Bonjour à tous!
I am currently writing to you from my sunshine-soaked balcony, drinking a beer, and wearing a tank top and shorts. I’m sorry, what time of year is it again? A girl could get used to this weather…
And as a matter of fact, I sort of have. Last weekend, our entire program was whisked away on the TGV (a high speed train that basically took us from one end of France to the other in under three hours) to Provence, where we explored a handful of picturesque cities and were treated to some serious sunshine for three days.
The group excursions that Skidmore has put together for us (such as this one and our extraordinary orientation trip to the Loire Valley) have been extremely well executed and well led by our much-loved tour guide, Vincent. Each morning, he dragged our sleepy/hungover/lazy butts out of bed at 8:30am to provide us with funny and informative tours of Roman ruins, ancient fortresses and elaborate gardens. You can check out his site here—our entire program would vouch that he’s definitely worth your time if you’re ever looking for a tour guide in France!
I knew our trip was off to a good start when we arrived at our hotel in Avignon—we stayed at Hôtel du Palais des Papes, directly across from the UNESCO World Heritage Site Le Palais des Papes. The 14th century Gothic palace is one of the largest in Europe, and boasts a highly influential role in Western Christianity’s history. And my best friends and I casually happened to have a head-on view of it (and the gorgeous/expansive cobblestone square in front of it) from our window. To say we were stunned is an understatement—as I opened the door to our triple room with Kate and Emily in tow, we almost fainted from disbelief and excitement. It was one of those moments where you’re suddenly so struck by your luck that you hardly know how to handle yourself; we proceeded to dance/sing/frolic/squeal/jump around the room like a group of kindergardeners on a sugar high. Every day, I find myself more and more thankful to have found friends like them through Skidmore, and I cannot express how grateful I feel to be spending this semester discovering new places, people, and things about ourselves together.
So, together (and with the twenty-something other students on our program), we embarked on rapid-fire tours of six provincial cities and towns in the South of France over the course of the weekend: Avignon, Nîmes, Orange, Arles, Baux de Provence, and St. Rémy de Provence.
Here’s a basic play-by-play of the weekend, starting with Day One:
Post jumping up-and-down on each of our beds (yes, we each had a bed to ourself, yes, they were unreasonably enormous and yes, we all slept in the same one anyways), Vincent led us on a tour of Le Palais des Papes, followed by a promenade across the famous medieval bridge, Pont Saint Bénezet (also known as the Pont d’Avignon). Leaning over the edge of the final arch of the bridge, halfway across the river with uninterrupted views of the lush Côte du Rhone, I felt the city dust start to evaporate off of me and into the wild blue current below. The weekend was a welcome return to nature and markably less-polluted air that I hadn’t even realized I needed, but I returned to Paris feeling happier and healthier than when I left (barring the ridiculous allergy symptoms I have since developed that are conspiring to keep me inside for the rest of my life).
Day Two, we visited a Roman arena in Nîmes (wherein the boys on the program obviously reenacted Gladiator scenes) and the Jardins de Diane, a beautiful park which is dotted by fuchsia blooms and palm trees that lend it a wonderfully tropical feel. For the afternoon, we were given free reign to explore the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct that was absolutely unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Finally, we took a quick stop in Orange, where we had our own Rocky-moments running up and down the steps of the Théâtre romain de Orange—one of the largest Roman amphitheaters in the world. Pas mal for one day, if I do say so myself.
Sunday, we were permitted a leisurely sleep-in until 8am, followed by an immediate departure to Arles. There, we explored the narrow streets dotted with pastel-colored shudders and brightly colored walls that inspired painters such as Gauguin and Van Gogh to create some of their most famous masterpieces. We peeked into the floral paradise that was once the asylum where Van Gogh briefly stayed (and later saw his other asylum in Cloître St. Paul) before heading to Baux de Provence, a tiny hilltop village that is ranked as one of the 151 most beautiful villages in France. It most definitely lived up to its ranking; savoring some lavender gelato, we were able to amble around the village’s panoramic vista of the valley below. The sight was almost as much of a treat as the gelato ;)
Beaux de Provence: