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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Rainy Day

This week was a busy one, but there wasn’t much extra going on other than our usual classes and activities, so I didn’t get many pictures. The students are settling into what French life is like in Saumur and routines are forming. They are up early for class during the week, we have lunch together, we go back for another class, and then afternoon activities. Around 4:00pm we say good-bye to them and they spend the evenings with their host families eating dinner, working on homework, watching T.V., visiting other families, playing with host brothers and sisters, all the while practicing their French and getting so much better! I may have already said this, but their progress amazes me.

The one thing that’s been a little different is the rain. We haven’t had any before now and yesterday when we were on our way back to Saint-Louis for the afternoon, it came pouring down. Of course, many of us had left our umbrellas in the classroom while we went to lunch, so below is the result of our 15-minute walk from lunch to Saint-Louis. This is one of the many times I’m so thankful to be in France where there is no air conditioning! We watched a movie yesterday afternoon during our activity time and had there been AC in the amphitheater, we would have frozen to death because we were all soaked!

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As you can see, they didn’t seem too heart-broken about it. They seemed to have a pretty good time nonetheless. In fact, Bente made the most of the rain by bringing inside her new friend Gary, pictured here:

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Don’t worry, after passing him around the group for a few minutes from leaf to leaf, she finally exclaimed: “Okay, je vais libérer Gary maintenant!” (which roughly translates to: “Okay, I’m going to free Gary now!”) and took the little guy outside. Leave it to our students to have fun, even in the rain.

Next week, we will visit the office of the mayor on Wednesday where I will try to get a video of our students in choir singing La Marseillaise (the French national anthem) to post for you. Then Thursday and Friday we are headed to Normandy! It should be another busy week, with ample opportunity for more pictures, so stay tuned!

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Cell phones and châteaux

This past week was really busy as everyone adjusted to life in Saumur, life with host families, and days spent in class and doing activities at the Institution Saint-Louis. We met with the host families and students together this past Wednesday night and everything went really well. Your students are in great hands with these families who genuinely seem so kind and generous toward everyone in our group. They were very complimentary of the students as well, remarking how much progress they have already made in their language learning.

The students also received their cellphones this week! It was quite a blast from the past for me personally as the cellphones they received look not unlike one of my first phones when I was their age! They had a time trying to figure out how to send text messages and put in phone numbers. Here are some pictures of some of their reactions to such “advanced” technology, haha.

Lexi and her intense concentration

Lexi and her intense concentration

Andrew doesn't quite know what to do with his new phone. :)

Andrew doesn’t quite know what to do with his new phone. 🙂

Julia and Alex are clearly very excited.

Julia and Alex are clearly very excited.

Rachel's got it covered while Roxie and Etura figure things out together.

Rachel’s got it covered while Roxie and Etura figure things out together.

Once we got the communication under control, Friday was free for our first excursion!! We spent a lovely day touring the Château de Chambord and the Château de Chenonceau with a quick stop in Blois to look at, but not tour, the Château de Blois and to eat lunch. It was a long day with lots of driving, but the instructors were prepared with music for the bus ride. The students said they enjoyed visiting these grand palaces and their gardens and most seemed to prefer the Château de Chenonceau because of the beautiful flowers and the water. Here are some pictures so you can see what you think:

Here is the front of the Château de Chambord

One group of students inside the outer walls of Chambord

One group of students inside the outer walls of Chambord

A shot of the towers on top of Chambord

A shot of the towers on top of Chambord

A group shot in front of the Château de Blois - we didn't go in, but we had lunch in the gardens around the château.

A group shot in front of the Château de Blois – we didn’t go in, but we had lunch in the gardens around the château.

Next we arrived at the Château de Chenonceau

Next we arrived at the Château de Chenonceau

Another of the smaller groups in the "Allée des anes" (donkey alley) just in front of the donkey pen.

Another of the smaller groups in the “Allée des anes” (donkey alley) just in front of the donkey pen.

Another group on the tree-lined path that leads to the Château de Chenonceau itself

Another group on the tree-lined path that leads to the Château de Chenonceau itself

It was quite a day! The weather was just perfect and I think the students had a really good time. They said it was a nice break from classes. This week is going to be full as well. Coming up Monday we have an optional activity swimming at the local indoor pool. Before I get too far behind on posting pictures, I would also like to post one from the photo hike that I forgot the other day. In keeping with the château theme, here is the group in front of the Château de Saumur – our home! 🙂

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I hope you all have had a great week-end. I will post more pictures soon of our activities coming up this week, so stay tuned!

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Bonjour du Château de Saumur! / Hello from the Château de Saumur!

I have a brilliant treat for you this evening! My colleague, Amy Conrad, our Student Coordinator, brought an excellent little video camera and she took this video of your students today during our photo hike around the beautiful city of Saumur. Here is the link to the video that you can view through GoogleDocs: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx1XCnO6Ux-gX1ZtWWpka1phYWM/edit?usp=sharing. Anyone who has the link can view it, but it is completely private from the public. You can see that the sky was quite grey and the wind a little chilly, but we were thankful for the cool weather when it came to climbing up all the stairs to get to the château! Amy gave us a great view of the château and our students are sending this message to you: “Bonjour les familles aux États-Unis!” which translates to “Hello families in the United States!” They miss you all, but we are having a wonderful time!

 

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We have arrived!

Hello again parents, guardians, friends, and family!

We finally arrived in Saumur yesterday around 15:30 (around 10:30am for those of you in Indiana). The plane ride was long and I don’t think much sleep was gotten by any of us, so the three-hour bus ride was quite short in comparison as everyone slept most of it.

Most of the group at the airport in Chicago! Unfortunately, I missed Tommy!! He was getting something to drink and the airport was so crowded I couldn't get him in before we had to let everyone else pass. I felt so badly about it, I took a picture of just him to feature on the blog so you will know that I'm doing my best to get everyone in and get some good pictures. I got him in a group shot our first day in Saumur which you will also see below. I promise not to leave anyone out of the group shots again! :)

Most of the group at the airport in Chicago! Unfortunately, I missed Tommy!! He was getting something to drink and the airport was so crowded I couldn’t get him in before we had to let everyone else pass. I felt so badly about it, I took a picture of just him to feature on the blog (see below) so you will know that I’m doing my best to get everyone in and get some good pictures. I got him in a group shot our first day in Saumur which you will also see below. I promise not to leave anyone out of the group shots again! 🙂

We were delighted to see the students’ host families waiting for us when we arrived in Saumur. They were so excited to meet the students and seemed to welcome them warmly into their homes for the summer.

Our first day today at the Institution Saint-Louis (a local middle and high school at which we are using classroom space) went very, very well! We had some orientation activities to help the students get to know the school, their classes and other activities, the director Monsieur Jean-François Boivin gave a welcoming introduction to the students, and we played some games and hung out in the beautiful courtyard. The students were still pretty tired from traveling, but they seemed fairly energetic and excited to get started.

Monsieur Boivin (on the right) as he gave his introduction to our students

The front of the Institution Saint-Louis

Tommy's first day at the Institution Saint-Louis!

Tommy’s first day at the Institution Saint-Louis!

Some more excited students!

In one of our classrooms. We have four available for our use only this summer. There is also internet access and computers - quite a luxury in classrooms in France!

In one of our classrooms. We have four available for our use only this summer. There is also internet access and computers – quite a luxury in classrooms in France!

The pictures here were taken at lunch at the Habitat Jeunesse Saumurois where the instructors are staying for the duration of the program. This is where the students will eat lunch every weekday we are in Saumur. They have great food!

Happily fed after yet another orientation 🙂

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During our support group meetings this morning we asked the students what they had eaten with their host families the night before. Some students tried many different types of cheeses they had never had before, while others enjoyed such traditional French delicacies as croque-monsieur (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with cheese on the outside and mustard and ham on the inside) and quiche lorraine (a baked egg dish with a crust and various vegetables). We had a wide variety of answers for what the students were able to try and an overwhelming consensus that everything was delicious, so know that they are being well-fed in France!

Some students trying to untangle themselves from the "human knot" (a game we played) this afternoon. It proved to be quite a challenge and a great way to review some vocabulary like "over", "under", and "through"!

Some students trying to untangle themselves from the “human knot” (a game we played) this afternoon. It proved to be quite a challenge and a great way to review some vocabulary like “over”, “under”, and “through”!

So far, the instructors have also been so impressed by your students’ French! They are strong speakers because they know how to ask questions and talk around what they wish to say for help with the right vocabulary words. Everyone remained in French all day today without much difficulty! They are only going to get better and they are already so strong so I am very excited to see them progress!

Tomorrow we will have our exam in the morning – the same exam the students took last fall in preparation for the program – so we can gauge how they’ve progressed since last year. I just know they are so excited about it, haha. But in the afternoon, after lunch, we will go on a “photo-randonnée”: a hike/walking tour through Saumur where there will be plenty of time to take pictures and see the city.

A group shot on in the courtyard. The weather is gorgeous!

I hope you enjoy the photos in this post – you can click on any of them to look at them in a larger format or to download them. There will be many more to come as we will continue to stay busy and have fun!!

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