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French Culture, Art, History and Equitation:
Encounters with Other Cultures

May 6 - 21, 2008


The group on top of the Arc de Triomphe overlooking the Champs-Élysée.

Megan Millman, Hayley White and Bridget Hutchens in the chapel at the Château in Chantilly.

 

Learn more about this trip and others taken by trip leader Jackie Dwelle by visiting her website: http://www.firsthorse.com/pics.htm.

 

 

(Also known as “Working out with Mama Duck”)

By Jackie Dwelle

Traveler Betsy Kaplan dubbed me Mama Duck on the first day of the French trip after we had been travelling for hours and had just been attacked by the doors of the train in the metro. (I know there was a reason I suggested “travelling light”.) Travel in a foreign city where your language skills are limited can be a scary experience and the group’s goal at that point was simply survival. This translated into sticking with the group leader even if it did mean holding up the entire Paris metro system until all had made it off the train. We must have been quite a sight - 12 people with luggage trudging through the Paris metro.

The Work Out

  • Walking from our hostel in the Marias along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower and then across town to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysée. A multiple mile trip.
  • Coming down the Eiffel Tower’s 340 steps from the second stage
  • Ascending and descending the 284 stairs of the Arc de Triomphe
  • Up and down the 400 spiral stairs in the cathedral of Notre Dame. (This was after we met and watched Quasimodo stalking tourists on the street below)
  • Climbing the many steps to the Basilique du Sacré Cœur.
  • Hiking from the 11th Century Town of Vernon to Giverny to visit Monet’s garden and lily pond (there and back was a total of about 6 miles).
  • Walking around the Palace of Versailles (and waiting in line for over an hour)
  • The Château du Chantilly to see the Museum of the Living Horse.
  • Cycling 2 trips up “the hill” to visit the Cadre Noir and to attend the International Three Day Event CCI*** at Verrrie.
  • Biking to the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud a round trip of about 20 miles. The 12th century Abbaye has served as a traditional Abbey, a state prison from 1804 – 1963, and is now a cultural meeting place.
  • For all the biking we had a chase car kindly provided by my father who came over from England to join us in Saumur. Fortunately we only needed his services once when one of the bikes developed a flat tire that was beyond patching.

Culture

Participants in a workout program need to be well nourished. In Paris a typical breakfast at the Youth Hostel consisted of a croissant, French bread, juice, and hot chocolate. Our group supplemented this with Pain du Chocolat (croissants filled with chocolate) and other pastries. A typical French evening meal can last more than three hours and we endeavored to uphold that tradition whenever we could. Another favorite dish on the trip was crepes served as only the French can with a multitude of fillings including Nutella (a personal favorite). In Paris these can be bought on the street. We learned that the French are insulted if you do not clean your plate, will not bring the check until asked, and are in no hurry for you to leave their restaurant even if you are finished eating and are just people watching.

Communicating in France was a challenge, we learned to attempt to speak French with the natives and then rely on their broken English (and our minimal French) to communicate what we wanted. This technique proved most productive and we were helped by many French people during our travels. Unfortunately, the strategy did not help us when there was a problem on the Metro and one French official would tell us to get on a train and another would come along and tell us to get off. We must have climbed on and off the same train five times. Oh, and of course, this was with all our luggage just to complete the workout.

Art and History

From the ancient buildings of Paris and their fabulous art collections to the medieval chateaus and troglodyte caves of the Loire valley, we were immersed in art and history everyday.

Equitation

For us this started at the palace stables at Versailles where we saw a very well choreographed show performed by Académie du Spectacle Équestre, continued at the Cadre Noir with its famed classical academic riding and airs above the ground, and concluded with the thrills of cross country day at the hippodrome in Verrie.

Tips for Future Travelers to France

  • When packing, less is most definitely more.
  • It is possible to communicate and get around in a foreign country even if you don’t speak the language.
  • Be prepared to learn about yourself and your fellow travelers. As this was my first time leading an International trip this one surprised me but in reflection makes a lot of sense.
  • Be willing to try everything that you are offered at least once.
  • The metro is fun once you know how to read the maps.
  • Paris is beautiful at night.
  • Saumur is a refreshing break after the frenzy of Paris
  • French bread is yummy.
  • French food generally is fresher and tastier.
  • Beer costs the same as bottled water in restaurants.
  • Most shops and services close from 12 – 2 for lunch
  • Everywhere is closed on Sundays unless it’s a tourist trap or restaurant.
  • Old buildings really are twisted and out of alignment (its not just in the movies).
  • French school children like to play pranks on travelling Americans. (One group had a small boy enter their room early in the morning wanting to play!)
  • It takes a long time to restore a château. The château at Saumur started restoration in 1997 and maybe finished in another 5 years.
  • The French use bikes, mopeds, and their feet to get around.
  • Your ears pop on high speed trains as they speed up and slow down.
  • Women need to where skirts or long pants if they wish to enter the sanctuary at Sacré Cœur.
  • The euro dollar exchange rate is not in our favor right now. Paris can be expensive.

In Conclusion

The trip allowed the travelers to experience a different culture with some similar and some very dissimilar values. My wish for all the travelers is for this experience to peek their curiosity about other cultures and countries. I hope they will all make travel a priority in their lives.
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