November 13, 2010

A trip to France (Part I)

The first week in November was a week-long vacation from school, le congé d'automne. For this vacation, my host family and I went to France!

Needless to say, I played the part of the camera-toting tourist. I took lots of pictures. Lots. So many pictures, in fact, that I have to make two posts. So, look above this post to find the rest of the pictures.


On Saturday morning, we got into the car, and began our journey. It was raining-- magnificent weather.

After getting gas at a Belgian gas station in case of French strikes, we were on our way.

After maybe an hour and a half, we crossed the border. I got my first picture of France from out the front windshield of the car. It was still raining.

We stopped in a mini-mart type store on the road for a break, and I could really tell that we were in France. I don't think you could find wine like this in United States mini-marts.

Continuing on the route, it stopped raining for a little while. I got this picture of some French countryside, in the Champagne region if I remember correctly.

After maybe six hours on the road, we came into Lyon, a big city on the banks of the Rhône river. It was raining again.

Bouchon! Traffic jam in English. Slowed us down to maybe 20 kph for a good half hour.

Got a good look at some of the buildings, though...

After Lyon, it was another two-and-a-half-hour drive until the region of Ardéche, the place where we would be staying the first couple of days.

At maybe 7:30 in the evening, as we were walking up the driveway of the house where we would be staying, we found a salamander. The headlight lights of the car were not quite bright enough to take a great picture, so it turned out a little blurry. Thought it looked cool anyway, though...

Took a picture of the entry to the house-- again, it was really dark.

We were in the region of Ardèche, in south-eastern France. Here it is on the map, for a little perspective. Merci, Wikipedia.

We were staying there with some friends of my host family: a couple with four kids and some other members of their family. They were all really nice-- great folks to stay with. The house where we were staying was kind of their vacation home-- an old stone house built over 200 years ago.
The next day, I looked outside the door of my room, and saw this view.

Here's the same picture as the one two above, except taken in daylight.

The first morning, we went for a walk through the woods. All through these woods, there were walls like the ones you see in this picture. They were old terraces, built between 200 and 300 years ago (I think) by people who lived in the area.

If you look closely in this picture, you can see a wall with a door. Old ruins like this were everywhere thoughout these woods-- i mean everwhere. It was crazy to look at this forest that seemed really wild and natural, but then to see old walls.

We came down to a creek in the bottom of the canyon. It was raining on and off, and fog was rolling through the canyon. It was beautiful, if a little wet.

Headed back to the house, and played some games. The one below is called Carambole. It's very simple-- just shoot your pieces into the four holes in the corners. I wasn't very good at it, but it was fun anyway.

And of course... Monopoly Brussels-style, with labels in both French and Dutch. 


All around Ardèche are chesnut trees, and the chesnuts (called chataîgnes in French) were ready while we were there. For the people who lived in Ardèche hundreds of years ago, they were a very important staple-- people pretty much lived off them. They put terraces in the hillsides, and cultivated chesnut trees. You can still see the remnants of the terraces today.

With this pan, we roasted them over the fire. Just like Nat King Cole, but a month and a half early.

The view from the front door-- the yellow trees are chesnut trees.

The next day, we went for a walk in the forest, about a 20-minute drive from the house. Below are a couple pictures of the views from the trail.

I was so happy to see big cliffs again-- there aren't all that many near Linkebeek. The river that makes the canyon here is the Ardèche river (believe it or not).

The woods, also, were quite nice. Very very green.

Back at the house, we played another game, Les Colons de Catane, a "jeux de societé," as it's called in French. It's a great game-- it encourages interaction between the players as each person creates villages and roads to become the most "developed." 

A picture Alfred, the youngest child of the family we were staying with (4 years old) took while he was playing with my camera. Not bad at all, if you ask me.

Our breakfast. European, or what?

The next day, another walk through the woods...

Help to conserve this historic bridge. Do not destroy the railing!

From left to right: Quentin, Aude, Diego, Gaëtan, moi, Alexandra, et Emilie.

Autumn in France...

Les chataîgnes

One of our lunches. Just to make you jealous

And for dinner, soup with chesnuts. Delicious

Thought this picture illustrated pretty well the harvests of autumn...

Next morning, we went into Les Vans, a village near where we were staying. It was beautiful.

And back into the forest, to find some rocks to climb on.

Faire des blocs= go bouldering. 
They were a little slippery, so we didn't do a whole lot of climbing. But the view was nice.

Supermarket in France. Can't find that in Colorado, can you?

And a little countryside

Une eglise...

...and some more countryside

This was the morning of our last day in Ardèche, and I got some photos of the drive out.

We made our way north, towards Paris.

It was Thursday night, and we stayed in Fountainbleau, about 40 minutes outside of Paris.

We did a little more rockclimbing on the sandstone rocks

But again, unfortunately, they were slippery and I had no climbing shoes. Too bad...

Mais c'etait joli

For a change in dining experience, we went to McDonalds. It was my first time to one in Europe.

The burger was smaller, but a lot better than the United States, believe it or not.

Not bad, not bad...

After a quick look at the Château de Fontainebleau, built within the span of quite a few French kings (starting in the 16th century) to use as a vacation estate for the hunts(!), we headed towards Paris. 

The view outside our hotel room in Paris-- this was at a Best Western, of all places.

I met up with a group of Americans who I thought I knew from somewhere....

And I gave them speculoos! It helped fight the jet-lag... a little, I hope. I spent the rest of that day with them, and a little of the next-- It was so amazing to see my Cortez friends in such a different setting. If you want to see more photos of them and me together, check my Facebook page.

Une rue de Paris...

Et une autre.

Le Palais de Justice, with the Sainte-Chapelle in the background.

And of course, the Notre Dame Cathedral.

A look over the Seine, onto the Île de la Cité

See Part 2!


  1. OMG! I have played that village and road game so many times with my family here! I am so jealous of your French travels though!

  2. What a spectacular vicarious view of the French countryside! Thanks for sharing--I am SOOO envious! Hugs, Mom

  3. Austin,

    Thanks so much for posting pictures and narrative; I've been eager to hear about the trip. Your photo of Notre Dame at twilight is superb! Has Elana asked if you saw Minou?

  4. Geeez Jack Smith, Very Cool. N V US 2