Before embarking for my time in France, I heard countless friends and acquaintances boast about how many countries they were able to visit while abroad and how cheap it was to travel within Europe. Let me tell you, it’s not “cheap.” Sure, it may be cheaper to catch a flight from France to Spain than from Philadelphia to Spain, but once you factor in lodging, eating out, and baggage costs, it’s not as cheap as your aunt’s friend’s nephew makes it out to be. For many, the idea of studying abroad evokes images of jet-setting from place to place and exploring a new country every three days. What few people tell you is that you can have a new journey every weekend without even leaving your host country.
As a part of the tuition every IES student pays, we are afforded several day and overnight trips in various parts of Western France. This weekend, we were fortunate enough to visit les Chateaux de la Loire. Our journey began at 7:30 in the morning on Saturday. We departed from Nantes with the local football club’s coach bus as our trusty steed. The rain was unrelenting and we were all still weary from waking up at such an early hour, but everyone was nevertheless excited for the grandeur that awaited us. Three hours later, we arrived at our first chateau, Azay-le-Rideau. In the village surrounding the castle, French flags lined the windows of every home in recognition of Armistice Day. The castle itself stood proudly, framed by a gleaming moat and autumnal foliage. As we entered, a woman handed us an audio device that would guide us through the history of each room. My favorite room to explore was the dining room, in which motorized plates of exquisite foods and fancily clad sculptures begin to move to the overhead music. At this point of the day it was still raining, so my friends and I were happy to grab a warm cup of coffee and pastries and head to the next chateau.
Just thirty minutes from the first castle by bus, le Chateau de Villandry awaited us with its topiary labyrinths, color-coded floral arrangements, and sunlit art galleries. This was my dream house if I ever saw one. As I focused my lens on a bouquet of fresh flowers, an elderly woman caught my eye and remarked its beauty, saying that this was the display she was drawn to as well. Every room I passed through had a new color scheme: magenta walls with powder pink orchids, mint walls with pea green, velvet chaise lounges. As I ascended the stairs, the rooms got more spectacular till I reached the top. At the top of the stairs, there was a thatched door that led out to a view of the castle’s expansive gardens. My cheeks readily absorbed the emerging sunlight as I took my surroundings. I experienced a childlike joviality at the sight of the symmetric patterns at vivid colors, thinking back to the classic French castles I had seen in my elementary and middle school textbooks. While spending the last few minutes of my free time in between rows of purple cabbage and rhubarb, I couldn’t help but think “I’m really here, huh?”
While my passport may not be filled with stamps, I do not feel at a loss. We often incorrectly believe that in order to find breathtaking destinations, we have to go far away from what we know as home. However, travelling to cities like Vannes, Bordeaux, Cognac, Azay-le-Rideau, and Villandry, I have realized that there is so much beauty hiding in plain sight. I have had so many moments in France when I have thought about how many places just in the United States I still have to explore, let alone other countries. This is all to say that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on airfare trying to check off every country you’ve seen featured in your friends’ Instagram posts. Don’t hesitate to go far, just remember that adventure lies everywhere.