And so it comes to an end…

Oh my, this week was a whirlwind of activities and preparations for Paris. On Tuesday we received a guided tour of the historical part of Saumur. Our guide’s name was Sophie and she told us all about the history of Saumur from the Middle Ages until now. Here we are at the Château de Saumur and around town:

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Then Wednesday we celebrated Lexi’s birthday with a surprise trip to La Duchesse Anne – a little café near where we have lunch – for some ice cream! I think they were surprised and pleased. The ice cream tasted so good on that hot afternoon as well.

Lexi seemed surprised and pleased - Happy Birthday!

Lexi seemed surprised and pleased – Happy Birthday!

Everyone sang for her right there in front of La Duchesse Anne!

Everyone sang for her right there in front of La Duchesse Anne!

Happily waiting in line for ice cream

Happily waiting in line for ice cream

Such happy faces!

Such happy faces!

Mmm, ice cream tastes better when it's your birthday... and when you're in France... :)

Mmm, ice cream tastes better when it’s your birthday… and when you’re in France… 🙂

I promise they were excited, haha

I promise they were excited, haha

Oh, Jessi... She said her mom would hate this one and she wanted me to put it up just for her. Sorry, Mom!

Oh, Jessi… She said her mom would hate this one and she wanted me to put it up just for her. Sorry, Mom!

After school on Wednesday, we walked to the bowling lanes in Saumur – about a thirty-minute trek from the school – to bowl a couple of games. It was an optional activity that I think most everyone enjoyed. The bowling lanes in France are not much different than those in the US – smelly shoes, beat up bowling balls, silly animations for strikes and spares. Yep, we felt right at home.

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Finally, Friday we said goodbye to the Institution Saint-Louis and had support groups in the morning for the last time. Below are the pictures of our groups.

Amy's support group

Amy’s support group

My support group

My support group

Martin's support group

Martin’s support group

Kelly's support group

Kelly’s support group

Then in the evening, we had our Fête des familles (Farewell show) for the host families. Here’s a picture of everyone looking very nice just outside the amphitheatre before the show started:

A good one...

A good one…

...and a silly one

…and a silly one

If you’d like to see videos of the acts at the show on Friday, Casey and Alex’s host father filmed much of the show and put it on his YouTube channel. Simply go to Youtube.com and type in his name, Marc Lefief, in the search bar. His channel should be the first one that comes up and all the videos are named “Fête des familles 2014”. It was so great of him to do that for us. The students did a wonderful job and the show went so well. It was the perfect ending to a pretty perfect six weeks in Saumur.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Saumur and head to Paris! It will be a very bittersweet, early morning for us as we meet to load the bus at 6:45am. I know tears will be shed as students say goodbye to their host families because they have had such a wonderful time. But the Internet is a wonderful thing and I know many will keep in contact. On the other hand, everyone is thrilled for a few days in Paris! We will get to see and do so many things. Another whirlwind of a few days and then they will be safely back home with you by Wednesday afternoon.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all of you families and friends in the US and elsewhere who supported (emotionally, mentally, and financially) your students’ trip this summer. This group of students is incredible. Friday afternoon they gave each professor a folder with 29 handwritten letters of thanks and gratitude for the program. We were so surprised! I couldn’t keep from crying. I just can’t express to you how amazing your students are and how blessed I have been to be with them for these six weeks. They have improved their French by leaps and bounds, yes, but they have learned so much about life in France and getting along in groups and on their own it’s amazing. They are all – every last one of these 29 wonderful students – responsible, clever, funny, kind, generous, and a million other things and I will miss them so much! Without your support this would not have been possible for them or for us, so thank you so very much.

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Fireworks, Birthdays, Desserts, and the Beach

Per usual, much has happened since my last post. Monday was France’s national holiday, as I mentioned, and even though we weren’t with the students, I know many of them watched the fireworks over the Loire River, so here are some pictures of what we, the professors, saw from our spot near the bridge.

The bridge before the fireworks started and before they turned the lights out. It was a beautiful night.

The bridge before the fireworks started and before they turned the lights out. It was a beautiful night.

My camera has a fireworks setting, so I tried to capture some of what we saw. These were some from the early part of the show.

My camera has a fireworks setting, so I tried to capture some of what we saw. These were some from the early part of the show.

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This week after classes, we also held a “concours de desserts” (a dessert competition) where the students had the opportunity to bake a dessert and bring it in for everyone to taste. We had the White group on Tuesday, the Blue group on Wednesday, and the Red group on Thursday. The professors were the first to taste the delicious concoctions so we could decide on awards for the students. Sometimes our job is so hard. 🙂 We will pass out the awards for each group on Monday.

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On Wednesday, we celebrated Katie and Bente’s birthdays during the dessert competition. Marie-Odile Barbier – Bente’s host mother – also surprised the girls by bringing in raspberry ice cream cake!! It was delicious and the birthday girls were so surprised!

Here is Marie-Odile presenting Bente with the cakes

Here is Marie-Odile presenting Bente with the cakes

Katie and Bente blow out the candles after we sang for them - I wasn't at a very good angle for pictures, sorry about that!

Katie and Bente blow out the candles after we sang for them – I wasn’t at a very good angle for pictures, sorry about that!

Katie and Bente - both 18 now! - with Marie-Odile cutting the cakes and Jordan serving

Katie and Bente – both 18 now! – with Marie-Odile cutting the cakes and Jordan serving

Bente and her host mother

Bente and her host mother

Our excursion this week took place on Friday. We traveled to the coast to spend some time at Saint-Martin de Ré – a coastal town with lots of shopping. Then we spent about an hour on the beach at Ile de Ré before it started raining. We weren’t sure what to do with ourselves after that since we had planned on spending the rest of the afternoon at the beach. However, our wonderful driver Thierry suggested a small town nearby that was hosting a board/card game festival. It stopped raining by the time we got there and the students had a great time eating fair-like food, playing ping-pong at the tables set up, and jumping on the trampolines! Don’t worry, they were safely harnessed in and we watched small children jumping beforehand, so we knew it was okay. 🙂 Our students were so wonderful at going with the flow as we figured out a rain plan that day. They are absolutely the best and can have fun no matter what. I appreciate the opportunity to hang out with them every day.

Fields and fields of sunflowers ("tournesols") on our way to the beach - apparently sunflower oil is very common in French cuisine

Fields and fields of sunflowers (“tournesols”) on our way to the beach – apparently sunflower oil is very common in French cuisine

My small group eating a picnic lunch at Saint-Martin de Ré

My small group eating a picnic lunch at Saint-Martin de Ré

A lovely day for some shopping in Saint-Martin de Ré

A lovely day for some shopping in Saint-Martin de Ré

 

Some of the boats in the harbor at Saint-Martin de Ré

Some of the boats in the harbor at Saint-Martin de Ré

Martin's small group in Saint-Martin de Ré

Martin’s small group in Saint-Martin de Ré

Amy and Martin's idea of a good time at the beach :)

Amy and Martin’s idea of a good time at the beach 🙂

Some students making sure they have on enough sunscreen - little did we know our trip would be short

Some students making sure they have on enough sunscreen – little did we know our trip would be short

Some time in the water - it was absolutely freezing!!

Some time in the water – it was absolutely freezing!!

A view of the bridge that leads to Ile de Ré (the island of Ré)

A view of the bridge that leads to Ile de Ré (the island of Ré)

After it rained on us, here are some pictures at the impromptu game festival stop. See, we can have fun anywhere!

After it rained on us, here are some pictures at the impromptu game festival stop. See, we can have fun anywhere!

We met this nice young lady who was working one of the booths. As it turns out, it was also her birthday, so we sang for her and then I took her picture with my small group.

We met this nice young lady who was working one of the booths. As it turns out, it was also her birthday, so we sang for her and then I took her picture with my small group.

Megan was the first brave soul to step up to the trampolines!

Megan was the first brave soul to step up to the trampolines!

Rachel followed shortly after

Rachel followed shortly after

Grace couldn't quite get the hang of the somersaults, but she had a great time anyway!

Grace couldn’t quite get the hang of the somersaults, but she had a great time anyway!

Gabrielle tried it out as well.

Gabrielle tried it out as well.

Shortly after these last pictures were taken at the game festival, my camera battery died, so I couldn’t get pictures of the rest of the trampoliners or the food or the ping-pong. I’m so sorry! And I didn’t get a very good picture of the group this time either. But don’t worry, there’s plenty more coming up this week. Between our bowling excursion on Wednesday and the Farewell show on Friday, I will have plenty to share with you all soon. Have a great weekend!

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We’re in the news!!

Last week, a reporter from Saumur-Kiosque – an online newspaper in Saumur – came to visit us during the afternoon at school and to take some pictures and video for an aricle! Today the video is up on the website with remarks made by Hayden, Jessi, Sidd, Madeleine, and the professors! I know you might not be able to understand what the students are saying, but they spoke so well about their experience and I knew you’d want to see their smiling faces, so here’s the link: http://www.saumur-kiosque.com/infos_article.php?id_actu=20308

Enjoy!!

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Fontevraud, Discothèque, and Angers

Hello again IUHPFL family and friends! I hope you all had a great week last week. Ours was incredibly busy, so I haven’t had time to post. One of the major things we did on Wednesday was visit Fontevraud – a small town about 30 minutes by bus from Saumur – where we briefly toured the abbey, had lunch at the retirement home, and sang for the residents who also sang for us!

"Welcome to the abbey of Fontevraud"

“Welcome to the abbey of Fontevraud”

Students outside the abbey in Fontevraud

Students outside the abbey in Fontevraud

The abbey in Fontevraud

The abbey in Fontevraud

Intricate sculptures at the doorway of the abbey

Intricate sculptures at the doorway of the abbey

A gorgeous painting inside, on the walls of, the abbey

A gorgeous painting inside, on the walls of, the abbey

The cloister from the inside

The cloister from the inside

The inside of the abbey

The inside of the abbey

At lunch at the retirement home of Fontevraud

At lunch at the retirement home of Fontevraud

At lunch at the retirement home of Fontevraud

At lunch at the retirement home of Fontevraud

Our group singing for the residents

Our group singing for the residents

Some of the residents singing for us! It was great!

Some of the residents singing for us! It was great!

On Friday we had our own discothèque at the school where we played music, ate, and danced our feet off – I was so sore the next day! Since it was in the amphitheatre of the school, we also had access to some costumes and props, so we set up a “Photomaton” (Photo booth) where the students had lots of fun expressing their personalities, haha. The photos below are proof…

Julia and Andrew letting their inner stars shine through :)

Julia and Andrew letting their inner stars shine through 🙂

Jessi channeling Michael Jackson

Jessi channeling Michael Jackson

Emory and Joanna the divas

Emory and Joanna the divas

I'm not sure about Jordan, but he loves Saumur!

I’m not sure about Jordan, but he loves Saumur!

And Grace too!

And Grace too!

Julia, Tommy, and Bente having a good time

Julia, Tommy, and Bente having a good time

Katie the Viking

Katie the Viking

Conga line!

Conga line!

Fun times at the discothèque

Fun times at the discothèque

Dance circle!

Dance circle!

Rachel and Joanna breaking it down in the dance circle

Rachel and Joanna breaking it down in the dance circle

And a little limbo - the host brothers and sisters were the clear winners, but I think they may have had an advantage...

And a little limbo – the host brothers and sisters were the clear winners, but I think they may have had an advantage…

Then Saturday we took some of the students on an optional excursion to Angers – another city just 30 minutes away by train – where we visited the cathedral and the Château d’Angers, ate lunch in the park, and spent the afternoon shopping.

Fun at the train station on the way to Angers

Fun at the train station on the way to Angers

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Jordan "graced" by the two Graces - you can tell he's enthused about it.

Jordan “graced” by the two Graces – you can tell he’s enthused about it.

Walking tour of Angers

Walking tour of Angers

Inside the cathedral in Angers - it was absolutely gorgeous! The pictures don't do it justice. I think it's even more impressive than Notre Dame.

Inside the cathedral in Angers – it was absolutely gorgeous! The pictures don’t do it justice. I think it’s even more impressive than Notre Dame.

The organ

The organ

Gabrielle excited about the Château d'Angers

Gabrielle excited about the Château d’Angers

The Château d'Angers

The Château d’Angers

The group that we took (20 of our 29) to Angers at the château

The group that we took (20 of our 29) to Angers at the château

The Château d'Angers

The Château d’Angers

Kendra inside the château on a narrow staircase

Kendra inside the château on a narrow staircase

Sahaj, Emory, and Sidd on the stairs

Sahaj, Emory, and Sidd on the stairs

A view of the Maine River from the ramparts of the château

A view of the Maine River from the ramparts of the château

On the ramparts of the château

On the ramparts of the château

The tapestry of the apocalypse displayed inside the château, depicting the events of the book of Revelation, is over 700 years old!

The tapestry of the apocalypse displayed inside the château, depicting the events of the book of Revelation, is over 700 years old!

At lunch in the park

At lunch in the park

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It rained a little in the morning in Angers and Bente was very generous at sharing her umbrella. :)

It rained a little in the morning in Angers and Bente was very generous at sharing her umbrella. 🙂

Emory used a scarf to keep herself dry

Emory used a scarf to keep herself dry

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Sahaj decided at one point that he wanted the same bag as Martin, so Martin took him to get it. They also dressed alike that day, by chance, so we've concluded that Sahaj is just as French as Martin. :)

Sahaj decided at one point that he wanted the same bag as Martin, so Martin took him to get it. They also dressed alike that day, by chance, so we’ve concluded that Sahaj is just as French as Martin. 🙂

 

This week will be less busy as far as excursions, but still full of activities as we plan for our Farewell Show next week, put together the program magazine with students’ writing, and plan our activities for Paris! It’s so hard to believe we’ve already been here a month and even harder to believe that in just two and a half weeks we will be landing back in the US! We have kept the students busy, so be prepared for some awfully tired students in a couple weeks. 🙂

Today we celebrate the 14th of July – Bastille Day – by not having class. I’m sure you can understand how disappointed the students were about that… 😉 We attended the parade in town, a welcome at the mayor’s office, and tonight we will be out late enjoying the fireworks being set off above the Loire River. It’s a good time to be in France.

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Normandie

Last Round (I hope): Pointe du Hoc/Utah Beach, American Cemetery, and Caen Memorial

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Ver-sur-Mer

Round Three: Our evening at the beach in Ver-sur-Mer

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Mont Saint Michel

Round Two: Our visit to Mont Saint Michel

 

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Lunch and Tour of Saint Malo

I’m going to try to upload some photos to the blog after all. I really hope it works because I much prefer being able to see the pictures on one page instead of opening them from a GoogleDocs file. So here goes…

First round: eating lunch and touring Saint-Malo

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Saint Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel, La Manche, and Normandie

Let’s try this again…

I had a long and detailed post all ready to go for you yesterday and then Firefox crashed and deleted it all. Incredibly frustrated, I couldn’t stomach trying to re-do the whole thing yesterday, but today is a new day and it’s time to tell you all about our excursion to Normandie.

On Thursday we left bright and early (7:30am) and drove to Saint Malo, a walled city on the coast of the English Channel, and had lunch. We toured the city where we could walk along the ramparts that overlooked the city on one side and the Channel on the other, did some shopping, and (of course) ate ice cream. I think everyone had a good time. Our next stop was the Mont-Saint-Michel, another walled city in the middle of nowhere – seriously, look at the pictures! – which has served several purposes in France’s history since it was built in the 700s. First, it was an abbey for monks, then a protected fortress against British attacks during the Hundred Years’ War, then a prison in the 19th century. Now it serves as quite the tourist attraction. We toured the abbey – the steepled building the rises above the city. As you can imagine, we had quite a time with all those stairs! But it was worth it for a beautiful view of Brittany’s countryside and the abbey.

After seeing the Mont-Saint-Michel, we got back on our chartered bus and headed to the small town of Ver-sur-Mer where we stayed in a youth hostel for the night. The town was nice and quiet and we were only one of two groups there, so it was the perfect setting to rest after a busy day. We ate a delicious dinner at the hostel and then we were able to walk only 10-15 minutes to the beach that evening. The sun was setting over the water and even though the Channel was a bit cold, that didn’t stop us from having a great time. We swam, laughed, ran, laughed, searched for shells and other sea creatures, laughed, had sand fights, did yoga and handstands, and laughed. Personally, this was my favorite part of the trip because we got to relax and spend time together. Plus, I got some gorgeous pictures. Just before the sun set completely, we went back to the hostel, showered, and went to bed so we could get up early again the next morning.

Friday, the Fourth of July, was a very fitting time for WWII sight-seeing. We left the hostel around 8:30am to go to the Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach – one of the beaches where the Americans landed for the invasion of June 6, 1944, D-Day. The landscape was marred forever that day with giant craters bored out by bombs dropped, still visible today with the remains of the bunkers the Germans built. Grass and trees cover the ground that was once only dirt: a sign that new life has taken over, while the scars of its history are just beneath the surface. It’s amazing that 70 years have passed since that day, and the craters are still so deep.

After the Pointe du Hoc, we visited the American cemetery on Omaha Beach – the other landing site for the American troops. The land on which the cemetery was built was given as a gift to the United States by France several years ago, meaning it is technically a piece of American soil. It seemed appropriate that we were able to “return to the U.S.” on July 4th, if only for a few hours. Inside the cemetery, hundreds of white stone crosses and stars of David stand in rows, as if in permanent military formation, representing a huge loss to our country and the world. The group of students I was with seemed to understand the weight of what they were seeing as they knelt to read the names on the stones and take pictures of as many as would fit within their lenses in one shot. As we were exiting the cemetery, the National Anthem began to play over the loudspeaker as a tribute to the 4th. You could tell who all the American tourists were as we turned quietly toward one of the many American flags, put our hands over our hearts, and took a moment’s pause in honor of our country. The students with me also began to hum to the music. It was a lovely moment.

We ended our day of WWII-in-review at the Caen Memorial. First we had lunch outside and then entered the museum to browse the boutique before our visit began. By this time, the students were understandably very tired, so we went through the museum rather quickly and then got to see a short film on D-Day (“Le Jour J” in French). The film consisted of split-screen documentary footage before, during, and after the invasion. It was quite awe-inspiring. Although it was overwhelming the amount of information available to us that day, I think the students appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this particular turning point in history.

After the museum, we headed home again to Saumur. I think the excursion was a huge success and everyone had a great time. Today, we are going to continue our celebration of America as we have a picnic with the host families and students. The choir will sing the national anthem and we will get to talk about what it means to celebrate our country’s independence. Unfortunately, it is raining today so we will have to stay packed under a tent outside, but I think it will still be a great time. At least the weather remained beautiful and sunny in Normandie – a region notorious for nothing but rain all the time.

Sorry this post is so long, but I just wanted to tell you everything about our trip! I promise to try and be more succinct the next time around. WordPress wouldn’t let me upload photos today for some reason, so I will post a link later today to the photos on GoogleDocs. I hope you all had wonderful July 4th celebrations. Know that we are thinking of you and celebrating with you this weekend.

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A Mayoral Welcome

Today in Saumur, our students visited the Hôtel de Ville – the mayor’s office. We were welcomed by some of his advisers, but did not actually get to meet the mayor himself. Everyone dressed formally for the occasion and the students in choir sang the French national anthem. Here is a link to the video: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx1XCnO6Ux-gc2Q1MWtlUllfU28/edit?usp=sharing

Three students: Hayden, Sidd, and Grace Bahler volunteered to speak in front of the group in order to thank the mayor, the city of Saumur, and the host families for welcoming us. They did a wonderful job!! One of the mayor’s advisers/assistants told me how wonderful it was that they spoke and how good it was to hear the students sing the French national anthem. She said that not every group prepares something like that, so she was thankful for the effort we had made. I think we made a great impression. Personally, I was impressed by how well your students carried themselves. You would have been so proud to see them. They dressed so nicely, engaged with the people welcoming us, answered questions about their stay, and were so respectful of the experience. It was lovely. Below are some photos of the day.

After visiting the mayor’s office, we had lunch and headed back to Saint-Louis for sports activities the rest of the afternoon. The students changed clothes and played soccer and frisbee, ran, walked, read, hung out and had a great time. It was nice to relax a little this afternoon after all the hard work they have been putting into their courses – and before we get up so early tomorrow to leave for Normandy! It’s a quick trip and there’s lots to see, so they will be tired when we get back Friday evening. I hope to post sometime Saturday or Sunday about the trip, as well as the picnic we will have Sunday afternoon with the host families to celebrate the Fourth of July!

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