And the great cream puff disaster
From Avignon we drove to Carcassonne, a hilltop town in southern France’s Languedoc area. It is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman times, with major additions made in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was first built by the Romans about 100BC but later taken by the Visigoths, and was built up to protect the people from the French. The Visigoths had mastered Roman construction and added on in the Roman style, a problem for modern archeologists trying to date parts of the structures. Well worth the visit with beautiful views of the Pyrenees and surrounding countryside. You need several hours to do an audio tour and then walk the castle walls. There is a church to visit as well after you exit the castle, and lots of shops and restaurants to keep you busy and make your wallet lighter.
From there we drove to Montauban and our temporary place of residence at Place Nationale. Well, not quite. We got close to our flat, but you can't drive in the Place Nationale no matter what Google maps says, that is unless you have a remote control to lower the post blocking the road. So we found a place to park and rattled our suitcases along cobblestone roads in search of our flat. It was quite the task in a maze of streets and narrow alleyways. Corinne had plugged in the destination into Google and we followed a rather circuitous route for a while until I realized she had us following driving directions, not walking directions. A quick correction and voila! We found where we needed to go, met the owners of the flat, and settled in. What a cool place it is. High ceilings, plaster walls, large rooms, tile floors. Thank you Airbnb!
The fun began after the owners of the flat helped us get free parking. We drove them to the free parking lot where they had parked and then Corinne and I walked back to Place Nationale and stood there wondering exactly which door was our flat. We wandered around for several minutes going from corner to corner of the square looking for the door. Eventually we found it and had a good laugh about it. We have laughed several more times since too. Not a lot of landmarks to go by when it all looks the same. It is especially difficult at night, but we've managed.
We met Marcy, one of the people who helped organize the French exchange students. She brought us chocolatines, or pain au chocolat, and walked us around the centre of Montauban showing us some of the sights. A short walk (or so Marcy thought... 30 minutes later) got us to the school from which 5 students attended our school in February and now where 5 of our students are attending. We entered the school and were met by all 10 of the students previously mentioned. What a nice welcome. And the welcome got even better. After a meeting with the international liaison and the vocational principal, we were escorted to the vocational school dining room. Young teens who have chosen a path in food services awaited us dressed in suits and ties, some looking as young as 12. How professional they were. We were escorted to our table and one of the students, the one that drew the short straw I assume, was our waiter for the luncheon. This meal was a special meal which included not one, not two, but three directors of the school, head teachers, and the special Canadian guests, one of whom didn't speak French. "Does that mean I have to serve in English?" short straw asked, deer in the headlight expression on his face. A big sigh of relief to know he only had to respond to me in English, a task I did not make arduous for him.
First up, of course, was a drink. These kids served us a rum drink and, later on, wine!
The meal was very good, and very long. The main meal had all the student servers march out single file, one by one surrounding our table in a counterclockwise fashion, and place a teardrop shaped plate with a silver dome covering the plate's contents in front of each of the guests. In a semi-choreographed manner, on the count of three all the domes were removed to reveal our meal. It was quite the show. The meal was very good as was the wine. Dessert of either pear and ice cream or 3 cream puffs was served. Our poor server accidentally spilled a plate of cream puffs at the table right on top of one of the director's clothes and purse. She was off making a phone call, luckily, but her purse, scarf, and seat wore the whipped cream. He was so embarrassed but handled himself well during the cleanup. The director, when she returned, was very good natured about the whole thing and tried her best to make the young lad feel better.
After lunch we met with the religious director and then a head English teacher gave us a tour of this very large school. 1500 students attend from 8 AM to as late as 6 pm, just like most schools in France!
After the tour Berta, the English teacher, drove us home due to the unfortunate change in the weather. Rain. Wind. Just like home.
Friday night all the home stay families met us at a restaurant belonging to one of the families and we had a lovely meal. Kids all in one area, adults in another. One of the few English speaking people sat beside me. Another short straw draw? The evening was fabulous and for dessert, gifts were again presented to Corinne, some from the students, some from the parents. Marcy was also presented with a gift from the parents; an olive tree.
The experience of both students and parents has been exceptional. Great kids came to Canada, great kids came to France. The matchup of students was done well. A lot of time and effort on both Marcy's and Corinne's part has resulted in lifelong treasured memories and perhaps (hopefully), friendships.
Saturday was a little downtime for us. We slept in, a rest much needed. We went out for a bit of shopping by noon in a light drizzle only to exit a shop in the sun. We had a lovely dinner at Marcy's, a good 20 minutes out of town on highways and then narrow country roads. Watch out for deer and wild boar! Marcy's 3 children were very friendly and family is obviously very important in France. The SARHS student staying with the family is having a great time. Google maps got us back to Montauban and Corinne's exceptional navigation skills helped us find the free parking lot we left hours earlier. Must remember to save places in Google maps.
It is well after midnight and time for bed. There is a marathon running through the city tomorrow which should be interesting, and we are meeting another home stay family for mass at 11 AM. Till next time.