You just can’t get rid of me…

I am very happy to share that two blog posts I wrote for Girl’s Guide to Paris have been published. Anyone considering a trip to Paris should check out their website –it is full of hotel, shopping, touring, and restaurant advice. It makes for great light reading if you are bored and want to plan an imaginary trip to Paris (ahem…like on your lunch break at work). 

Check out their website here: 

http://girlsguidetoparis.com/ 

And you can find my articles by searching “Victoria Hardy” in the search function or click here: 

http://girlsguidetoparis.com/?s=victoria+hardy 

 

And the fun just continues with my new blog: http://toriantoinette.wordpress.com/  I enjoyed writing in Paris so much that I thought I would continue blogging! The “About” section explains the purpose of the blog. Happy Reading (or not…) 

Au Revoir et a Bientot!

A month ago today, I sat in my nearly empty Paris apartment packing up the clothes, bedding, toiletries, and knick-knacks that helped make it a home away from home. I had a 50 pound bag, a carry-on suitcase, one very stuffed longchamp, and my purse (the cab driver was thrilled). I carried with me so much more than these items, however. Returning with me were many memories made, lessons learned, and new friendships (…maybe a few pounds but I like to think of these as “culinary souvenirs”)

Studying abroad had always been a dream of mine. I initially chose my major, International Studies, because it allowed me to combine my passions for history, language, culture, and travel into an academic pursuit. Never has my study felt more complete than while abroad. Although classes were admittedly much easier than the typical Michigan class, I was learning as I rode the metro on my daily commute, grocery shopped, dined in cafes, socialized at bars, visited new countries and cities, explored neighborhoods…my lesson began the moment I hopped on the plane and is one that will continue for years to come.

In addition to all the cultural, historical, and social lessons learned; I learned  about myself. I learned that my best French is spoken after a glass of wine (or two) and I am annoyed about something (it helps me acquire the necessary Parisian attitude and minimizes my wholesome Midwestern tendencies). I learned that I am capable of being spontaneous. As someone who typically likes to have everything planned out, learning just to take things as they come and “go for it” is a valuable lesson that I hope to apply back home as well. I learned that traveling with someone teaches you more about their personality than anything else could.

One of my favorite things about abroad is that I woke up excited for each morning; I always anticipated a new experience. I learned that this sense of opportunity and excitement need not be exclusive to abroad. I am lucky enough to live in an amazing city that is waiting to be explored.

There is so much that I will miss about Paris and the abroad experience. I will miss walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, seeing the Eiffel Tower every day, two euro wine bottles, Pierre Herme macarons, free access to any national museum, meeting new people from all over the world, exploring new cities with old friends, and the constant sense of wonder.

Thank you all for taking the time to read my blog. I loved being able to share it with you! But for now dear readers and the city of Paris…

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Chateau Chenonceau

We didn’t want to waste our nice weather inside a building so we saved our final chateau visit for Saturday morning. Chateau Chenonceau was located just minutes from our hotel. We packed up, checked out, and made our way over to the chateau. 

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The Chateau was first built in the 11th Century. The original chateau was burnt down in 1412. The Chateau began to be rebuilt in 1513. The work was often over-seen by the owners wife, Katherine Briconnet. We all agreed that there was a definite feminine touch to Chenonceau. It was more elegant and refined than Amboise and some of the other Chateau’s I have visited. 

One of the absolute best parts of Chenonceau was the unique flower arrangements in every room. The chateau has a special committee dedicated to creating replicas of floral arrangements in keeping with the style of the room. Here are some of my favorites: 

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The kitchens were spectacular. There were over 150 pieces of gleaming copper cookware. The Chateau was used  as a hospital during World War I for soliders and it is during that time that they installed the large stove top to cook for all the patients. The “staff” dining room was as pretty as any dining room I have seen in any houses back home! 

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My favorite room was the “Estampes Room”. This small room was used as a study. It had 3 windows looking over the beautiful Cher river. The blue walls were covered with frames featuring sketches of the Chateau and its owners. It also had a beautiful floral arrangement filled with my favorite flowers: Gardenias. If only I was writing my blog post from there…it wouldn’t be 2 weeks late :) 

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The audio tour was an hour and a half. It described the Chateau’s architecture and the history of its many residents. It was the perfect way to spend our morning. After the audio tour we took a long stroll around the gardens and ate lunch at the chateau restaurant.  

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Chateau Chenonceau was a unanimous favorite sight! 

 

 

 

Biking, Chateaux, and Wine…OH MY!

After a very long drive to the Loire (shout to Steve for his excellent driving and Jodi for her top notch navigating, I helped out occasionally whenever French was required…) we made it to Chenonceau. Our hotel was lovely. The ivy covered Auberge de Bon Laborer did not disappoint! We set out to explore the town…which took approx. 8 minutes. It consisted of one main street. Of the 7 restaurants in Chenonceaux 3 were closed. One was haut cuisine. We settled on getting quiche and salad at a cute hotel’s restaurant. Over dinner we reminisced on our other trips to Europe. I feel so lucky to have traveled with my family and while abroad. 

The next morning a miracle occurred: we woke up to sun! It was forecasted to be in the mid-60s so perfect biking weather. We drove over to Amboise to rent some bikes. Armed with a map, we made pedaled off towards Chaumont-sur-Loire. We rode along the river, through quaint country towns, and vineyards until we finally reached our final destination. “Caves de Vin” (wine cellars carved into the rock) tempted us as we rode but we resisted and continued on. 

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After our 3.5 hour ride, we re-hydrated with pichets of regional wine while sitting outside in a cafe that faced the Chateau Amboise. A perfect day spent in Loire! Our evening concluded at Chez Bruno, a wine bar where we had one of the best meals of the trip. I finally tried duck, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Thursday morning we had a brief spell of “deja-vu” as we headed back to Amboise and once again rented bikes. This time we decided to head up the Loire in the opposite direction. To our surprise and delight, we stumbled upon a market. Markets are one of my absolute favorite things about France. It is so fun to browse the fresh produce, cheese, meats, fish, bread, pastry and trinket stands. 

After our quick shopping stop, we continued on our way. Our ride took us past this interesting little garden wall lined with all sorts of teapots: 

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We had the brilliant idea of getting off the bike trail in order to take a different way back. I use the word “brilliant” with every ounce of sarcasm I can muster. After a quick detour ON TO A HIGHWAY, we decided to hop back onto the bike trail. *I would like to note that I advocated for staying on the trail the whole time…Parents, they think they know whats best ;) 

Once back on the blissfully car, truck, and motorcycle free trail we stopped to enjoy a picnic underneath a tree on a wine vineyard. Tres francais, n’est-ce pas? 

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Later we laughed over our detour while once again enjoying some pichets. For the first time in France, we indulged in a full “menu” for dinner. We dined at a very charming dinging room at the Relais Chenonceau. Despite American’s reputation for being fast eaters we were the first table at the restaurant and the last to leave! It was our last chance to have a long and leisurely meal and we really took advantage of it. 

Mont St. Michel

After a fascinating and special visit to Normandy, on Wednesday we headed out to visit the Loire Valley. After Jean Luc (B&B owner in Paris), James (B&B owner in Normandy), and an employee at a tourism office told us that a visit to Mont St. Michel was a must see, we decided to make it a stop on our trip. 

Mont St. Michel was built as a strategic fort on the Northern coast of France. It was established in the 6th century. It became a monastery in the 8th century. It remained as a monastery and tidal island until it became a historical sight. Each year over 3 million visitors go to the island. It was certainly crowded. It sort of felt like a mini-version of France’s Disneyworld, but it was still special and interesting. Unfortunately the rain that made our tour of Normandy special did not really enhance our experience of Mont St. Michel.  

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Little did we know our little excursion would add almost 3 hours to our drive to the Loire…

Normandy Tour

After doing some intense research my Mom found Ellwood Von Seebold, a highly praised Normandy tour guide. Again, we were not quite sure what to expect, but were very happy when a sharp looking man with an English accent approached us and introduced himself as Ellwood. 

The tour began in Ellwood’s home. He began by asking us why we wanted to tour Normandy. It was interesting to learn that two of the other people in our group had father’s that participated in the Normandy invasion. All of us agreed that we wanted to learn more about the tremendous sacrifice made by thousands of young soldiers. Throughout the day there were many things that I was surprised to learn. The first of which is that I was surprised to learn how many British and Canadian soldiers were involved in the invasion. It was fascinating to learn about the immense strategizing and planning that took place before the invasion. However, as Ellwood explained how the invasion was actually carried out, it was remarkable to learn how much was left up to or affected by chance. After priming us with the geographic and strategic information Ellwood took us to the Airborne Museum. 

At this museum we learned about the role of the paratroopers in the invasion. The courage of these men cannot be overstated. They were loaded into planes with over 200 pounds of gear and dropped off into unknown territory in the dead of night. The German’s anticipated the paratroopers and had been flooding the fields that they suspected would act as “drop zones” for weeks. Sadly, American intelligence failed to realize the extent of the flooding and as consequence hundreds of soldiers drowned due to their heavy gear upon reaching their drop zone. Those who survived were scattered all over the coast, many were miles away from their intended drop zone. However, these men were known for their incredible self-reliance and were able to regroup and fight successfully. 

One of the most famous paratroopers is John Steele. John Steele was an American paratrooper who got caught on the steeple of the St. Maire Eglise church. He hung here for hours, within shooting range of the Germans. He was saved by an incredible act of bravery of two other American soldiers. 

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Each Army unit had a specific badge. Upon studying the badges, one of our group members recognized his father’s badge. He learned that his father was a glider pilot (the pilot’s who dropped the paratroopers). He had never known the details of his father’s involvement because like many other men his father refused to speak about the war after he returned. It was really special to witness someone learning about their own family and it helped make the tour so personal and special. 

After a quick lunch at Ellwood’s cafe we loaded into his van to go see Utah, Omaha, and Pointe du Hoc beaches. At each beach, Ellwood explained the logistics behind the landing and added a personal story about one outstanding soldier. Normally cold, rainy, and windy weather is not ideal touring conditions, but it was close to the conditions that the soldiers faced and enhanced our appreciation of the events. 

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The photo below shows the craters left behind by all the shells. What used to be flat coast line is covered with 12-15 foot deep craters. One cannot imagine the chaos the soldiers faced as they attempted to scale the steep cliffs of the sea wall. 

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Our tour concluded with a visit to the American Cemetery. Beautiful white crosses and stars of David fill the lawn. I was surprised to learn that despite the vast amount of headstones, this cemetery represents only 39% of the American casualties at Normandy. The rest of the soldiers were buried in the United States at their families’ request. The cemetery is peaceful, poignant, and powerful. 

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This day made me feel so incredibly proud to be an American and appreciative of the sacrifice that so many people made that day. While abroad, I wasn’t always “proud” to be an American; it was part of my identity that I needed to minimize. In Normandy, I felt like I could fully embrace my nation and our shared past. 

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices” 

-President Harry S. Truman

 

 

Chateau Vouilly and Normandy

My mom always does an excellent job of booking our trips, but she tends to find great off-the-beaten path places to stay. While these have always paid off in the past, there are always a few minutes of nerves as we approach our destination. As we drove up to the beautiful Chateau Vouilly our nerves completely disappeared and were replaced with complete content as we explored the chateau, spoke with the charming owners, and learned that we were staying at the site of the first Allied Press Room following the invasions of Normandy. It was so incredible to think of the incredible importance that the Chateau played in relaying the information to a very eager international audience. 

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Our room was beautiful: we had a fireplace, a beautiful view out into the gardens, and I had my own little separate bedroom that overlooked the Chateau moat.

We forgot to take pictures…whoops!

We unpacked and set out to explore the surrounding towns. Besides country-side and quaint homes there was not a lot going on! It seemed to be very quiet and shuttered up. Our dinner options were very limited. We settled on picking up some kebabs and taking them back to the Chateau…because were classy like that🙂

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That evening my dad and I decided to take a stroll around the grounds. Lucky for us, James and his 3 dogs were taking a walk as well! James took us around the perimeter of his property, explaining both the Chateau and his family’s history there. His passion for the area was incredibly clear through our conversation, despite my inability to understand some of the more complex French phrases. 

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The next morning, we woke up to a rainy and cold day in Normandy. This day was brightened by our great breakfast and the prospect of a very interesting d-day tour. Breakfast consisted of fresh croissants, warm bread, a selection of jams, a variety of cheeses, and yogurt. The dairy products were especially delicious due to the fact that Normandy is a huge cheese producing region. After a fortifying breakfast we were ready to take on the 8.5 hour tour that awaited us!

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