Friday, March 6, 2009

Mines, ruins, and karaoke

Tuesday was a super busy day! We left Ambialet around 8:45 in the morning as usual to head to French class in Albi. After lunch, we visited a mine museum in nearby Cagnac. I was very interested to see what the museum would have to offer, since my great-grandfather was a miner back in the day.

We donned hard hats and went "underground." At first, we all thought we were going into a real mine. The elevator ride we took to get down to the (fake) mine was kind of scary! It was a very shaky ride, and the lights flickered on and off the whole time. We got off the elevator and went through the mine only to find out that it wasn't real, and we didn't even go very far underground at all. The elevator ride was only a stimulation! It makes sense, since it would be extremely dangerous to actually go into a real mine.

Below is a picture of Gerry and our tour guide. Thanks to him, I have a new name: Daisy. haha. Before the elevator ride, he was explaining the system the mine had in place to keep track of whether or not a miner returned at the end of the day. I happened to be standing right in front of him and he decided to use me as an example. He asked me what my name was, but when he tried to say it, it came out "Daisy." Everyone laughed, and I guess he just fed off that, because throughout the rest of the tour at random intervals, he would ask, "Where's Daisy?!" to make sure I wasn't lost. I would just raise my hand and say, "I'm right here!" haha. It was pretty amusing. Needless to say, my name for the rest of the day was Daisy. haha.

After touring the mine, we visited some more ancient ruins. I will never get over how history like this is just so abundant here. When you look at the pictures below, you know you are looking at something that is hundreds, maybe even thousands of years old. Back in the states, we truly don't have anything like this--we're too young!

The tower that you see in the next picture was quite a sight to see. It was the tallest tower in southern France for about 400 years.

Most of us braved the dark and narrow spiral stairs to get to the top. Look how high up we were! It was definitely worth the trouble of climbing those crazy stairs. It was a gorgeous day too, not a cloud in the sky, except for a patch or two here and there!!

The view from the top of the tower was breathtaking. You could see the beautiful rolling hills of the rural scenery for miles in every direction. We are slowly bidding farewell to winter--the green landscape was looking pretty vibrant. :)

Here is a picture of the stairs. Small, narrow, dark... I got dizzy both on the way up and the way down because the stairs make up such a small spiral, you were going round and round every second!

We spent probably an hour at the site, exploring and taking tons of pictures.

Next, it was onto Notre Dame de la Dreche, a beautiful church that was nearby. We got to go on top of the church and play with the bells up there. And as might be expected, there were absolutely breathtaking views.

I actually forgot my camera that day (of course), so all of these pictures are courtesy of Cat. :)

The inside of the church was so pretty. All the walls and ceilings were handpainted by one artist. It took him about 20 years to do it all. I was in awe of all the artistry as I looked around the church. It was just beautiful.

After touring the church and grounds, we had dinner with the Franciscans who showed us around. They were very kind and the food was delicious! We had soup, chicken, green beans, salad, cheese, dessert, and even fruit. Once dinner was over, it was off to Albi, where we would meet up with some University students and sing karaoke. As we left, the moon was out and it was a nice, cool night.

We all had a great time at L'Estabar singing karaoke. We were probably the loudest people there. haha.

Some of the songs we sang included "I Will Survive," "That Don't Impress me Much," and "Genie in a Bottle" (talk about a blast from the past). We left after midnight and didn't get back to Ambialet until around 1am. It was definitely a long day, but it was a blast! :)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wine Tasting

On Thursday, we visited with students from Brens. These students, who are studying to be in the wine business, go to basically a two-year vocational school to get their degrees. We were all divided into groups and paired up with one or two Brens students. From there, we each went to a different vineyard to learn more about wine, and of course, partake in some wine tasting.

Cat, Colin, Eric, and I were paired with a very nice girl who spoke a good bit of English. We piled into her car and drove to our first vineyard, only to find that the lady who was supposed to show us around couldn't do it then. So we drove back to the Brens campus to find an alternate vineyard that would take us in. After lots of phone calls, Cave de Tecou was our savior.

Cave de Tecou is a winery nestled in the southwest corner of the Gaillac region. We decided to try a medium-sweet white wine called Fascination. I was happy to be able to try something other than red wine, which is mostly what we have here at the monastery.

We learned about the different types of glasses for different types of wines, and how to properly drink and taste wine. Smelling is an integral part of the wine-drinking experience, and the wine we had gave off a nice, flowery odor.

It had a good, sweet, honey taste with a nice, tingling aftertaste. It was a very well-balanced wine and I definitely enjoyed it more than the red wines I've had. We received a few bottles to take back with us for our activities the next day.

On Friday, the Brens students came to visit us at the monastery, where we had another wine tasting. Each group gave a little presentation, talking about the winery they visited and presenting their wine. We tasted about five different wines, but I was partial to the one my group presented.

The Brens students were very kind and engaging. They were happy to answer any questions we had, and they were interested about our lives back home. One thing I found interesting was that they told us the cost per year of education for them was equivalent to about 5-thousand dollars. They were stunned when we told them we pay about 30 grand a year at SFU. It's quite a difference in price, to say the least.

Later that night, we had a quite a crowd for dinner. There were about 35 people here--the Brens students and their teachers, students from the University of Albi, and some Albi residents. Chelsea and I had dish duty at the end of the night--35 dinner plates, 35 dessert plates, plus wine glasses, regular cups, and silverware... it was a long night at the sink, haha. But we didn't mind too much, because we had a good time socializing and talking with the diverse mix of people at dinner. :)