After a slightly frazzling start -- namely, forgetting one of our two large, 50lb bags in the trunk of our car and discovering that the only way we could get it to Europe by the time we remembered about it would cost at least 500 dollars (i.e. we did without!) -- we began our 3-week trip to Europe. We landed in Rennes, France, rented a car (for having only driven stick shift once before in his life, Michael has now become a very skilled manual driver!), and drove for about 3 hours to the northern coast of Brittany. There we stayed in a charming Chambre-d'hotes (Bed & Breakfast), where for the first time in our relationship, I got to become the speaker and the translator as Michael watched in bewildered silence as I conversed with our hosts in French (usually it is I who have silently watched the conversations between Michael and his family as they speak in Russian, in gradually diminishing bewilderment as my Russian has improved over the years)! ....
Day 1: Chateau de la Roche JaguHere Michael and I happened upon a "Spectacle" -- of water and glass, as it was called: it was quite interesting, though perhaps a little too mystifyingly "New Age" for us, with lots of ritualistic audience participation walking around a pond holding long glass tubes...! But there was a really interesting instrument being played during this "ceremony", made entirely of crystal tubes and water, and played somewhat like the piano, but by sliding wet fingers over the crystal, rather than pushing on hammer-like keys...
And meanwhile, the ritualistic walking had transformed into some impressive feats of yoga-like "dancing" by the two leaders...
It turns out I'm not actually that short -- I would not have been able to pass through this medieval door without the square extension on top of the arched door-frame!
Île de Bréhat: a flowery island 10 minutes away from the North shore by ferry, where no cars are allowed, and distances are given in minutes!
Day 3: Chateau Fort-la-Latte: a defensive castle built in the 13th century, at the same time when most of the castles in
Chateau de Combourg: childhood home of famous French writer Chateaubriand (18th century), where we discovered that living in a castle might not have been a fairy-tale-come-true back in real historical life when castles were built thick and sturdy for defense (the walls are 3 meters thick!), and furnished not in the lavish aim of personal comfort, but rather dismally with damp, cold, dark rooms and towers haunted by ghosts ... (Chateaubriand himself claimed that the cat ghost who haunted his childhood room not only truly existed, but was actually just the companion of the real ghost, a lord who had died a century earlier in the same tower he would thereafter haunt, identifiable by his wooden leg....!)
Day 4: And, of course, I could not leave Brittany without exploring its mythical Celtic "landes" (moors) and forests, where the old Medieval French lais that I had been reading last semester recount of the mysterious adventures in which white deer or boar lead valiant young knights over into the "other"-world to win the love of some beautiful fairy...
where we saw a horse-drawn carriage selling fresh fruits and vegetables that reminded Michael of the phrase: if the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain...!
In the 11th century, this "castle" consisted only of nine defensive towers, but over the next five centuries, a much larger and more luxurious castle connecting all the towers was gradually constructed. Today, though, only a few of the original tours remain, and the history is an interesting one: the duke living in the castle in the 16th century was a Protestant, and during the terrible wars of religion in
And passing by on the way back to our Chambre-d'hote, we stopped to look at this private castle: does this chateau serve as evidence of the progress of modern geographical studies, that teach constructors NOT to build houses on the very edge of a cliff or a lake?! The variety of mold species in their basement must be quite impressive by now!
I also got to experience one other memorable event. Having grown up with cats, I have come to love animals with a passion, as evidenced by my decision to become a vegetarian. However, I always knew that, presumably, not all animals were as loveable, intelligent, or "alive" in a human-like way as cats are, which I assume is the usual justification people use for killing and eating them (in America at least, people would definitely object to eating cats or dogs). However, I was very surprised to discover the incredibly affectionate nature of a goat that was kept at this castle: Michael discovered that he enjoyed eating grass and flowers out of your hands, which is fun and all, but not particularly surprising. But who knew that a goat would like being rubbed and petted behind his ear so much, and would seem so sad when I had to leave!
Our last stop that night was to the city of Düsseldorf, where we joined the throngs of some million people who were celebrating the finale of a week-long Japanese festival by watching a huge fireworks display over the Rhine, and it was quite a firework display, with glittering explosions of colors and smiley-faces and the night sky shimmering with gold...
Our other trip was a two-day trip Michael and I organized ourselves by renting a car: the first day we drove to Belgium to tour the underground caves in Remouchamps, named "la merveille des merveilles" (the marvel of marvels), where we saw many impressive stalagmites, stalactites, and other rock formations, and took a boat ride through the lower, most recently formed stretch of the cave. As an aside, you can remember the distinction between stalagmites (grow up from the bottom) and stalactites (hang from the top) by the T-shape of the stalacTites (which grows downwards), and the M-shape of the stalagMites (which grows upwards). As per our tour guide, you can also use the "ants in your pants" phrase: "the ‘MITES go up, and the ‘TIGHTS (tites) come down". Afterwards, we spent the evening in the small medieval "city" of Durbuy, and toured a very unusual garden made of sculpted trees...!
The second day, we left
And after three and a half weeks in
And finally, our first-ever, amazing vegetable garden! We've already made ten delicious salads from our very own spinach!