Category: Travel


Chateau Chenonceau

Château Chenonceau

Day 4 was another busy one. We started the day with a scenic drive through the Loire Valley by the Loire River on our way to visit Château Chenonceau. This beautiful castle located on the Cher River (who knew she had her own river?) was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, and has been called the “Château des Dames” because of its history of being administrated and protected by historically prominent women, including Catherine de Medici.

Some columns near the labyrinth

Some columns near the labyrinth

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Duh…a window?

The Ballroom

The Ballroom






















Once we got there, I gave the girls in my group the option to go off on their own (since we were someplace where you couldn’t really get lost), or to hang out with me. They picked me without even thinking about it. (Yay! Have I mentioned I had the BEST group out of anyone? I’m so sad that most of them won’t still be in the chorus the year after next when we go to Austria.)

Escargot!

Escargot!

Ribbit

Ribbit

The castle kitchen

The castle kitchen

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The castle kitchen

After I move in, I will be doing some redecorating...

After I move in, I will be doing some redecorating…






















We had a great time exploring the maze and the castle, before having what turned out to be a really tasty lunch. The restaurant had some American offerings, and I think we were all pretty happy to be able to have burgers and fries for the first time in a couple of days.

Fruit, fries, burgers and chocolate - my 4 favorite food groups!

Fruit, fries, burgers, pepsi and chocolate – my 5 favorite food groups!

After the castle, it was back to Tours for the pre-concert rehearsal at Eglise Notre-Dame la Riche. Chaperons especially looked forward to these rehearsals, as it was pretty much the only time we were “off-duty” and free to do a little exploring on our own. For a whole hour and a half! Yes! Unfortunately, most of my free time that day was spent going to the cell phone store, trying to see if they could help me get my data-only SIM cards to work. No such luck. Thank goodness for hotels and buses with free wi-fi!

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Rehearsal time! Click the photo to see a video of the chorus warming up outside the church before the performance…

When rehearsal was over, we went back to the hotel so the singers could change into their concert uniforms, then it was off again to dinner. (Yeah, it didn’t make sense to any of us, either.) After dinner we returned to the church for the concert.

[I do want to interject here, that this has absolutely nothing to do with anything, BUT…before dinner, I saw a goat. Wearing a hat. On a leash. Being walked through the streets of Tours. I wished more than anything that I’d had the opportunity to take a picture, but it was not meant to be.]

As the show got underway, I took a seat to the left side of the stage with a couple of the other chaperons, and others were over on the right. In a previous blog, I alluded to a couple of singers “going down”. Apparently, when you take kids who have been traveling, not quite eating, sleeping and hydrating properly, put them on a stage under hot lights and have them stand for long periods of time, you create a sort of “perfect storm” for passing out. The singers have had it drilled into them that if they start to feel woozy, lightheaded, or otherwise bad in general, that they should just sit down where they are – this is much preferable to having someone take a tumble backwards off of the top riser in the middle of a performance, especially when that performance is in an ancient church with an incredibly hard marble floor. Unfortunately, knowing what they should do doesn’t always ensure that this is what a singer does. Not wanting to “ruin” the performance, or to miss out, sometimes they’ll try to push through the bad feeling…so as chaperons, we have to constantly watch the singers for signs that anyone might be about to lose it.

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Eglise Notre-Dame la Riche

Stained glass

Stained glass

Through the first song, one of the other adults and I were watching one boy in particular in the top row who had been feeling under the weather all day. As he sang, he seemed to be closing his eyes alot, and just seemed off. As the selection ended, I made my way back behind the chorus and tapped him on the shoulder to make sure he was ok. He said that he was, and continued to stand and sing as the next song got underway. Just in case he was mistaken, I sat down on the edge of the stage behind the chorus out of sight from the audience. It was from this vantage point that I noticed the Zealot.

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Inside the church

Reminds me of "The Traveler" at the Orlando International Airport...

Reminds me of “The Traveler” at the Orlando International Airport…






















Off to one side of the audience, he sat away from everyone else, on a pew directly behind a large column. At first I thought he was just enjoying the performance, though the longer it went on, the more it seemed like something else was going on – like he was having his very own religious experience or something. He was very animated as he fingered his rosary, crossed himself repeatedly, occasionally raised his arms to the heavens and yes, even sobbed. Like a baby. When he first caught my attention I thought, “Uh…oooookayyyyy. Obviously this guy is serious about his choral music.” The longer it went on, a few others noticed him as well. At one point, I made eye contact with one of the other chaperons stationed across the room, and she mouthed, “What the fuck?” All I could do was shake my head and shrug in response. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Whatever was going on with him, it seemed harmless enough, until someone in the audience moved to sit a little too close to him. Startled, he jumped up suddenly, and started to move quickly down the side of the church, away from the chorus as if he were leaving. About halfway down, however, he turned abruptly and started heading back up towards the front. He stopped in the aisle and looked around as if he was confused, and seemed for a moment as if he planned to walk directly in front of the chorus, right between the performing kids and their director. Our tour guide, Johan, saw this as well, and pushed away from the wall where he was leaning, and took a few steps toward the man.

I started to wonder if this guy just might be dangerous.

Thankfully, he turned at the last second and headed quickly back down the main aisle, away from the kids. After that, I could no longer see him from my vantage point behind the chorus, but everyone kept performing as usual, so I hoped that meant he had left.

Unfortunately, though, the zealot’s departure did not mark the end of the drama. During this performance we had (what seemed to me like) a record number of kids have to sit down during the performance – 7 of them altogether. At one point, I had to grab some money and run across the street to a little convenience shop to purchase some juice, because we were running out of fluids to hand to dehydrated singers. Sometimes chaperoning is stressful!

In the end, everyone was ok, though, and the audience loved the performance. As it was getting pretty late at this point, we went back to the hotel and it was lights out. Tomorrow we visit Mont Saint-Michel!

Day 3 had us waking up at 6am – which was rough, considering my body was still thinking it was on Eastern Daylight Time, and I wasn’t able to fall asleep until almost 5am. We packed up our stuff and piled on the buses, heading for our next destination – Tours. On our way to Tours, we stopped at the small village of Chartres, which is probably most well known for it’s 12th century Gothic cathedral with it’s two contrasting spires.

la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

Another view of the cathedral

Another view of the cathedral























We were given a guided tour of the cathedral by historian and author Malcolm Miller, then the chorus sang an impromptu couple of songs in the cathedral, followed by free time to explore on our own. If you’re wondering what I may have learned on the guided tour, please re-read the first sentence of this blog, and do the math.



Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

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Some of the beautiful stained glass in the cathedral























For our free time, we grabbed some lunch, then wandered around the village. Some of the girls wanted to shop, and some wanted to visit the glass museum, so the shoppers went with one chaperon, and the ones interested in a little culture came with me. I really just wanted to nap and enjoy the afternoon, so while they wandered the museum, my roommate and I waited outside on a bench and pondered the amazing detail of the cathedral in front of us.



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More views of the cathedral

Love the symmetry! (Yeah, I like 'matchy-matchy')

Love the symmetry! (Yeah, I like ‘matchy-matchy’)

Exploring Chartres

Exploring Chartres

Some statues on the outside of the cathedral

Some statues on the outside of the cathedral











































The chorus singing in the cathedral

The chorus singing in the cathedral – click the photo to go to a video of their performance

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Chartres

After our visit, we boarded our buses to continue the journey to the second stop on our tour, oddly enough called Tours. We had dinner in the hotel, and then went to bed – tomorrow’s another concert day!

Sunday – our first day waking up in Paris – was a busy one. After breakfast at the hotel, we spent some free time in what is called the Latin Quarter. Located on the left bank of the Seine River near Notre Dame cathedral and the Sorbonne, it’s so named because university students who lived there spoke only Latin to their professors up until the French Revolution. Nowadays it’s a quaint little part of town, full of artistic types and students. There are tons of places to eat and shop, and it’s all very old-world feeling. We had a great time just wandering around, shopping, and taking pictures.

Fontaine Saint-Michel

Fontaine Saint-Michel

Lots of neat "corner" buildings like this one

Lots of neat “corner” buildings like this one























In one of the souvenir shops we visited, they had several key chains that left me puzzled. Each of them featured a charm of the Eiffel Tower, along with some sort of hand tool. There were some with hacksaws and some with axes.  The only thing that explains it for me is that the French *really* hate the Eiffel Tower, and will use any means necessary to dismantle it.

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I don’t get it

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A hookah cafe

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Narrow streets with shops























I did learn one very important thing while walking around the Latin Quarter. The French are very serious about their Nutella. It’s everywhere. No kidding around.

Nutella – it’s everywhere!

After lunch, it was time to meet back up and move on to the next part of our day. The chorus had a rehearsal and then an afternoon performance at La Madeleine, a Roman Catholic church whose design is based on the Roman Pantheon. We loaded on to our two coaches, which we privately referred to as “the French bus” and “the American bus”. My group was on the French bus, which was being driven that day by a substitute driver named DJ, as our regular driver, Francois, had the day off. On the way to the church, DJ managed to hit not one, but TWO bicycles that were parked at a bicycle station on the side of the road…and I’m not just talking a little tap here – he creamed ’em. The best part – he just kept on driving.

La Madeleine

La Madeleine

Old buildings with spiral stairs = awesome!

Old buildings with spiral stairs = awesome!

The first of many beautiful churches we'll visit

The first of many beautiful churches we’ll visit























Click on the picture of the chorus below, and you can view a youtube video that someone filmed of their performance. I’m not sure who shot this video, but their comments are in French.

Click on the picture to watch a video someone at the cathedral recorded of their performance!

The Peabody Children’s Chorus performing at La Madeleine in Paris, France

After a beautiful performance during which only two singers went down (oh, relax…they were ok after some water and a protein bar),  it was off to dinner at “my” restaurant.

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My secret is out – I own a restaurant in Paris!

Other than a minor scare when a singer with an egg allergy ate something that may or may not have contained egg and almost needed to make use of her epi-pen, dinner at Chez Jenny was quite nice. Full and tired, we loaded up the buses for the ride back to the hotel.

Now…as you may recall, the title of this blog is Two Bikes and a BMW. We’ve covered the bikes part already…

We were just a few blocks away from our hotel, when DJ, our bus driver, turned down a very narrow street in an effort to get around some traffic – or more accurately, he attempted to turn down a very narrow street. Unfortunately for the BMW that was parked on said street, the road wasn’t quite wide enough, and there was some…contact. Specifically, a big dent and scrape down the passenger side of the car. Oh, and it’s passenger side mirror is sort of…removable…now. We stopped, and DJ got off to inspect the damage, as five men approached from a nearby shop. Five not-so-very-happy-looking men. As a conversation in French took place outside the bus, I found myself wishing that DJ had thought to close the bus door behind him, so that when those five no-so-very-happy-looking men killed him there in the street, there’d be at least a little bit of a barrier between them and us.

Thankfully, reality and my imagination were not one and the same, and DJ returned to the bus unscathed and simply…drove away. No police, no note, no nothing.

Tour bus: 3, Two Bikes and a BMW: 0.

We made it back to the hotel in once piece, where everyone went to their rooms to pack up for the next day’s journey to Chartres and our second hotel, in Tours.

Adventures in France

I recently had the opportunity to chaperon the Peabody Children’s Chorus as they toured France. When I say recently, I mean we just got home on Monday. I’m still extremely jet-lagged and sleep deprived, so forgive me if I ramble. My CRS (that’s Can’t Remember Shit, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the syndrome) being what it is, I wanted to be sure and get this all down before I forget that I even left the country.

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This actually spanned 2 days. We left at 5:35pm Friday, June 28th (after an hour and 20 minute weather delay), flew overnight, and landed at around 7am Saturday morning. Everyone was loaded on to two coaches, and then we got our first glimpse of Paris in the form of a 2 hour bus tour. It was rainy and the top of the Eiffel Tower was enshrouded in fog, but it was really neat to see. Our tour guide, Arianne, (I think that was her name, but I was half-asleep after not sleeping at all on the plane), was very entertaining and informative. She schooled us on the difference between Bobos and Hipsters, and pointed out every dog that we passed on the street. We even saw the back end of The Thinker as we passed by at 30 mph.

 

After our bus tour, we were dropped off in the heart of Paris, near Opera Garnier…for FOUR HOURS. Now, being given 4 hours of free time to do whatever you like might normally be a good thing, but when you’ve been traveling since yesterday and haven’t slept, it’s a little bit like Chinese water torture. We got lunch and wandered around the area, but really all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for a month. Even the 5 shopaholic teens I was chaperon to were less than exuberant as they browsed through H&M. (Yes, of course they could shop there at home…you know it, I know it, they know it…but it’s in Paris, so it must be better than the one at home, right?)

Finally, free time was over. We got back on the buses and headed for our first hotel. After check in, we spent a little time cleaning up and settling in, then walked to dinner. After dinner, we had a chaperon meeting, policed the halls for a bit to make sure we didn’t have any escapees, then went to bed. That’s when we discovered 3 important things about the French:

  1. They don’t believe in air conditioning
  2. They don’t believe in putting screens on their windows
  3. They don’t sleep. Ever.

Because of #1, my roommate and I had the window open in our room, which is how we learned about #’s 2 and 3. France must have a low suicide rate, as they do not put any kind of screens on their hotel windows, nor do they restrict how far you can open them. I found this amusing, because after trying unsuccessfully to sleep that first night, I considered tossing myself out the open window. There was noise outside all night long – music from what sounded like an outdoor party not too far away, punctuated by the occasional loud voices and sometimes even yelling and screaming. Somewhere between 2 and 3am, I’d swear I heard what sounded like someone dragging a bag full of broken glass down the sidewalk. The rave-like music went on until around 6am.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESDespite all that, I did manage to sleep for a few hours here and there, which is more than I can say for the second night.

One notable thing on our first day in the country – we saw a woman on a bicycle get hit by a car. (She was fine) Even though they drive on the right side of the road in France, I don’t think I would ever be comfortable driving there myself…at least not in the city. Silly things like lines on the street and road rules seem to be more like suggestions to the Parisians…

Coming up next:

Day 2: First Full Day in Paris