This was the view from my hotel room in Clermont-Ferrand. It is a relatively small town in the center of France.
The even older Basilica had great stained glass windows and downspouts that looked like crying people.
The building across from the Basilica was built in the 1200s also and had the original fresco of an elephant still on the outside. It is faded and the back half of the elephant appears to be missing, but for something 800 years old, on the outside of a building, amazing.
Here are some of the people I met at the conference. It was on plant biomechanics and had a diverse mix of engineers, physicists, and botanists. I was the only plant breeder and Doug and I were the only ones working on corn - or even grasses. There were a lot of tree biologists and some Arabidopsis folks looking at cell wall mechanics or specific mutants. It was very international - French, German, Austrian, Russian, Finnish, Chinese, Japanese, Argentine, and American researchers. One guy joked that at least his research wasn't funded by an evil corporation like Monsanto - on his first slide. The guy on the right in this photo is Dmitri - a Russian scientist that kind of latched onto Doug and I. I think we ate every meal together. He was full of stories about the Russian and Belgian research organizations. Doug brought two potential post docs to the meeting and the French woman knew the town and took us to a tiny restaurant called "Le Petit Grille" that was probably the best food I ate in France.
The last few days I rented a car and drove to Peyrehorade where there is a Monsanto breeding station. It was a six hour drive through the mountains to get there and the rental place gave me a GPS that only worked in French. It was an adventure, especially before I figured out the french words for right and left. (A la gauche - to the left, A la doite - to the right). I got very lost close to Peyrehorade because they were repairing the bridge and I had to ask at a farmhouse for directions. I mimed where I wanted to go and she drew me a confusing map with lots of handwaving to explain where to go at each landmark. But I got there. My colleagues were mostly on vacation, but Romain and Pierre came in from vacation to meet with me. Both were Basque and were excited to show me the Basque country. Romain took me to San Sebastian in Spain for tapas for dinner and drove me all over the French basque country.