Over the course of four short weeks (with five weekends, two holidays, and a few extra days of my own time) I was able to explore Paris, Versailles, Nantes and the beaches of Pornic, Mont Saint Michel and Saint Malo, and a good number of the Loire Valley Castles.
Although at many times throughout the program I felt lost and in over my head, my host family was always hospitable and helpful. Even when I was starting to feel a little homesick, the platters of cheese, fresh tarts, chocolates and endless French bread always brought a smile to my face.
While school and learning French were my top priorities during the week, each weekend was reserved for getting out of the house and having fun. Students gathered either at place plume or Ganget. There one could find different music entertainment practically every night - from an outdoor screening of Pink Floyd to a talent show filled with students from our school program. And when not hanging out around town my fellow classmates and I went to the Tours central train station where we missed only a few trains on occasion.
In Paris, I explored all the bountiful museums, monuments, tombs and churches that I could find. My top favorites of the trip would have to be the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay and the Eiffel Tower. The Louvre is a literal palace, home to the French monarch until Versailles was built. Each room of the Louvre is a breathtaking marvel of art with such exquisite ceiling detail that no amount of writing could ever do it justice. Droves of people walked down the marble lined halls to an obscure room. There I saw the Mona Lisa for the first time, over the heads of a dozen or so people as they crowded up towards the painting trying to catch a hint of the lady's mysterious smile.
The Musee d'Orsay was an old railway station that was converted in 1977 to the art museum it is today. It housed many of my favorites, including the impressionistic paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edouard Manet. The Eiffel Tower was once a controversial radio antenna and now is an iconic French image that cannot be missed. After going all the way up to the summit, I was able to see all of Paris and felt like I was on top of the world.
From the prestigious halls of Blois to the ludicrously luxurious Chambord, the Chateaux of the Loire Valley proved to be similarly impressive. All of the castles I visited are worth mentioning, but if I had to pick one chateau to highlight, it would be the Chateau du Clos Luce. Located less than a mile from the Regal Chateau d'Ambroise is a humble but elegant building that was the home of Leonardo da Vinci. Hanging on the walls are various quotes by da Vinci and a few copies of his paintings, including the Mona Lisa and St. John the Baptist. In the basement and in the gardens there are intricate engineering models produced from Leonardo's sketches. From basic mechanical creations that are still utilized today to a primitive version of a tank, Leonardo proved over and over again that his mind was centuries ahead of his time.
Looking back, there is a lot more I wish I could have done and perhaps a few things I could have done differently - namely pack lighter and plan accommodation in advance. But even with those tiny set-backs and mistakes, it was all worth it in the end. I know that my time with the study abroad program was not just an experience I can put on my resume, but an adventure I'll remember for the rest of my life.