Study Abroad: Practically Royal
It's been almost two months into the fall semester and things have gotten quite interesting in France, where I am doing a semester abroad with the IES Business and International Affairs program. Paris is beautiful and majestic, and relatively more multicultural compared to other parts of France – as I have heard and to some extent, observed. In my judgment, Parisians take clothing quite seriously, this I find great, although I have had to use an inhaler or two whenever I saw people seriously dressed just to walk their dogs.
Anyway, this past month has witnessed visits to must-see places and monuments in France, such as the Jewish and Latin quarters, Montmartre (well known for the movie Moulin Rouge), Caen, Normandy and Omaha beaches (World War II sites), the Normandy American cemetery and memorial (in Colleville-sur-mer, where some American soldiers are buried. It’s also featured in Steven Spielberg’s film, Saving Private Ryan), opera houses, the river Seine, the Eifel Tower, l’Arc de Triomphe, and a few others. However, I’d like to talk about the Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte castles in Fontainebleau and Maincy respectively.
Built in the 16th century by Francis I, and a couple of miles outside Paris, the Fontainebleau castle is one of the largest in French royal history. The vast forest surrounding the castle favored hunting and in part made it a vacation venue for many French kings. It was at this castle that Napoleon Bonaparte bid farewell to his old guards before going into exile in 1814. I find the castle’s parks and gardens beautiful, although I don’t think they catch up with those of the Vaux-le-Vicomte castle.
Unlike the Fontainebleau castle, Vaux-le-Vicomte is private and relatively smaller in size. Located a couple of miles from Paris, Vaux-le Vicomte was built in the 17th century by Nicolas Fouquet – then finance minister of King Louis XIV. This castle is one phrase – beautiful then and now. With magnificent and well-maintained gardens, and Italian works of art, the castle reflects Fouquet’s extravagant lifestyle as well as his taste for the arts. But how beautiful is this castle? Well it is beautiful enough to have caused Fouquet’s arrest by King Louis XIV, after its commission. Later, the king would borrow from Vaux-le-Vicomte in building the palace and gardens of Versailles.
If there is one thing France is never short of, it is castles. There’ve been stories of French kings building flamboyant castles for their wives and so on. And visiting these castles gives one a chance to experience some of what royalty, and perhaps class, was about back then.