One of my most cherished experiences has to be my first trip out of the country. I was lucky enough as a young woman to be given the opportunity to travel to a small French village. The provincial town was quaint, with a bakery on one corner and a bookstore right across the way. From the moment I entered the bookseller’s shop, the keeper and I hit it off and he actually insisted I leave with one of my favorite books, free of charge. Talk about generosity!
I could not leave France without visiting an authentic European tavern for a bite to eat, and so I settled in for a drink and a hot plate of food. The tavern was jolly, warm, and practically bursting with song. Conversation and good cheer echoed from the high ceilings and the roaring flames of the fire illuminated the variety of taxidermy that adorned the walls. As snowflakes gently fell outside, I was content to stay cuddled up in my cozy armchair, listening to the colorful diners swap chilling ghost stories about the dangerous monsters that lurked in the woods.
The next leg of my francophone journey led me to a breathtakingly beautiful castle on the outskirts of a crooked wood. The castle was garnished with grotesquely beautiful gargoyles and other stone guardians. Towers and turrets protruded from every which way and seemed to touch the sky. Inside the old stone walls, the halls were lit by the golden glow of candelabra. I enjoyed a moment by the roaring fire and even got to meet the master of the castle himself. He was a very powerful man, though I soon discovered that he had quite a beastly temper as he explained his aversion to trespassers. Could I really blame him though? I’m sure anyone who traveled through the forest came knocking at his door with wide eyes and a desire to see inside.
Dinner at the castle was an event that I will not soon forget. The afternoon was spent primping and prepping for the occasion and, as I walked ever so gracefully down the grand staircase, I felt like I was stepping into a fairy tale. The table itself stretched on for what felt like a mile and was set with the finest china I had ever seen. I was enveloped by the ambiance of the gentle violin music wafting in from the other room.
After dinner, I was treated to a tour of the castle. The master of the grounds explained the architectural style of various structural elements that made up the building. Actually seeing the artistic detail of such a massive palace was absolutely stunning. I even got to see the suits of armor adorning the picturesque halls. But, the best part of the tour was saved for last. The library.
Without a doubt the most enchanting stop on my entire visit was the master’s library. The room was filled with natural daylight, which flooded in through enormous windows positioned periodically along the walls. I was speechless as I gazed around at the shelves and shelves of books. The volumes were housed in bookcases furnished with the most beautifully ornate ornamentation. Staircases to my left and right led up to even more shelves. The library was purely magnificent.
Looking back, my trip to France was certainly my most memorable experience as it introduced me to so many new things. I enjoyed the cheer of a small town and a jolly tavern. I learned about the architecture of the baroque period and experienced the decorum of ancient castle life. Going abroad opened up so many new doors for me. Okay, so I experienced my trip to France by watching Beauty and the Beast on my living room TV, but with the help of Arcadia’s study abroad program, I look forward to experiencing it all firsthand one day.
Photo by Daniel Jolivet