Posted by on 24 January 2012 | 0 Comments
Matilda Neyland from Victoria is on our 5month program to France. Here is her latest news:
First of all my apology: I realise I promised everyone regular and hilarious email updates with news and photos from my trip to France, and as I'm over three months through my 5 and a half-month stay I also realise this is well past the point of being 'regular'. I'm sorry for failing to keep my word but I've finally got around to it now - I've just been that busy having too much fun.
In general I live in Vannes, in the Gulf of Morbihan on the south coast of Brittany (a region in far-western France). It's a port town of about 50000 people, and is exceedingly pretty - the town center is composed of ancient old buildings and is partly surrounded by a huge wall with defence towers that the Romans built over 2000 years ago, and spectacular gardens where a moat used to be.
I live with a family who have four daughters, two of whom have moved out (but whom I've met and are lovely), and the other two of whom, Elisabeth (17) and Aziliz (9), have become my adoptive sisters. I couldn't have been luckier with my placement - these people are some of the kindest and most welcoming I've and are so easy to get along with. After three months we've become extremely close. We live in a big house near town, and right next to a lake around which I've developped a habit of running (!). For a decent two months after I arrived it was reasonably warm weather but now it's really starting to get freezing, and daylight hours are from 8.30am to 5pm. At least I'll be able to look forward to Australian summer when I get home. I go to high school which is great - it's such a good way to meet people, I've made some wonderful friends and am still meeting new ones. Having classes in French is also really good for my language skills and it's just getting easier and easier to speak and understand French. I also do English classes with two kids, Hugo (13) and Lila (12) from a couple of doors down the street, one hour per week, it's great fun and they're adorable students. Lucky too because I think I'd forget how to speak English otherwise (I do actually have some trouble remembering English words sometimes!).
Around beautiful Brittany, we've been running around visiting places - sunny Binic in the far north, Brest in the far west, various islands in the Gulf (the kind of wild islands where you just ride around on bikes among fields and through forests and along beaches, not a single car in sight), farms where we've been to get some fresh organic yoghurt and where I milked a cow and forests where we've gone collecting chestnuts and mushrooms. My host dad, Loic, is a a pilot and took us on a scenic helicopter tour of the Gulf to see the incredible view of scattered green islands among sparkling blue water. I've also been sailing a couple of times on the Gulf (Elisabeth is an enthusiast). Otherwise I've been to the theatre several times, a short bike ride from home, and seen some spectacular spectacles, for example Brazilian dance and the most jaw-dropping circus show that had a sixty-or-so-year old DJ who beatboxed.
During the first school holidays I spent a week with the family visiting the châteaux of the Loire Valley. Some of these amazing buildings were built as early of the 11th century and are maddeningly huge. There were mazes of underground caves to be explored, magical fairy gardens to be played in, and majestic room after majestic room to be marvelled at. One of the châteaux we saw was the Château de Légende, on which Walt Disney based the setting of Sleeping Beauty. We also visited the houses of famous French writers François Rabelais (16th century) and Honore de Balzac (19th century).
After the Loire there was a weekend-long party in Normandy for the 50th birthday of my host mum's brother. That was great fun; I met all the extended family and we danced to eighties classics til about 3am. The DJ was also the town mayor (it was a really tiny town) but that didn't take anything away from his skills as a DJ.
Next stop was Paris, where I spent 3 magical days with Babeth and her best friend Sarah who lives in the Réunion. It was the first time I'd been except for two hours I spent there between the plane and train on arrival, and instantly was in love with the city. We spent the days strolling down the Champs-Elysées, along the sparkling Seine, through the Latin Quater, visiting Notre Dame, l'Arc de Triomphe, the Museum of Quai Branly (museums Louvre and d'Orsay were closed and way too crowded respectively). We slowly but surely climbed the 670 steps of the Eiffel Tower as the sun was setting and reached the top at dusk, where we stayed and watched the City of Light illuminate beneath us, reflecting of the clouds and the Seine. Being back on the earth below allowed a magnificent view of the tower lit up in gold (can't believe it was originally considered an eyesore).
So those are the best bits so far, but there's so much more to tell. In general I'm having the most fabulous time and feel very lucky. Probably the saddest I've felt was the grand final weekend (watched the game live on the laptop in bed at 6.30am; not a great day). For Christmas we're spending ten days skiing in the Alps near the Italian border! After we get back it will be only about a month til I leave Vannes, then I've got two weeks in Paris before coming home in mid-February.
I hope you are all well and wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy new year and at least some relaxing holidays.
Lots of love