied that he needed to live in a quiet place, away from the intrigues of the court. So the king gave da Vinci the former royal summer residence in the same city. The beautiful home was built in 1471 and has lovely brick work on the outside. Inside, most of the house is a homage to da Vinci, with multiple paintings on display, as well as many of his most famous quotes. The basement is completely devoted to his inventions.

Just across the city from the Clos Lucé, is the castle of Amboise. Amboise became a royal residency in 1431. It's a wonderful example of French Renaissance architecture  The castle is in the middle of the city, but built up on a high terrace so that it overlooks the city and the Loire River. The castle was used by French kings until the 19th century, so the interior decorations are organized chronologically into different eras according to the building renovations, so the different styles of furniture and art are displayed with the right architecture. There is also a small chapel on the grounds where da Vinci is buried.

The castle of Amboise from the terrace
St. Hubert chapel

the detailing around the windows

I cannot take credit for this picture, but it shows the front of the castle and how it rises up over the city . I was in a  moving car when I saw this view, and couldn't snag a picture. The big tower on the left is a ramp all the way to the top that was made for carriages to get from street level to the terrace and the castle door.

Next was the castle of Chambord, which isn't just a castle, but a huge estate. Its construction was started in 1519 by François I. It was originally intended to be a hunting lodge, but is the biggest castle I visited, with over 426 rooms. It's not just the castle that's huge. The estate of Chambord, which has a 32 km stone wall surrounding it, covers 20 square miles (the same size as Paris!!). The original designs for the castle were done by da Vinci, but the design was changed substantially before construction. This castle has multiple stunning features, including the double-helix staircases, really big fireplaces (over 300 of them!), gorgeously carved ceilings, and a terrace on top where one can see both the immense detailing on the roof and the huge tracts of land surrounding the estate.


The double helix staircases

The ceilings were carved with Fs and
salamanders to represent François I.
The central dome from the terrace

Looking from the top towards the long drive to the entrance

The final castle I visited was Chenonceau, which was my personal favorite, so it was good I visited it last. The first part of the castle was built in the early 16th century by a noble family. However, once the castle came into royal possession, it was consistently lived in by mostly women, starting with Henry II's mistress, then his wife Catherine de Medici, then his daughter-in-law, etc. Each oversaw additions and renovations and the feminine touch seems to give the castle a very different feel. It's expanse over the River Cher is incredible and the gardens are exquisite. Every detail inside, from the floors to the ceiling, is done very precisely and every room is visibly striking, but without seeming gaudy or tacky. As one of the most visited castles, Chenonceau's upkeep and presentation is also immaculate. From the tapestries and paintings to every small piece of furniture, it's just perfect! Oh, and there's a donkey farm. It can't get much cooler. 

The entrance. The door is the original wooden door, with the coat of arms of the 
husband and wife who built it.

The 2 fireplaces in the kitchen, for cooking
and for baking bread.
The meat room in the kitchen. There are
still knives, chopping blocks, and meat hooks on the walls.

The Five Queens' Bedroom, my favorite room in the house. It is named in honor of Catherine de Medici's 2 daughters and 3 daughters-in-law. The ceiling has each of their coat of arms.

The gallery, which is the room that spans the river. During WW 1, the entire castle,
including this room, served as a hospital.

Going over the River Cher. During WW 2, this river was the border between Occupied and Free France.  Since the castle has access on both sides of the river, it was used by the Resistance to move people across the border.

In addition to these, I also saw the castles of Blois, Chaumont, and Luynes, but just from a distance. Luynes still owned and lived in by the original family! I also spent a day visiting the city of Tours, which has a cathedral that rivals Notre Dame in Paris, ancient Roman ruins, and medieval houses in the historic center. It was an unforgettable trip!

From Tours with love

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Playing princess for a day

Visiting the Loire Valley was one of the things I really wanted to do during my stay in France, and during the last vacation, I was able to spend 4 days there, visiting 8 castles and the city Tours. The trip was a whirlwind and very exhausting, but completely worth it!!! It would really be impossible to share the entire experience through writing, so I'm going to mostly pictures instead.

The Loire Valley has a very rich history, which contributes to the excessive number of castles in the region. During the 14th and 15th, and even into the 16th centuries, the Loire Valley was one of, if not the, central of power in France. It's only about an hour by train west of Paris, and just south of the Brittany region. The royal families, specifically Francois I, preferred spending most of their time in the Loire Valley. This led to the building of multiple royal castles, but also led the nobility to build multiple castles to be close to the royal family. During this time, France was often at war with England and Brittany was not yet a part of France, so the Loire River was an important natural frontier. And being the longest river in France (it actually starts in the south of France near where I live), the Loire was also extremely important for trade. All of these reasons led the Loire Valley's importance and thus, abundance of castles. Even after the central power shifted to Paris, the castles in the Loire Valley were still lived in and often renovated to match the latest fashion.

Here are just a few things about all of the visits.

1. The rooms in the castles that are open for visits are almost always furnished. Each castle does this to varying degrees. Some places felt like a museum, with paintings and tapestries on every wall and furniture filling the room. Others attempted to recreate the room as it would have been during a certain era. Many of the castles were in use from their construction well into the 1800s, so some castles show 3 different centuries worth of furniture. 

2. Most of the castles are made out of limestone and are actually constructed on the foundations of medieval fortresses. Even though the temperature was in the 50s when I visited, the limestone made the castles very cold. In order to help combat this, some of the larger castles actually had fires burning in the giant fireplaces. It was really nice to be able to warm up during the visit, and it really contributed to the atmosphere of the visit. In addition, I got to see firsthand how incredibly inefficient it was at heating the place and how incredibly important and practical tapestries were. 

The first castle I visited was Azay-le-Rideau. It was constructed in the early 1500s by Francois I's notary, Gilles Berthelot. It's built on a small island in the middle the Indre river. It changed ownership multiple times and like most of these castles, has been continually updated and changed since its original construction.

The fireplace in the kitchen

The royal bedroom was the reserved for the king,
should he choose to visit. Louis XIII stayed here in 1619.

The salamander was the symbol of Francois I.  Most of the castles during this time of a carving of it somewhere.

The next castle I visited was Villandry. This castle was built in 1536 by the Minister of Finance for Francois I. While a medieval castle was razed to make room for Villandry, the keep is still there. While it was built at the same time as Azay-le-Rideau, it was inspired by Italian architecture The castle was redesigned in the 18th century by the new owners. Another family bought the castle in 1906, and for 4 generations has been trying to restore it to its original state. Most importantly, they have recreated a large 16th century garden that is meticulously maintained and is really why the castle is so well known. The day we visited, they had just started planting the spring rotation of flowers and vegetables, but it was still beautiful.

The entrance and main courtyard of Villandry
Looking at the castle from across the gardens.
From here, you can see the old medieval keep.
The ceiling in the oriental drawing room.
It was made by Moorish craftsmen.

A view of the gardens. In front is the ornamental gardens and behind that is the vegetable and flower gardens. You can't see the water garden off the left, or the woods behind me, or the sun garden in the distance, or the labyrinth  The gardens are huge!

The next castle was Ussé. This castle has not been as well kept as some of the others (I also didn't like that they used mannequins in the rooms. With the wigs and eyes, they just creep me out!). BUT, it was still beautiful and it is still notable because it inspired the writing of Sleeping BeautyThe castle is one of the most remote that I visited, sitting just on the edge of the Chinon Forest. This castle is the perfect example of additions and changes made over the years. As it stands today, it was constructed over a period of 3 centuries and both the interior and exterior reflect the changing styles. Some really neat features of this castle included the small, but beautiful, chapel built on the grounds, the tour leading through the ramparts and attic, and the passage from the oldest room in the castle to the middle of the Chinon Forest. It's blocked now but still neat to have the entrance and staircase open.

The castle from the gardens on the lower terrace. The left side of the castle was built first in the 1400s, then going right, additions were made until 1690. 

The main courtyard

Detailing around the windows and on the roof

The other side of the oldest wing

The other 5 castles are coming soon!