Monday, May 4, 2009

Goodbye Time

On Saturday, we said goodbye to Ambialet, to Albi, to Toulouse, to France, and to everyone who has taken such good care of us these last four months: Tim, Dan, and Gerry. We said goodbye to Brune and Jay-Z, to the monastery, to this wonderful home away from home.

There were tears as we boarded the bus, as we drove away from the monastery, and as we traveled on the winding roads between Ambialet and Toulouse. But I knew it would be nothing compared to saying goodbye to everyone in Paris.

I was the only one who opted to stay here for an extra few weeks; everyone else had a flight from Paris to Philly to catch. I didn’t get to sit with the others on the plane—I was in the back, they were all seated up front. So when we arrived in Paris, they were able to get off the plane first and it took some time before I was able to. As I made my way toward the exit, I turned the corner and saw eleven people I have come to think of as family waiting for me where it splits off between baggage claim and connecting flights.

As I started hugging and saying goodbye, I started to get teary-eyed, but of course as I last hugged Cat, the waterworks started. Then some people also started to get teary-eyed and/or cry, which only made me cry even more. But there was nothing else to do. I had hugged them all, I had said goodbye, and now it was time to walk away. They had to go in one direction, I in another. Turning around and leaving them was the hardest thing I have ever done.

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief... and unspeakable love.

I don’t know how to sum up this whole experience; I don’t think anything I could try to write would do it justice. But I had the greatest experience of my life over here and it is still sometimes hard for me to believe the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen, and the people I’ve met. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to do this and I will always look back on these four months with fond memories and overwhelming nostalgia. It went by way too fast, but that is just a testament to all the amazing adventures we had the chance to experience.

There are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.

This experience truly went beyond my wildest dreams and beyond anything I ever imagined it would be like... It was even better.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Last Excursion

This week, we had an excursion to Roquefort, Millau, and La Couvertoirade.

Roquefort is where they make the famous Roquefort cheese. We went into the caves where they age the company's Société cheese. It was a very interesting tour and we had a nice tour guide who, even though the tour was mainly in French, would stop and repeat what she had said in English. We were very appreciative of that.

Millau is home to the viaduct de Millau, the world's tallest suspension bridge.

We were able to make the trek up to this wonderful lookout point right next to the bridge.

Then we had a photo shoot and took lots of pictures, haha.

It was really windy, but it was a beautiful day with big, puffy clouds.

Then we drove across the bridge...not only is it very high, it's pretty long, too!

After that, we went to La Couvertoirade, a nice little medieval village.

There were lots of cats wandering around; I found this cutie just outside the village.

I chilled with him for awhile. haha.

Yet another highway shot on the way home.

The French countryside is just beautiful, isn't it? :)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

And the countdown begins...

Today marks our last Saturday in Ambialet... Next week at this time we will no longer be here. :(

I can't believe how quickly time went by. It feels like we've been here forever and it will be so sad to leave. We have truly come to think of the monastery as our home.

I just hope that the next week goes by as slowly as possible so we can enjoy what little time we have left here.

The weather has been sooo nice lately. On Thursday, I went outside and sat in the hammock, and this was the view I had. I will miss it dearly!

Jay-Z was by my side, catching some Zs and laying in sunbeams. As much of a troublemaker as he is, I will also miss him dearly.

On Friday, we all went to Chateau Les Broussards to have lunch and explore.

The view was simply stunning. We got a great look at the river and the surrounding scenery. On our way to this lookout point, Owen...



And Ian all jousted (I think that's the proper term, haha) as they did back in the Middle Ages.

Below is most of the girls in front of the Princess Tower. :)

When I told Matt and Eric to smile, this is what I got. haha.

We all had a lot of fun on our last little excursion... The town was so quaint--I will miss these little French villages!

I will also miss the beautiful French countryside...

I think it's safe to say I will definitely miss France.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Cat, Leah, Ian, Matt, and I went to Spain for a long weekend. We left Ambialet on Wednesday night, took a bus from Albi to Toulouse, then another bus from Toulouse to Barcelona. It was a pretty brutal night of traveling, haha.

We left Toulouse around midnight and thought we would arrive in Barcelona around 6am. Needless to say, we were a bit caught off guard when we pulled into the Barcelona bus station at 4:30am. None of us slept very well on the bus, so we weren't exactly thrilled at the prospect of sitting around in the bus station until it got light out... But we dealt with it, and at first light at 7:45am we headed out into the city.

We went to the Arc de Triomphf first, because it was near the bus station. It was nice to see it with the morning light shining upon it. Also in the area was a Citudella Park, a beautiful oasis. Since it was early morning we pretty much had the park to ourselves. There was a charming little lake with trees all around.

There were palm trees everywhere!

Barcelona was a lot more tropical than I thought it would be. The weather was amazing, except for a few hours of rain one day. But the city does sit on the Mediterranean; the Columbus monument above points toward the sea.

This is Port Vell, where there is a cool pedestrian bridge. Half of it can be moved out of the way to allow ships to pass through. We were able to see this process as a large boat set out for sea.

I loved going to the beach...

It was so pretty. :)

And we all dipped our feet into the Mediterranean...but the water was freezing!

We just hung out at the beach for a good bit of time, taking in the sights and enjoying the fresh sea air.

Leah and Cat played in the sand while I collected seashells.

While in Barcelona, we also visited La Sagrada Familia, a temple designed by famous architect, Gaudi. He has work ALL over Barcelona.

The church was unlike anything I've ever seen before. There is so much to take in and so much exquisite detail in the carvings.

Above is another famous work by Gaudi.

We went back to the beach to (hopefully) catch some sun and swim. However, it was very windy and we spotted some ominous-looking clouds coming our way. But the boys braved the cold water and jumped into the ocean quite a few times before the storm arrived. And it was quite a downpour. We sought refuge in the mall at Port Vell until the rain slowed down.

I really liked the Port Vell area. There was a lot to see and do there.

On our last day in the city, Leah, Cat, and I went back to La Sagrada Familia to go inside. The first time we were there, the line was extremely long and we decided it wasn't worth it to wait. We would come early the next day and beat the crowd. Gaudi was a really interesting architect. We learned about his inspirations, which mostly came from nature. The columns and ceilings in the church, above, were inspired by trees and their canopies. Pretty cool.

There was construction going on while we were there, but we were still able to see everything.

We even went to the top of the church and saw this great view of Barcelona.

You had to take an elevator to go to the top, but we took the stairs coming down. Yet another spiral staircase (Europe just loves them), though this one wasn't as treacherous as the others I've walked down.

As you worked your way back to the ground, there were various look-out points and balconies. You could see the church's architecture up close, which was really cool.

Yep, those are strawberries!

I'm really glad we decided to go to the top. It was definitely worth it.

Our last day was pretty much a day of Gaudi. We finished up at La Sagrada Familia and went to...

Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi.

It is perched atop Barcelona (we had to walk up a steep hill with hundreds of steps to get to it) and boasts a great view of the sea.

It was, again, a gorgeous day.

The park was probably one of my favorite places in Barcelona.

Pretty ceramics...

and pretty scenery.

We hiked up yet another huge hill to take in another amazing view of the city and the sea beyond.

On our last morning, we woke up at 5am...

Because we wanted to go to the beach and see the sun rise.

It was absolutely breathtaking.

And definitely worth the early morning wake-up call.

We said goodbye to the beach and to Barcelona later that morning, leaving around 10. Our bus ride back to Toulouse took practically all day since we made several stops. We had a short layover in Toulouse before boarding another bus for Albi, where Tim would pick us up and take us back to Ambialet. In the end, we came back to the monastery around 9:00, so it was yet another long traveling day. But we all just loved Barcelona, and wished we could have stayed longer. I'm glad we went.