France, Study Abroad

France 2018

In the fall of 2018, I had the incredible opportunity to spend the semester studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. It was an amazing time in my life; I saw so many amazing places and also learned a lot from my classes. That’s a very nerdy thing to say, but I honestly took some great classes. One of them – “Visages de la France contemporaine” – is something that I think of at least once a week. For a myriad of reasons, this was a phenomenal trip, and it also got me more interested in travel blogging. Because I was balancing writing this blog with taking classes and traveling, a lot of the posts I wrote while in France were a bit shorter than ideal, and I was primarily writing just to let those at home know what I was up to. As with blogs from other earlier trips, I’ve compiled the majority of my original France posts here, so they can be read in a continuous sort of diary. To view all France posts, visit the archive here.

Bienvenue: One Week in Aix

September 8, 2018

Well,  here I am!   I’ve  just finished my first full  week in Aix-en-Provence,  France (Aix pronounced  X).   I arrived here last Thursday afternoon and met my roommate for the semester as I was shown to my apartment – a small but chic place on the main street with a loft bedroom overlooking the main floor. After a few hours to settle in, my study abroad program – CEA (Cultural Experiences Abroad) – hosted the first of the semester’s bi-weekly “Happy Hours” in which each student receives a free drink.  I chose an Orangina, which is non-alcoholic and basically just sugar though it has a kind of freaky appearance.

Flying into France

After a day of orientation and a five course dinner, Saturday was our day to get to know Aix with soap-making in the morning at a local Savonnerie and a history tour of the city in the afternoon.  We learned about the history of soap, which is more interesting than you would think, and then were able to cut and stamp our own blocks of the trademarked “Savon de Marseille” which by law must be mixed in Marseille (only cut and designed in Aix) and have the proportions of 72% olive oil, 10% water, and 8% lye.

The ingredients for Savon de Marseille and a few example blocks

The history tour was also fascinating, especially as it was led by my art history professor for the semester.  We saw the major buildings, such as the cathedral and the Palace of Justice but also stopped to look at some street corners with the names in the old Provençal that used to be spoken in the region, and we saw the grand homes where rich families lived essentially until the French Revolution when people decided they no longer liked that.

With no organized plans on Sunday, I took a walk around the city to visit the cathedral again as well as a house just outside the city called the  Pavillon de Vendôme.  Though originally constructed for the sole purpose of conducting an affair, the building and grounds are now open the the public as a park and small art museum, currently showing some Picassos.  Most museums have free entry on Sundays, so I got in for free and spent a nice few hours wandering around.

Monday was orientation to the school, but Tuesday was a trip to La Ciotat, a nearby beach town and also home to the world’s oldest movie theater.  The Lumière Brothers, known for their innovations in film are memorialized with a monument here as it was also the site of their first “movie” – a train arriving in La Ciotat.  The beaches are phenomenal though, even if one can only swim in certain areas due to a jellyfish problem.

Wednesday and Thursday were both introductions to the classes, which I think will all be phenomenal.  I’m enrolled in French Phonetics, Contemporary French Identity, EU Politics, Refugee Politics, and a course on modern art in the Mediterranean region.  Tomorrow is another trip, and next week I’ll be posting an update on my classes as I settle into that routine.  So far, Aix is wonderful, and I’m loving every minute!

Provence, Marseille, and IAU

September 15, 2018

I’ve now been in France for a little over two weeks, and I’m loving having my windows open to hear the musicians on the street play every evening – often accordions, which gives my home-cooked meals a bit more of a French flair.  It’s been a busy week with classes kicking into gear and taking a couple of little trips as well.

Last Sunday, I went with my study abroad group on a trip to three little towns in Provence  – L’Isle sur la Sourge, Roussillon, and Gordes.  L’Isle sur la Sourge (“The island on the Sourge”) is known as the Venice of Provence for its little winding waterways, though actual road can get you most places.  It’s also famous for its large market, particularly its antiques.  And, being a little town with lots of rivers and market stalls, it’s very photogenic as well.

Roussillon and Gordes are both located in the Lubéron region of Provence (a region within a region because that’s not confusing at all).  Known for hill towns, vineyards, and spectacular lighting, any town in the Lubéron is probably beautiful.  Roussillon, however, has another draw – ocher.  The red rocks of the city were mined for centuries for their color which was used for paint.  The mining industry is now modernized, and the main business of the city is tourism.  Visitors can buy their own local ocher paints or just hike through the rocks, which look a lot like Mars.  My study abroad program also furnished a lunch for us at a fancy restaurant with a view of the red cliffs and deliciously fresh provençal foods and a very rich chocolate cake for dessert.

Gordes is one of the hill towns, and one of the biggest towns in the region.  Backed up against the Vaucluse mountains, it commands a spectacular view of the Lubéron.  Most spectacular to me, however, was a Romanesque, early Gothic church built around the 11th century.  Though very plain on the outside, the interior has colorful paint all along the walls with framed paintings and carvings added in later centuries.  It’s a distinct contrast to many of the Renaissance, Baroque, or even High Gothic churches in Europe because of the simpler design and bright colors.  Exploring the city was a lot of fun, and I’m really glad I had a chance to go.

This week was also when classes really got underway.  So far, I love all of them, even phonetics.  My art history class is covering representations of the Mediterranean in modern art, which is a topic that actually has a lot more to it than one would expect.  Our first assignment?  Hike out of the city to see the view Cezanne painted over two dozen times.  My other classes, besides phonetics, are focused on politics – French identity, the European Union, and the sub-group of politics that is very important to this region, Refugee Politics.

Finally, I spent today in Marseille, since it’s only a two euro trip for the whole day.  The main attraction is, of course, the Vieux Port (Old port) where the Greeks first started to build their settlement around 600BC.  This natural harbor is mostly home to the boats of locals these days as the bigger cruise and transport ships can’t really line up in it.  At both ends though, there are forts.  I started off my day on the western side with the Fort Saint-Jean, which was built in the Middle Ages and manned even through the Second World War.  From the top of the fort, there is now a bridge connected to the Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée.  The building has a really cool exterior with a pattern that reminded me of kelp.  It made for some cool pictures walking from exhibit to exhibit and also is a neat way to let in natural lighting.

Before heading to the other side of the port, it was necessary to stop at a particular glacerie known for its “Black Vanilla” flavor.  The color comes from vanilla pods – the thing the actual vanilla beans are inside.  This also means it doesn’t taste exactly like regular vanilla but is instead very creamy.  According to the guide book we looked at, it’s also bittersweet, but I just tasted sweet, and it was definitely worth the little detour we made to find it.

Next stop was the Musée Cantini, which is primarily art from the late 19th century.  Thanks to the Journées du Patrimonie (Days of Heritage) all throughout Europe, nearly all museums are free.  As a fan of Gustav Courbet, it was impressive to see some of his work in person right next to Degas and Cézanne.  And finally, after a quick, cheap lunch, it was time for the beach.  Back home now, I’m ready to eat dinner, do some homework, and go to bed.  But I can’t wait for what’s going to happen next!

Vanille Noir

To view my post on Avignon, go here.

Around Provence

September 30, 2018

I started this week off with a visit from Peggy Kourey who was on a trip of her own through Provence and was nice enough to meet up with me.  We had some nice conversation and an amazing dinner at Chez Nous, here in Aix.

On Wednesday, as part of my study abroad program – literally included in the price – I went to my first ever wine tasting. I was a little hesitant since of the wine I’d previously had I hadn’t liked any of it, but I’d technically already paid for it. The sommelier who owned the shop was incredibly nice, though her French became more difficult to understand as the tasting progressed. Surprisingly, I liked everything we had, leading me to believe I just have expensive tastes. However I also learned that my limit is about one glass of anything because by one and a half I had a raging headache.

The big trip of the week was to Gorges du Verdon in the Provençal Alps. The morning started with a trip to a little town – Vinson sur Verdon – which has a nice little market on Sundays where those on the trip could purchase ingredients for a picnic since there are no restaurants in the gorge. Our next stop was the lake – Lac de Sainte Croix – where people can rent paddle boats to travel into the gorge. The lake is actually man-made as a result of a dam built in the 1970s, and it has since become a  fun place for camping, hiking, and swimming. Since I didn’t really want wet jeans though and had brought a book anyway, I spent a pleasant hour and a half reading on the shore of the lake and eating my quiche and tarte tatin. Before leaving I hiked around a bit to see more of the lake which really is stunning.

The tour then progressed to driving into the Gorge du Verdon, part of the French Alps, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful river canyons in Europe.  Formed by the incredible turquoise-colored Verdon River, the gorge is 25 kilometers long but an even more impressive 700 meters deep.  It offers some truly stunning views.

Finally, we visited Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, which is home to the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir, built originally in the 9th century, what currently remains is all from the 13th.  The chapel was a  popular pilgrimage site during the middle ages, and it is still rumored to be a place of miracles, though I think my miracle may have been hiking up to it.  The town itself  is about a hundred meters  up the side of a cliff, but the  chapel had to be built even higher.  The town is also known for its pottery (faïence) and miraculous waters that  actually power the town via a waterfall. One can wish in any of the fountains or fill up a water bottle for a taste of this sweet water that is supposed to change one’s life.  It’s a very  small town, but very beautiful also with amazing views, and after seeing the chapel, I spent a very nice afternoon eating raspberry and mango sorbet in the shadow of the church Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.

Next week’s blog will be a day or so late since I’ll be traveling all weekend.

Until next time ~

To view my post on Prague, go here.

Antibes and Vallauris

October 14, 2018

It was a lovely week in Aix, with the temperatures finally feeling like fall – i.e. it’s cool but the Mistral isn’t freezing.  We’ve also been getting some rain, which makes for beautiful walking through the city.  And also a good reason to try  a new macaroon place.

I also had my first field trip this weekend.   Most of the classes at IAU include trips around France, and my art history class on Picasso, Matisse, and the Mediterranean necessitated a visit to two temporary Picasso exhibits that will be ending soon.  The first was in Antibes, the town where Picasso stayed after World War II.  The museum there was actually one of the first dedicated to Picasso, but it had a special exhibit with loans from Paris among other locations dedicated to Picasso’s time in the south.  Trapped in Paris and harassed by the Gestapo throughout the war, Picasso’s return south was one of the happiest times in his life, not least because it was at this time that he adopted his pet owl…and started his ten-year romance with Françoise Gilot.  Also in Antibes, I came across a memorial to Jean Moulin, a leader of the French Resistance.  It was a lovely day to wander around this little beach town, and I can see why Picasso was drawn to the easy lifestyle here.

Following Antibes, we made the short drive to Vallauris, a town historically known for its pottery.  While Antibes is a tourist town, Vallauris is a bit farther from the sea and a little quieter.  Picasso fell in love with Vallauris and lived there as well for a time.  During that time, about 70% of the population were potters, and the town had fallen on hard times due to the mass production of kitchenware.  Picasso, who loved painting on and playing with the clay essentially revived the industry.  Though he started out just tinkering with pre-made pieces, he also learned the process of making his own pieces.  In total, he made 4000, and still owned 3000 when he died – meaning there were 3000 pieces he didn’t want to part with.  He left behind two very  famous works in Vallauris, first War and Peace, a piece in which he painted the interior of a 14th century chapel.  Pictures of the chapel aren’t allowed, but it’s amazing.  His other work in Vallauris (besides all the pottery displayed in the museum) is Man with Sheep, a bronze sculpture to symbolize peace following the end of the war.

All in all, it was a great trip, and I look forward to more of the field trips that I have coming up.  It’s midterm season though, so I’ve got plenty of work to keep me busy int he interim.

Until next time ~

Arles and Les Baux de Provence

October 21, 2018

Yesterday I took a day trip to Arles and Les Baux-de-Provence.  Arles was one of the first Roman cities in France and still hosts a theatre and amphitheater.  Both have undergone some restoration, but they’re also still used today – the theatre for plays and the amphitheater for bull fights twice a year.  It’s a big city, but walking around in the morning, it felt like just a small little town.  Of course, Arles is also known as being the city where Van Gogh worked when he was in France.  His most famous works (Starry Night, Sunflowers) were completed year in the two years before his death.  It was pretty amazing to walk around and know that Van Gogh also walked down these streets.

Around the same time as Van Gogh, there was also Frédéric Mistral, the founder of the félibrige, an organization to protect and promote Provençal culture.  He has a statue in the Forum, which it’s worth mentioning retains two Roman columns.  Mistral is a big reason why local cultures in France are still celebrated and why all the little towns in this region sell Santons – the “little saints” that populate local nativities.

After a decadent lunch, we drove into Les Alpilles – the little Alps.  Tucked into these mountains is what has been called France’s most beautiful village – Les Baux de Provence.  The town is just a tiny little collection of villages on top of a mountain, but it’s lovely to walk through and they also have an immersive art exhibit that doesn’t require all the stairs.  What is showing in the exhibit changes every so many months, but I was able to see Flower Power and Picasso and the Spanish Masters.  The exhibit is set up inside the mountain; there’s a roof and columns to hold everything up.  Essentially, you walk through a door into the cave where the art is projected all around you with music playing from high up on the walls.  It was an incredible experience, and while I walked all around the cave, I also spent most of the show (40 minutes total) just watching.

The Flower Power one, for example, opens by making the pillars into city streets with 60s music playing.  Pop art literally “pops” into existence.  The Picasso one features works of Velazquez and Goya paired with salsa music along with various selections of Picasso works matched with beachy music or, for Guernica, some drums and violins that were a bit terrifying but also made Guernica my favorite part of the show.   In addition to the music for that one, there was in the video fog billowing up over the walls, and out of the fog the monstrous faces of the painting would appear until it eventually revealed the whole thing.  Keep in mind, similar images were appearing on all the walls, so it was a bit like being surrounded by these monsters.  After the painting faded away, there was a moment of blackness then images of a bombed out Spanish village and newspaper headlines.  It was phenomenal, and really very difficult to describe.  It was definitely the highlight of the trip.

That’s it for now.  I won’t be posting next week since I’ll be on Fall Break, but I will have a nice long post the week after detailing my big trip of the semester.

Until next time~

A Tour through Central Europe

November 6, 2018

This past week was my fall break.  Since Thanksgiving isn’t really a French holiday, the fall break comes about midway through the semester like spring break would.  So, about a month ago, I booked myself on a tour through some of the capitals of Central Europe – not speaking German, it wasn’t the best idea to go completely on my own.

I started out by flying into Frankfurt on a chilly Saturday morning that made me question my wardrobe choices.  I’d brought sweaters, but I was not warm enough in them.  Fortunately, Frankfurt has some very good currywurst – essentially a hot dog (beef or pork) topped with ketchup and either curry sauce or curry powder.  I had one for lunch on both Saturday and Sunday, and both were delicious and warmed me up.  While in Frankfurt, I was on my own, so I had plenty of free time to do whatever I wanted, such as spending time in the modern art museum and people-watching at the Römerberg.  Sunday was even colder than Saturday, so although I hadn’t planned to buy souvenirs in Frankfurt, I ended up with a hat that kept my head much warmer.  I also took a bus tour around the city – partly so I wouldn’t have to walk to see all the cool architecture but also partly to be inside.  Frankfurt is an amazing city for architecture though.  Most of the city was destroyed in WWII, but rather than completely rebuilding in a modern style, they kept renovated many of the medieval buildings in addition to building skyscrapers and other modern buildings – like the art museum.

On Monday morning, I joined my tour on its way to Prague.  We arrived in the afternoon and got to spend some time in Wenceslas Square – the big shopping district that is much more lively at night than in the morning, which is when I visited last time.  With the sun setting around five these days, it felt much later than it was, and I loved being back in this amazing city and seeing it all lit up.  Of course, I didn’t really have the budget or the room to be buying Louis Vuitton, but I had a lot of fun just wandering around the square.  I did pop in to H&M when I got really cold and took my time trying on clothes I had no intention of buying.  For dinner, I had a cheeseburger which actually broke down to be about 25% bread, 40% cabbage, 30% meat and 5% cheese.  It was still good though and only cost about two euros.  Since it had recently been the Czech Independence Day (October 28), I was able to wander through an exhibit on the country’s history, although it was all in Czech and I mostly just looked at pictures.  It was an amazing evening though.  We spent most of the next day in Prague as well, seeing all the famous sites I’d already visited, which meant of course that I could take my time doing what I wanted and visiting my favorite spots without worrying about trying to see everything.  So I enjoyed some trdelnik, browsed at an open air market, and eventually bought myself a t-shirt from what is probably my favorite city.

Wednesday was Budapest, a stunning city that I also loved, even if it wasn’t Prague.  After some pictures on Gellert Hill overlooking the city, the tour went on a boat cruise up the Danube which was just amazing.  Budapest also hosts some phenomenal architecture as  it, like Prague, wasn’t really a target in the war.  For Baroque architecture, Central Europe is an amazing destination.  I spent a few hours wandering around the neighborhood near the palace and Matthias Church.   It’s really just a stunning area, and I would love to spend more time there.  Before long though, it was time for the fanciest dinner I had all week.  Featuring traditional foods and local wines, it was an amazing meal made even better by the music and dances performed by the staff.  I was a little concerned about trying some of the food, but it was all incredible, even the duck liver!

Vienna is another city where I could spend a week.  As it was All Saints’ most things were closed though, and I definitely had no objection to spending three hours in Schönbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Hapsburgs.  I easily spent a full hour of that just in the gardens – and only the public parts at that.  I didn’t even go into the zoo or up to the pavilion.  Within the palace, it was so cool to see the rooms decorated just as they have been for centuries now and to recognize all the years of history in this building.  From the room where Mozart first played for the empress to the room where Kennedy met with Khrushchev, it’s full of history, and of course the legacy of its rulers, particularly Maria Theresa and Sissi.  In fact, there’s a more expensive ticket that grants you access to more of the grounds including a whole museum dedicated to Sissi, probably the most beloved empress of the people even if she herself hated Vienna and preferred to travel.   The more expensive ticket also suggests taking an entire day to see everything it offers, so I stuck with the ticket that fit my time limit, and I still saw more than I can even mention.  Vienna has so much more than Schönbrunn though, and I think this trip really just convinced me that I need to go back and stay longer next time.

Friday took me to Salzburg, a city considerably smaller than Vienna with only about 150,000 residents.  The population goes up in the summer though because this is the city of music – Mozart, the Salzburg Folk Festival, and the Sound of Music.  For Austrians, who mostly aren’t familiar with the Hollywood Sound of Music, the real Von Trapp family is still a draw to this city, which is also conveniently near some ski resorts.  On a sunny day, the Unterberg towers on the horizon, the first mountain of the alps.  It’s a beautiful city, and I really enjoyed spending my last two days there as this was where I left the tour, especially since I got to  try the Sacher Torte that had way too long a line in Vienna.  The city is absolutely beautiful and thanks to a mild season this year, the autumn colors were amazing.  I spent a lot of time just walking down the streets of the city, accidentally finding sites from the Sound of Music while searching for a place to have dinner.  On Saturday, I took a four hour tour of the sites that aren’t in the city center, which meant a trip out of the city to where the hills are alive.  The tour was also a sing-along, so that made it even better!  I really loved the city, and the entire week went by way too fast.   Before I knew it, I was on an incredibly long bus ride back to France, and now classes have started up again.  There’s still a lot to look forward to though, so I’m not that disappointed about the break being over.

Until next time ~

Prehistory to Picasso

November 11, 2018

With a little more than a month left in the semester, everything is happening all at once without much time to slow down. This week, besides two field trips, I also attended a cooking class and wine tasting. The cooking class was wonderful, and I learned how to prepare salmon on a cauliflower puree. In my opinion it was an amazing meal, but I imagine if you don’t like salmon, cauliflower, or both, it would be less thrilling. The wine tasting came on Friday after a busy week of essays and assignments, and sparkling wine seemed like a fair treat.  Champagne only comes from the champagne region of France, and legally no matter how one makes sparkling wine, it cannot be called champagne unless it is from that region – part of why champagne is so expensive outside of France. So in addition to champagne, we also tasted Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti (my favorite), Cava Do, and a mixed drink known as a Kir Royale. The Kir Royale was the official drink of the Bourbon kings and a simpler Kir is exactly the same but made with regular white wine rather than a sparkling wine. All in all, I really enjoyed trying them all and learning about the different grape varieties and processes of making the wines.

Saturday was an art history trip to see some Picasso works along with other contemporary art. We started off in the Roman city of Nîmes, most famous for the Pont du Gard. The contemporary art museum is just across the street from the Roman temple – the Maison Carée that inspired Jefferson in building Monticello and several other buildings in Virginia. The museum’s exhibit focused focused on Picasso’s political works of the 1930s – the Spanish civil war and start of WWII. Across the hall was also an exhibit of contemporary political works dealing with the refugee crisis. It was a fascinating comparison and a nice selection of works. The city itself was also lovely, and I loved as always seeing the Roman city incorporated into the modern. Following Nîmes, we went to Avignon for some contemporary art at the Collection Lambert which I really enjoyed.

Today was a trip with my class on Contemporary French Identities to the Grotte Chauvet – a cave with paintings older than the more famous Lascaux. Discovered in 1994, it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2014 after more extensive research had been done on the now difficult-to-access cave.  In 2015, a second Chauvet opened for the public to tour, without the risk of climbing into the cave or damaging the site once there. It’s really just a fascinating visit that forces you to consider humanity’s history as well as the history of art. After the discovery of Lascaux in 1940, the general consensus was that before Lascaux art had been primitive such as handprints and little more. Chauvet threw that idea out the door, particularly in my opinion since the art on those walls is FAR better than anything I could possibly do. The simplest take away is that da Vinci did not invent perspective. The original cave is located just by a natural bridge, and it is generally believed that the paintings had spiritual significance since there is no evidence that man lived in the caves (but bears did!). It was a fantastic trip, and I can’t wait to read the books I bought while I take study breaks this week.

Until next time ~


November 18, 2018

As someone who enjoys literature and art, I’ve read quite a bit about Paris to learn more about the history of such things (quick recommendation: The Judgement of Paris by Ross King and When Paris Sizzled by Mary McAuliffe). However something the books never explained was why it was always Paris, and while there were certainly factors regarding politics and economics of the various European capitals, I think at least partly it was that the City of Light is one to capture the imagination. I’ve been utterly charmed by Paris this weekend, and it was such an amazing trip, even if I walked a lot more than I planned.

On the Seine

When I arrived at Gare de Lyon on Friday, my first stop was on Rue Rivoli in the governmental and more-or-less geographical center of the city to pick up the metro card I pre-ordered. Had I been smart about things I probably would have got on the metro then and gone straight to the Eiffel Tower, but I wanted to walk a bit and it didn’t look that far on the map. Spoiler alert: It was about 2 miles and very cold.  I did walk by Notre Dame though, which was unbelievable and got me really excited thinking about how Victor Hugo had been in the same spot. Across the Seine though, things got even better as I arrived at Shakespeare and Company, am English-language bookstore originally founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919. This was of course part of the Lost Generation, and the little bookshop had such visitors as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and so many others from the period.  I even saw the spot where I remembered Richard Wright standing in a photo from the time.  Obviously I bought a book there and got the first page stamped with the Shakespeare & Co. seal. Then it was off to the Eiffel Tower, though on the way there I passed by the Rue des Grands-Augustins. At the time I couldn’t remember why the name was familiar and realized later that this was the very street where Picasso had lived and worked during WWII.

By the time I reached the Eiffel Tower, I was very cold and had a quick picnic before going to my hotel in Montparnasse (this time I took the metro). I did, however, splurge on some macaroons at Laduree on Rue Cler. I’d planned to eat them by the Eiffel Tower, but I enjoyed hem a bit more after I checked into my hotel and warmed up a bit. I headed out again around sunset (5:30 pm) and took the metro to the Louvre. Since I expected crowds I did a bit of research before going and learned that the Louvre is open late on Wednesday and Friday evenings, which meant that I was able to wander through the masterpieces for a couple hours with next to no crowds. It was frankly unreal to walk down the hall of Italian painters and gasp every five feet as I moved from Cimabue to da Vinci to Raphael and then to enter the French wing and see all the enormous paintings by David, Ingres, and Delacroix. Even as someone who doesn’t love Ingres, seeing The Apotheosis of Homer staring down at me was incredible. If I hadn’t walked almost 12 miles at that point, I probably would have stayed until they closed, but as it was, I decided to head back and go to bed.

Saturday I started bright and early with Notre Dame. I entered the cathedral almost as soon as it opened to avoid a line, and the interior was just incredible, a masterpiece in its own right. After a pastry for breakfast, I was off again to the Musée Rodin. It’s one of the smaller museums in Paris, but I love Rodin, so there was no question about going. Also there’s free entry for students, so why not?  Rodin is most famous for The Thinker, but he was a prolific sculptor and also collected the works of other artists. The house containing the museum is actually one that Rodin bought not just to live in but also to show off his work and his collection, which includes Renoir and Van Gogh. Since it’s a small place and the off-season, I was one of only a few visitors exploring the grounds, and it was just wonderful.

At noon, I met up with a friend at the Orsay where we almost immediately ran into some other students from our school. We got lunch together at the Orsay’s expensive but delicious café before working our way through the art. The Orsay was easily my favorite museum, and I stayed even after the others had to leave. In fact, it was after five when I left, and then it was a lot of hopping on and off the metro to see a few places I didn’t want to walk to, especially after dark. So I stopped by the Palais Garnier Opera House – the setting for Phantom of the Opera – and the Moulin Rouge – the setting for Moulin Rouge – then back to Notre Dame to buy dinner from one of the little shops by Place Saint Michel and then on to the Eiffel Tower for another picnic and some nighttime pictures. All in all an amazing couple of days. My legs may be tired, but I loved every mile.

Until next time ~

Thanksgiving and Christmas Markets

November 25, 2018

It’s hard to believe my time here is coming to an end.  But now that every city has up Christmas lights, and all the towns have their Christmas markets, it’s clear that the season is almost here.  However, when you attend school with Americans, there still has to be some celebration of Thanksgiving.  For one of my classes, we had been discussing a date to have dinner in Marseille with some refugees we’d been talking with during the semester, and one of the dates proposed was Thanksgiving.

So, at about 4:30, my class of fifteen and our professor arrived in Marseille and met up at the Association that was hosting us.  Almost immediately, however, our professor and the supervisor for the other students left to go pick up the main course.  With protests going on all over France, they weren’t sure how long it would take to travel there.  So for two hours, they left 25 twenty-somethings to set up tables, and make dessert.  Surprisingly, everything went pretty well.  The brownie batter had too much water, and the apple crisp got a little extra crispy, but it was a lot of fun.  As the clock ticked past 6:30 though, and we had no update on when our adult supervision would be back, people started getting a little hungry.  The desserts were ready, and it was widely agreed that the brownies were terrible, so those were distributed.  But most people wanted something a bit better, and the apple crumble wasn’t quite square.  I was in the middle of a conversation and kept looking over to the dessert table, wondering what was going on, and the next thing I knew, the edges of the apple crisp had been passed out in plastic cups for everyone to share until the main course finally arrived…right as I had to leave.

My study abroad program, CEA, had planned a Thanksgiving dinner for some time, and since I had already committed to that, I was allowed to leave Marseille early for a different dinner.  The dinner was, of course, amazing.  We ate at a restaurant where they prepared turkey, green beans, something like mashed potatoes (cauliflower?), and cranberry sauce for us.  One of the CEA leaders brought stuffing, and others affiliated with CEA brought a selection of pies.  It was all delicious.  I sat with a few people I knew, and as I usually do when with those people we started discussing religion and philosophy.  Although all the food was gone by 9:30, it was nearing 11 when I actually left, and they were still talking when I did.  All in all though, it was a great evening with good food and great conversation.

My study abroad program, CEA, had planned a Thanksgiving dinner for some time, and since I had already committed to that, I was allowed to leave Marseille early for a different dinner.  The dinner was, of course, amazing.  We ate at a restaurant where they prepared turkey, green beans, something like mashed potatoes (cauliflower?), and cranberry sauce for us.  One of the CEA leaders brought stuffing, and others affiliated with CEA brought a selection of pies.  It was all delicious.  I sat with a few people I knew, and as I usually do when with those people we started discussing religion and philosophy.  Although all the food was gone by 9:30, it was nearing 11 when I actually left, and they were still talking when I did.  All in all though, it was a great evening with good food and great conversation.

And with Thanksgiving over, it’s very clearly Christmas here.  Aix is one of many towns in Europe with an annual Christmas market where vendors set up on the main street selling food and various other products.  Aix also has some carnival rides for the kids, and even if you don’t buy anything, just walking down the Cours Mirabeau this season is a lot of fun.  In fact, that’s what I did Saturday morning.  My art history  class was supposed to have a trip to Nice, but due to the protests, the professor was worried we would be spend the day in traffic rather than at a museum.  So instead, we met at the Hotel Caumont here in Aix, which was also great since their student discount is not great, and I had figured I wouldn’t see the exhibit at all.  With the school  paying though, my entry was free, and I got to see a wonderful Chagall exhibit.  The museum itself is beautiful though since it was built in an 18th century mansion that includes its own garden in the middle of the city – obviously a well-to-do family built the place.

Since I didn’t have to pay for the entry to the museum, I treated myself to a stop at the café with another girl from class.  The café’s location is such that you can only get in if you have the museum ticket, so going another time would have meant a 10 euro entry fee in addition to whatever I bought at the rather expensive café.  Thanks to the French custom of not rushing people out of restaurants, we were able to sit there for at least an hour and a half, enjoying the weather and the gardens and just talking.  Afterwards, since we hadn’t bought any of the pastries, we stopped by a donut stand at the Christmas market when we finally left.  It was a great way to spend the afternoon, especially with the sunshine after a rainy week.  And now, off to Geneva!

Until next time~

Geneva and Grenoble

December 2, 2018

This was a busy week!  I actually only had one day of class because my Political Science class on Refugee Politics joined with the International Relations students for a three day trip to Geneva – four if you count traveling there last Sunday.  And of course I travelled again this weekend, but that was a much more relaxed trip.  But first, Switzerland.

After leaving Aix around 2, we eventually arrived in Geneva sometime after 9pm.  Our trains were on time, and there wasn’t much wait for those, but the last leg of the trip was by bus from Bellegarde to Geneva.  With the “Gilets jaunes” (Yellow Vests, link to more information) protests still ongoing throughout France, travel can be problematic.  Some people had been waiting for a bus for hours, and it was a little harrowing to get on.  Fortunately the professors were able to talk to the driver and get permission for us to board as a group, so we ended up in Geneva a little later than expected but all together.  The tours of various international organizations started bright an early on Monday with an 8:30 am appointment at the U.S. Mission.  The goal of the Mission is to represent US interests at various international organizations, but there is no one relaying with the Swiss government (that’s in Bern).  We were able to learn more about careers in the Foreign Service and had a great Q&A with the representatives who spoke to us.  Pretty soon though, we were off again to the World Trade Organization (WTO).  For this one, we were seated in one of the rooms used for intra-country meetings, and we got to choose country names to represent us.  As in an actual meeting, we turned the signs up to speak, and it was a lot of fun.  We then went to visit the Environmental Network and to eat in their cafeteria.  This particular location is the local base for several groups headed by the UN but also by other organizations, and we were able to meet with several representatives to learn about the various environmental groups and their goals.  And then, at long last, it was time for fondue and bed.

Tuesday morning, we were able to sleep in a bit before going to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is the international headquarters for all Red Cross/Red Crescent groups in the world. This was easily my favorite visit, and if I had to choose one of the places we visited to work at, it would be this one.  Besides learning more broadly about the work of the Red Cross, we also learned about aspects of its history.  The most interesting fact to me was regarding WWI in which all of the 44 main countries involved in the war (including colonies it was something like 100 countries) agreed to allow for communication between POWs and their families.  Everything regarding this went through the ICRC in Geneva: They had records of all POWs kept by the countries, and anyone could write a letter to the ICRC to gain information.  If you wanted to send a care package, you would send it to the ICRC, and they would get it where it needed to go.  They still have all the files, and it was pretty amazing to walk through those aisles.  We then had lunch at the ICRC and went across the street to the United Nations where we were given a tour and even got to look in on a meeting.  And for me, loving architecture, it was amazing to walk from the modern UN building to the League of Nations building, which is still used because the UN has a lot of committees that need meeting space.  Since we ended around four, I went with a couple of other girls to walk around the older part of Geneva before eventually heading back to do homework.

Our last day in Geneva was the shortest.  We had a visit with a representative from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) whom we kind of bombarded with questions.  It was a great session though, and after that we had the day free until we left.  For me, that meant another lunch at the ICRC cafeteria then some homework.  It was a great trip though, and I really didn’t get that much rest once I arrived back in Aix since on Thursday I went to a play at a local theater.  The show itself was kind of sad, but the theater was lovely and the acting was really good.  Then I was up bright and early on Friday to catch a bus to Grenoble.

Grenoble is a French city in the Alps that also hosts a Christmas market.  And it’s a more convenient trip than Strasbourg, which has one of France’s most famous Christmas markets.  When I arrived in Genoble on Friday afternoon, it was very rainy and not expected to clear up until ten.  I walked around a bit and took pictures, but I ended up just enjoying my hotel where I finished my big essay and ordered bœuf bourguinon from the surprisingly affordable room service menu.  So not a bad night.

It was yesterday that I really explored the Christmas market, which was a lot of fun of course.  I sampled cheese and chocolate and…garlic flavored walnuts.  Those were definitely interesting, but not terrible.  The market was a lot of fun to wander through, and I of course love markets like that because they have cheap food, which I am all about.  When I wanted a place to sit down, I stopped by a waffle stand that had tables.  For three euros I got a waffle with unlimited toppings, so nutella, whipped cream, marshmallows, and chocolate drizzle.  Very sugary and very good!  And now, well, I only have one more blog to write here and the next will be coming from Charleston.  So it was a busy week, but it was a good way to finish up a lot of my traveling before finals and flying home.

Until next time ~

To read my final blog from France (France Top 5), go here.


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