Why I’m Kicking Italy to the Curb

I couldn’t get motivated to plan my Spring Break trip to Italy. The thought of figuring out train schedules, flights, hostels, sights, etc. all made me want to take a big nap.  “What’s wrong with me? It’s Italy for God sake!”

So, I started thinking maybe this was a sign that I’m not suppose to go to Italy.   Then an idea popped in my head – “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela”. The moment it entered my brain, it would not leave and kept giving me those wanderlust butterflies.  Within a few hours I was online googling and sending a text message to my friend, Holly, who has experienced “El Camino” twice. Within a couple more hours, I was obsessed and had already looked up train schedules, maps, books, weather and rented the movie, The Way. Italy, who?

I know what your asking yourself – What the heck is “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela”?
The “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela” (known in English as “the Way of St. James” or in French as “le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle”) is a group of paths, throughout Europe that people (pilgrims) have been walking for thousands of years.  These paths all lead to the amazingly beautiful cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain which is dedicated to the Apostle James. The path I will be taking is conveniently called “The French Way” and starts in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, 800km (500 miles) east of Santiago de Compostela.  This particular path is also said to be the most important Christian pilgrimage in the Western world.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Who is St. James, anyway?
You know, it’s hard to say. Every website I found had information that didn’t match the previous. So, here’s what is consistent:

  • He was a BFF’s of Jesus and one of his first apostles.
  • James is the patron Saint of Spain, so, of course, the Spaniards adore him.
  • He was a pretty good fisherman.
  • JC himself gave St. James and his brother, John, (also an Apostle) the nickname, “Sons of Thunder”, because of their “fiery tempers”.
  • James was the first martyr in the name of Jesus. After his death his body was sent to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. There is a rumor that the body never made it, but, nonetheless, the city has a shrine (the cathedral) dedicated to him.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Stacie, who are you kidding? A religious pilgrimage? You? Seriously?”
I know, I know, I know, let me explain.  The “El Camino” is not just for the religious.  Along the way, I will meet people who are walking for a variety of reasons, purposes, goals, causes and probably some people who are doing it because they feel like it.  The only requirement for the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a purpose.

So, really, what does this mean?

The French Way

Each day, I plan to walk, approximately a half marathon, more or less, through the mountains, farmlands and villages of Northern Spain. Unfortunately, it normally takes about a month to complete the entire path and I only have 15 days to spare. So, I will start in St. Jean Pied de Port with a goal of making it to Burgos, which is a little more than 1/3 of the way.   At some point in my life, I would like to return to Burgos and finish in Santiago de Compostela, but we’ll see.  Remember the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.”

I will follow the shells throughout Spain.

I will carry my clothes, sleeping gear, toiletries, etc. in my backpack (weighing no more than 14lbs). In St. Jean Pied de Port, I will be given a “Pilgrim Passport” which allows me to sleep, eat and shower in the (mostly Church run) pilgrim only hostels. The path is indicated by little arrows and shells throughout the Spanish countryside.  I know.  This might be the smartest, coolest and/or stupidest thing I’ve ever done.

Note to Mom: I’ll have a cell phone for emergency purposes and also plan to update this blog along the way (internet connection permitting).

And most important, the purpose
I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity for something like this in the near future. A voyage like the “El Camino” seems (nearly) impossible with a job and kids. So, I’m taking this last opportunity to be a bit of a free spirit, unplanned, adventurous and to hopefully satisfy (or tame) those little wanderlust butterflies that are constantly floating around in my tummy.

And for your viewing pleasure, here is the trailer to the film, The Way, which takes place on the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

A final note to Mom: Don’t pay any attention to that part about the kid dying. They did that for dramatic effect.

Chez Chevrier

Sleep, school, study, eat, sleep – repeat cycle. With that being said, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home and hanging out with the french family. So, thanks to my hermit status, I thought this was the perfect time to give you a tour of the typical french home. And to kill two birds with one stone, let’s have a little french lesson.

First things first, the word chez means “at the home of”. All over France you hear people saying chez this, chez that and it basically means at someone’s home. For example:
Chez moi – my home (could mean the actual residence, city or country where I live)
Chez toi/vous – your home
Chez dentist – the dentist’s home (meaning his place of business)
Chez Chevrier – the Chevrier’s (as in my in-laws) home

You get the point.  I present to you, Chez Chevrier:

My room is the top window on the right.

Doors (les portes)/Windows (les fenêtres)/Basement (le sous-sol)/Garage (le garage). I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come in the front door. Friends and family arrive at the windows to say hello. In fact, there are a few doors that one might even call a window. I say this because most of the doors and windows open the same way and there are no screens.  What I dislike most about the doors here is that you must have a key to leave. This is my mom speaking, “What if there’s a fire?”.  And in America, that would be a predicament, but here, you could just go out the window/door.  I almost always enter in the basement, which is also the garage. An interesting aspect of the french basement is that most of them have a wine cellar (une cave). Also, check out the cute, little washer and dryer.

Window/Door

Baby Washer & Dryer

Wine Cellar

Living Room

Living Room (Le salon). Really, this room could be burned to the ground and french life would not be affected. The only time you ever use this room is when you have company. Now, I know what you American’s are thinking, because I think it all the time…”Don’t you watch TV here?” Not really.

Kitchen

Kitchen (La cuisine). This is where the action happens in France! All food is eaten here. Rarely is there an exception. Also, this is where Jean-Paul watches TV at night. I thought this might be something done only at chez Chevrier, but after visiting other homes, I’ve confirmed the TV in the kitchen is a french thing. Another interesting part of the kitchen is the fridge (le frigidaire), which is to the left of the microwave and looks like a cupboard built into the wall. Note, there is no freezer (that’s in the basement). Oh, and there is no such thing as a garbage disposal in France, which explains why Fabien never uses ours. (:

Bathroom

The confusing shower

Toilet Room

The Bathroom (la salle de bains). Normally, in Europe, the bathroom consists of the shower (la douche, seriously), a bath tub (la baignoire) and a sink (le lavabo). Before we address the obvious missing link, let’s talk about the shower/bath combo. Notice how the shower doesn’t have a hanger for the shower head? This is something I will never understand and will never get used to in Europe. These types of bath/showers are all over France and become the frequent topic of conversation among the Americans at school. None of us know how to use it properly and we’ve all agreed that it’s not very comforting. I am fortunate because at chez moi there is another shower with a hanging head. Why, Europe? Why? Okay, I’m finished. Let’s talk about why the toilet isn’t here.

The toilet (la toilette). Contrary to popular American belief, most french homes do not have a bidet. In fact, I have only see one of these since arriving and it was at an older person’s home next to a regular toilet. Now, here’s something I like about European bathrooms- the toilet is its own separate room, as it should be. This separate room concept gives you great privacy and avoids the predicament of someone (most likely a husband) trying to use the toilet when your taking a relaxing bath. No thanks! Also, most of the toilets here have a 2 flush option. For “things” requiring more flush, push “#2” and for those requiring less, push “#1”.  The one bad point about this concept is that there is typically no direct sink to wash your hands post utilization.

The Bedroom (la chambre). Things here are pretty status quo. One of my favorite things about french homes (and apartments) is that nearly all the windows and doors have shutters (les volets) which make for wonderful sleep-ins on the weekend (gros do-do).

Nougat - Scout - Panpan

The Cat (le chat). No french family is complete without a cat or at least that’s what I explained to Jean-Paul after my brother-in-law moved taking his two cats with him. After a few days of Corinne and I begging and making sad faces, Jean-Paul agreed we could get a kitten. So, I present to you, the kitten (le chaton). His previous owners called him Nougat, but we have been toying with changing his name to Scout (the name of a friends cat who he resembles) or Panpan (the name of Thumper in the french version of Bambi because of the way he sits). Feel free to chime in with your preference of name.

So, I hope you enjoyed the tour of a typical french home. Speaking of home, I am headed to chez moi (the US) tomorrow for 2 weeks of vacation and I am soooooooooo ready. When I return to France in March, I’m looking forward to visiting London, Provence, Marseilles, Rome, Florence and potentially a few other cities. Until then, au revoir! 

“Home”: St. Cyr en Val

Downtown St. Cyr en Val

When we made our recent move to Smyrna, Tennessee, I wrote a post about my new city. So, its only fair that I tell you a little bit about the place where I’m living now.  This is St. Cyr en Val.  It’s a typical french village 20 minutes south of Orléans, which is a city most famous for it’s Cathedral and being the hometown of Joan of Arc. St. Cyr en Val has 3,170 inhabitants (census 2009) who call themselves St. Cyriennes.

There are a few bakeries, a post office, church, convenience store, car dealership, pharmacy and two restaurants, both of which I have never seen open (welcome to France). Yes, it’s pretty small. However, while out for a run one afternoon, I discovered the village (like our home in Smyrna) also has a picturesque little river.

The adorable little river

The Church of St. Cyr en Val

The car dealership of St. Cyr en Val (LOL)

The church shown is where Fabien and I will get married (again) this July. Nearly every hour during the day, I can hear the church bells play from my bedroom. On Christmas Eve, they played my favorite Christmas song ‘Carole of the Bells’. Even though it was freezing, I opened the bedroom windows and shrieked with excitement. This is also the church where Fabien’s mother had her baptism, communion, confirmation and wedding. Now, it’s Fabien’s turn to complete the quadfectra.

Rue René Godin

In addition, the village is full of family history. His Grandparents, Jean-Claude & Raymonde Godin, are very well-known and loved throughout St. Cyr. The first time I came to France, Jean-Claude told me stories of when he was young and saw the American soldiers come into Orléans during World War II. Jean Claude’s father, René Godin, even has a street named after him.  When René Godin died, he gifted land to his family, which they used to build houses. So, the Chevrier’s live directly behind Corinne’s sister, Valerie, right next door to her brother, Gilles and down the street from her parents who live next door to her other brother, Eric who lives next door to Corinne’s other sister, Veronique. Got all that? Most of you will remember Veronique as the crazy Aunt at from our wedding who ran around taking pictures and speaking french to everyone who only spoke English. Well, can you imagine what it’s like to live in a whole village of crazy French people like her? FUN is the answer! But in all honesty, it’s quite amazing how many family members are in close proximity and how know one is in each others business. They each have their own lives and reserve the weekend for little visits.

I really can’t thank the people in St. Cyr en Val enough for how friendly and patient they have been. Often, I butcher their language while asking for items at the convenience store, but they just give me a gracious smile and hand me what I was asking for where as in a bigger city, I might be considered a nuisance. Overall, the family and residents of the village are the reason I am loving small town life in France.

Oh, and St. Cyr en Val is one quick ride away from this little vacation cottage of Francois the 1st that I visited last weekend (for more pics, click here):

Just a little vacation home...