I’m not entirely sure where to begin because I am a bit overwhelmed from the past few days, but I suppose that’s to be expected when moving abroad. Traveling from New York to Vendôme is no easy feat, especially when hauling three obscenely heavy pieces of luggage in addition to carry-on duffels and cross-body bags. My mom made the trek with me, but it was still quite challenging. Considering the fact that being graceful is not my forté, I might as well have been holding up a sign declaring myself a touriste américain. Nonetheless, after a one hour car ride from my house to Newark, a 7-hour plane ride from Newark to Charles de Gaulle, a 45-minute car ride from Charles de Gaulle to the Montparnasse train station in Paris, a 42-minute train ride from Montparnasse to Villiers sur Loire, and a 25-minute taxi ride from the train station in Vendôme to our hotel, we had finally made it. With all of the luggage intact, I might add.
The next few days were spent navigating the city of Vendôme, meeting some of the teachers I will be working with both in Vendôme and in the neighboring Moundoubleau, and traveling back and forth from the Ikea in Tours to furnish my tiny studio.
I can’t say I’ve been in Vendôme long enough to truly grasp the rhythm of life here, but I do have a few initial impressions:
There are flowers everywhere you look. I don’t know if it’s the temperature, the soil, the water, or the amount of time spent tending to the gardens, but I have not seen a wilted flower since arriving. There are flower boxes outside of the windows, on porches, across the bridges, around the medieval heritage buildings, and along the banks of the Loir River that cuts through the town. In fact, Vendôme has won “4 flowers” in the national competition for urban floral displays and the top prize in the “Grand Prix National du Fleurissement” competition for ten years in succession. While strolling through the city, the vibrant flowers make me feel like Vendôme is abundantly alive, like there’s something constantly growing and flourishing all around me. “Charming” is the only word I can think of to encapsulate this city.
NO ONE speaks English. At all. When I applied to TAPIF in the winter, this was exactly what I was hoping for because while I loved my experience in Paris, it was possible to get by speaking English. Because I lived with a Parisian host family there that, as an exception to the general trend, didn’t speak a word of English, I was forced to speak in French and ultimately improved throughout the duration of the semester. If I wasn’t going to have a host family to force me to do just that during my TAPIF experience, I needed something or someone else encouraging me to speak French as much as possible. Well, living in a small city where even the receptionist at the hotel doesn’t speak English will do the trick. There have already been more awkward mis-communications in the past few days than I can list, but I’m embracing feeling uncomfortable in the hopes that one day I’ll wake up and feel less like a touriste Americaine and more like a Vendômoise.
Bread, bread, and more bread. Plus macarons. Everywhere you look, there’s a boulangerie with baguettes that have just come from the oven and are now leaning against each other in the window displays or on the shelves. Despite the fact that most restaurants, cafés, and stores are closed on Sundays, the boulangeries remain open, at least in the morning. Don’t deny the French their bread. Or else.
My favorite spot is Boulangerie Feuillette. It’s less than a 5 minute walk from my apartment (not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing) and boasts a huge spread of pastries, tartes, macarons, quiches, croissants, pain au chocolates, sandwiches, salads, and, you guessed it, baguettes. When I’m not teaching, you will find me here. I’ll be sitting in the big comfy chair right in front of the fireplace eating macarons and coming up with a French translation for oh my goodness this is so good I think I died and went to food heaven.