Friday, January 30, 2009

Excursion trois

Carcassonne was absolutely breathtaking.

It is Europe's largest fortified medieval city and very well-preserved.

As we were walking along the semi-steep cobblestone path to get into the city, it almost felt as if I were entering a fairy-tale world.

Cat and I both agreed that this has been our favorite excursion thus far.

The fortification boasts over 50 towers and a double row of fortified walls that stretch for almost two miles.

Once inside the city, we visited another church, the Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse.

There were impressive stained glass windows galore in the church.

It was a gothic cathedral, as the windows demonstrate. They end in a point at the top.

It was a beautiful day, albeit a bit windy. And by a bit, I mean a lot.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Storms and such

Cat, Shelly, and I went bike riding for the first time here a few days ago. I never realized how high up we were until I tried to pedal my way up our big hill at the end of our bike ride. It took forever to make it back to the monastery!

President Obama's inauguration was also last week. A French newspaper came out to interview us about it and some students from the University of Albi stopped by for some wine and cheese. We tried to watch the inauguration, but it took some fighting with the internet to finally get it to load; and we didn't even get to watch the whole thing without incident--it froze several times.

Then on Saturday, we woke up to find that we had no electricity, water, or heat. There had been lots of rain and bad storms throughout parts of France and Spain, which left millions without power. Up to 120-mile an hour winds were recorded in some places. While waiting to see if we would have to go to a hotel or not, we played a rousing game of Pictionary. After 3:00 on Saturday afternoon, it was obvious the power would not be coming back on anytime soon. So we packed up and headed to an Albi hotel. We spent two nights there and came back to the monastery yesterday after French class.

Tomorrow we are going to Carcassonne with Eric. It should be a fun excursion.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Excursion deux

This week, we went to Conques with Eric to visit Saint Foy, a romanesque church. Here is a view of the church and the surrounding village from a nice vantage point on the way there:

Don't let this picture of part of the church against the backdrop of a blue sky fool you. It was a rainy day, but luckily I remembered to bring my umbrella.

The inside of the church was beautiful. Everywhere you looked, daylight streamed in through the windows. Since the cathedral is of the romanesque style, it boasts a massive presence, with lots of columns and semi-circular arches.

Here is a picture of the Occupational Therapy girls in the village. There are four of us here: Chelsea, Cat, Shelly, and myself.

Eric is a wonderful teacher and tour guide. He has a wealth of knowledge that he is always willing to enthusiastically share with us.

Of course, just as we were getting ready to leave, the rain cleared up, the sky got bluer, and the sun came out.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A week!

It's hard to believe that we've been here for a week. We have done and seen so much already. Today was a fairly quiet day. We had class from about 10:30 to noon with Gerry and Tim. They gave us an overview of the European Union. After that, we had lunch and ventured down into Ambialet again. We visited Nadine at Cafe de la Presque Isle, where we had ice cream, before hiking back up to see the cross.

You can see the monastery in the distance.

Another shot of our humble abode.

Various views from the cross...

I don't think I will ever get tired of these views.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Excursion un

Yesterday, we met Eric, who is the professor for our religious course. We had class with him and he introduced us to the topic of pilgrimages. For this class, we will have lectures on Tuesdays and excursions on Wednesdays.

Today we traveled to Saint Bertrand de Comminges, at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. It took a few hours to get there, but it was well worth the drive.

The first church we visited, Saint Just de Valcabrere, a romanesque basilica.

A view of Saint Bertrand de Comminges, the second church we visited.

The front of Saint Bertrand.

Church courtyard.

It was another beautiful day.

Inside St. Bertrand.

A highway shot of the Pyrenees Mountains--Spain is on the other side.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First day of classes

Today was our first day of classes. We left the monastery around 8:45 to go to Albi, where we had French class at Gerry's house. (Gerry is one of our professors.) Albi is about 30-40 minutes away and is basically the equivalent of Altoona. Sandra, our French teacher, knows very little English, but it is much less of a roadblock than you might expect it to be. It makes us want to work that much harder on our lessons.

After class, we headed across the street to the University of Albi, where we met some English-speaking university students and had lunch. They took us on a tour of the university and then Gerry took us on a walking tour of Albi. Albi is a beautiful city.

It was such a pretty day, the sky was a gorgeous blue.

The cathedral in Albi, strikingly massive. It is just as pretty inside with elaborate designs and architecture.

A city skyline that is nothing like Pittsburgh...

And the bridges back home are all steel and metal...not so much here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Exploring Ambialet

On Saturday, a group of us ventured into the village and did some exploring.

This is the dam in Ambialet.

I love how in this picture, it is near impossible to tell where the cliff ends and where the building begins. You don't see things like this back home, that is for sure.

I'm not quite sure what this building is, but I love the colors and design of it.

Another view of the beautiful architecture.

There is a cross on top of that cliff that we will hike to eventually.

These are fortress ruins that we hiked to--at the beginning of the hike, we were all bundled up in our winter coats, hats, and scarves, but by the end, we were all carrying our winter gear. It was quite a workout.

A view of the ruins from down below. It may not look very high up, but trust me when I say it was not easy to get up there!

Saturday, January 10, 2009



There are gorgeous 360* views here at the monastery. No matter where you look, there is pretty scenery in the form of the picturesque countryside landscapes, sloping hills, and winding waters of the Tarn River that surround the quaint, little village of Ambialet.

We arrived on Friday afternoon after a long traveling experience that began on Thursday morning with a bus ride to the Philadelphia airport. But the beautiful scenery we were welcomed with more than made up for the labors of traveling.

There is a lot of history here, which is heaven for a history geek like me. The monastery was built in the 14th century, while the church (pictured below) dates back to 1047.

I'm sure over the next few days we will get settled in and explore the town more. Until next time, au revoir!