Go Road Trip through the Valley of Castles

The Loire Valley Is Calling You

When I was 17 years old, my sister had just graduated from college. For a big celebration, we decided to go on a three-week journey through France, Italy, and Greece. It was the first time we had backpacked, and we saw and experienced so much in that short period. One leg of the trip was particularly incredible, and that was our road trip by car from Paris down through the famous Loire Valley to the south of France.

No matter how you choose to explore the area, the Loire Valley is definitely worth making the trip. The prime winemaking region is called the 'Garden of France' and is filled with vineyards, farms, and orchards all along the roadways and river banks. What makes it even more exceptional is the abundance of castles that come from nearly every era of royalty in France. They range from monumentally large to not-quite-as-large-but-still-pretty-big. They are castles after all.

photo by j.hamren

On our trip, we were fortunate to hit up a couple of chateaux, and they are all worth exploring.

Chenonceau

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The elegance, the grace, the class, the physics of this building! This is one of the most famous Loire Chateau and has to be a lot of people's all-time favorite castles. I understand why. It is so unique and memorable with that long graceful expanse over the water. Every room inside is made extraordinary when you look outside and see the river flowing beneath you. On the banks are perfectly maintained French flower gardens. The precision and beauty are remarkable. I'm pretty sure if I were the king's mistress, I would definitely want this castle too.

photo by j.hamren


Amboise

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So close to the river, Chateau D'Amboise towers above the town below. The sheer cliff face that separates it makes for a remarkable view of both the small town and the surrounding countryside. If you're in it for the history, then this castle is for you. It saw periods of boom and bust as it rose and fell in popularity as the royal residence. After some periods of decline, parts of it needed to be demolished, but the remaining buildings are both beautiful and marked with historical value. I mean a king accidentally killed himself here by hitting his head on a doorway. It is also rumored to be the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci, maybe you've heard of him? You can even check out some of this inventions on the lawn!

photo by j.hamren


Blois

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The Chateau de Blois was the center of French power for multiple kings and the place where Joan of Arc was blessed in the 15th century. It also featured the assassination of Henry I and was a castle for royal exiles. It has done it all. This castle has beautiful French renaissance architecture which you can see in it's famous, insanely impressive, spiral staircase. It is also massive. With 564 rooms, 75 staircases, and over 100 bedrooms it is so worth seeing how well the monarchy lived. With royal Fleur de Lis everywhere in sight, a gorgeous blue and gold stateroom, and it's own LIGHT SHOW you cannot miss this castle. If you enjoy a really good time like me, then head to a bar, get a cocktail, and then enjoy the spectacular light show with an added boost.

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Chambord

photo by j.hamren

The big kahuna, so to speak. Perhaps the most magnificent of all of the Loire Castles, it is worth seeing for its sheer size alone. To believe this was built as a hunting lodge for people who never even lived here makes you understand why the people were fed up with these royals. Though it was never finished, it remains an incredible show of wealth and stunning architecture. Though people never really lived here, it has lived on as an art warehouse during world war 2 and a large tourist attraction.

photo by j.hamren

I cannot recommend road tripping through the Loire Valley enough. The castles, the countryside, the miles, and miles of sunflowers and vineyards that mark the drive. Every moment was special and every location beautiful. Try the wine and explore the sights, and you'll be glad you did.

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Three Things to Consider When Planning Your Vacation

There are plenty of things to consider when planning your vacation. Make sure you have all your bases covered by the time you buy your plane ticket!

Going on vacation is wonderful after months of stress and work. There's just one last hurdle before hopping on that plane: planning.

There can be an overwhelming number of things to consider when planning your vacation (COVID-19 not least), but putting them in an itemized list helps. Here's a quick cheat-sheet for you to get a jump-start on that.

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Remember Your Budget

If you make a budget, which you definitely should, stick to it. Don't spend more than what you can afford when you start vacationing. Vacations are meant to be relaxing, so saddling yourself with debt will only dampen the fun of your trip. How much are you spending on living accommodations, food, activities, travel? How much are you setting aside in emergency funds in case something happens?

Plan for the Length of the Trip

Are you going out of town for a few months, or do you only have a week off? How much time you have can affect where you can go and how much you can enjoy it. If you only have a week and a half for a trip, then it's best not to go somewhere that's a 16-hour flight away. Half the trip is going to be spent on planes, and the other half will be spent being jet-lagged.

Trip length can also affect how you have to deal with your home while you're away. If you're away for long periods of time, do you need to hire people to cut your grass? Do you need to hire house sitters or babysitters? There are even things to know if you need to board your dog. Keep all these in mind for extended vacations.

Consider the Weather

You never want to ruin your vacation by heading somewhere beautiful in its offseason. Depending on the time of year, most activities could be canceled due to weather restrictions. Some places are ideal for winter trips, and other destinations are made to be enjoyed during the summer heat. Plan accordingly, and don't show up in a swimsuit when it's 50 degrees outside.

That rounds up the basics, but there are plenty more things to consider when planning your vacation. Give yourself wiggle room if any unique considerations pop up in your planning process.

There has never been a better time to learn a language than right now. While we can't really travel, we can still get ready to explore the world and other cultures through film, music, and food. But the key to all of this is language. It can be hard getting started on your own and so we found the perfect solution: Rosetta Stone.

We've been loving hunkering down and digging into Rosetta Stone, a language learning app with many different languages, the best lessons, and an affordable subscription. It's flexible and made to work for you, no matter what level you're starting at. Jump back into French without dusting off your highschool books or pick up Mandarin with a clean slate.

Thinking about Rosetta Stone for your language lessons? Here are the answers to your most pressing questions:

What languages do they offer?

With Rosetta Stone, you can choose from 25 different languages including Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese. When you get the Unlimited Languages subscription you gain access to all 25 and can switch between languages. While you may be intensely learning German, you can take a break and pick up some conversational Korean — all in one app.

What are the features?

What makes Rosetta Stone's lessons really work are the incredible learning features.

Phrasebook will teach you short, useful expressions that are sure to come in handy during your travels, letting you see the practical application of what you're learning. Seek & Speak brings the fun back into learning by having you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and taking photos of them to get the translated name. Even in an app, Rosetta Stone turns any environment into a classroom.

TruAccent is a speech engine within the program that provides instant feedback on your pronunciation so you know if you're on the right track. You'll grow more confident about speaking aloud and it's like having an accent coach in the room with you.

How long does it take every day?

Rosetta Stone's lessons are bite-sized, so all you need is 5 -10 minutes a day to sneak in some practice and work towards your language goals. Of course, you can do more if you want but there's no regimented schedule or pressure to speed ahead.

How does it compare to in-person classes?

With the Rosetta Stone app, your learning is within your control and designed to move at your pace. The app will tailor to your particular interests, strengths, and weaknesses! Plus, with the recent explosion of online classes, most people have fallen away from in-person instruction anyway.

Rosetta Stone brings you expert teaching, fun engaging lessons, and a multitude of language options all on-the-go. Take your classes whenever and wherever works best for you, conveniently on the app.

Is it suitable for all levels?

Absolutely. When you first start, the app allows you to choose a study plan based on your experience level. So, if you're a beginner you can start from scratch and those with some proficiency can advance to where they're comfortable.

How much does it cost?

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month and grants access to all 25 languages, cheaper than Netflix. You get an education at a great value and the best part is no ads while you learn!

We look forward to our Rosetta Stone lessons and highly recommend it to anyone eager to learn a new language or even brush up on an old one. This program makes learning fun, practical, convenient, and most importantly affordable.

Say bonjour, to the go-to language learning app and have the world right at your fingertips!

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!

Like so many out there I haven't been traveling. With everything going on these days I've been staying home, which I love, but it does have me itching to travel. The international section of Netflix just isn't satisfying my travel bug like it used to (trust me, if it's been recommended I've watched it).

I was looking for another way I could travel without leaving home so I did the rounds of take-out food: Chinese, German, Italian, and Mexican. This was fun and tasty but a pricey way to explore the world.

A friend of mine suggested taking a prepping approach to travel and try Rosetta Stone: a language learning program that offers an annual plan with access to 24+ languages.

I've always wanted to learn a new language but have had trouble committing. I was a bit wary about starting Rosetta Stone but ultimately decided to give it a shot.

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month for 12 months (what a deal). While I was determined to learn Spanish in anticipation of my dream trip to Spain, this plan allows me to switch to any of the other 24+ languages.

I was excited to get started and use the app. I figured with all of the extra time I had until I could actually go on my trip, I'd aspire to be near fluent by the time it happened.

Jumping right in, I took a ton of lessons through their app and really binged the language. I loved the focus on conversational language, phrases, and vocabulary but after about a week I had burned myself out a bit.

I ended up pulling back and doing 10-minute lessons a day. This was manageable and easy to incorporate into my schedule whether it was by doing a lesson over my morning coffee or winding down right before bed. Learning in bite-sized amounts helped me digest the information and really process what I was being taught.

After a couple of weeks, I was getting really comfortable with Rosetta Stone and was actually enjoying the learning process… even though I wasn't a big fan of language when I was in school. What really set this experience apart for me was the Phrasebook and Seek & SpeakⓇ features.

Phrasebook teaches short, useful expressions that I know will come in handy on my trip. Seek & SpeakⓇ definitely brought the fun back into learning for me, as it has you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and take photos of them. Once you do this it gives you a translation of each item (I've never enjoyed looking for cucumbers in my fridge before).

Watching so many telenovelas I knew how important the accent is (in any language) but difficult without an in-person instructor. Rosetta Stone realizes that too and uses TruAccentⓇ. The speech engine within the program gave me instant feedback so I knew that my pronunciation was on the right track and it made me more comfortable speaking aloud.

Rosetta Stone turned out to be a great choice for me. Now I'm daydreaming about traveling and feel like when the time comes I'll be ready to. I'm so confident in my learning that I've branched out and have done some lessons in Italian and French! I'm thinking, after Spain… maybe Rome and Paris? My destinations list is endless now!

Honestly, with Rosetta Stone, I feel more inspired than ever to travel and all this inspiration is happening right in my home. I can't wait to take what I've learned on the road but until then the preparation is still incredibly fun and useful.

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!