“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” –Grace Murray Hopper
First off, I have recently been watching a lot of ted.com. This video (http://www.ted.com/talks/drew_dudley_everyday_leadership.html) was one I found very interesting, and want to recommend to everyone. It made me think about the people and things that have influenced my life so far, so watch it 🙂
Over Christmas break, I was trying to explain regions of France to my family and ended up comparing it to the US. Continental France is divided up into 22 regions, which are similar to states. I am in the region of Burgundy (Bourgogne). Each region has a main city (ours is Dijon). Each region is also split up into departments. Chalon-sur-Saône is in the Saône and Loire region, and happens to be the biggest city. We’ve even got a direct TGV line (high-speed rail) in our town that connects us to Paris and Lyon!
I definitely feel lucky to have been placed in Chalon. It is big enough where there is stuff to do and 5 other assistants to spend time with. It is also small enough that it feels really French, and I love being surrounded by small towns and the countryside. We all love it here, however all of us assistants were a little put out after returning from home or traveling during the vacances. On our first Monday back together, we immediately began a list of places to visit and things to do in the remaining half of our time in France, beginning with visiting cities and places in the Saône and Loire region.
Our first weekend was spent in Maçon. Alex, Doug, Kate, and I made our way to the train station around 11am for our half-hour train ride to Maçon where we met up with Lizzie and Leslie at the station. We went back to theirs to drop our stuff off. The Macon (and surrounding area) assistants are very lucky, as they all live at one of the high schools together. There are nine of them, and they have a floor to themselves with a kitchen, living room, and game room (which really just has an assortment of board games and a hula hoop). Lizzie, Aishling, and Rudi took us to a sandwich shop on the river for lunch, and then showed us around town. We ended our exploration at the local Aldi where we stocked up on meat, cheese, potatoes, and wine for a Raclette dinner.
We spent the rest of the afternoon playing cards (presidents), the highlight of which was when Aishling put down the seven of clubs and loudly proclaimed, “Shamrock Seven!” I think it’s mostly funny because she is Irish… Dinner found 13 of us squeezed around the small table in their kitchen. While it was tight, it was delicious food and a lot of fun. After some good old Bourgogne Crement, we headed out to a nearby bar—dare we call it a discotheque? It definitely had disco balls, one of which is in Kate’s apartment at the moment…—to dance the night away.
The next morning we left Macon. It was a great weekend, and we were definitely jealous of the assistants there, as living together has made them so close. They also always speak French together, something we really should do more often. It was a beautiful and fun town, and a good stop on our SeL tour!
The next weekend we went up to Autun to celebrate Micha’s birthday. After descriptions we’d heard from others and how hard it was to get there (we either had to transfer twice on the train or transfer once and take a bus), I think we all expected a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I, however, loved Autun. It is a gem tucked in the hills of Burgundy, and definitely worth a visit. Alex, Kate, Doug, Vanesa, and I met Micha and Laura about halfway to Micha’s house. It turns out that she lives at a branch of her school, which is (I believe) past the town limits: you come up this small street and pass a farm to get there. She does, however, have her own house on school grounds, which has three bedrooms, a living room, and a large kitchen. Needless to say, us Chalon assistants were drooling over the house and imagining another universe where we all lived there. She even had a garden with a pond! The view was beautiful, especially with the snow when we got there, and it was very comfortable.
After dropping our stuff off, we headed back into town for some lunch, picked up Rudi at the train station, and then, you guessed it, went grocery shopping. We took everything back up to Micha’s as it started raining. Kate volunteered to stay and cook along with Doug and Laura, and the rest of us headed down to the train station to pick up Amelie. By the time we got back an hour later, we were completely soaked and shivering, thus we did not leave the house again until the next morning. Nevertheless, it was a fun night full of conversation, laughter, and slight absurdity. I also learned that people who put sugar in their tea are intellectually inferior… It is true that the English don’t just drink tea; they discuss it as well.
The next morning we slept in and took our time. Because we had not anticipated needing breakfast the next morning, we feasted on crackers topped with leftover cheese, butter, and pesto à la poor college student. We went to explore the cathedral, which is beautiful and can be seen from Micha’s house. We got some coffee to pass the time before making our way back to Chalon. It had been another successful weekend full of bonding, fun, and new sights. Plus, we did the two things we always do at new places: visit the cathedral and go to a café.
In the French school system, Wednesdays are days set aside for religious instruction (since the schools are completely secular), sports, and clubs. Primary schools have no school on Wednesdays while high schools have the afternoons off, thus being that none of us work on a Wednesday afternoon. While our adventures have evolved from getting a coffee to the more time-consuming Wednesday of shopping in Dijon, this Wednesday we decided to do something different and set off for Tournus, a small town about halfway between us and Maçon. We knew it would be small, but were all very excited for this trip.
One 15 min train ride later, we were standing at the station in Tournus. We saw a tower nearby, so we decided to go investigate and came across the abbey of Tournus. It was beautiful, probably one of the best I’ve visited. They’ve got a garden, a stairway you can climb to overlook the sanctuary, and a crypt, which was very cool even though the lights didn’t work and Kate and Alex were scared.
Afterwards we made our way to the centre ville, which turned out to be very small (one street). Unfortunately, not much was open. We met up with Kathy, but struggled to find a place to eat. Eventually, we just got snacks at the boulangerie and sat at a café. We decided to do the small walking tour of the village, which is supposed to correspond with that of Dijon. It was nice, but as the town is not very big, there was not as much to see. Having explored the highlight of the town, the abbey, we stopped at a chocolate shop and then made our way home.
This weekend Kate and Doug are going their separate ways: Kate to Paris for what we lovingly and jokingly refer to as “proposal weekend,” and Doug to see his dad in Antwerp. Alex and I will be venturing out of the Saône et Loire to a degustation, a wine tasting, in Chatillons-sur-Seine. It is still in Burgundy, but in the department of Yonne. We’ve also got the rest of our plans laid out, culminating in a booked trip to Morocco (!) and a beach week after we’ve finished in the south of France. I’ve also begun planning out my February vacation: Hamburg/Kiel to visit Dawid, Berlin, Prague with Doug, Vienna with Doug and Alex to visit Rachel, and finishing in Budapest. I may hit my 5 new countries goal by the end of that vacances!
It is a little crazy that we have everything planned out as much as we do. We’re booked until May and it’s only January! The reason why we do this, however, is because we want to do so many things, to see so many things, before we leave. This way we have it organized and we have something to work towards. It also gives us something to look forward to each week. As much as we love sitting on Kate’s bed and watching Dexter, our new hobby, traveling each weekend and seeing new places is so exciting, liberating, and satisfying all at once. We know that we are taking advantage of being in France—especially since Doug and I flew over 9 hours to get here and aren’t coming back any time soon—and we are having adventures. Each weekend strengthens our relationship with each other and with those we meet, gives us stories and pictures, introduces us to new places and new traditions, and so much more. I am blessed with so many opportunities, and can’t wait to see what the rest of my time here brings!
French word of the day: La Colline. It means hill, and the hills are what I found most beautiful about Autun.